Most major professional sporting leagues around the world offer their own online service or sell their broadcasts to online providers. The glaring omission for Kiwis was Super Rugby. Sky’s Fan Pass seeks to change that.
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Fan Pass is a service run by Sky that offers stand-alone subscriptions to watch certain sporting events online and on demand. Currently the service offers 3 competitions: Super Rugby, NRL, and Formula 1. Each service offers 3 different subscription types: season, month and week.
The full season cost seems a bit prohibitive – season passes for Super Rugby and NRL cost $299 while F1 costs $199 – but when you consider that’s every single game of every team whenever you want to watch it, it’s not too bad. Paying for a single week may not be the cheapest way to view games in the long run, but at $25 it’s roughly comparable to a ticket to the game.
For an international comparison, Major League Baseball’s MLB TV service broadcasts all the games (each team plays 162 games in a season) including all of the post-season and pre-season for NZ$172.
We do need to note that for rugby league the NRL run their own service called Digital Pass (A$90/year). The price difference is quite large but for some reason New Zealanders are not allowed to sign up.
However, access is one thing, quality is another.
Live games on Fan Pass are not at the exact level of TV broadcast quality. The stream would drop from a good, though not full HD, image to a blocky pixelated mess roughly every 5 to 10 minutes. The screen also froze at times though not as often. The sound was OK and suffered almost no glitches but was noticeably out of sync with the video – though audio syncing for sport isn’t too important as it’s only noticeable when people are speaking directly to camera. For the true fan you can play up to 4 live games simultaneously (much like the American NFL service) though only when viewing through a web browser.
Watching Fan Pass on demand was better. The service took a while to load the game, but when it played there were fewer glitches than watching it live. An annoying feature is that you get all of the pre-game build-up in addition to the actual game. There is no simple way to skip this and go directly to the match.
The menu system is not intuitive and it takes some work to find the game you want, but after that it’s easy. Overall, it was a much poorer experience than I am used to after experiencing the NFL and MLB services (a typical game streamed live from overseas will have few to no glitches and be broadcast in full HD). However, it is still the only service in New Zealand offering on-demand rugby and it’s still early days for Fan Pass so as the number of uses grow it can only get better. This is a pretty great service from Sky and where, I think, sports broadcasting should be going.
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By Hadyn Green.
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