The new National Netball League: The questions we need to ask

Megan Maurice Columnist

By Megan Maurice, Megan Maurice is a Roar Expert

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    How about a Netball State of Origin? (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt)

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    The worst kept secret in netball has finally been officially revealed, with Netball Australia (NA) today confirming that the current Trans-Tasman Netball League (TTNL) will be disbanded at the end of this season and the two countries will form their own leagues for the 2017 season.

    As predicted, Australia’s league will feature the five existing franchises, plus three new additions – a Melbourne-based team owned by the Collingwood Football Club, a Sunshine Coast-based team owned by the Melbourne Storm and a Western Sydney-based team jointly owned by Netball NSW and the GWS Giants.

    Channel Nine and Telstra have also been announced as the broadcast partners, with two live games to be played on Nine each Saturday night and the remaining two games to be broadcast on Nine on delay, as well as live on Telstra TV and the Netball Live app.

    While this is a lot of news to digest for netball fans, we don’t as yet have all the details about how this new league will operate. There are still plenty of questions that need to be answered and I’ve detailed just a few that I think fans would like to know in order to fully get behind this new venture.

    What will the rule changes be and how will they impact the game?

    Much has been made of possible rule changes said to have sealed the deal for Channel Nine to broadcast the league. One that has been touted is the much-maligned two-point shooting, where goals scored from an outer ring of the goal circle are worth two points. While this may seem like a simple change, it is one that will affect the very fabric of the game.

    A similar scoring zone (though worth three points) was trialled in the 2016 Summer Shootout preseason competition and although it was certainly sport taking place out on the court, that sport was not netball.

    The likely affect of this change will be that tall shooters will be positioned under the post as rebounders, while goal attacks will need to become long bomb specialists, constantly shooting from the outer ring as their goal shooter rebounds the ball and passes back out. Defenders too will need to switch their mindset to try to force their opponent deep in the circle, rather than trying to hold them out on the edge. The game may also become scrappier as more shots are missed and the ball travels up and down between goal circles more often and player fatigue sets in.

    The big consideration to come out of this change is how the players will then adjust to playing the traditional rules of netball in the international arena. The impact is likely to be especially brutal for young players who come up through the system under these rule changes and then step into international competition having never played under International Netball Federation (INF) rules at the elite level.

    NA CEO Kate Palmer addressed the rumoured rule changes briefly in the press conference, simply saying in a very Dolores Umbridge way that rule changes would not be made “for the sake of it.” This seems to suggest that rule changes are inevitable and fans must continue to wait to find out exactly what these will be.

    How will the talent imbalance be addressed?
    Although all five Australian franchises have had successful periods across the TTNL, with every team bar the West Coast Fever winning at least one premiership across the eight-year history of the competition, there continue to be talent imbalances.

    The NSW Swifts and Queensland Firebirds have been dominant for the past two seasons and each have a swathe of international players at their disposal. With three new teams entering, how do we ensure that the talent is spread evenly across the competition?

    As netball is currently only a semi-professional sport, the salary cap hasn’t been able to effectively address this, with contracts able to be topped with third party deals and non-monetary benefits such as cars and accommodation for interstate and international players.

    The idea of a ‘points cap’ has been raised, with a certain number of points assigned to players based on their experience and credentials and a cap on the number of points each team can have. This seems to be the best solution to the problem and would hopefully prevent a return to the pre-TTNL era when the old National Netball League was dominated by three teams for much of its run.

    If no new system is brought in, there is some danger of the three new teams either being hopelessly out of their depth on entry to the competition (as was the case for the Gold Coast Suns and GWS Giants in the AFL in their early years) or the very opposite – the new teams use their resources from the private sector and their position on the Eastern seaboard to drain talent from the farther flung teams, the Adelaide Thunderbirds and West Coast Fever, and leave these existing franchises languishing.

    What happens to the ANL?
    On establishment of the TTNL, NA set up an underpinning league, known as the Australian Netball League (ANL) to bridge the gap between the state leagues and the elite level. It has been a highly successful competition in terms of talent development and has allowed young players to experience the high performance environment and make the step into a TTNL franchise without missing a beat.

    Currently the league contains six teams – one each from the TTNL franchise states, plus a team from Canberra. Will the ANL continue in its current form, be disbanded or move into being a direct feeder league, with eight teams each linked to a top level franchise?

    How will netball in NSW look with two elite teams both managed by Netball NSW?
    The situation in NSW is an interesting one, with a joint bid by Netball NSW (NNSW) and the GWS Giants to be granted the additional licence in Sydney. There are many questions that arise out of this, particularly around financial contributions. Will NNSW be contributing equally to each of their teams? If so, how will this affect the Swifts’ bottom line and will it mean and increase in registration fees for grass roots players in the state?

    How will the two teams be marketed – will netball associations be divided into zones and assigned teams to support based on area? We have seen this work effectively with Cricket NSW’s two Big Bash League franchises, however the Swifts have built a great deal of good will in the state and fans will not jump ship easily. Does the focus instead go into converting GWS AFL fans into netball fans? Will NNSW look to spread talent between their two teams or try to lock the Swifts existing players in and only permit the new team to recruit from interstate and the ANL?

    This is a particularly interesting situation that not many predicted when expressions of interest were originally called for, so it will be a development that we will watch with interest over the coming months.

    How will netball in Victoria and Queensland look with one elite team managed by the state body and one privately owned and run?
    On the flip side, the state bodies in Victoria and Queensland have announced they will not be involved in the management of the new teams in their states. This has already had an impact on the current Melbourne-based team the Vixens.

    The team is searching for a new high performance base after the Victorian Institute of Sport revealed that as they will be unable to provide a base for both teams in the new competition, they will withdraw their support from the Vixens, in the interest of fairness. As the new team will have access to all the facilities that the Collingwood Football Club can offer, this hardly seems like it is in the spirit of fairness, but as a government funded organisation, they must feel the need to appear impartial.

    In terms of attracting talent and getting access to development pathways in the state, we don’t yet know how difficult the state bodies will make it for the privately owned teams. However it must be assumed that access to grass roots players for the purposes of marketing will be severely restricted and the new franchises will have to look at converting their existing footballing fan-bases into netballing ones in order to get bums on seats at their games.

    What will Channel Nine’s broadcast product look like?
    The landmark broadcasting deal is potentially the most exciting aspect of the new league. Previously NA was not only giving away the rights to the games to Foxtel and Channel Ten for free, they were also paying the production costs via deals with sponsors. Having all games on free-to-air television, with two games shown live in prime time, in a paid deal is big news.

    But before we get too excited, we have to wonder how Channel Nine will present and promote the game. Journalist Geoff Lemon created waves last year when his article Just not cricket – how Channel Nine is destroying a legacy went viral and thousands of cricket fans across the country expressed their dissatisfaction with the product that Nine was peddling, with similar criticisms levelled at the station’s rugby league coverage.

    If this new broadcast deal sees Michael Slater showing bikini glamour shots of the players during the breaks or features Ray Warren and Phil Gould arguing over an umpiring interpretation for half the game or Shane Warne pondering which Melbourne team would eat a dirty rotten pizza the fastest, it might be a recipe for disaster.

    I think we can safely assume that Nine will take Liz Ellis – essentially the face and voice of netball in Australia – into their commentary team, but the make up of the rest of the team is unknown. Fox Sports have been strong in providing a predominantly female commentary team, but whether Nine feels an injection of male voices is required remains to be seen.

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    The Crowd Says (22)

    • May 20th 2016 @ 8:46am
      Cranky old ref said | May 20th 2016 @ 8:46am | ! Report

      As soon as you see channel 9 involved in sport you can guarantee there will be problems.
      While they may play 2 live games for a while you can bet as soon as there is a slight dip in the ratings or the scheduled game clashes with one of their reality shows, netball will be bumped.
      The delayed telecasts will be also be pushed into the wilderness of late evening and out of reach of the kids.
      NA walked away from pay tv a few years ago to team up with a FTA network and suffered. Why theyre doing it again is beyond me

      • Columnist

        May 20th 2016 @ 9:33am
        Megan Maurice said | May 20th 2016 @ 9:33am | ! Report

        This is where I can’t agree at all. 2.9 million Australian households have Foxtel, while basically every single one has access to FTA. At this stage, it’s extremely important to make netball accessible and available to every possible audience member, not just those rich enough to have Foxtel. Not to mention that Fox Sports paid NOTHING for the rights, and NA funded the production costs as well and Nine are paying their own production costs, plus bringing a fair whack of money for the rights that goes towards paying players what they should be earning. The more money that comes in from broadcast and sponsors (and a FTA deal means more sponsors will be interested because it’s more traction for their brand) the less reliant the players’ salaries are on money coming in from junior registrations – something I’m sure everyone can agree is a priority.

        • May 20th 2016 @ 10:05am
          Cranky Old Ref said | May 20th 2016 @ 10:05am | ! Report

          Agree the money is a big factor but I’d trust Channel 9 as far as I could throw their transmission tower. We’ll take this further up the coast 🙂

    • Roar Guru

      May 20th 2016 @ 9:16am
      Mister Football said | May 20th 2016 @ 9:16am | ! Report

      Someone mentioned on another thread that there is one game back on Fox. Can someone confirm please?

      • Columnist

        May 20th 2016 @ 9:29am
        Megan Maurice said | May 20th 2016 @ 9:29am | ! Report

        I haven’t seen any indication that will happen, so I would say it’s only a rumour at this stage.

      • May 20th 2016 @ 11:13pm
        Kaiser said | May 20th 2016 @ 11:13pm | ! Report

        No Fox have nothing to do with the broadcast anymore. It’s Telstra through its Telstra TV and apps for mobiles

    • May 20th 2016 @ 9:31am
      Jenn said | May 20th 2016 @ 9:31am | ! Report

      Great questions and I am looking forward to seeing the answers in the coming weeks. I’m cautiously optimistic about it at this point, but that will change rapidly if 2 point shots are introduced!

    • May 20th 2016 @ 9:33am
      Birdy said | May 20th 2016 @ 9:33am | ! Report

      There seems to be a slip up somewhere . And that’s in Western Sydney .
      Was RL approached to sponsor a team or did they just not bother meaning RL has missed a massive opportunity.
      Netball would have been better off with the size of the western Sydney fan base not to mention money. And RL has definately missed a massive chance to bring more female interest in RL .
      Not to mention ch9 does not broadcast AFL . Did multiple parties stuff up or is there something we havnt been told yet?

      • Columnist

        May 20th 2016 @ 9:35am
        Megan Maurice said | May 20th 2016 @ 9:35am | ! Report

        Melbourne Storm is entering a team, so RL is represented. Rumour has it that Panthers put in a bid for a team, but I’m guessing the partnership with Netball NSW is what got GWS over the line as the second Sydney team. I’m not sure what Channel 9 not broadcasting AFL has to do with anything?

        • May 20th 2016 @ 10:19am
          POV said | May 20th 2016 @ 10:19am | ! Report

          Birdy

          I would say the AFL have thrown big money at Netball Australia to have the GWS Giants linked with the new netball team in Sydney.

          That’s the only thing it could be because as we all know it’s not because the Giants are popular in Western Sydney.

          Strategic move by the AFL and I understand why they are doing it.

          The Melbourne Storm link with the Queensland team is a bizarre one as well, you would think that the Storm should have the team based in Melbourne rather than Queensland.

          In saying that, this sort of break up of the ANZ Netball competition is something that some rugby union fans in Australia have pushed for with Super Rugby.

          Will be interesting to see how it works out.

          • May 20th 2016 @ 10:30am
            Birdy said | May 20th 2016 @ 10:30am | ! Report

            POV,
            Everyone I know in the Penrith area , including rellies keep telling me how huge netball is in Western Sydney !!!
            Penrith and the NRL has made their biggest mistake since relying on the pokies and tobacco .they should have moved heaven and earth to get that team!!!!!!!
            Megan,
            My reference to 9 not broadcasting afl is simply that they should have favoured an NRL bid as that is the code they sponsor.

    • May 20th 2016 @ 9:36am
      Darwin Stubbie said | May 20th 2016 @ 9:36am | ! Report

      The NZ perspective is interesting also .. seems the kiwis maintain their decent TV deal all to themselves now ..

      http://m.nzherald.co.nz/netball/news/article.cfm?c_id=69&objectid=11641386

    • May 20th 2016 @ 12:45pm
      Pardalote said | May 20th 2016 @ 12:45pm | ! Report

      Great questions, Megan. As a Tasmanian, the announcement by Netball Tasmanian that Collingwood will be bringing a couple of games a year to the island state has everybody here wetting their pants, and the principle of all netball games not only being freely accessible but promoted by the Nine’s huge marketing machine is a real positive. But your doubts about how Nine will present it are well made. I am a netball fan who did not appreciate the commentary style of footballer Luke Darcy, when Ten had the rights a handful of years ago; Darcy was there to ‘get the blokes in’ but the fact that Ten dropped their coverage suggests it did not work. And, if the rumours are true, that Nine insisted on the two point rule, that is hard evidence that they don’t understand or respect the game as it is.

      • May 21st 2016 @ 6:18pm
        Kavvy said | May 21st 2016 @ 6:18pm | ! Report

        Darcy turns blokes off the footy so Ten were way off thinking he could bring them in to netball (his commentary is as grating as Nine’s cricket coverage)

        Commentary super important to get right. People that know the game whether ex players and sports journos should make up the team.

        The two point rule would be a farce and probably turn me off watching

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