The Matildas' successful run in the ongoing FIFA 2023 Women’s World Cup (WWC) has put Football Australia in a strong position as it enters negotiations for its next domestic tender for national team rights, according to the governing body’s chief executive James Johnson.
During a media briefing today (August 18) ahead of the concluding weekend of the tournament that will see a final between England and Spain, Johnson said Australia’s co-hosting of the tournament (and run to the semi-final) alongside New Zealand had created a strong legacy for the game in the country that will see increased investment, including in rights to national teams’ games.
Johnson said Football Australia’s current domestic rights agreement with commercial broadcaster Channel Ten expires in December 2024 – a deliberate date the governing body chose in order to capitalize on Australia’s hosting of this year’s WWC, with negotiations usually starting 12 months before.
He added that negotiations will begin “soon after the World Cup comes to an end.”
He said: “We feel good about it [the rights negotiations]. We’re very happy with our current broadcast partner networks and they’ve been tremendous in building up the Matildas.”
In terms of strategy going forward, Johnson said the body would keep with its strategy of trying to keep national rights on free-to-air television to increase reach rather than behind a paywall with a pay-TV broadcaster.
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The ongoing tournament continues to break multiple television records, with the Matildas' loss to England the latest to become the largest domestic television event – in sport or otherwise – since 2001.
According to domestic commercial rightsholder Seven Network and national ratings firm OzTam, the match, which ended 3-1 to England, reached 11.15 million Australians national and had an average audience of 7.13 million – more than double a State of Origin game or the NRL or AFL grand finals.
Australia’s quarter-final victory against France to reach the semi-finals was the previous record holder for a domestic television event, with an estimated average audience of 4.17 million.
Optus holds the main rights to the tournament to show all 64 games, which it shows through its subscription streaming service Optus Sports. Fellow commercial broadcaster Network Seven has rights to show one game per day, including Australia’s fixtures.
The figures, Johnson said, had given Football Australia confidence going into the market, and he added: “We’re going in at a great time and our expectation is that we have a record deal, not because we want to pay executives more but because we want to invest more in our programs so that our teams can continue to improve their on-field performance.”
The success of the WWC is also expected to lead to a spike in participation, with the biggest growth corridor being young girls in Australia.
Sarah Walsh, Football Australia’s head of women’s football, said the governing body’s success of the women’s side had, in fact, grown interest in the men's game rather than the other way around in Australia – a situation she said she had not seen before.
However, she added major investments would be needed to cater to the increase in participation at grassroots level.
Responding to a question by Sportcal about potential funding from the Australian government, she said: “We’ve had a really strong showing from the states [governments] and we are in conversations with the federal governments and things are looking positive in that respect.
“I think the journey we’ve been on and having awareness around where the gaps are for 2500 community clubs. A lot of people think it's about changing rooms but it’s not just changing rooms – over 500 of our clubs don’t have changing rooms.
“That’s not a good thing for girls and boys but in a lot of respects, it's about bad irrigation or the pitch quality that impacts women's and girl’s experience.
“We are expecting a 20% increase over the next six months and we’ve got a lot of work to do to make sure that when they turn up, we retain these players.
“So a really great problem to have but yes, the conversations with the federal government are ongoing.”