2021 marked a year of significant movement and development in the Australian sports broadcasting market, with many of the nation’s major sporting leagues securing rights to cover their medium-term future. In the year that was initially signalled as the ‘COVID bounce-back’, the broadcasting industry has been no different, with sporting leagues securing deals reflective of pre-pandemic figures, and leaning on a rapidly growing aspect of the industry: sports streaming services.
The year 2020 saw a majority of broadcasters exercise rights within their deals with leagues to adjust their sums payable in response to sporting seasons affected, delayed or shortened as a result of the pandemic. 2021 represented a return to some normality, with sporting leagues resuming regular season schedules, and with many existing broadcasting deals set to expire in 2022, this year served as an opportune environment for deal-making.
Timeline of Australian sports broadcasting deals throughout 2021
- February 2021 – Australia’s top level professional netball league, Super Netball, announced a five-year deal with pay-television providers, Foxtel Group. Interestingly, the terms of the deal require Fox Sports to undertake the development of new netball magazine shows to deepen fan engagement.
- 25 May 2021 – ViacomCBS announced a AUD200 million, five-year broadcasting deal to stream popular A-League and A-League Women’s football matches on their streaming platform, Paramount+, which launched in Australia on 11 August 2021.
- 28 July 2021 – Foxtel Group, News Corp Australia and ESPN announced a AUD45 million, three-year broadcasting deal to stream National Basketball League (NBL) matches, in a deal considered to be the highest value deal in NBL history.
- 19 August 2021 – The NBL made broadcasting headlines again, with the announcement of a three-year deal with ViacomCBS’ Network Ten for an undisclosed amount, signalling the sport’s return to free-to-air television.
- 18 November 2021 – Sports streaming providers, Optus Sport, announced a renewal of its existing broadcasting rights over the English Premier League for a further six years until 2028. Optus also secured the rights for the FA Women’s Super League for two years, extending beyond the FIFA Women’s World Cup to be hosted by Australia and New Zealand in 2023. The deal is reported to value AUD600 million.
- 28 July 2021 – Nine Entertainment Co. secured the rights to broadcast the National Rugby League (NRL) for a further five seasons from 2023 to 2027. The AUD650 million deal marks a return to pre-pandemic value, after broadcasting deals for the NRL’s 2020 and 2021 seasons were discounted due to COVID-19.
Key takeaways from 2021
- A step forward for women’s professional sport – Women’s professional sport became a part of the conversation in 2021 more than ever before, with multiple major deals throughout the year focusing on women’s sporting leagues such as Super Netball, Women’s A-League and the FA Women’s Super League. As fan bases and the level of fan engagement in women’s sport continues to rise, we can expect to see a greater volume of broadcasting deals in future placing significant emphasis on professional women’s sport.
- A greater focus on incorporating sports streaming services into deals – A majority of sports broadcasting deals in 2021 included the content being made available on streaming services, as viewers continue to turn towards digital streaming services to access premier sporting content. Currently, matches for all of Australia’s major sporting leagues are accessible via a streaming platform, with leagues seeing value in making their matches available on free-to-air channels as well as digital services.
Notably, some deals made in 2021 included the use of streaming services’ additional features. For example, the NBL and Super Netball’s agreements with Foxtel Group both require a minimum amount of matches be made available on Kayo Sports – a sports streaming service owned by Foxtel – as a ‘freebie’, essentially making these matches available on the platform’s free subscription.
- Deal values on the rise – Broadcasting deals in 2021 generally experienced an increase in deal value in comparison to their most recent prior broadcasting agreement. This can be attributed partly towards some prior broadcasting agreements, such as the NRL’s agreement with Nine Entertainment and the Foxtel Group, were reduced when adjusting for a shortened season due to the pandemic. The rise in value of these broadcasting deals may also be reflective of the growth of Australian sporting leagues, as they begin to experience the benefits of their efforts towards greater engage with the domestic fan base, as well as expand into the international market.
To 2022 and beyond
- New broadcasting deals on the horizon – 2022 presents opportunities for new deals, with existing deals across various sports coming to an end within the next 12-24 months. For example, the rights to broadcast the Olympics are currently held by Seven West Media, who will broadcast the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. Seven West Media has an option to extend its current broadcasting deal with the Olympics to include the broadcast of the 2024 Olympic Games held in Paris. However, should the media company decline the option to extend, the rights for the 2024 games will become open to the Australian market, which may lead to a highly competitive bid process.
- Increased participation by sports streaming services – With demand for the digital service continuing to rapidly increase amongst consumers as they transition from traditional television viewing to streaming services, we can expect large streaming companies to respond to this trend through greater participation in bidding processes for sports broadcasting rights going forward.
- Innovative deal structures – As the Australian sporting market continues to grow in value, the market may follow trends seen elsewhere of sporting leagues ‘breaking up’ the competition’s week of games into segments (such as Friday, Saturday and Sunday games) and entering into multiple broadcasting contracts with different broadcasters, to sell the rights for each segment to different television or sports streaming services in order to maximise the revenue gained from each product. Such strategy was adopted by the National Football League (NFL) in the United States in 2021, with the NFL dividing it’s weekly games into five categories which were then licenced to five separate broadcasters for a total value of AUD129 billion over eleven years.