Spark Sport, the New Zealand-based sports streaming service, has snapped up domestic rights to the United Rugby Championship, the revamped Europe-based rugby union clubs competition.
The OTT platform has concluded an agreement ahead of the start of the competition on Friday (Saturday in New Zealand).
Spark’s coverage will begin with the clash between South Africa’s Lions and Italy’s Zebre.
It was announced back in June that the Pro14 was being rebranded as the URC, with four top South African teams – the Sharks, Stormers, Lions, and Bulls – joining 12 established sides from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales in a 16-team competition.
The URC will comprise one division, as opposed to two conferences in the old competition, with each team to play 18 regular season fixtures, leading to playoffs, and a grand final on 25 June, 2022.
The deal will see live rugby content return to Spark as the service has not shown any action from the sport since the 2019 World Cup.
Spark managed to oust Sky to land rugby union’s showpiece event in Japan two years ago but has been unable to break the pay-TV giant’s stranglehold on domestic competitions and is unlikely to do so given New Zealand Rugby holds a small stake in the broadcaster.
Jeff Latch, head of Spark Sport, said: “We love our rugby in Aotearoa and there’s a huge appetite from Kiwi rugby fans to watch the action playing out in overseas competitions as the competitive landscape becomes closer than it has ever been before.”
In recent weeks, the URC has struck rights deals with commercial broadcaster Mediaset in Italy, BBC NI in Northern Ireland and BBC Wales and S4C in Wales.
Last week, the URC launched a new global streaming service, URC TV, through a collaboration with Irish public-service broadcaster RTE which will show all 151 games.
RTE holds free-to-air rights to the URC in Ireland, as does TG4, while pay-TV broadcaster Premier Sports will cover the tournament across both Ireland and the UK.
Vodacom, the South African telecommunications giant, is the title sponsor in that region of the URC for the next four seasons.
The telecoms heavyweight will put its name to the URC until the end of the 2024-25 campaign.