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Foxtel is concerned about Netball Australia’s lack of strategic direction to increase viewership and bring new audiences to the game, leading to fears the broadcasting giant will not seek to renew its rights with the embattled sport at the end of its current deal.

The revelation comes after a report that Netball Australia had reached to end a messy, year-long pay war with its players and just days after losing out on $17 million worth of federal funding after failing to convince the Australian Sports Commission that it would make good use of the money.

Netball Australia is facing accusations it is failing to push the sport into the future, amid concerns from broadcaster Foxtel about viewership figures. Credit: Getty

Commission boss Kieren Perkins went further in his comments about Netball Australia’s failed proposal, which was announced last Thursday, telling this masthead the governing body had failed to conduct due diligence.

Details of a new pay deal have not been officially announced, despite the report in CODE Sports.

Netball Australia and Foxtel entered into a five-year broadcast deal in 2021, valued between $60-80 million. The sport receives a $7 million cash injection from it each year.

A Foxtel media release in July celebrated a “record-breaking audience” for the 2023 Super Netball season, but according to three sources with intimate knowledge of the dealings, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss commercially sensitive matters, the broadcaster is concerned about a lack of strategic direction to grow the game.

A source with detailed knowledge of Netball Australia’s internal dealings said: “The [Netball Australia] board is very concerned about viewership numbers.

Diamonds defender Jo Weston spoke through tears on Thursday as she described the impact of the pay war with Netball Australia, which caused headlines last week. Credit: Simon Schluter

“Everybody recognises it has to increase for netball to extract more money,” the source said, adding the issue has become a priority for both the board and management at the organisation.

According to another two sources briefed on internal matters at Foxtel, who would not speak publicly for fear of further harming audience numbers, the broadcaster was unlikely to be interested in bidding in the next round of rights unless there was an active effort from Netball Australia to help lift viewership and build a strategy to attract new audiences.

Netball Australia did not respond to questions about the concerns, but a spokesperson said: “Netball Australia is two years into a landmark broadcast deal with Foxtel, which has seen audience numbers grow by 11 per cent from season one to season two across Foxtel and Kayo.

“Netball Australia works very closely with the broadcaster to grow the game even further to find new audiences and support our commercial partners.”

‘You don’t want to be going backwards’

Sports broadcast expert Colin Smith of Global Media and Sports, who brokered the Foxtel deal for Netball Australia in 2021, said the sport was at risk of jeopardising the future success of netball.

He said it appeared that the governing body had so far failed to maximise the opportunities available to them within the broadcast deal.

“In this increasingly competitive landscape of professional women’s sport in Australia and globally, you want to be up there — you don’t want to be going backwards,” he said.

Among his criticisms was that Netball Australia did not successfully promote the World Cup tournament in August, which was available for streaming on Foxtel’s free platform, Kayo Freebies.

“Why netball has not promoted [the games] to its wider audience, one of the largest participation sports in Australia, I’m trying to understand the logic of that,” Smith said.

Asked what would happen if viewership did not improve, Smith said: “The issue will be, like other sports leagues, they will reduce the amount of revenue they are earning from broadcast, and that will have ramifications for the financial success of Super Netball.”

As revealed by this masthead in August, an internal report projected that Super Netball, the world’s premier domestic league, would lose $7.5 million in the next three years unless significant changes were made to its structure.

Smith said a record crowd of nearly 14,000 at Melbourne’s John Cain Arena for this year’s Super Netball grand final in July showed the popularity of the sport and its potential for growth.

Foxtel did not respond to any questions, including a request for viewership figures. Instead, it pointed to its July media release.

‘The board needs to be asking some serious questions’

At the height of the industrial dispute last week, the Albanese government confirmed it had withdrawn $17 million in federal funding after Netball Australia was unable to convince the government it would make good use of the money.

Netball great Liz Ellis said the wider netball community deserved an explanation for the loss.

Australian Sports Commission CEO Kieren Perkins says he is disappointed Netball Australia failed to undertake due diligence when submitting its federal funding proposal to the commission. Credit: Getty

“We’ve just been through this bruising fight with the players … in the same week we’re having this fight, they’ve lost $17 million in funding,” she said.

“The board needs to be asking some serious questions about the executive about why that happened, how that happened, and what happens next. If there’s no explanation forthcoming, then it’s up to the shareholders – who are the state organisations – to take action.”

ASC boss Perkins said the commission was “disappointed that Netball Australia did not prioritise delivering a suitable business plan” and supported the decision of the Albanese government to revoke the funding.

The funding was part of the $30 million of taxpayer funds committed to Netball Australia in 2019 by the Morrison government, on top of the $4 million in annual funding the sport receives. Netball Australia has already spent nearly $12.2 million of that funding on a range of initiatives, including a successful bid on the 2027 World Cup.

Speaking about the business proposal put forward by Netball Australia for the use of the remaining $17 million, Perkins said: “The costs and targets outlined in the most recent proposal presented to the ASC did not provide confidence that there had been due diligence undertaken in developing them or stakeholder engagement on the value of proposed activities. It was also not clear how the proposed activities were going to be sustainable once the funding was exhausted.”

The loss of funding is not an isolated event, according to an Australian Sports Commission source, who requested anonymity to discuss confidential matters.

The source said that despite it being a major funder of the sport, the commission receives little to no communication from Netball Australia.

“[We] find it very difficult to engage with them when all of the other sports we work with are quite transparent and clear,” they said.

Netball Australia did not respond to questions about its communication with the ASC but said: “Netball Australia is committed to working with the Federal government on a proposal that delivers outcomes for the entire netball community and sets the sport up for future growth”.

Last week, Netball Australia boss Kelly Ryan said that the sport would make another proposal to bid for the lost funding. However, even if successful, it is unlikely to receive the full amount.

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