Sport

ABC to cut coverage of W-League soccer and WNBL basketball

Australian Opals star Lauren Jackson has described the ABC's move to axe coverage of the Women's National Basketball League and soccer's W-League as a "very dark day for women's sport", adamant it could spark a sponsorship and player exodus. 

At risk: Opals coach Brendan Joyce says lack of TV deal will make it harder to keep stars, such as Lauren Jackson, in ...
At risk: Opals coach Brendan Joyce says lack of TV deal will make it harder to keep stars, such as Lauren Jackson, in Australia.  Photo: Jeffrey Chan

Canberra United boss Heather Reid has labelled the decision to cease coverage after the current seasons as "shameful", and said it could send women's sport "back to the drawing board".

The ABC has told staff coverage of women's soccer and basketball will end at the end of the current season, and the coverage of the Shute Shield rugby union competition and other state football leagues will be cut, too.

Canberra Capitals centre Jackson said she had feared women's sport would be on the chopping block when it was first announced the ABC budget would be slashed by $254 million in budget cuts and said it had been made a "sacrificial lamb".

"When I heard about the cut it was obvious something would have to go, of course women's sport is the sacrificial lamb," Jackson said. 

"It's a huge shame and I hope it doesn't end up being the case because ABC has been such a huge supporter of women's sport. 

"I would say it's a very dark day for women's sport. It's a huge mistake I believe. 

"The Liberal government doesn't really put sport ahead of anything else, especially women's sport, and that's why I thought it would be one of the things to go.

"It impacts individual and team sponsorship dollars, it impacts a lot of things. What they're basically doing is short-changing it in every single sense."

The ABC currently shows one live WNBL game on Saturday, and a live W-League game on Sunday. 

The decision ends a 35-year association with the WNBL. The W-League has been shown on ABC since its inception in 2008-09. 

Sources within the ABC have also confirmed iconic commentators Drew Morphett, Dan Lonergan and Peter Newlinds will lose their jobs.

ABC Grandstand will undergo a national review, which will look at Canberra Grandstand, but it's believed the Saturday morning show will continue at this stage.

Reid said the decision to cut sport broadcasting would make it difficult for all clubs and sports affected to retain their sponsors if another broadcaster did not take over the coverage.

She was unsure what it would mean for the future of the W-League.

"I think it's shameful, it's terrible, it's bad for women's sport, but it's also bad for regional and community sport, too," Reid said.

"It's going to have a big knock-on effect unless other broadcasters pick up the TV coverage, particularly for the W-League and the WNBL, it will have potential ramifications across the sponsorship ... [which] helps keep the fledgling clubs alive in the absence of massive TV rights deals.

"Sponsors want to see their brand on TV and if we don't have that TV coverage then it's almost back to the drawing board."

Jackson is currently out injured but is one of many international stars to return to the WNBL this season, including Elizabeth Cambage and Penny Taylor. 

She said less exposure had the potential to cause sponsors to walk away, which would make it more difficult to stop the best players in the leagues leaving to chase big money in Europe. 

"Absolutely [it could happen], if you cut us from national TV you're cutting sponsorships for teams, players and their profiles," Jackson said. 

"It's a nightmare. It's the one thing that can put us out there, the ABC has us on national television every Saturday. 

"If we don't get on TV once a week people aren't seeing how good we are, we [Opals] are the second-best team in the world but they'll only see us at the Olympics."

Jackson admitted basketball is in danger of losing further ground to netball, which has a hugely successful broadcast deal with Fox Sports. 

"Basketball Australia has a lot of work to do. They're going to have to find a way to get us back out there and on television, and make sure we're getting that funding."

Basketball Australia emailed WNBL clubs to inform them of the ABC's decision on Monday. In a statement, Basketball Australia boss Anthony Moore said they are looking at alternatives. 

"The Australian Sports Commission review into the WNBL will be released in early December to the basketball community," he said.  

"This report deals with broadcast opportunities and BA will now turn our attention to the options available to continue to showcase the WNBL to Australian basketball fans."

Football Federation Australia was disappointed with the decision, but was adamant it does not affect broadcasting of the current Westfield W-League season or the ongoing viability of the competition and FFA will work with all broadcasters to explore options to ensure the ongoing coverage of the W-League.