2020 will be remembered for COVID – 2021 will be remembered as the year the war on TV sports rights kicked up a gear. Stan has the Rugby with Nine doing Free-to-Air, now Australian Netball has signed a deal with Foxtel that covers the paid and free “broadcast” of their games.

When Rugby Announced the Nine/Stan deal it was seen as groundbreaking because with Stan able to be the “pay tv” side of a broadcast deal, everything could be under one roof, from promotion via TV, Radio and Newspapers to the actual live games.

All week on radio stations across Australia I’ve been saying this is the thin edge of the wedge, and watch out when the big sports are up for new TV deals because Foxtel has a challenger in the Nine group in this regard.

However, to turn that on its head – all Free-to-Air networks now have a challenger with Foxtel using it’s power to do a single deal with Netball that includes making select games and national team games available free – except they won’t be on “TV” – they’ll be on streaming service Kayo, in front of the paywall (known as Kayo Freebies).

Australia’s Anti-Siphoning Laws

Before we really contemplate how big a deal this is, a reminder that Australia has some intense rules (law in fact) that requires many sporting codes and events to be shown on free-to-air TV.

These laws were created when Foxtel burst onto the scene, with fears they would buy everything up and Aussie’s wouldn’t be able to watch the Melbourne Cup without paying to see it. The same with the NRL Grand Final, or the AFL Grand final.

But here’s the thing. As best I can see, the actual legislation doesn’t specifically refer to over-the-air broadcast Television. Instead, it speaks to being freely available.

Now, I’ll leave it to others to legal over the black and white of the law, but the grey areas are definitions around things like the word “Televise” – because hey, you can get Kayo Free on a big TV.

At the end of this article, I’ll share a list of “Sporting Events” that are Tier A – these must appear on a main channel (Channel 9, or 7 for example, not 9Rush or 7Mate).

The Tier B events, just need to be free – so this is where the netball sneaks in, with the Aussie Netball games required to be free under Tier B, but not on a main channel broadcast.

Netball Changes everything

So let’s consider for now that this is all allowed under legislation. (You must assume Foxtel’s lawyers know the Anti-siphoning legislation back to front).

What this means is, Foxtel could buy the rights to the AFL, put it all on Foxtel and Kayo, but under the regulations, make four games per round available free, as Kayo Freebies – in front of the paywall.

The Finals series would also need to be free, but the Grand Final would need to be on a traditional free-to-air broadcaster.

Now that means Foxtel could pay big, and perhaps just pay a broadcaster to take the Grand Final.

But on the other hand, it would also allow Nine to bid for all games, showing some on Multi-Channels or free on Stan, with the Grand Final on the main channel.

It really does open up an all new bidding war for sports rights.

AFL and NRL are locked in for a few years yet, but stand by for some mega announcements over the year or two ahead, as well as a potential legal stoush about just how well this meets the government’s objectives relating to the anti-siphoning law.

Sports on the Anti-Siphoning List in Australia:

Tier A—Broadcast on main channel SportEvents
Horse RacingMelbourne Cup
AFL (Australian Football League)AFL Grand Final
NRL (National Rugby League)NRL Grand Final
Rugby UnionRugby Union World Cup Final
CricketEach Test match involving Australia, played in AustraliaEach Test match involving Australia and England played in the United Kingdom
CricketEach one-day international match involving Australia, played in Australia
CricketEach Twenty20 match involving Australia, played in Australia
CricketICC Cricket World Cup: semi-finals, final and each match involving Australia
CricketICC Twenty20 World Cup: final and each match involving Australia
FootballFIFA World Cup: quarter-finals, semi-finals, final and each match involving Australia
TennisAustralian Open men’s singles finalAustralian Open women’s singles final
TennisA ‘World group’ Davis Cup final tie involving Australia
Motor SportsEach race of the F1 Grand Prix held in Australia
Motor SportsEach race of the Moto GP held in Australia
Motor SportsV8 Supercars—Bathurst 1000

Tier B—Any channel (1) SPORTEvents
Olympic GamesThe Summer Olympics event and the Winter Olympics event (Summer: including Opening and closing ceremonies except any event declared a Tier a event for the purposes of the Act ) (Winter including opening and closing ceremonies)
Commonwealth GamesThe Commonwealth Games event
AFL4 matches per round of the AFL premiership season*
AFLEach match of the AFL finals series (except the grand final)
NRL3 matches per round of the NRL premiership season*
NRLEach match of the NRL finals series (except the grand final)
Rugby LeagueEach match of the State of Origin series
Rugby LeagueEach Test match involving the Australian team, played in Australia, New Zealand or the United Kingdom (including the Rugby League World Cup)
Rugby UnionRugby Union World Cup: quarter-finals, semi-finals and each match involving Australia
Rugby UnionEach Test match involving Australia, played in Australia, NZ, SA or as part of the ‘spring tour’
TennisEach match of the Australian Open (except for the men’s singles final and women’s singles final)
TennisWimbledon: Each men’s and women’s singles quarter-final, semi-final and final
TennisUS Open: Each men’s and women’s singles quarter-final, semi-final and final
TennisEach ‘World group’ tie involving Australia played as part of the Davis Cup (excluding a final involving Australia)
GolfEach round of the Australian Open
GolfEach round of the Australian Masters
GolfEach round of the United States Masters
NetballEach Test match involving the senior Australian team, played in Australia or New ZealandNetball World Championships: Semi-finals and Finals matches involving the senior Australian team
FootballAll matches of the FIFA World Cup (excluding those on Tier A)^
FootballFIFA World Cup qualifiers: each match involving Australia (the Socceroos)^
FootballEnglish Football Association Cup Final
MotorsportsV8 Supercars Championship Series: each race not specified on Tier A