When it came to the coverage of women's sport, there was a time when basketball was queen with the partnership between Basketball Australia and ABC TV producing great coverage of the WNBL for 35 years.
However, as a result of the then Abbott Government’s budget cuts, this relationship came to an end in 2015 and for the first time in over three decades, there was no TV coverage of the WNBL throughout the 2015/2016 season.
The only place that fans could see matches throughout the year was online via YouTube or Periscope.
Deal or no deal?
In November 2015, Basketball Australia Chief Executive Anthony Moore told media outlets that a new deal with a free-to-air network was imminent. But it all came to nothing.
The new multi-year deal was believed to include a deal for Boomers and Opals games. The inclusion of the Boomers and Opals games was apparently the fly in the ointment for finalising the deal because of the need for FIBA involvement in the negotiations.
The Australian Opals have been the second best team in the world behind the USA for the best part of sixteen years. The Opals have won medals at the last five Olympics (Silver in 2000, 2004 and 2008 and Bronze in 1996 and 2012). The Opals also won Gold at the 2006 World Championships as well as winning Bronze in 1998, 2002 and 2014.
Despite the lure of the national team, Basketball Australia has found it difficult to bank the right television deal for a strong product.
First class product, second class citizens
The quality of the WNBL clearly can’t be questioned. It’s one of the top leagues in the world.
15 of the 18 players named in the Opals squad for the first camp for the Rio Olympics played in the 2015/2016 season of the WNBL. The league has produced some of the iconic names in women's basketball including the likes of Rachael Sporn, Michele Timms and the iconic Lauren Jackson, with many of those players exported to other top leagues around the world.
In the new realm of digital television, the omission of the WNBL is even more curious. With each of the free-to-air networks have 3 or 4 different channels, plus multiple sports channels on Foxtel, it begs the question: what is basketball doing wrong?
Strength in numbers
This lack of coverage flies in the face of the televised success and the exposure received by other women’s sports.
Cricket’s first season of the WBBL was a raging success with matches receiving higher than expected ratings and higher free-to-air ratings for the A-League matches telecast on SBS 2 and Fox Sports combined.
These numbers prompted Channel Ten to move some matches from One HD onto their main channel and led to Ten telecasting the two semi-finals which was not in the original telecast schedule.
The coverage of women’s cricket also included coverage of T20 internationals between Australia and India on Channel Nine and Fox Sports providing coverage of New Zealand and Australia T20s from New Zealand and the World T20 competition where the Southern Stars came perilously close to a fourth consecutive tournament victory.
Football has recently received increased coverage with the Matildas Olympic qualifiers being telecast on free-to-air commercial television for the first time on 7mate.
The W-League was able to maintain its coverage on ABC TV as well as coverage on Fox Sports courtesy of a creative deal between the FFA, Fox Sports and ABC TV which made use of Fox Sports facilities at A-League venues with the scheduling of W-League / A-League double headers.
So the question for Basketball Australia and the WNBL is how do they find their way into the space? It is not an easy task but the Cricket Australia and the FFA have both shown that the first step is a good product and the second is faith in that product and subsequent investment.
Basketball Australia already have the first - a good product - in the WNBL and it now up to the governing body to demonstrate the second.
With the Opals pushing for another medal at Rio, future qualification for World Championships and Olympics following the football model and heading towards Asia which will lead to a significant increase in the number of meaningful matches for the Opals and with approximately six months until the start of the next WNBL season, hopefully a new TV deal can be finalized before then.
With the quality on show it just doesn’t seem right if it doesn’t.