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Spark adds ECB rights to cricket portfolio, turns to Whisper on production

Ben Stokes laughs after Beuran Hendricks was run out during Day Four of the Fourth Test between England and South Africa on January 27, 2020 (Photo by Philip Brown/Popperfoto/Popperfoto via Getty Images)

New Zealand telecoms operator Spark has acquired exclusive streaming rights in the country to all international and domestic cricket matches played in England through a four-year agreement with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).

The last-minute deal begins today (Wednesday) with England’s Test match against the West Indies at Southampton’s Ageas Bowl. Spark replaces pay-television broadcaster Sky as the ECB’s rights-holder in New Zealand. Sky’s deal expired in 2019.

Spark’s agreement covers all men’s and women’s home internationals, the County Championship, the Vitality Blast, the Royal London Cup and The Hundred, which will debut next year. As well as live coverage, Spark Sport will provide ancillary content such as highlights packages and interviews.

The deal further strengthens Spark Sport’s cricket rights portfolio.

Last October, Spark agreed a five-year digital content rights deal with the International Cricket Council, which includes rights to make available near-live in-match content, as well as post-match highlights clips on-demand for all global ICC events.

The ICC deal was signed after Spark replaced Sky as New Zealand Cricket’s domestic rights-holder through a tie-up with public-service broadcaster TVNZ. The six-year agreement commenced in April 2020 and named Spark Sport as the official broadcaster for all matches played in New Zealand.

Meanwhile, Spark Sport has named UK-based production company Whisper as its production partner for all cricket played in New Zealand under the New Zealand Cricket umbrella for the next six summers.

As part of the deal, Whisper will produce live coverage of New Zealand’s men’s and women’s national team matches, as well as Super Smash matches, for Spark Sport. Whisper’s productions will also be used for selected T20 internationals and Super Smash matches broadcast free-to-air by TVNZ.

Whisper said there would be opportunities for New Zealand-based freelance production professionals to form part of the agreement. Former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan was recently named as an advisory board member at Whisper and he will have a supporting role on the project.

It marks the second time that Spark has teamed up with an overseas production company to support its sports coverage, with Spark having appointed multinational operator NEP to produce its coverage of domestic hockey.

Last week, Whisper agreed a deal with the ECB to produce online highlights and clips of the body’s events for the remainder of 2020. The deal includes all Tests, one-day internationals and T20 internationals across the men’s and women’s national teams, with content to be delivered across social media platforms. Whisper also confirmed that it has won the contract to produce England international cricket highlights for UK public broadcaster the BBC.