World Netball Series may fizz without crowd support

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Australia's Sharelle McMahon Netball World Championships - AAP Image/Photosport

Netball is now following in the footsteps of cricket and rugby in providing a shorter version of the game, which will hopefully excite existing netball fans and grab the attention of new ones. Between October 9-11, a new World Netball Series will take place in Manchester, featuring the top six netballing countries: Australia, New Zealand, England, Jamaica, Samoa and Malwai.

With a strong supporter base in Australia, and even more so in New Zealand, the introduction of this new competition raises questions of whether it will be a success in its first year and what possible longevity it will have as an alternative to the traditional 60 minute game of netball.

Over the years, there have been those spectators who find that the game isn’t long enough and you don’t get enough value for your money.

There are those who think that the game is too boring to watch, especially on television.

And there are those who prefer to see a bit more biff and don’t think that netball is physical enough, which I certainly do not agree with.

And then there are those, who love the game the way that it is.

Whilst everyone can’t be pleased, this new tournament, along with the new rules, will hopefully provide spectators with an even faster paced and skilled game that will be excite and engage.

These new rules allow teams to make a limited number of rolling substitutions throughout a game, which will be similar to the practice done in basketball. And using a rule from the current Twenty20 format, teams will be allowed to allocate one quarter in which goals will be worth double points, known as a “power play”.

Being a shooter myself, I am glad to see that all those half court competition shots after training sessions will now pay off, as goals can be shot from outside the regular goal circle and will be worth double points, which could equate to four goals if scored during a power play quarter.

Along with these changes, the game will be cut down to only six minute quarters, including two minute breaks.

Whilst the new competition sounds exciting and will cater for those who would like to see something a little bit different, I wonder what the life of this competition will be.

The new Twenty20 cricket competition is a huge success. However, the game still goes for several hours, unlike netball, which already only goes for 60 minutes and is going to be cut down to 24 minutes with this new competition.

In comparison to many other sports, netball does not really allow fans to engage in the game.

Whilst there is the usual cheer of a goal or a groan at an umpiring decision, no music is played whilst the game is in play, like there is at basketball, and crowds don’t start Mexican waves like they do at the football and cricket.

All of this is part of the atmosphere of a sporting spectacle and is one of the reasons that people attend these games. It is part of the great experience that comes along with watching a sporting event.

Maybe this is why I find tennis rather draining to watch.

As exciting as it is to turn my head from side to side and watch the ball being hit, then applaud a good shot, before being told by the chair umpire “quiet please,” I would much rather watch the AFL or the cricket and enjoy the atmosphere and the interaction that’s available with other spectators.

I believe this is something that often is missed from games of netball. On the odd occasion where the crowd really gets vocal during a netball game, as a player, it is great to hear. But it doesn’t happen often enough.

Along with the crowd atmosphere, there is another concern as how this World Netball Series is going to fit in to the netball calender over the next couple of years.

Within Australia and New Zealand, the ANZ Championship runs from April through to August, with international commitments continuing after its conclusion.

However, in 2010, the Commonwealth Games are being held, and in 2011, the Netball World Championship will be taking place in Singapore, where Australia will be hoping to retain the ‘World Champions’ crown.

With these two large tournaments coming up over the next two years, which will see large amounts of preparation being undertaken by teams, will this new shortened version of the game be able to fit into the busy netball schedule of 2010 and 2011 and allow countries such as Australia to host such an event?

Or could this competition just be a one off and end up being a good idea that just didn’t take off?

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