Giving Fox $30m will not help women’s sport

Alistair Nitz Roar Rookie

By Alistair Nitz, Alistair Nitz is a Roar Rookie

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    Media reports have indicated that executives of large media organisations are walking the halls of Parliament House this week to convince politicians to vote for the Government’s media reforms that were announced as part of the 2017-18 Budget.

    It gave me an opportunity to reflect on one of the elements of the reform package that was announced by the Minister for Communications and the Arts, Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield – provide Foxtel with a $30 million grant to maintain and increase coverage of women’s and niche sports.

    The Minister for Communication and the Arts obviously has not been spending too much time watching Foxtel recently or he would have noticed that Foxtel’s many sports channels already have a significant coverage of women’s sport and niche sports.

    In fact, the coverage of both women’s sport and niche sports on Foxtel has increased substantially compared to seven years ago compared to when a study into the Australian media’s coverage of women’s sport in 2010 found that women sport accounted for less than ten per cent of all sports coverage across the country.

    Fox Sports, ESPN, Eurosport and Bein Sport feature an array of women’s and niche sports to cater for a large range of interests. These include women’s tennis via full coverage of all WTA Tennis Tour events, W-League, women’s AFL, mountain biking, badminton, squash, triathlon, golf, athletics, volleyball, winter sports, crossfit, equestrian and surfing.

    Even with this evidence of a significant cross-section of women’s and niche sports being shown on subscription TV, the Government pressed ahead with its policy initiative.

    On the surface it looked like a poorly considered initiative with ill-defined objectives.

    According to the Government’s press release its states that “[it] will provide funding of $30 million over four years to subscription television to maintain and increase coverage of women’s sports, niche sports and high participation sports that are less sustainable to broadcast. Increased coverage of these sports will assist them to build their profile, boost participation and improve sponsorship opportunities.”

    Tayla Harris Brisbane Lions AFLW 2017

    (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

    Government intervention will not suddenly manufacture an interest in women’s sport or boost its profile. There is also no evidence that it will boost participation and sponsorship opportunities either if it is not well managed.

    In reality, it will be market forces that will drive free-to-air TV networks and subscription TV to broadcast more women’s sports. This is what we have started to see this year with the coverage of women’s netball, cricket and AFL on TV because the product was both entertaining and exciting. As a result, there was large support from the Australian public.

    The first season of the women’s AFL competition absolutely surprised the national sporting organisation and broadcasters with its popularity. The game between Carlton and Collingwood was a sell out with saw long queues waiting to get into the ground. The opening round also attracted more that 1.7 million TV viewers nationally.

    The coverage of Suncorp Super Netball series and the women’s T20 domestic series has also been popular with TV viewers.

    The popularity of these sports occurred because the media engaged intelligently the audience through proper promotion. National sporting bodies worked hard with broadcasters to get their product shown at prime time. In response, the audience swarmed to watch these sports.

    Another factor to consider is company sponsorship. It does not matter whether it is men’s or women’s sport, they are both fighting for a limited bucket of sponsorship funds. Companies want a return from their sponsorship arrangement.

    Therefore, the national sporting bodies will need to prove that there is market for their specific sport – which is ultimately determined by large audience and strong TV ratings.

    There are also other problems with the policy.

    A government grant to boost coverage of women’s or niche sports on subscription TV will not displace high profile sports that have strong TV ratings from prime time viewing times. Particularly if this is where Fox Sports gets most of its TV revenue from. In fact, unless there is significant support through TV ratings, these niche sports will become ‘schedule fillers’ by being televised during low rating periods or at unusual times, which will do little for the port’s participation.

    It could explain why Fox Sports schedules badminton and squash at times like 9.00am or 11.00am in the morning.

    There is also the risk that the Government grant provides Foxtel with a competitive advantage to bid for sports that are currently shown on free-to-air TV. The grant allows Foxtel to lower their broadcasting costs or offer a better broadcasting deal compared to free-to-air TV providers.

    Such an arrangement has the potential to hurt fans if they do not have access to Foxtel. This is a large portion of the Australian TV audience.

    If the Government was genuinely interested boosting the profile of women’s and niche sports than it would have extended the grant to all the TV networks, not just subscription TV. Particularly as subscription TV has less coverage across the Australian population as free-to-air TV networks.

    Parramatta Eels versus Penrith Panthers women's rugby league NRL rugby league SG Ball Image: Sean Teuma

    Image: Sean Teuma

    The Commonwealth Government grant to Foxtel is a poorly targeted policy.

    In fact, if I was being cynical, this government grant is nothing more than a hand out of public funds to Foxtel packaged up as an program to improve the coverage of women’s sport. A grant to ensure that Foxtel also benefited from the media reforms.

    Free-to-air TV television networks were thrown a $130 million lifeline with the abolition of free-to-air broadcasting annual licence fees in the 2017-18 Budget. Foxtel does not pay a licence fee and therefore was not going to receive anything from the abolition of licence fees.

    Furthermore, the Government was not going to make any wholesale changes to the anti-siphoning rules to benefit Foxtel. So why not throw $30 million Foxtel’s way to keep them happy too?

    There is no details about how Foxtel is expected to spend the Government grant and measure the success of the grant to boost female participation and sponsorship opportunities.

    For example, what sports it is expected to show, at what times, and how many hours a week it expected to be dedicated to women and niche sports? What reporting mechanisms are in place to measure how the grant boosts participation and sponsorship opportunities and the success of the overall program?

    The Government should have looked at other options to achieve its objectives than just a $30 million grant to Foxtel.

    It could have looked at state programmes that attempt to encourage greater women and girls participation in sport and improving gender equality.

    For example, the Victorian Government runs a $7 million three year program to advance gender equity in sport for women and girls. One of the initiatives includes #changingthegame which is using Victorian female sporting heroes and social media will inspire more women and girls to get involved in grassroots sport. It is also using the expertise of national sporting organisations to work with women and girls who don’t normally participate in traditional sports programs that are provided through clubs and competitions.

    If the Government’s objective was improve women’s health outcomes through sport’s participation, why did not the Government allocate the scarce funds to specific women’s health initiatives or even indigenous women’s health programs? $30 million would have gone a very long way, particularly in regional Australia to narrow the gap of life expectancy and child mortality rates.

    Sport provides an important avenue to change social norms, culture and behaviour to advance gender equality. Changing perceptions around the telecasting of women’s sport has been slow, but greenshoots are starting to appear, which is evident by the success of women’s AFL and women’s Big Bash League in 2017.

    But more needs to needs to be done by everyone – the Government, sporting organisations, broadcasters and the fans. Unfortunately, just giving Foxtel $30 million does not go far enough.

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    The Crowd Says (5)

    • May 31st 2017 @ 8:41am
      Peter said | May 31st 2017 @ 8:41am | ! Report

      Cynical move by a cynical government to ensure favourable media coverage for the next election. This is merely cash for comment and is at about the normal level of behaviour for the Turnbull government.

      • Roar Guru

        May 31st 2017 @ 1:34pm
        Adam said | May 31st 2017 @ 1:34pm | ! Report

        Wait – the election that isn’t for two more years? And this story has barely made a sound in the media?

        At the end of the day if anything it was a poorly thought out funding model. I think any TV channel received extra funding for women’s sport it should have been the ABC and not just a commercial venture.

        I think the growth of women’s sport needs to happen at a sustainable rate – it will ensure that it is a product that is around for more than a few years. I think at the moment there is some risk that the money being used at the moment has the potential to dry up if the next round of sports broadcasting rights don’t contain guarantees from the networks to televise at least a percentage of the various women’s competitions.

    • May 31st 2017 @ 8:50am
      BrainsTrust said | May 31st 2017 @ 8:50am | ! Report

      Womens sport needs money for itself not Foxtel and then coverage on free to air not Foxtel.
      If you put womens sport of free to air then it will gain sponsorship dollars because its on 1 out of 20 channels and everyone has acces to it.
      If womens sport is 1 out of 80 channels for 30% of the population it will only get 7% of the audience.
      There is also a shortage of sport on free to air, because FOxtel has bought off so many sports,
      WHile you do get multiple sporting events on Friday nights and the weekend on average you would not be able to fill a single channell with the amount of sporting events on free to air. Foxtel has 12 sporting channels so by that measure your also going to get a fraction of the audience.
      The only beneficiary will be Foxtel because they will suck up extra subscribers from this and provide no extra audience.

    • May 31st 2017 @ 8:57pm
      Jack Russell said | May 31st 2017 @ 8:57pm | ! Report

      Foxtel broadcasting women’s sport – or any sport for that matter, is no guarantee that people will actually watch. Unless it’s got a genuine following it’s highly likely that the audience will be under 10,000, and it could easily rate zero. What good is that going to do?
      The government would be better off giving the money to the ABC or SBS so they could broadcast it on free to air. It’s probably still going to rate bugger all, but it’s going to have a better chance.

    • July 20th 2017 @ 11:21am
      muzz said | July 20th 2017 @ 11:21am | ! Report

      I recall the coalition, then in opposition, blasting the Hawke government for bestowing a $38K grant towards the design of a specialised womens’ surfboard. I also recall them blasting Ros Kelly, Sports Minister in Keating’s government, for bestowing grants for sports fields and other infrastructure in marginal electorates, shortly before she retired. She was widely mocked for reportedly mapping the grant proposals on a whiteboard, subsequently erased before they could be queried (this before electronic cameras or phone cameras, o’ course). This government has been assiduous in avoiding whiteboards, any record of proposal of possible material benefit that might result from this handout (of OUR money, to the Murdochs! is anyone else incensed by that?), and any firm standard for accountability. Uncle Mitch sits bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in Senates Estimates and says that, absence of documentation notwithstanding, it’s for the betterment of womens’ sports and unspecified “under-represented sports”. ScoMo tackles a press conference to tout the government’s new social housing incentives, declaring that the old system was a “one-way ATM with no accountability, just a cheque in the mail”, and deviating enough to condemn Shorten for lying about boat arrivals. When asked about the $30M, he feints and ducks, saying “it’s all in the budget, I’d have to look it up because it’s just one measure in a 418-page document”. Wouldn’t it be great if we all could live by politicians’ standards of accountability, when you can sanctimoniously decry your opposition’s failures while exempting yourself from the standards that you insist that they should be held to?

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