Evolution is the key to Super Netball remaining Australia’s number one female game in an era where women’s sport is on the rise.
But gimmicks aren’t the answer.
Netball faces its greatest challenge with the FIFA Women’s World Cup coming to Australia and administrators are looking for ways to capture the attention of new audiences to stay ahead of the curve.
Like changing things for the sake of change.
Super Netball dropped a radical new rule on its players, clubs and fans earlier this week, announcing the introduction of the two-point ‘super shot’ to the top-tier league.
The ‘super shot’ awards two goals for those scored from the outer portion of the goal circle in the last five minutes of each quarter.
It comes only three months after they published an article saying they “now know exactly where [fans] stand on the matter and it’s definitely not within the outer edges of the circle”.
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By their own admission, an overwhelming majority voted against the rule’s introduction in a poll but administrators went ahead with it anyway.
It was all to increase the game’s entertainment value and draw in new fans, of course.
But if you don’t have the support of your target audience then how can the sport grow?
If Super Netball wants to branch out its fan base by implementing an unpopular new rule, then it should consider changing at least one of its timeslots that are played when its main audience, netballers, are still at the courts.
Three of Super Netball’s four weekly matches are played on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, starting between 1 and 3pm.
There is no NRL on Channel Nine on Saturdays, leaving a prime time television time slot wide open for Australia’s largest women’s team sport to be showcased.
If broadcasters are serious about women’s sport then they should put it on prime time television. And it’s been done before.
When Super Netball was the known as The Commonwealth Bank Trophy and the Sydney Swifts wore blue and yellow, my family had season tickets which included week-night games.
My sister and I would watch the Sydney Swifts with our teammates on a Friday night then try to mimic the likes of Catherine Cox the following morning.
Even our respective teams’ warm-up was inspired by the Swifts. What we saw them do, we did too.
And it worked. Trophies galore baby.
That’s what netball’s youth of today are missing out on.
Most netballers spend their Saturdays at the netball courts playing for their local club, then representative athletes play for high honours on Sunday. That barely leaves room to watch Super Netball live, let alone attend games.
Netball Australia needs to re-engage with these fans before pushing the boundaries with gimmick rules like the two-point shot.
Like all sports, netball needs to evolve but it can’t do that by taking away what makes the sport unique.
First rolling substitutions and now a two-point shot? What’s next, a backboard and renaming the sport basketball? An Opals v Diamonds exhibition match?
These flashy rules work for modified versions like Fast5, netball’s answer to Twenty20 cricket. And just like cricket, there’s a seperate world series that showcases them and appeals to new audiences.
The traditional game should be left alone to thrive at a professional level, otherwise its legitimacy risks being compromised.
Players are concerned about the rule change creating a domino effect and what the league’s future format may look like.
Melbourne Vixen’s Jo Weston likened it to a clown car. Australian captain Caitlin Bassett went a step further and posted an image of Lingerie Football to her Instagram with the caption: “The next change to make netball more ‘entertaining’?”
Players have also slammed the league for not consulting them about the rule change prior to its announcement.
The Australian Netball Players Association sent a letter to the commission on Wednesday, saying they were “shocked and disappointed” by the rule’s implementation.
“The players have endured an eight-month preseason, pay cuts, and uncertainty about the season with patience, a collaborative mindset and unwavering goodwill,” ANPA president Natalie Medhurst stated.
“We have put the game first, as we always do. For a decision of this significance to be made and announced without any engagement with the players, just six weeks out from the start of the season, is extremely disappointing and disrespectful.”
Teams have only five weeks to adjust to the new rule, which drastically changes attacking and defensive structures in the circle.
For instance, Giants Netball shooter Bassett only attempted three goals from the outer circle last season. She only scored one.
Yep. That’s one goal in the entire season.
So either Bassett has to radically change the way she plays within those five minutes, is taken off, or the Giants solely rely on Jo Harten to sink the long bombs.
The circle dynamic shifts from a shooting partnership to having just one dominant shooter. And that’s just one attacking example.
Good luck defenders is all I’m going to say.
So start practicing ladies, you’ve only got five weeks to avoid turning this new rule into a chucking contest. Because apparently that is more entertaining.