Why Netball Australia had to separate from New Zealand to secure dominant future

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After weeks of speculation, Netball Australia last week announced their new national netball league - an eight team competition to be played solely within Australia that will replace the current ANZ Championship from 2017. While the loss of New Zealand's star athletes is disappointing, the benefits of going our own way far outweigh the loss of the Trans-Tasman rivalry.

With the New Zealand teams ditched and the five current Australian sides from the ANZ Championship retained, three new entities will be created to compete for the new national title. That will give current second-tier netballers from around Australian a chance to play against the best in the top league and earn a professional contract, while international players from England, South Africa and Jamaica will be given a chance to play in the strongest netball competition in the world.

While the move away from Netball New Zealand was a badly kept secret, it was a move that needed to be made in order to continue the growth and dominance of Australian netball internationally and domestically.

In a move that brings the sport one step closer to becoming truly professional, Netball Australia secured a landmark broadcasting deal with Channel Nine and Telstra to cover the new national league, all of which couldn't have occurred while still partnered with New Zealand Netball.

Since 2008, when the current ANZ Championship was introduced, broadcast stats reveal the huge divide between viewership of Australian derbies compared to Australia-New Zealand games and Kiwi derbies.

According to AGB Nielsen; Analyzed through AdvantEdge | National Subscription Panel | Reach (000): 1 Minute Continuous Viewing, Australian derbies had an average viewership of 39,000 - more than double the average of 17,700 for New Zealand derbies.

Therefore, Netball Australia simply had to take the step of severing ties with Netball New Zealand to secure such an important broadcast deal.

While these numbers aren't huge in comparison to competitions such as the NRL or AFL, when compared to similar female sports - such as Australia's women's soccer league, the W-League, with an average of just 18,000 - netball is clearly the dominant female sport in Australia's sporting landscape. Netball Australia had to do whatever it could to ensure it continued growing.

The broadcast deal is a massive boost for the sport, which means Netball Australia will no longer pay to have the local competition broadcast. The national body will now receive a huge cash injection and while the numbers behind the deal have not been revealed, Netball Australia chief executive Kate Palmer has stated players will receive a "significantly higher salary" from 2017.

In 2016, the ANZ Championship salary cap for a 12-player squad was just $270,000, with the minimum individual salary at just $15,000 - a far cry from many professional athletes. Once the new deal is in place, Australia's top-tier netballers will be now be hansomly rewarded, ensuring a new era of professionalisation of netball in Australia.

As well as the monumental broadcast deal, the new netball league will also bring about the joint venture between netball sides and already established sporting clubs, such as Collingwood (AFL) and NRL's Melbourne Storm.

With over a million fans and 80,000 members, Collingwood's venture into netball has the potential to bring in a huge new audience and fan base. And netball won't just benefit from the new audience, but also from the ability to use high-class professional facilities.

It's a plan that has been developed over several years according to Collingwood CEO Gary Pert, with Collingwood building their own netball facilities over the years. Being able to utlise premier facilities, resources and expertise, Collingwood have the ability to build another netball force.

It will be a similar case for the Melbourne Storm, who will develop a second Queensland side based at their feeder club on the Sunshine Coast.

AFL club Greater Western Sydney will link with Netball NSW to create a second Sydney-based netball side.

These three ventures will almost certainly aid in the continued growth of the sport and according to Palmer will "at the grass roots, encourage participation and allow girls and young women to realise their dream of a career in netball."

It's a step in the right direction for netball in Australia and is likely to be looked back on as the beginning of full professionalism in Australian netball.