In a move that has angered sports fans, Foxtel Group elected not to renew its 7-year partnership with BeIN Sports effective 1 July 2023 with Australian soccer, rugby and tennis fans left as collateral damage.
The Qatari owned provider, who had previously served as Foxtel’s foot in the door in markets it was otherwise unable to access, owned a plethora of (primarily European based) sporting rights but had recently lost the rights to Six Nations Rugby, Champions and La Liga as a result of increased competition in streaming markets. It is understood that the loss of these rights triggered Foxtel Groups decision not to renew with BeIN Sports.
Relevantly, BeIN Sports was and remains the host provider of WTA and ATP tour events outside of the four grand slams in Australia.
The decision means Foxtel Group’s 4.529 million subscribers lose over 100 ATP and WTA Tour events annually. That’s everything from the end of season finals to the Masters 1000 events like Indian Wells and Madrid down to the ATP and WTA 250s scattered throughout the globe.
Alex de Minaur’s run to the final in Toronto as the first Australian male to reach a Masters 1000 event since Lleyton Hewitt was the first major event largely missed by the Australian public. The Alcaraz v Djokovic Wimbledon re-match in Cinncinati was another.
Tennis fans are now left to decide whether to subscribe to yet another streaming service in the form of BeIN Sports Connect (currently priced at $150 annually or $15 per month), Tennis TV ($150pa or $15pm) or simply live without international tennis coverage outside of Channel 9’s coverage of the four grand slams and the Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup.
In announcing its decision (and when responding to disappointed subscribers) Foxtel Group provided little hope of tennis returning to its platform in the near future or at all.
“The beIN SPORTS channels, including Live and On Demand content, will no longer be available from 1 July 2023” Foxtel Group announced.
“As part of our constant evaluation of programming and channels we have made the decision not to renew our partnership with beIN SPORTS. Kayo Sports will continue to be the go-to streaming destination of the world’s best sporting content including the biggest Aussie sports (AFL, NRL, Netball, Cricket and more), and the best from overseas (NBA, Motorsports, NHL, NFL and more).”
While another streaming subscription may seem insignificant for die-hard fans, the reality is that many households cannot take on another expense in the current economic climate.
Moreover, the real loss to the game is not the die-hards. They’ll always be there. The real loss, and what cannot be understated, is the loss of casual eyeballs to the tour on a weekly basis. It’s a safe bet that of the 4.529 million subscribers to Foxtel Group most wont even consider purchasing a tennis specific subscription package.
Consequently, over time and if left unchanged, the level of interest in tennis in Australia will wane. Thousands of children will no longer stumble across or maintain their interest in the sport via their parents’ Kayo or Foxtel account and international and up and coming players will become foreign to the public.
If this appears dramatic, that’s because this is. Any case study of domestic leagues such as the NBL and the A-Leage (formerly NSL) over the last thirty odd years will tell you that an accessible TV product is crucial to the long term viability of the code and growth of the game. It’s make or break. Losing 4.529 million subscribers is a disaster for tennis domestically, even if the effects are not felt immediately.
Responding to an inquiry from The First Serve, Tennis Australia said it was eager to ensure that tennis remained accessible to as many eye balls as possible.
“We are always keen to ensure as many people as possible can watch tennis throughout the year and follow both our tremendous Aussie players and the international stars of the game” the Tennis Australia statement read.
“Ensuring as much exposure for the sport and the players is our priority, for example, the work we’ve done with domestic broadcaster Nine now means that Australians can follow all four Grand Slams, not just the AO, on free-to-air TV. We will always use our influence with the many stakeholders in tennis to provide as much access to our fantastic sport as possible.”
Former Australian professional turned multiple tournament director and tennis powerbroker Peter Johnston has lamented Foxtel Group’s decision on X (Twitter) even suggesting that Tennis Australia ought to intervene by offering to cut a cheque to Foxtel Group to solve this “disaster”.
No doubt Tennis Australia genuinely will explore every avenue possible to “influence the many stakeholders in tennis” however whether their efforts will be enough to convince a more accessible provider such as Stan Sport or Channel 9 to showcase the sport on a weekly basis remains to be seen.
For now, millions of eyeballs are fixed elsewhere.