Queenstown’s TV sports guru


Who’s responsible for Sky Sport’s wall-to-wall coverage of the Winter Games, and who originally planted the “stupid” idea of Japan hosting the Rugby World Cup? Philip Chandler visits TV veteran John Knowles at his Queenstown home to talk about his role in these events, and find out what he’s up to these days

Fifty years after his first involvement with television, John Knowles is still weaving his magic in the same medium.

Starting out as a reporter in the days of black-and-white TV, the avuncular 73-year-old – who splits his time between Queenstown and Auckland – was head of sport for TVNZ for nearly eight heady years, then had nine years as executive vice-president for cable/satellite network, J Sports, in Japan.

Though he retired after leaving that post in 2009, he’s kept his hand in as a television consultant.

He’s just back from his annual gig overseeing the televising of the Pacific Nations Cup rugby tournament for World Rugby.

“I try to do a little bit to help develop Fiji’s and Samoa’s television organisations.”

As of yesterday, Knowles is also closely following the Queenstown- and Wanaka-based Winter Games.

He was tapped to be a board member by his good friend, Games founding chairman Sir Eion Edgar, about five years ago.

On behalf of Winter Games, Knowles did a deal with Sky Sport which this year is screening more than 60 hours of live television and double that in repeats and highlights packages.

“It is, from my knowledge, which is probably reasonable, the most televised multi-discipline event in New Zealand since the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland.”

An event, coincidentally, which he oversaw as TVNZ’s head of sport.

Knowles also suggests the Games’ international coverage, which last year extended to 53 countries, is providing the most televised exposure this region’s ever had.

Ironically, he confesses he doesn’t ski himself – his family, however, is heavily involved, and his wife Sue Knowles (nee Ryan) formerly skied for NZ.

About the same time the Games wind up, the Rugby World Cup kicks off in Japan.

Amazingly, the idea of Japan hosting this event was originally conceived by Knowles himself.

He says it came to him in 2001, while running J Sports.

“When I first arrived, our channel had a bit of rugby, but then I thought, ‘how can we raise the profile of our channel and help rugby in Japan?

“‘Let’s have the World Cup!’

“That was not a totally acceptable suggestion at the beginning – they told me I was stupid.”

However after convincing “one or two people”, Japan bid for the 2011 event.

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