Women’s sport faces broadcast barrier as small issues add up to create significant problems | Megan Maurice

Efforts to broaden audiences will come to naught as long as decisions like Channel Nine’s at the weekend are made

With the NSW Swifts leading the Giants by just two goals with 13 minutes remaining in the match, Sunday’s Super Netball coverage was abruptly cut. The game was replaced by Victorian premier Daniel Andrews’ press conference declaring a state of disaster.

Clearly, no one can be critical of the decision to leave a sporting event to provide a vital update on the biggest crisis facing Australia, and particularly Victoria, since the second world war, but it was the subsequent decisions made by the broadcaster that raise questions.

Channel Nine’s broadcast of Andrews’ press conference was ended at 3pm in NSW and Queensland to begin pre-game coverage of an NRL match between Melbourne and Newcastle. Live coverage of the Super Netball game never returned.

With the rugby league scheduled to kick off at 4:05pm, the urgency to begin the buildup was somewhat misplaced. The rest of the Super Netball game was eventually made available on the 9Now platform, but using just a short part of the NRL pre-game coverage to show the final minutes of the netball as they happened would have gone a long way to demonstrating Nine’s commitment to the sport.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, NSW Swifts player and England international Helen Housby acknowledged the crucial importance of the Covid updates but also suggested there were “double standards” in the way female athletes are treated and portrayed in the media. “The things that are made possible for the other codes probably aren’t the same for netball,” she said.

Defenders of the broadcaster could possibly cite the higher ratings the NRL receives, but along with the money spent by Nine to secure the rights, the issue facing netball – and other women’s sports – is that small decisions like this demonstrate the priorities of broadcasters and media outlets. It all adds up and can act as a barrier to broadening the audience.

The Australian government has recognised the significant hurdles women’s sports face to gain the kind of coverage that the major men’s sports take for granted and since 2017 it has given Foxtel a total of $40m to boost coverage of women’s sport. Putting aside the question of why a pay-TV platform deserves that kind of federal investment ahead of free-to-air broadcasters, for many women’s sports, it is not the ideal platform. Growth sports like netball are aiming to get their product into as many households as possible, meaning a subscription service such as Foxtel cannot offer the audience they need.

And even for those women’s sports that do receive coverage from Foxtel, the impacts appear minimal. Analysis done by women in sport collective Siren Sport revealed that in the seven days to Monday 3 August, 7.5 of the 1,344 broadcast hours across Foxtel’s eight sports channels showed women’s sport, representing 0.56% of their sporting coverage for the period. Siren and Swinburne University also analysed the coverage of women’s sport on the Fox Sports website between April and June 2020 and found that only 2.37% of stories on the homepage covered women’s sport.

Super Netball’s deal with Nine was seen as ground-breaking when it was announced in late 2016, but problems have persisted throughout the first four years of the competition. From games being pushed to the minor channels, to consistent scheduling of matches while most netball fans are out playing the game themselves, Nine has not provided the guaranteed visibility the sport would have hoped for.

In addition to the lack of consideration afforded netball on Sunday, the fixtures released on Tuesday for the second and third rounds of the competition reveal Nine will not broadcast any round three matches. These will instead be relegated to Telstra’s Netball Live app, apparently due to the condensed nature of the season, with round three scheduled to take place on a Tuesday and Wednesday.

However with Super Netball entering the fifth and final year of its deal with Nine in 2021, each of these small problems becomes more significant and the challenge of growing the audience harder. Netball players and fans are told to be grateful the sport receives coverage at all, but the implications are adding up and Super Netball faces a tough road ahead to improve its position in sport’s pecking order.

  • This article was amended on 5 August 2020 to correct the assertion that Channel Nine did not show highlights or the final score of the Super Netball game during its NRL broadcast.


Megan Maurice

The GuardianTramp

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