WBBL a powerful bargaining chip for broadcasters as new CA deal looms

Will Knight Columnist

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    What’s the WBBL worth? Even if free-to-air TV networks believe the women’s T20 competition won’t make them any money, it might still prove to be a precious commodity.

    For the media companies currently planning their submissions to Cricket Australia to win the lucrative broadcast rights, men’s international cricket and the so-hot-right-now Big Bash League are the headline acts.

    It’s a sales package more bankable than any of the major reality TV franchises. My Kitchen Rules, I’m A Celebrity, Masterchef, Married At First Sight? Forget about it – they all want Big Show, Lynnsanity, Smithy and Starcy.

    Speculation is that a five-year deal across all formats could reap Cricket Australia anywhere between $800 million to $1 billion.

    Massive numbers. Naturally, CA are going to squeeze everything they can out of the broadcasters to pay the bills. But how the TV networks treat the WBBL may prove to be decisive.

    CA often reiterate the importance of promoting women’s cricket and inclusion programs in their strategic goals. They will no doubt be keen to continue the momentum generated after three seasons of the WBBL – particularly in the lead-up to Australia hosting a standalone women’s T20 World Cup in 2020. Plus they’ve got a fine group of top-class cricketers such as Ellyse Perry and Meg Lanning to sell the message.

    James Sutherland turned CA into a commercial juggernaut, but I’m sure he’d like his legacy to include being a big contributor to making women’s cricket a respected and formidable presence in Australia’s summer sporting landscape.

    Now is the time to supercharge women’s cricket, and in that respect, the timing of the new broadcast deal is ideal.

    So what’s the commercial reality for a competition that has already attracted solid crowds and impressive TV ratings?

    Remember, Channel Ten televised the double-header in the opening round of the WBBL03 in December and pulled in a huge audience.

    For the match between the Sydney Thunder and Melbourne Renegades, an audience of 331,000 tuned into the second innings, while a peak audience of 469,000 watched the Sydney Sixers and Melbourne Stars match later in prime-time.

    As a comparison, it was boasted that a free-to-air audience of 55,000 watched the A-League’s Sydney Derby – albeit on One rather than Channel Ten – held at the same time as the Sixers-Stars clash.

    And on Fox Sports for the same game, arguably the A-League’s biggest fixture of the regular season, they could only attract 81,000 viewers.

    Those numbers prove two things: the power of free-to-air TV and evidence there’s an appetite for women’s cricket in Australia.

    In all, 12 WBBL matches were broadcast on Network Ten, with all remaining matches live-streamed on the CA Live platform.

    So how hard do CA push to get the WBBL a free-to-air TV deal in the next broadcast agreement? It’s comfortably the best way to grow your sport.

    Ellyse Perry batting Sydney Sixers WBBL

    (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

    Do they package it up with the BBL as a one-broadcaster-take-both deal? That’s surely the safest way to ensure the WBBL gets the exposure and chance to flourish.

    But do TV networks believe the WBBL is a fee earner or a fee burner? As impressive as the TV ratings have been, it seems like a dozen games would be about the most CA could hope for on free-to-air TV.

    Any more than that and they might start to make the broadcasters a bit nervous about whether they could make it commercially viable.

    Perhaps the AFL’s approach might provide a blueprint for CA’s negotiations.

    The AFL nutted out a deal that Seven would show one game each Saturday night across February and March, as well as the grand final, either on its main channel or 7Two.

    Additionally, Fox Sports and AFL Media show all games. The deal was done after their massive six-year $2.5 billion broadcast contract – that started last year – was finalised and while the AFLW component didn’t reap any more money, Seven and Fox Sports cover the production costs for the eight-week competition.

    Would a WBBL deal look similar? It would at the very worst be an add-on that CA demand to ensure they give women’s cricket the oxygen needed to thrive.

    Australia’s female cricketers got a huge pay rise when the bargaining agreement was signed off on last year, but that shouldn’t mean they expect them to bring in the big bucks to pay their own way. After all, Australia’s male domestic cricketers earned pay rises over the years, even as the Sheffield Shield competition and one-day cup lost its commercial appeal. The BBL then roared into town to ease any financial stress.

    Perth Scorchers WBBL team

    (Image: Perth Scorchers)

    Nonetheless, the WBBL rights are set to be one of the most intriguing parts of CA’s next broadcast deal. With the T20 World Cup in Australia two years away, the time for growth is now. And CA can’t die wondering how high they can take the game. A free-to-air deal is the only way to give it a chance to grow, CA know that and the broadcaster who sincerely embraces the WBBL in their pitch might be the one that cashes in overall.

    One thing is for sure, the WBBL needs to be a standalone competition.

    The ridiculous scenario of the top-two placed WBBL teams – the Sixers and Thunder – being denied home-ground advantage for their semi-finals because they had been scheduled as double-headers with the BBL will almost certainly be amended.

    The final was similarly deflating when the Sydney Sixers thrashed the Perth Scorchers – at Adelaide Oval.

    Will Knight
    Will Knight

    An AAP writer for more than a decade, Will Knight does his best to make sense of all things cricket, rugby union and rugby league, all while trying to have a laugh along the way. You can find him on Twitter @WKnightrider.

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    The Crowd Says (4)

    • February 14th 2018 @ 10:28am
      I ate pies said | February 14th 2018 @ 10:28am | ! Report

      Come on, tell the truth about WBBL ratings. Don’t just pick the final – what were the average viewers across the whole season? The stands were always empty, so clearly people don’t want to watch it in person, but how many people actually watch it at all.
      I’d hazard a guess that the TV rights for it are virtually worthless.

      • February 14th 2018 @ 1:26pm
        David said | February 14th 2018 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

        Sorry, less than worthless. The tv rights for WBBL lose the networks money.
        The fact is, the BBL and the AFL massively subsidises the WBBL and the AFLW and that is likely to continue for some time (maybe forever).
        As a long term member of an AFL club, I’m not sure I like having to pay an increased membership fee to support a competition I have no interest in. It is a bit like taking a portion of my membership subscription to save the rhinos in Africa – a good cause but if I want to save the rhinos, I’ll make my own arrangements. There is no transparency and how many people are on the gravy train?
        Both the AFL and CA should outline how much of our membership is going towards supporting competitions that are unable to support themselves and are highly unlikely to ever be able to support themselves. I suspect it is 10-20% but perhaps it is more?

    • Roar Guru

      February 14th 2018 @ 6:00pm
      pformagg said | February 14th 2018 @ 6:00pm | ! Report

      2018… where equality means, using male earnings to prop up female sports.

    • February 15th 2018 @ 12:55am
      Digger said | February 15th 2018 @ 12:55am | ! Report

      Its worth sweet FA. all it does is lower the bid or is included as a contra payment. It is in many respects what tv advertisers are prepared to pay the broadcasters for slots. Unless the Govt will hand out more money for broadcasting female sports which Foxtel got $30m out of it.

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