Australian Swimmers Face Mainstream TV Blackout If Broadcaster And FINA Can’t Reach A Deal

Cate Campbell abd Bronte Campbell Swimming World
Bronte, left, and Cate Campbell. Photo Courtesy of Swimming Australia

One of the key objectives in the FINA Constitution is the promotion of swimming worldwide. All the more concerning then that the price and conditions of rights to broadcast the World Aquatics Championships that get underway in Gwangju, South Korea, next week, appear to be so prohibitive, according to broadcasters in various countries, that Australians may be unable to follow their star swimmers.

The Dolphins will one of the key teams across all disciplines in Gwangju and all the more so when pool swimming gets underway for eight days from July 21. With days to go until the Opening Ceremony in Gwangju, Australian media report that there is still no deal between Australian swimming rights holder ‘Seven’ and FINA.

Swimming Australia has been working at plugging the gap, including seeking solutions with streaming coverage – though that many not be live. Australian broadcasters have refused to budge because, Australian media suggest, the price is not affordable in the wider context of the market value of international and national sports events.

Australians can buy into FINA live streaming for 24.99 (same figures in dollars and euros) just for the world titles or 39.99 (both currencies) for an annual pass. The live streaming does not, however come with local knowledge nor an independent-media take on events unfolding.

Beyond that, however many core fans decide to tune into that, such services come nowhere remotely close to the audience figures that are and can be generated by live mainstream terrestrial-service broadcasts.

Key observers of swimming says that the sport’s problem is not one of ‘core audience’; the challenge is to move beyond that and reach a wider audience in order to raise its market value, and in turn the market value of swimmers.

Swimming World understands that members of the European Broadcast Union – including public and private-service broadcasters such as the BBC in Britain, ARD and ZDF in Germany, RTE in Spain and so on – have also had serious discussions about whether they can afford to opt into the full package of rights demanded by FINA. Some broadcasters are known to have curtailed their team sizes and activities for Gwangju compared to their level of commitment made for previous World titles, to cope with the rising costs of rights.

Neither organisations nor broadcasters reveal specific figures involved in rights, which can differ from country to country, depending on market value, perceived or real. It is, insiders say, in FINA’s gift to negotiate with broadcasters who are unhappy with the offer made by the international federation.

Swimming Australia chief executive Leigh Russell told Julian Linden at the Daily Telegraph that talks are ongoing ahead of the Gwangju gathering:

“Swimming Australia is aware the rights for the FINA world championships have not been purchased in Australia.  We know this is important to Australian swimming fans and also to growing the sport globally. We are currently in discussions with FINA regarding alternative options for viewing the broadcast in Australia and hope to be in a position to provide an update soon.”

As it pitched its Champions Series against the challenge being brought by the International Swimming League and the first season of global pro-team competition from October to December this year, FINA pledged to do more to promote the sport.

Australian media notes today that a lack of TV coverage of the key championship event of the year could mean that the impact of any success The Dolphins may have in Gwangju will be dented.

Mainstream broadcasts make an incalculable contribution to whether swimmers become households names and what impact that has on swimming, on recruitment of swimmers and the status of the sport in the ranking and pecking order of sports worldwide. From Shane Gould in 1972 via Kieren Perkins, Ian Thorpe, Susie O’Neill, Grant Hackett and Leisel Jones to Kyle Chalmers and Cate Campbell today, mainstream TV coverage has been critical to the profiles of athletes. That remains the case in the digital era, niche streaming a fine thing for fans and the dedicated but unable to reach the wider audience that swimming needs to reach if it is to stop the sport’s decline in the world of what media often calls “minority” sport.

In mainstream print and media, swimming’s presence is lower now than it was in the 1990s, an overview of a major global media archive shows quite convincingly. The changing nature of media and new offers of the digital age negate that impact, some believe. Beyond the Olympic Games and World long-course championships, there is evidence of steep decline in interest, according to coaches, media and industry figures.

Here is Wayne Goldsmith‘s take for Swimming World on how such things dovetail into other challenges faced by swimming:

In Australia, Barcelona 2013 marked the only moment since the 1986 Championships in Madrid that Australian audiences were deprived of live mainstream broadcast of the premier swimming event. While “Seven” holds swimming rights Down Under until 2025, that deal only included the 2015 and 2017 events on the World Championships roster.

Melbourne was recently cited on a list of those expressing interest in hosting the 2025 or 2027 championships but key sources in Australia have told Swimming World that no such interest has been expressed on an official basis and it came “as a bit of a surprise to see Melbourne on that list”, according to one source.

In the United States, NBC is the rights holder and will provide mainstream broadcast live and canned.

Swimming World has sent questions to and requested comment from FINA and will bring you the answers should we receive any.