Wednesday Whinge – Netball cannot sell the soul for TV

Why do we live in a world where everything has to be done at a fast pace? From Twenty20 cricket to Rugby 7’s to AFL 9’s. Now netball wants to be involved with the continued emergence of the Fast5 Netball concept. This consists of shorter quarters, less players on court and more points awarded for a goal depending on where you shoot it from. Or as someone pointed out on Twitter very much like basketball.

Netball does not need this concept. Sure there is room for more international netball on the schedule, but proper netball, not this shoot and giggle rubbish. Unfortunately it is a concept that grabs television networks, who like the fastness of the game, allowing more time for commercial breaks and in between games that feature C-Grade celebrities and network personalities.

Take the Fast5 World Series action over the weekend. Eighteen games in two days. Eighteen! In three years time you are not going to remember this event, because nothing memorable happened at it. It was over in the blink of an eye, was rushed and it simply failed to feature the absolute best players who currently play the game. What you will remember though, is the epic, heart-stopping Test matches between Australia and New Zealand. These games actually mean something to both countries and players get themselves up for the big occasion. The standard of netball therefore is elite, as world class athletes are putting it all on the line in order to get the win. It is life or death sport.

The same cannot be said for the Fast5 concept. For a start only five players are on the court for one team at any time (much like basketball), the skills are nowhere near as impressive, given the aim of the game is basically get the ball and shoot and there are so many games on the one day that you wonder how injury potential a sport it really is.

In between the regular games and the play off matches, viewers are treated to a game between Channel Nine celebrities, which reinforces the point that this is all for television and not one ounce of this concept is aiding the game of netball. It has also been reported that National Netball League television rights holder Channel Nine is a big believer in changing rules of the regular game, such as introducing a two point shot in the hope that it creates a better television product. Netball is very quickly finding out that entering into a shot gun television deal as it did, is going to come with some unintended consequences. A very dangerous game could be about to be played that could change the future of the game forever in a negative way. Thankfully Netball Australia have decided against this for the inaugural season of the National Netball League, but it appears that it is a matter of when and not if that the rules will be eventually tampered with.

This just leads to a series of questions as to where the future of the game is headed. Will sponsors see more value in the shorter form television product and start placing more money into that rather than the regular form? What happens to grassroots netball if this happens? What form of the game do we teach younger children? Do we have to re-paint every netball court in Australia in the colours of the Fast5 concept?

Netball needs to spend the next twenty years growing the game as it is. The current product has all the right ingredients, it just needs the right backing and guidance. There is no room for more than one form of netball given all the other competition netball faces. With the Women’s Big Bash League taking off and with AFL Women’s about to launch, netball has to purely focus on getting their pure form of the game right or risk completely losing it as a sport forever. That is how serious an issue this is. The sport of netball does not need competition from within its own organisation.

Netball fans need to steer clear of the Fast5 World Series concept in the future. Netball executives need to be sent the message that supporters will not stand for netball selling the soul for television, when there is absolutely nothing wrong with the current regular product in its purest form. Test cricket is on its knees because similar warnings were not heeded when Twenty20 cricket entered the arena. Netball should take serious note.

Picture – Netball Australia

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