Opinion

The sports anti-siphoning model is under pressure and global sports codes show us why 

Wade Maris, EVP and commercial director of The Sporting News, explain why we must look overseas to see the dangers in our own backyard.

There has been considerable talk in the media recently around how the anti-siphoning laws need to change, to keep pace with the way consumers are watching sport, that is, via the internet versus an aerial.  

Whilst the commercial free-to-air (FTA) networks are raising a valid point around viewing habits and cord cutting, and that IPTV should also fall under the protected list of sports, it’s a complex issue with a lot to unpack.  

Firstly, who decides what sports and events make up this list?  

For instance, the T20 cricket World Cup is about to start and will be broadcast exclusively via Amazon Prime Video.   

“Test cricket”, which most pundits would agree is going through a very challenging time globally in terms of popularity, is covered in the “anti-siphoning code” but One Day and T20 matches are not unless it’s the Australian team playing in Australia. 

The women’s football Women’s World Cup wasn’t on the list, until after the Matidas’ amazing achievements on home soil.  

Had Optus not sub licensed some of the games it to the Seven Network, would we as a nation have collectively come together to support the Matildas to create a cultural tsunami in the same way? 

Another key point to note is why this lobbying by the FTA networks is taking place in 2024, when the migration to online versus linear consumption has been taking place for five to 10 years.  

Better later than never I suppose, but the reality is consumption isn’t just about linear versus online, it’s linked to the platform and channels where sports fans are spending their time and attention.  

Whether it’s Amazon, TikTok, YouTube or even direct-to-consumer streaming services, such as NFL Game Pass or NBA League Pass, the FTA networks will need to evolve and get better at engaging with Gen Y,  Gen Z and the Alphas if  they want the government’s support.  

As an example of this. both the NFL and NBA have invested significantly in building out their social content output, including partnerships with different creators.  

The NBA recently announced a collaboration with KPop girl group sensations, LE SSERAFIM, whilst also working with Suga from (BTS) for over 12 months as the basketball code  looks at different ways to make its offering more holistic and engaging in the APAC region.  

Closer to home, local TikTok stars Shepmates, who are known for their lip-syncing commentary skits, were one of many creators who presented on stage at the 2024 NFL Draft.   

These governing sporting bodies recognise that sport is entertainment, and they need to engage with fans outside of what happens during the 90 minutes on the field, ensuring they’re creating relevant content on the channels where their consumers are spending their time.  

Whilst keeping key sports free is important, particularly when we are all experiencing crippling cost of living increases, there will be intense scrutiny, competition and bigger rights fees that will put pressure on the model long term.  

For instance, what’s to stop Google brokering a creative deal, where YouTube shows certain games free, and other games sit behind a paywall or are linked to some big “licensing AI or search deal”.   

Could Netflix even add a free tier with advertising for one off sports events? Netflix’s standard product now features ads at a price point of $7.99 and it’s $10 cheaper than the standard without ads, which highlights how the streaming platform is trying to encourage users to adopt the advertising tier.  Netflix has also invested in a WWE rights partnership, have the Mike Tyson versus Jake Paul fight coming up, whilst only announcing this week a landmark partnership the NFL for its Christmas day games.  

These sorts of deals aren’t going away any time soon.  

So, should FTA television be lobbying the government to ensure online viewing is covered in the anti-siphoning agreement? The answer is yes – because sport plays an important  role in our culture that brings people together. Online consumption will only continue to grow, so it being reflected in the anti-siphoning code to align with the shift in consumer behaviour makes total sense. 

However, it’s complicated. There are currently far more questions than answers. For example, who determines what sports sit in the code, how to do we stop the fragmentation of sports and make it more cost effective (for example, you need four streaming services if you’re a soccer fan and want to watch the Premier League, Aleague, Champions League, Bundesliga etc), and what can the networks do to remain relevant to emerging generations? 

No doubt this will be playing on the minds of both FTA network executives and our local sporting codes.  

  

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