August 26, 2019 / News The free sports dilemma: Is pay TV still worth it?

By Laura Spurway (@laura_spurway)

For Carl Mower, General Manager of the Toormina Hotel in Coffs Harbour, there aren’t many questions asked when the Foxtel bill arrives each month.

“They’ve got you by the short and curly, so to speak,” he said.

Mower’s venue is one the leading live sports destinations in New South Wales and includes dozens of screens positioned over the main bar, leading out to a spacious, fully renovated retail TAB.

But Foxtel’s subscription is the equivalent of a full time wage and although it includes access to every game from two of Australia’s most popular sporting codes in pubs and clubs; the NRL and AFL, the cost is still tough to swallow.

“Being a very strong live sports venue can become extremely expensive.” Said Mower.

But according to Sportsyear Co-Founder Daniel Giorelando, the prospect of a cheaper alternative for a venue like Carl’s, is not far away.

“You can definitely now schedule a whole week of sport around free-to-air top tier sports, including the key footy games.” he said.

As Foxtel’s subscription business comes under pressure from streaming services such as Stan and Netflix, it’s selling off sport rights to make ends meet.

The most recent example involved Australia's domestic basketball league, the NBL, which in 2019, will become available entirely on free-to-air, for the first time in decades.

SBS signed a partnership to show every game, granting the sport mainstream exposure and pulling it out from behind the traditional Foxtel pay wall.

A deal with Football Federation Australia is also reportedly being canvassed, involving all Socceroos and Matildas fixtures becoming accessible to all Australians.

There are reports that Super Rugby and the A-League soccer might also be sold off soon, while Optus recently announced it would not be sharing its English Premier League rights with anybody.

This is all unfolding, while Australia’s free to air networks keep spending big on live sport.

Former Seven CEO Tim Worner recently remarked that sport is one of the most valuable properties his organisation could ever own.

“You get certainty with sport.” he said.

“We don’t know what My Kitchen Rules or other shows will rate. But I can tell you with some certainty what the Perth Scorchers and the Adelaide Strikers will,”

A recent analysis of TV sports viewership by Roy Morgan showed free-to-air offerings are still the most watched events in Australia.

AFL is the leading domestic sport with almost 7.7 million people tuning in to various fixtures on TV each year, followed by Cricket with a viewership of 7.4 million, NRL with 6.7 million and Tennis with 6.6 million.

Mower says in his case, pay TV is still paying dividends.

He’s set up his venue to be family friendly and to cater for the sports fan. He believes pay TV is necessary to provide options that are popular but less mainstream, such as darts and surfing.

“You’ve got to look at the big picture,”

Carl Mower runs the Toormina Hotel in Coffs Harbour (Pic: Supplied)
Carl Mower runs the Toormina Hotel in Coffs Harbour (Pic: Supplied)

Mower says his pay TV subscription has him covered for sport, around the clock.

“It’s the other programs that come with subscription TV which can add value, the AFL 360s and all of that.”

What is for certain, is that it will become more challenging for venues to keep track of where sports are broadcast as new players emerge in the market.

Streaming services such as Kayo and Optus Sport are on the rise, while in the United States, social media platforms are also entering the space.

Facebook is broadcasting Major League Baseball on its video-streaming platform, 'Facebook Watch' to millions of viewers for free, around the world.

Sportsyear's other Co-Founder, Patrick Galloway, says the Sportsyear team is here to help venues navigate this changing world of sports broadcast and capitalise on opportunities.

"One thing will never change; sports fans will always come to venues for a premium live sport experience," he said.

"We're helping our partners navigate their way through this change, as well as helping them innovate by leveraging our sports broadcast expertise."

There is no doubt the landscape will change in Australia, but for now, venues can be satisfied free content is being prioritised by broadcasters and there is plenty on offer - if you know where to look!