Channel 9 and Telstra have on board the new Australian netball competition because it’s a good deal for them, not because they want to help the sport.
James McGrath

3 Jun 2016 - 7:30 AM  UPDATED 3 Jun 2016 - 8:24 AM

There has been a lot written about the new netball competition about how it’s a huge deal for women’s sport – but the one angle not considered is how it’s a bigger deal for Channel 9 and Telstra.

While everybody’s understandably excited about the opportunity the new competition and the increased coverage will provide netballers current and future, nobody’s really talking about the benefit to the broadcasters.

Netball has long been the sleeping giant of Australian sport,” Nine’s managing director, Amanda Laing, said. “It has [a] massive participation base and a national team who are ranked number one in the world as Commonwealth and World Cup Champions.”

Damn right.

Yet, the narrative around the deal has been about how gracious these broadcasters have been to come to the party.

Nine and Telstra, however, are hard-headed business which are required by their shareholders to do deals which make commercial sense – they’re not in the business of charity.

Why isn’t the headline ‘Netball deal to boost the fortunes of Nine, Telstra’?

The best thing about the deal is that it makes commercial and strategic sense to both of those organisations.

For Telstra, it has been working hard in a shootout with Optus to build a digital content business centred around sport.

It offers AFL and NRL content for subscribers, and has now added netball to the equation. Optus has rather spectacularly added English Premier League content to its platform as both companies try to avoid becoming ‘dumb pipe’ companies.

That means both Telstra and Optus want to own both the pipes and the content coming through it.

What Telstra has done here is essentially added another piece of the puzzle to the picture, accenting AFL and NRL with Netball – what Amanda Laing called the “sleeping giant of Australian sport”.

Women’s sport in general could become the next battleground for digital companies.

Facebook is now live streaming sports: why it matters and why women will benefit the most
The Orlando Pride drew a record crowd to its NWSL home opener. The game also drew 500,000 online fans, watching via Facebook in the first live stream of its kind.

Twitter recently caused a stir by claiming the rights to stream Thursday night NFL games; both YouTube (Google) and Facebook are betting big on video as well – they all need content to feed their appetites.

Netball has become the latest piece of content for a digital company to try and monetise,  and Telstra has chosen one of the most-loved and watched sports in Australia to do it.

Live from Australia, it’s Saturday Night

For Nine, which is showing two matches per week live, it’s all about Saturday night.

When the latest TV rights deal for the NRL was announced, Foxtel was able to snag exclusivity on Saturday night matches – leaving Nine with a gaping hole in the schedule which would normally be the timeslot for its premier content.

With main competitor Seven bagging the AFL on a Saturday night, Nine was left looking decidedly threadbare – but not anymore.

It has filled the gap with premium sports content, and is aiming to appeal to media buyers (the ones who buy the ads) by offering the opportunity to double down on its sponsorship.

Part of the deal was that Nine would have a role to play in commercialise on-court signage and broadcast integration opportunities. This basically means you can have a sponsor on court, sponsoring the broadcast, and buying ad time between quarters.

For advertisers looking beyond the ‘spots and dots’ approach for their sports sponsorship opportunities, that’s a huge deal.

Smart TV

Nine’s pulled off something really smart here.

Yet, to the whole discussion around the new netball competition there remains a sense that Nine and Telstra are getting into the game as some kind of altruism – but they’re not.

They’re getting into it because it makes great business sense for them to do so, and the unique audience netball provides is the kicker.

Instead of netball being grateful to the broadcasters for the support, why isn’t the narrative about the broadcasters being grateful to netball for the opportunity?