March 22, 2020 / 5:08 AM / 7 days ago

Rugby-Broadcaster wants overseas element in NZ comp

WELLINGTON, March 22 (Reuters) - New Zealand Rugby’s broadcast partner is hoping the domestic competition being planned to replace the suspended Super Rugby championship includes an international element at some stage.

The 25th season of Super Rugby was put on hold indefinitely after last weekend’s seventh round because of the coronavirus pandemic when the New Zealand government enforced 14-day self-isolation for anyone entering the country.

With the mainly southern hemisphere provincial competition featuring teams from five countries on three continents, a shutdown was inevitable and there are fears the season may be cancelled.

As well as denying the teams and unions money through ticket sales, the shutdown is also proving costly for subscription TV channels who rely on sport for their content.

“We are obviously seeing some people who no longer wish to subscribe to the sports channels,” Martin Stewart, the chief executive of Sky TV New Zealand told Radio Sport this weekend.

“I’m hoping that the Super Rugby teams will be back in action shortly in New Zealand. We’re very excited about that. We’ve been working closely with New Zealand Rugby.

“There are a couple of alternatives that will depend on how things develop in terms of travel bans etc. as to whether or not there is an overseas element towards the end or whether it remains purely a New Zealand-based competition.

“But either way, we’re hopeful that ... we’ll be able to see some great action between all of the Super teams in New Zealand.”

Australia have already announced that their four Super Rugby teams along with Western Force, the Perth-based team that was cut from the competition at the end of the 2017 season, will also play a domestic competition.

South Africa may run a domestic competition featuring its six Super Rugby and PRO14 sides in a bid to keep players match fit ahead of the Springboks’ scheduled tests against Scotland and Georgia in July, South Africa Rugby said on Wednesday.

The unions are not just keen to keep their players fit but to ensure they maintain the income from their broadcast deals, which is vital to the game in the southern hemisphere.

“We are a vital cog in the, currently you’d have to say, fragile sports ecosystem in New Zealand,” Stewart said.

“Obviously the funding that we’re able to provide through the subscriptions that New Zealanders pay for the service is an extremely vital part of the funding system.” (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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