Losses of $6.5 million incurred over the last two years, and the resulting ‘Going Concern’ notice issued by its auditors, prompted Netball Australia to sell hosting rights for the Suncorp Super Netball grand final for the next five years.
Four million dollars’ worth of loans to financial institutions are due to be paid next year, and the ‘Going Concern’ notice is of grave concern. It effectively means that Netball Australia auditors believe there is probable cause that the company will not have enough liquidity to pay their obligations in the next 12 months.
Netball Australia CEO Kelly Ryan said yesterday that those losses had been exacerbated by Covid-related challenges, and by the financial relief of $2.4 million dollars given to member organisations in 2020 to keep them afloat.
Selected for the CEO position almost 10 months ago, Ryan was charged with overseeing strategies to reverse Netball Australia’s perilous financial position.
Traditionally, grand final hosting rights were granted to the club that won the major semi final, although the last two seasons were obviously impacted by the pandemic and subsequent hubs. However, inherent commercial and locational difficulties occur for each grand final, given that the host team can only be confirmed two weeks before the event.
Midway through the 2022 Super Netball season, Netball Australia was approached by various state governments about hosting the grand final in future. In turn, they put the process out to tender to more state governments and at the time notified club CEOs that a change in approach was being considered.
For commercial privacy reasons, the prospect was contained until the final deal was struck last week. Ryan said that “within hours” the club’s hierarchies and players were told.
In news officially released yesterday, the Western Australian government was awarded the rights for 2022 — a move that includes hosting the Australian Diamonds lengthy pre-Commonwealth Games camp, delivering funds to Netball Australia and $125,000 to the two grand final teams.
While the funding is unlikely to put a significant dent in Netball Australia’s borrowings, it should at a minimum enable them to keep operating.
The new grand final modus operandi will continue for at least five years, rotating across different states, with the venue to be announced at the same time as the season’s fixtures.
Ryan said, “Having a rolling fixture is incredibly challenging from an operational and financial point of view to get the most out of that moment,” and under the new pre-arranged stadium deal, they will look to, “deliver new ticketing and experience products.”
Any Victorian bid for the 2022 grand final was potentially under pressure from the start. It’s understood that the three largest netball venues — Rod Laver Arena, John Cain Arena and Margaret Court Arena — weren’t available for a grand final due to prior commitments, with the remaining alternative – the Melbourne Sports Centre in Parkville – able to seat just 3500 fans.
The grand final will also be shifted to a Sunday evening viewing slot to “maximise attendance in the stands and viewership at home”.
However, the match – which will be held at RAC Arena and scheduled to commence at 5pm WST – will face competition for local fans from a nearby AFL match starting at 3.20pm, and featuring the finals’ bound Fremantle Dockers.
The decision has drawn the ire of the Australian Netball Players Association, the players, and a majority of fans, particularly after the two point Super Shot was introduced in similar circumstances in 2020.
A strongly-worded statement released by ANPA President, Jo Weston, on behalf of all the clubs, called for respect, transparency and trust.
“The players are devastated – both by the decision and the way it has been handled.
“It was extremely disappointing to learn of such a major decision after the fact, and yet again not to have been consulted in the process.”
The statement went on to say, “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 the want the players to be valuable partners in that venture, then they need to change the way they engage with us.”
The two clubs most likely to be impacted in the short term are the Melbourne Vixens and West Coast Fever, who look set to qualify for the major semi-final in 2022. Vixens, who are currently two games clear on top of the ladder, would be heartbroken at the prospect of not hosting a home grand final, while there will be added pressure on Fever and its players, whose public perception was tarnished over the salary cap rort of two years ago.
Ryan acknowledged the players’ concerns, stating that while she appreciates the timing is “late’”, it was a decision that had to be made.