12 Apr 2024

Netball NZ understood to have agreed to drastically reduce broadcast deal with Sky TV

4:32 pm on 12 April 2024
Maia Wilson of the Stars

Top netballers face a pay cut as a result of a funding shortfall from a drastically reduced broadcast deal with Sky TV. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Netball NZ has inked a significantly reduced broadcast deal with Sky Sport for another year - effectively buying the national body some time as it explores joining Australia's Super Netball competition.

Netball NZ's chief executive Jennie Wyllie denied a deal has been signed but RNZ has confirmed with other sources the agreement was reached two weeks ago.

The agreement comes after Sky refused to budge on its initial "lowball" offer for netball rights.

As revealed by RNZ in December the deal is worth around half the current agreement, cutting broadcast revenue from $8 million to $4m.

It leaves netball bosses facing a funding shortfall for the 2025 ANZ Premiership season and players have been warned they could face pay cuts if Netball NZ cannot find additional investment.

It is hoped any pain will be short term.

Plan to join Australian league with NZ franchises

RNZ understands Netball NZ has approached its trans-Tasman counterparts about securing up to three franchise licences in the Australian league.

Talks are still in the early stages, but it is expected the move would also pave the way for New Zealand players to join Australian franchises without jeopardising their Silver Ferns eligibility.

It would likely also spell the end of the ANZ Premiership, with Netball NZ retaining a second tier domestic competition - the national netball league - as a key pathway.

The move comes amid calls for urgent action to address dwindling interest and coverage of New Zealand's elite netball competition, along with the Silver Ferns' competitive decline.

There are increasingly strident voices saying the ANZ Premiership is failing to produce top-shelf international players, pointing to the Ferns' failure to make the final in the past two pinnacle events.

Netball NZ CEO Jennie Wyllie. © Photo: Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz

Netball NZ chief executive Jennie Wyllie Photo: Andrew Cornaga/www.photosport.nz

Speaking with Checkpoint on Friday, Netball NZ chief executive Jennie Wyllie refused to be drawn on questions on broadcast negotiations and the financial future of the game.

"We're not going to be discussing our commercial arrangements at this time, but do know we are in really positive conversations with partners and keeping our players across all of the moving parts," she said.

"We haven't announced what we are doing at the conclusion of this broadcast deal."

Wyllie was adamant a deal with Sky beyond this season had not yet been signed and talks were still progressing.

Newly reappointed Ferns' coach Noeline Taurua was last week quizzed at length on her views on relaxing the rules to allow Kiwi players to play in the Australian competition. At the time her comments read as cryptic, hinting at discussions taking place behind the scenes.

"The great thing is that we're all on the same page that we know we have to change," Taurua told RNZ.

"I think now we've got to be strategic as to what pieces that we keep, because you don't want to gut New Zealand out as well, that's not going to be good for us. So I'm assuming in the next couple of years, if not sooner, that we'll see what that looks like."

Magic ahooter Irene Van Dyk secures the ball under pressure from Vixens' Geva Mentor. Waikato/BOP Magic v Melbourne Vixens. ANZ Netball Championship. Mystery Creek Events Centre, Hamilton, New Zealand. Monday 21st March 2011. Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung / photosport.co.nz

Irene van Dyk in action for the BOP Magic against the Melbourne Vixens in 2011, when Kiwi franchises clashed with Australian sides as part of a trans-Tasman competition. Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung

If Netball NZ does secure a spot or spots in the Australian league, it would mark a return of trans-Tasman club competition for the first time since the split in the old trans-Tasman league in 2016.

The split occurred following a breakdown in the relationship between Netball NZ and its Australian counterparts over a proposed reduction in Kiwi teams competing in the league. But any new arrangements would have one crucial difference to the terms that were rejected eight years ago: Netball NZ would not have to financially underwrite the competition.

Following the split, the two countries took vastly different philosophical approaches in setting up their new leagues.

Having battled to get a secure foothold in the cluttered Australian sports broadcast market, Netball Australia focused on making its new league a compelling television product. The governing body made a number of controversial calls in establishing its new league, including removing any limitations on the number of imports to attract the best global talent, and the introduction of a two-point shot.

Netball NZ, enjoying revenue from its broadcast deal with Sky, saw the domestic league as an extension of its high performance programme, creating a pathway for the national team.

Compared with the flashy made-for-TV product across the Tasman, the lack of innovation in New Zealand's league has been a source of frustration.

Asked whether Netball NZ had done enough to innovate to stay relevant to fans as traditional male-dominated codes have upped investment in women's sport, Wyllie pointed to the league's move to broadcast Saturday games live on TVNZ this year as a sign of growth.

"We have been innovative in terms of changing our model, being able to step out and go free-to-air does open up new and different opportunities for us both with our fans and in terms of commercial opportunities," Wyllie told Checkpoint.

Northern Stars head coach Kiri Wills

Northern Stars coach Kiri Wills Photo: © Photosport Ltd 2018 www.photosport.nz

'It's just maths': Player salaries expected to be cut

While talks with Australia are seen as a positive long term development, there remains some concern over whether the game can withstand the financial hit of having its broadcast revenue halved.

Northern Stars coach Kiri Wills says franchises are operating on "budgets that were relevant five years ago" and are already struggling in the face of increased costs.

"We're in a really precarious position with the Sky deal dropping," said Wills.

"We're already running a very, very tight ship. Our support staff are not full time, they are contractors - our manager and assistant coach for instance are basically only getting an honorarium. So we're already squeezed in terms of programme delivery.

"The biggest expense is player salaries. I don't see any way to cut costs out of the programme other than the playing group. That's the reality of it. It's just maths."

It is understood Netball NZ has been in discussions with High Performance Sport NZ about the current environment it is facing, but Wyllie said there was no talk of a government bailout for its elite competition.

Netball NZ receives $1.88m per year from the government agency as part of campaign funding for pinnacle events. It is one of several sports currently lobbying for funding increases. High Performance Sport NZ will make its next round of investment decisions after this year's Paris Olympic Games.

"High Performance Sport are really clear around the parameters that they fund in, they fund at the elite level and we've been having really good conversations around what our future campaign plans look like for the Silver Ferns," Wyllie said.