Netball's desire to appeal to the masses, risks losing the loyalists

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The largest female sport in the country, Super Netball are the number one code in their demographic, have a loyal and engaged participation base and have experienced exceptional growth over the last few years. It's an enviable position to be in. But five weeks out from the season starting, the sports body has chosen to fundamentally change the game with what appears to be little to no stakeholder consultation.

Super Netball Commission Chair Marina Go said in a statement that the 'super shot' was introduced to "bring new fans to the game which in turn will enable us to shine the spotlight on our amazing female athletes". However, by introducing this new rule, without the sufficient due diligence with the players, coaches or competition committee, Super Netball and Netball Australia have now dismissed the feelings of their most important stakeholders - players and fans.

Super Netball's relationship with the players was already rocky after the Super Netball Commission introduced the bonus point system in 2018. Teams would receive a point on the competition scoreboard for every quarter they won. The system had huge implications on the ladder and the season, and players were not consulted. Following player backlash, a competition committee was established. It appears the Super Netball Commission has yet to learn from their mistakes.

A strong relationship between players and their sporting body is essential to keep a sporting code afloat and in one simple act Super Netball has undone all the goodwill they had created between the players and the sporting body.

Only three months ago, it was the players who happily agreed to substantial paycuts in order to save the code during the COVID-19 pandemic while the likes of the NRL, AFL and rugby struggled to secure agreements with players.

The two-point shot has been a controversial topic for years and has been discussed by players, commentators and fans since Super Netball's inception. Fan surveys had seen overwhelming responses against the rule, which Super Netball acknowledged with an article on their site just three months ago: "We now know exactly where you stand on the matter and it's definitely not within the outer edges of the goal circle". So why go against your loyal fan base and your players?

Instead of listening to the thousands of women and young girls who have supported the sport for decades while the code languished in the shadows with little broadcast or commercial support, and while the sport struggled to push through from semi-professional to fully professional, Super Netball and Netball Australia dismissed them in the hopes of catching the wandering eye of mostly male sports fans.

In a column for Sydney Morning Herald, Peter FitzSimons claims the rule change will encourage 'morons' (his words, not mine) to watch, attend and become Super Netball's newest fans. But to that I say, at the cost of netball's already loyal fan base?

Hours after the announcement was made fans were already threatening to request refunds for memberships, they were promising they would not be attending games and would be switching off the tv. Hardly the response you'd hope for when trying to build your viewing numbers.

Could you imagine football introducing a two-point goal for scoring from halfway? Or a five point try in rugby league if the player ran the length of the field to score?

Do Super Netball and Netball Australia truly believe telling the "sporting public who ignore our sport" -Go's words - netball is much more exciting now that players can score an extra point for five minutes at the end of each quarter if they shoot from further out - is going to draw in the casual sports fan?

Instead of changing such a fundamental part of the game, Super Netball should look at one of the codes major drawbacks, the time of day the games are played. For many of the sports fan base, a 3pm start on a Saturday afternoon falls while the fans are playing their own games. Netball has an amazing number of grassroots players, over a million women and children play the game, converting that to bums on seats at stadiums or in front of the tv is surely more important.

Agreement or disagreement with the new rule is perhaps a surface level issue, the two-point shot was always going to divide opinions and according to Go was always going to be implemented in 2021. However, it's Super Netball and Netball Australia's swift implementation of the rule with no consultation that has so rankled players and fans.

To prepare for the potential of the rule change, players had requested Netball Australia implement the rule at ASL or State League level but had been pushed back. They were told it would be too difficult to implement. Five weeks out from an already delayed 2020 season however is the perfect time to introduce the rule though. It flies in the face of players and fans and indeed logic.

As coaches and players scramble to prepare for the season, this new rule is another hurdle teams are forced to face during these already tedious times.

Who knows if the introduction of the two-point rule will garner the results Super Netball and Netball Australia are after, but cannot be argued is the damage the sporting body has caused to its relationship with their players and their fan base.