The ABC paid News Corp's Foxtel up to $35,000 for each Matildas match aired by the taxpayer-funded broadcaster last financial year, prompting criticism that the pay-TV network was double-dipping into the public purse.
A response to a question on notice provided in December by the Department of Communications shows the ABC paid Foxtel up to $105,000 to produce three matches featuring the national women's soccer team in 2019-20.
The ABC paid up to $35,000 to Foxtel in a cost-recovery exercise for each Matildas match it aired in 2019-20.Credit:Getty
Foxtel said this sum was "modest", but it was criticised by Greens media and communications spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young on Monday because of a multimillion-dollar federal government grant to the pay-TV service to broadcast women's and under-represented sport.
The pay-TV provider received $30 million from the federal government to increase coverage of women’s, niche and community sport in 2017. This was boosted by $10 million in July 2020, bringing the total funding to $40 million over a six-year period.
Senator Hanson-Young, who asked the department about the costs during October's Senate estimates hearings, said that charging the ABC while receiving money from the government was a "rort" that used public money to put sport behind the paywall.
"Australians shouldn't be forking out twice just to see our national women’s soccer team on free-to-air television, let alone $40 million for women's sport to be on a multinational company's pay-TV service," she said.
"The money should have gone to our public broadcasters, who could ensure every Australian could access the content for free and that they only pay for it once – not twice or even three times if they happen to be able to also afford a Foxtel subscription."
A spokesman for Foxtel said the pay-TV service outlaid a significant amount of money on the coverage of women's and under-represented sports, with the government funding "only part of this investment".
"In relation to the Matildas, there is an agreement between the ABC and Fox Sports under which the ABC pays a modest production contribution in return for producing the ABC coverage of matches," he said. The funds paid by the ABC were on a cost-recovery basis because there are different production requirements for international matches.
There were three matches in 2019-20 provided under the production agreement, which caps the cost at $35,000 a match.
The spokesman said Fox Sports typically bought broadcast rights for under-represented sports on a non-exclusive basis, but free-to-air broadcasters still pursued licensing deals only on "a very limited number of occasions".
The ABC had a direct media rights deal with Football Federation Australia for W-League and Matildas matches and did not acquire broadcast rights from Fox Sports, he said, adding that the pay-TV provider also produced the ABC's coverage of W-League and did so without charge.
When ABC managing director David Anderson was asked at estimates in October about the payments, he said the details of the deal were "commercial in confidence", but noted there was a higher cost for international matches. The ABC is able to add its own commentators to matches but must wear the costs.
The department's answer said that out of 4888 hours of under-represented sports broadcast by Fox Sports during 2019-20, only 5 per cent was broadcast on free-to-air. This included AFLW on Seven, Women's Big Bash League and international cricket by Seven and Nine, lawn bowls on SBS and W-League and Matildas on the ABC.
"There is an agreement in place between ABC and Fox Sports in which ABC pays a production contribution in return for Foxtel producing coverage of the free-to-air Matildas matches and providing the signal to the ABC," the response to the question on notice says. "This cost is capped at around $35,000 a match and this contribution also covers the costs of Fox Sports ensuring no commercial identifications are included in the feeds, ensuring that the coverage complies with the ABC Governing Rules."
A spokeswoman for Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, who is acting Communications Minister, said Fox Sports had successfully delivered the $40 million program since 2017 and increased the television and online presence of many sports that previously had not received much coverage.
The spokeswoman said the agreement between the ABC and Fox Sports was unrelated to the under-represented sports program and was a cost-recovery arrangement.
Labor acting communications spokesman Tim Watts said the public should "imagine what the ABC could do with $40 million to provide coverage of women’s sport that is free to all Australians to watch".
The ABC declined to comment.
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