Giants Netball showing the way forward on and off the court for women’s sport

Sarah Leach Columnist

By , Sarah Leach is a Roar Expert

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    Giants Netball will face off against the Sunshine Coast Lightning in netball’s night of nights, the Suncorp Super grand final tonight in Brisbane.

    Just eight months ago, these two clubs about to do battle for the premiership didn’t exist. Last year, Netball Australia were busy orchestrating a move that led to netball’s biggest broadcast rights deal, the divorce from our friends across the ditch and a new association with professional football clubs.

    Three new teams entered the competition this year – the winning bidders being the Giants (through Netabll NSW), Collingwood Magpies and the Melbourne Storm rugby league club, which pitched for a team on the Sunshine Coast.

    Having these footy clubs involved has absolutely paid off – but has it come at the expense of other clubs? That may be the case, but you can’t beat progress.

    Abolishing the Trans-Tasman competition of eight years and penning a five-year free-to-air broadcast rights deal was something Netball Australia said would give the sport ‘unprecedented exposure’.

    It also enticed three professional football clubs to jump in. It’s turned out to be a win-win!

    GWS boss Dave Matthews told the Canberra Times last year that “The natural synergy between the two sports has always existed.

    “If there’s 115,000 netball participants in NSW, we want to talk to those families and give them the opportunity to come and see what the Giants have to offer at Spotless Stadium and at Manuka. But at the same time, we want to help netball develop their participation base and particularly develop this new team.”

    Matthews also added, regarding having an AFL Women’s team, “I think they can complement each other. Again it’s an opportunity to share resources, potentially even share talent.”

    And it’s no coincidence that the Giants, Lightning and Collingwood all finished in the finals for 2017 and, notably, ahead of 2016 premiers, the Queensland Firebirds.

    But why did it happen?

    You could argue the footy clubs have been able to not only offer the razzle dazzle of being part of a big, successful footy club, the great facilities and the sporting network, but also the big bucks to secure the best netball talent across the nation.

    It’s the latter point that lets them make the most of the new collective bargaining agreement, under which:

    • Each player contracted in this year’s league share from a total payment pool of $5.4 million;
    • Each club will have up to $675,000 to spend on its list of ten contracted athletes, meaning the average salary will increase to $67,500;
    • The bulk of the payment pool for each club comprises $500,000 in retainer payments, plus up to $150,000 for bona fide employment, education and/or ambassador roles. The remaining payments come from health insurance and technology allowances;
    • The minimum salary for a player is more than double from the trans-Tasman deal, from just $13,250 to $27,375.

    Athletes are on 12-month part-time contracts, averaging 20 hours per week. The hours from 10am to 4pm are protected, providing every athlete with the opportunity for additional work and/or study.

    Players are entitled to a groundbreaking parental care policy for players with young children; private health insurance contributions of up to $1,500 per annum, per player; and 100 per cent income protection on all earnings for up to two years in the event of injury or pregnancy.

    Could the footy clubs have offered sweet deals to players? Or managed to work around the collective agreement in paying and buying best players?

    We don’t know. But what we do know is that the affiliation to already well-established footy clubs has been a great addition to the sport of netball in this county. An addition and widening of fans, new attitudes and breathing new life into the sport have been made clear.

    The exposure has also been welcome – Network Nine, Telstra and the social media channels have been an undoubtedly positive addition.

    For the other five established netball clubs – Melbourne Vixens, NSW Swifts, Queensland Firebirds, Adelaide Thunderbirds and West Coast Fever – the challenge is on for 2018; how can they beat these three new clubs who have excelled in their first year?

    My money for the grand final tonight is on the Giants. With the ‘Wayne Bennett of netball’, Julie Fitzgerald, at the helm of the NSW-based team, I’m giving them the edge over the Lightning in what promises to be a nail-bitter.

    Sarah Leach
    Sarah Leach

    Sarah Leach is a former netballer who played at a national level in both Australia and the UK. She is currently a broadcast journalist and creative producer based in London, as well as a lover of all sports and giving high-fives to the ladies dominating on the big stage. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter.

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