At 4:59pm on Thursday, June 2, Super Netball announced that they had sold the 2022 grand final to Perth with just two rounds of the regular season to be played and four weeks before the grand final.
This news had been leaked the previous day and #NettyTwitter, including current and past players and fans, went into meltdown both prior to and after the official announcement.
Shortly after being first appointed as Netball Australia’s CEO in 2021 Kelly Ryan said that she wanted to bring transparency to the role.
These comments were well received at the time by netball fans. However, this grand final announcement has been anything but transparent.
For the first 12 rounds of the season players have been striving for and fans have been expecting that the team that wins the major semi-final would host the grand final. This announcement blindsided both players and fans alike.
After the announcement was made on social media, a press conference was held. However, one problem with the press conference is that it was only available through a private link. That is another example of a lack of transparency.
Is anyone feeling a sense of deja vu? Well, that is because the introduction of the Super Shot was a similar situation.
It was introduced at the 11th hour, less than six weeks before the 2020 season started with no consultation with the players and only two months after a fan poll voted against the introduction of the Super Shot into Super Netball.
When the Super Shot was introduced Netball Australia and Super Netball said it would make the game more exciting and grow the fan base (apparently ignoring how current netball fans felt about the concept).
The Super Shot has continued into a third season but there is nothing I have seen to indicate a significant increase in new fans because of the introduction of the Super Shot and it has alienated current fans.
Anecdotally, I would say when the Super Shot is having a major impact on games that #NettyTwitter would be running at approximately 80 per cent against the Super Shot and 20 per cent are positive towards the Super Shot.
Kelly Ryan stated: “Having a fixed venue each year will deliver a better overall event experience by maximising attendance in the stands at the grand final and by boosting viewership of the match through Foxtel and Kayo Freebies, for fans around the country.”
Super Netball’s official release also stated: “The League has shifted this year’s grand final from Saturday 2 July to Sunday 3 July to maximise attendance in the stands and viewership at home.”
Given Super Netball’s previous spruiking about the Super Shot’s ability to attract new fans (who seemingly do not exist or have not eventuated), you would be forgiven for receiving the talk around increased attendance and viewership with scepticism.
The change in date to the Sunday also reduces the possibility of people being able to travel interstate and to be back on Monday in time for work, not to mention the distance and cost of flights to Perth and the fact that people have only been given four weeks’ notice to plan, prepare and save.
The risk that West Coast Fever, despite currently being second, might not qualify for the grand final, is another concern in terms of the size of the crowd.
Melbourne Vixens members and fans have taken the news particularly hard because they were in lockdown for the best part of two years. They had to watch their team win a premiership from lockdown in 2020.
They are on top of the ladder, more than likely hosting the major semi-final and a good chance, in normal circumstances, of earning the right to host the grand final.
Netball Australia have noted that they made a $4.4 million loss in 2021 and $2 million in 2020, have bank loans of $4 million and received a going concern note from their auditors.
Obviously, these figures have been severely impacted by COVID-19 with hubs and teams having to drop things at a minute’s notice to fly from one state to another to keep the competition alive.
However, there must also be some amount of financial mismanagement that has led to this situation.
The reported benefits from the 2022 deal with the WA government are $300,000 in cash and $350,000 in contra deals for venue costs, a one-off Diamonds camp, an undisclosed percentage of ticket sales and some decal signage assets.
With there being prize money of $125,000 for the first time (which is a good thing), the reported remaining cash amount of $175,000 is a drop in the ocean compared to the debt.
A number of people have noted that if Super Netball had made an announcement at this stage – that the 2023 grand final would be sold to the highest bidder and the location would be announced at the same time as the draw – then this would have been reasonable.
All teams, players and fans would have a number of months to get used to the idea and more importantly everyone would know from the first centre pass of 2023 that the goal was to qualify for the grand final at a specified location.
So, it is the timing of this announcement, the lack of consultation in the lead-up to the announcement and the moving of the goal posts at such a late stage of the season that are the big issues in this case.
Another disappointing aspect is that with just two rounds to go, the teams placed fourth to seventh are equal on points and there should be plenty of discussion about the closeness of the teams and the different possible scenarios over the last couple of rounds that will impact the teams who make the top four.
It is most appropriate in this case to leave the final word to the players. The Australian Professional Netball Players Player Statement stated in part:
“The players commit our heart and soul to our sport, and to its promotion and development – commercial and community. Netball Australia tells us that we are the ‘Game’s most important asset’, and a priority ‘partner’. And yet they treat us as the lowest priority.
“Either the behaviours must change, or the people must change. We want to work with a Netball Australia that understands that if they want to grow the Game, and they want the players to be valuable partners in that venture, then they need to change the way they engage with us.
“What Netball Australia does not seem to understand is that one of the best things about playing netball is that the sport attracts and develops strong, smart, independent thinking women. We want Netball Australia to recognise the great talent – on and off the court – that we have in our playing group and be treated with respect and trust.”