Choose to Challenge: Media rights and broadcast deals
Continuing our series highlighting the strides made in the women's game when people chose to challenge the status quo, and shining a light on the areas where work remains to be done
5 March 2021, 09:08 AM AEST
Drawing on the theme of this year's International Women's Day – Choose to Challenge – cricket.com.au is exploring the strides made in the women's game, and by women working in cricket, while also shining a light on the areas where work remains to be done.
Following a two-part examination of elite players (click here for part one and part two), an examination of coaching and pathways, and delving into women's role in cricket administration, here we shine a light on media and broadcast.
What's the current situation?
Under Cricket Australia's current broadcast deal negotiated in 2018, all Australian women's international matches played on home soil are broadcast on the Seven Network, Foxtel and Kayo.
This was a huge step forward, given broadcast across the decade beforehand had previously largely centred around T20 double headers, with other internationals in Australia live streamed by cricket.com.au dating back to the New Zealand series in 2012-13.
A growing number of WBBL matches are also broadcast on Seven, Foxtel and Kayo with 24 games available on free-to-air television in WBBL|06, while the remaining 35 were live-streamed by cricket.com.au (with 12 of those supported by Fox Sports to also air on Foxtel).
Every match of the past two T20 World Cups were broadcast, a significant step forward after the 2017 ODI World Cup had a combination of television and live stream matches, while some games at the 2016 T20 World Cup in India were not broadcast at all.
Whether Australia's overseas tours (outside of World Cups) are available on Foxtel or free-to-air television depends on the broadcast arrangements and rights deals of the host nations.
However, improving broadcast of women's internationals overseas means more and more often, those tours are also available – for example, this month's tour of New Zealand will be shown on Foxtel and Kayo, which own the broadcast rights to international cricket played in New Zealand.
Reflecting on the progress made, Steph Beltrame, executive general manager of Broadcast and Commercial for Cricket Australia, recalled the efforts made to have the 2005 ODI World Cup final – where Australia defeated India to claim their fifth title – broadcast on Australian television.
"That World Cup was one of the early times where we had really pushed to get that game broadcast back into Australia," Beltrame, whose experience across her 20 years at CA also included a stint as the women's team media manager, told The Scoop podcast.
"We worked with Foxtel, who had the rights, and the only way they could accommodate the match was on the fashion channel.
"Given the number of channels devoted to sport now, you wouldn't think we'd land on a fashion channel again but it was a funny story at the time."
A stronger female presence is also being felt in commentary boxes in Australia. For men's cricket, Channel Seven have Alison Mitchell and Lisa Sthalekar in their stable of callers, while Isa Guha and Mel Jones are prominent on Fox Cricket.
It is by no means equal, but Mitchell believes it is heading in the right direction.
"I was never fazed by male company or being the only girl in a male environment," Mitchell told The Scoop podcast of her early days in broadcasting. "I was used to it and so I accepted it. What I love now the most, though, is the fact for the last five or six years, I haven't been the only woman and now there's so many of us.
"2005 was my first cricket tour away, that was the start of a decade of touring and following predominantly the England men's team, but also the England women's team for World Cups.
"On the men's tours, I can only think of a couple of tours where I had another female for company within the press pack.
"That's the biggest shift that I'm so pleased about, that the voice of women in sports broadcasting has become more normalized in commentary, and women are now actively sought to make those more diverse and inclusive and more welcoming sounding teams.
"I do think it makes a difference in a broadcast, for women listening to hear other people talking about it. It makes you think 'this is a game for me'. It just broadens the game in a positive way."
Where can it improve?
While women's matches are now regularly broadcast on free-to-air television, they are frequently placed on secondary channels, both by Channel 7 during the regular domestic summer, and by the Nine Network (which owns the rights to ICC events until 2023) during the 2020 T20 World Cup.
The broadcaster relegated Australia's triumph against India at the MCG to its secondary channel, 9Gem, rather than on Nine's main channel.
A similar situation occurred in WBBL|06, when the finals – played under lights in primetime for the first time – were shown on 7mate.
The entire 61-game men's KFC BBL is broadcast by television networks (either Seven or Foxtel), where the WBBL remains a combination of Seven and Foxtel, and live streams from cricket.com.au.
Beltrame believes there is scope for more WBBL matches to be receive the full broadcast treatment, however, she said the growth of streaming services meant the way in which people viewed matches was already rapidly changing.
"It essentially is fully broadcast now, because we have all the games available to watch and over time the way people will watch content (will change) … it's available on a screen at the moment and that's all we need to worry about," she said.
"We'll continue to refine and improve the number of cameras we can put towards (those streams).
"There's scope to work with our broadcast partners too. We're tried to make sure the quality of the broadcast is replicated across men's and women's matches.
"We can continue to work on building out the broadcast opportunities as well."
In past seasons, the women's domestic 50-over competition, the Women's National Cricket League, consistently only had the final live streamed each year, with ad-hoc other matches at times streamed by the host state.
The equivalent men's competition, the Marsh One-Day Cup, includes a mixture of broadcast and live streams, but every match can at least be watched on a quality stream with commentary and multiple camera angles.
However, this season the quantity and quality of WNCL streaming has increased dramatically, with at least 19 of 29 matches live streamed by cricket.com.au, and a portion of those featuring on Kayo.
"We'd love to keep expanding (live streaming) and do more and more and more, right down to grassroots. We could be doing all sorts of matches and I hope one day we can get there," Beltrame said.
Going forward, Beltrame believes there could be scope for the women's game to command its own broadcast deal.
"In a way we do that now, but I think we can get a lot more sophisticated in how we do that, too," she said.
Beltrame also believes the commercial value of the women's game will continue to grow; across the past year, new partners who have signed on to support the Australian women's team include Cadbury, KFC and Vodafone.
"A lot of partners who have come on board with cricket recently and existing partners are wanting to be associated with the whole of the sport, not just the men's game," she said.
"At the moment we generate most of our income via the men's game and it will take us a long time to balance that ou. But there's no reason why we won't be deriving equal value at a point in time."
What's the current situation?
While the Decision Review System has been part and parcel of men's internationals for more than a decade, it is not available in Australia for women's internationals – although the third umpire can use broadcast replays to make decisions on umpire reviews, including for run outs and stumpings.
The DRS was used in the women's game for the first time during the 2017 ODI World Cup, but even then was available only for the ten broadcast matches. Since, it has been a feature of every match of the past two ICC Women's T20 World Cups but worldwide, it has rarely been employed in bilateral women's series.
New Zealand have used it on occasions, including during a home series against India in 2019, while it was introduced for England women's matches for the first time last September.
Under the ICC's playing conditions for women's T20Is and ODIs, it is at the discretion of participating boards to employ DRS, mirroring the position in men's playing conditions for both limited-overs formats.
Both boards can agree to employ the DRS if the minimum requirements for its use – approved ball-tracking technology, and approved sound-based edge detection technology – are satisfied.
The ICC does not cover the considerable cost of either system, which instead fall to either host broadcasters or host boards.
There is no DRS used in domestic cricket in Australia – male or female – due to the significant cost of implementing the system.
How can it improve?
The obvious answer would be to introduce the DRS for women's international matches within Australia, in line with the men, although that does come at a significant cost.
During a limited-over series against New Zealand last October, played at Brisbane's Allan Board Field, a Cricket Australia spokesperson said: "If DRS was available we'd love to use it, but unfortunately it's unavailable this series due to limited infrastructure and financial implications."
The absence of the DRS was also a hot topic during the KFC BBL this summer.
Speaking to cricket.com.au last December, league boss Alistair Dobson said it was increasingly likely next summer's Big Bash Leagues would allow players to challenge umpiring decisions, although it would look different to international cricket's DRS, given a full-scale system could cost as much as A$2million for a full season.
Taking the full suite of technologies like Ultra Edge, Hot Spot and ball-tracking to regional venues that have hosted W/BBL matches in recent seasons is a particularly costly exercise.
Dobson stressed that CA want any review system introduced for the men's BBL to also be available in the Rebel WBBL. However, the major challenge for the WBBL is the fact that not every match is broadcast on television, meaning some games would have a review system and others would not.
What's the current situation?
Female sports journalists remain a minority throughout that industry, and female athletes are also sorely underrepresented in media coverage in Australia.
A Victorian Government study undertaken across 2014-2019 analysed more than 240,000 articles in Victorian print media and found significant underreporting of female athletes across that period.
In cricket, it found women's cricket gained just six per cent of overall coverage of the sport, and also found female journalists authored just one in eight of all articles analysed.
Anecdotally, women remain the minority in cricket press boxes around Australia – particularly at men's matches – and when the Australian women's team travels overseas, there are rarely touring journalists following the team.
However, Cricket Australia have taken proactive steps to encourage greater coverage of the Australian women's team, particularly in big events. This has included CA contributing towards the travel expenses of journalists from Nine Media and News Corp to cover the 2017 ODI World Cup and 2019 Ashes in the UK, the 2018 T20 World Cup in the West Indies, and the most recent T20 World Cup in Australia.
Since 2016, there have consistently been cricket.com.au journalists and videographers travelling with the Australian women's team on domestic and international tours, providing written coverage and footage that previously was not captured.
Where can it improve?
The quantity of coverage remains a major concern, as noted by the numbers above (and a simple glance at the sports pages of mainstream media outlets, either printed or online, highlights the inequity).
The quality of the coverage when it does happen has also been put under the microscope, by players including Australia allrounder Ellyse Perry, who has frequently expressed her desire for female athletes to be covered the same way male athletes are – not only as a novelty or inspiring figure, but put in the spotlight for their performances, good or bad.
"By and large the coverage of women's sport is incredibly positive," Perry told Nine Media in 2019.
"In a lot of ways it's flattering … but what happens in male sport – and it comes with the territory – is that they get heavily criticised. They deal with things that female athletes just don't have to worry about yet."
Asked if she would welcome criticism, Perry said yes, adding: "Because it'll show that people care."
Australia had a taste of that scrutiny during the T20 World Cup, when Alyssa Healy's form in particular was questioned after a lean run with the bat heading into the event.
Speaking to cricket.com.au late last month, former Cricket Australia head of female engagement Sarah Styles agreed the type of reporting was as important as the amount.
"How do we talk about them for their accomplishments and what they're able to achieve and their story, but it doesn't always start with 'gosh you're inspiring because you're a woman playing sport'," Styles said.
"We've got to get past this idea they're always there for the inspiration.
"Ultimately women's sport is sport."
Styles recalled reading coverage of England's home Ashes loss to the Australian women in 2015, and the stern criticism they received from the English press, similar to that faced by Australia during the 2020 T20 World Cup.
"That was hard for (England) but it was a really big step forward, which they acknowledged at the time, because they realised, they're not covering us because we exist, they're covering us because of how we're playing.
"And that shift is growth, even if that growth, if you're on the receiving end, must be quite hard."
Styles hopes the increasing profile of female athletes and sport will influence future generations, who see both genders standing side by side.
However, she acknowledged even young generations would be coming up against ingrained gender stereotypes, and emphasised that sporting bodies cannot sit back and expect equal coverage but rather continue to find ways to put their female athletes in the spotlight.
"It will not automatically happen … there is something so deeply flawed in that logic and it ignores the systems that have allowed one to excel at the expense of the other," she said.
"Interventions are required."
Our Choose to Challenge series continues tomorrow as we take a deep dive into participation and grassroots cricket.