Any netball fan out there will understand how it feels to have watched the sport they love grow before their eyes. To go from no coverage on TV, to a live streaming service and behind the scenes insights into players on Kayo. It’s been slow but gradual progress for our sport.
I will forever be a netball nerd despite my playing career going down in injury flames and a lack of any commitment beyond my height. I love this sport, but I’m not sure the growth we’ve seen is enough. I am tired of the limited coverage by mainstream media. I am over the women’s sports debate. I do not want to see players being misnamed in published photos, and facts in the limited articles being incorrect at times, or tucked away somewhere in the sport pages.
The real question with the 2021 SSN season about to start is, how far has netball come in the last decade and is the product we have now good enough? Is the netball community comfortable being the baseline for female sport in this country, or perhaps is it time netball puts all its cards on the table and steps up to the plate? As Liz Ellis would say, we don’t want “female sport” in Australia. We want sport. We want athletes and open discussions without gender being discussed.
Interviews with ex-players tell yesteryear stories of being paid $1000 a season and clubs that could barely cover the cost of strapping tape. It was an awful way to be an athlete and simply wasn’t fair. It was an immense challenge, and I hold so much respect for the women who paved the way for my generation to be where they are now.
Perhaps an issue we see now is that the bar was set so low in the past that any step in the right direction seemed incredible. The numbers, however, speak for themselves and perhaps we haven’t come far enough. Before COVID, the Australian Netball Players Association agreed to an 8.65% pay rise, with a minimum wage of $33,000 for rookie players.
Contrast this with the AFL. In 2020 rookies earned $85,000 per season even if they didn’t take the field, with additional bonus payments of $5000 per senior level game. Imagine being a Giant or Collingwood rookie player knowing that a male athlete your age, playing for the same club, earns $52,000 more than you for doing the same job. To apply even more damming context, SSN training partners earn just $3,500 whilst contributing to practice matches training and enduring gruelling preseasons. It’s a harsh reality that isn’t discussed in our sport enough. We have so much further to grow.
One of the issues netball faces are that people who play don’t always watch. A recent study by the Women’s Sport Trust in the UK found that just 25% of women’s sport fans ‘actively’ follow the action. Here in Australia, the Ministry of Sport reported a 16.18% increase in average viewing time for the SSN last year. This is an excellent number and reflects the growth of netball, but as with everything in sport, it can always be better.
So, I ask of the netball nerds reading this to help bring the people who love this sport to the product it creates. We need to support these women, support their sacrifices and help them become the next generation of change. They can now afford strapping tape, but most of them can’t afford not to work. These women work so hard, and they deserve to be treated as equally as their male peers.
On the 1st of May, the SSN season starts on Channel 9, and all begins. With Fox Sport the rights holders from 2022, this is potentially the last year we will see netball on traditional television, and we need to make the most of that opportunity—numbers matter. A year after COVID first hit, we need to embrace getting out and watching sport, but we also need eyes on screens. We need to normalise putting the netball on in the background at social events, not just the footy. We need fans buying merchandise and following teams on social media.
I put it to you netball nerds to help our sport, be a part of positive change, and grow our sport. Watch the first game and convince the women or men you play with to watch it too, give them a game to figure out why we love it so much. We have a long way to go, but we have come so far that we now have a platform for fans to help create a change, so let’s do this, SSN season 2021 (Go GIANTS).