Trans-Tasman netball split on the cards

Megan Maurice Columnist

By , Megan Maurice is a Roar Expert

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    “Roy Masters broke the netball internet” is not a sentence I ever imagined penning, and yet here we are.

    Rumours have been circulating with greater and greater urgency since December last year when Netball Australia called for expressions of interest for three new teams to enter the competition in 2017.

    Speculation was rife as fans pondered what these new teams would mean for the existing competition, which currently features five teams each from Australia and New Zealand.

    A proposed split has been discussed numerous times since then, with The New Zealand Herald‘s Dana Johannsen fuelling the fire most recently. Johannsen postulated in her weekly column that Netball Australia had failed to secure the money they’d been after from a broadcast deal and thus it was likely the trans-Tasman competition would remain in a revised format.

    But it was fellow journalist Masters’ revelation in The Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday that really threw a spark in this powder keg.

    He claimed a split is indeed imminent and a five-year broadcast deal for the new Australian competition with the Nine Network and Telstra is on the cards.

    The netball internet exploded and theories flew wildly back and forth across the Tasman, with rival media outlets tripping over themselves to catch up with the news.

    It was a media storm that most women’s sports in Australia could only dream of, but the wave of attention appears to be unwanted by the national body, who issued a joint statement with Netball New Zealand, saying:

    “Netball New Zealand (NNZ) and Netball Australia (NA) are surprised by the speculation and information that was published in Australian media today. We are close to reaching agreement with key parties in regard to the shape and format of the 2017 competition, and look forward to making a joint announcement next week.”

    This comment seems endemic of the attitude among the powers that be in netball, who often appear to be uncomfortable with the media having information that they haven’t expressly handed over and controlled.

    The media attention generated as a result of Masters’ article is a demonstration of how far the sport has come, even in the space of 12 months.

    Let’s not forget that in June last year, Netball Australia mistakenly loaded the names and profiles of the 12 players selected for the Netball World Cup a day before the team was officially named.

    Despite this blunder and the early reveal of the team by specialist netball site Netball Scoop, no major Australian media outlets picked up the story and the planned media launch of the team went ahead unscathed – a situation which could never have happened in a sport that receives constant mainstream media coverage.

    The time has come for netball to recognise that they are playing in the big leagues. As a driving force that has consistently led the way for women’s sport in Australia, Netball Australia need to accept and even embrace the old adage that all publicity is good publicity if they want to compete with the likes of cricket and the football codes in the battle for the public’s time and attention.

    Whatever the confirmed changes to the competition are revealed to be in the coming weeks, this is a key time for netball in Australia. The momentum of the 2015 Netball World Cup in Sydney is strong, but won’t continue indefinitely.

    If netball wishes to remain at the forefront of women’s sport, then the governing body needs to start fanning the flames of the media firestorm, not urgently hosing them down.

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