A very brave new world for netball. 

There is no doubt that the Trans-Tasman ANZ Championship needs a revamp. Introduced in 2008, the competition has increased the Australia, New Zealand rivalry, produced some outstanding games of netball and attracted the world’s best players to the two countries. It has been fantastic for the sport, not only in Australia and New Zealand, but globally too. In recent times though, the competition has began to feel stale. There seems to be too much talent sitting on the benches and in eight seasons, only one New Zealand based team has won a Grand Final.

So I agree, time for a change. But change in a sporting competition needs to be really well thought out. It cannot include aspects that leave your sport and your audience worse off in the long run.

Last week it was announced that Netball Australia would end their association with the Trans-Tasman competition. The two countries are to break away into their own individual competitions. In Australia, three new teams are to be created and the five current Australian teams retained.

These three new teams will be off-shoots from AFL teams, GWS and Collingwood, as well as from NRL team the Melbourne Storm.

Here is where I have some concerns. Are these ‘brother’ clubs if you like, really serious about the game of netball or is this purely a marketing, goodwill gesture aimed at other things other than furthering the future of netball in this country? Did Collingwood only do this to increase their chances of getting a licence in the new Women’s AFL competition? What benefits do these ‘brother’ clubs gain apart from monetary value for having their brand associated with the new competition? I sincerely hope Netball Australia has looked into this. What happens when one of these new netball teams is struggling and hurting the brand of the ‘brother’. Do they pull out? When things get tough, are the ‘brothers’ going to be a shoulder to cry on?

The Queensland team is likely to be based from the Sunshine Coast and the GWS team from the west of Sydney, which will prevent an over saturation of the market and reduce the hurt on the current teams in those states. But is Melbourne ready for another netball team. How will this impact the Vixens? Perhaps Geelong would have been a better starting point.

My other issue is with the broadcasting of this competition. Two games will be shown back to back on a Saturday night on the Nine Network. Notice the use of the word ‘network’ here. Most likely, 9Go! will be netball’s new home. Just think about that for a minute. Four games a round. Two of them live, buried on a secondary channel on a Saturday night. A night where netball will compete for the most part against AFL, NRL, Super Rugby and A-League. The other two games will be shown on delay. Delay. What is this, 1999? Delayed sport might as well not be shown at all in this instant gratification world we live in.

Your other option is to watch these games on the Netball Live App through Telstra. Without mentioning Telstra’s recent troubles, if you are a netball fan locked into another network, there is a fair chance you will no longer be able to see your team regularly live. Restricting your audience in a sport that doesn’t have a huge one to start with is absolutely mad.

Currently games are scattered across the weekend and all, I repeat ALL of them are live on Foxtel. Yes, netball needs free to air TV exposure, but if you love sport or even just netball, there is a fair chance you either have Foxtel anyway or you’d be far more likely to sign up to subscription TV with the guarantee of seeing your team live every week. Is anybody going to change phone networks with the only benefit being able to watch the game on a small screen?

I understand this broadcasting deal is going to pump more money into the game. That is fantastic news and should never have taken this long to occur. But without an audience, this money is not going to be around for long. Your diehards will always find a way to watch, but you won’t attract new audiences in silly time slots, with delayed games and without regular exposure on a major channel. Isn’t searching for a greater audience the point of having free to air exposure in the first place?

So they way I see it is this. Other sports bank rolling netball is a risk. Netball is never going to be their main focus, which is an issue. More talent will be on the court, which is great. But at what cost to the current teams? In particular the Vixens. The game can’t grow with netball on a secondary channel or a mobile phone network. So where is this new audience and in turn more money going to come from down the track?

I hope Netball Australia can answer all these questions or we may not have a competition after the five year deal is up.





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