Netball has been on a real roller coaster in this nation, and despite COVID-19 and border closures, managed to pull off a full season in a condensed and frantic manner. Players sacrificed much to live in hubs, salary – with at one stage many on JobKeeper – some gave up jobs to be in hubs and just the sheer sacrifice of living in those hubs, away from family, partners and support networks. These players were accompanied by many in the clubs themselves who also sacrificed to ensue a Super Netball season got off the ground. The sheer number of volunteers used to get games running and the support of poorly paid and under-appreciated umpires, many who also had to move to Queensland to officiate on games.
Many will say, so what, NRL & AFL did similar.
Unlike NRL & AFL, Netball players are NOT paid anywhere near the same, so the sacrifice is massive. Also, unlike NRL & AFL players, we did not see any scandals of nicking off for late night kebabs or booty calls bringing the game into disrepute. Just professional athletes putting their heads down and getting on with the job.
Sixty games in 78 days, 6687 goals from 8067 attempts, three drawn games, six games decided by a single point and one triumphant Premier: the Melbourne Vixens.
The only dramas we really encountered in the season came from administration of the game. They decided at the last minute to introduce rolling subs, 12 players (instead of 10) and the so-called “controversial” – many would say roundly despised – Super Shot.
By pretty much halving the season, the likes of the rolling subs and 2 extra players was a very good idea, much better for player welfare when often playing 2 games per week, and in fact had the bonus of much younger talent being discovered with many training partners being elevated to the team of 10. These decisions were good and even though, like bonus points for quarter before it, fans were concerned about movement away from the International rules, they understood the reasoning behind it.
The Super Shot, not so much. A massive change akin to basketball, fundamentally altering the game we love, sprung on Clubs, Coaches, Players and Fans all a mere 39 days prior to first centre pass.
It was a gimmick. Sure, at times if your team was behind and in that last 5 minutes of a quarter they managed to sink a few super shots to keep them within striking distance it could raise hope, but like all sugar hits, there is the inevitable crash where you know it was an undeserved spike and in the long run, doesn’t improve the situation, as we know, the teams who used the super shot most didn’t end up at the big dance.
As hard as Channel Nine commentators tried to hype up that last 5 minutes it never really worked, and to be frank, considering the calibre of netball royalty in the commentary, I would have expected more fans to be swayed to favouring the super shot just due to the pressure applied by commentary to love it. This really didn’t happen.
Most fans might have been shocked about the introduction of the super shot but copped it to a fair degree with just the odd disparaging meme or similar. No-one was going to rock the boat too much, we were grateful a season was getting off the ground as it there were often times it looked like it may not happen at all.
The super shot has been pushed for a few times in the past, fans have no idea who is really behind this push but it is one of those awful ideas that never seems to die. Hell, only a few months prior to the first centre pass for season 2020 SSN themselves did a survey and admitted in the not so subtly titled “Not today, not ever: Your reaction to the 2-point shot”, that fans hated it.
Imagine their shock, after a successful season against all odds to have the Super Netball powers that be come out and announce, NOT important stuff like whether 12 players or 10 players would be in salarly cap for next year, just a trade season happening, no biggy, but instead, we get “Suncorp Super Shot and Rolling Subs to continue”.
The day it was announced, fans let rip.
and most recently:
The supershot has been a resounding success from the perspective of leveraging a massive existing fanbase to create ‘controversy’. In doing so, Supernetball has compromised:— Jessica Currie (@Jess_M_Currie) October 3, 2020
- the trust and goodwill of existing fans/players/coaches/umps/admins
- the purity of the game itself https://t.co/5mzcvuNJRb
Netball is normally a polite sport, yeah it can get a bit feral on social media, Facebook in particular, but we are groomed from little kids running around at Associations to be polite, appreciate those making the decisions from volunteers to coaches and association admin are all volunteers and have the best interests at heart, so therefore, to see sheer vehemence on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in response to the statement was actually quite a shock, particularly considering all three forms of social media are very different beasts.
Twitter was a no brainer. Harder to quantify due to the chaotic nature of it, but with #NotBasketball being heavily used, a brilliant hashtag started by former Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander, and the scarcity of any in support it was pretty easy to see where they stood.
Aside from players, coaches, clubs, and fans, what stakeholders that Chris Symington is referring to that support the super shot? The paid commentators? #NotBasketball— netball googles (@netballgoogles) October 22, 2020
I then ventured over to Facebook to see where their sentiments lay, a much easier thing to gauge due to the ability to see all comments on the announcement post. A whopping 14% were in favour of the super shot.
Michael Hutchinson a well known netball stats guy also visited Instagram to do a bit of a tally and found an even higher percentage of fans hating on the super shot at 94%.
Now, this matters as in the release, Super Netball CEO Chris Symington promoted how people were in favour of it. Yeah… Nah…
I would say Super Netball just assumed we would all get over it, as we usually do and of course, they know fans love the players and their clubs, so would just suck it up and not doing anything like stupid boycotts that could harm those same players and clubs, leaving us with just a simple petition (though do please take the time to sign it if you have not already) that we know is hard to disseminate among fans as not a homogenous group and would most likely be ignored if large numbers anyhow.
They are right of course. That is the last thing a fan would want to do, which makes this slap in the face from the games administrators all the more frustrating. They know that and take it for granted, holding us hostage and impotent to exert ourselves as one of the biggest ‘stakeholders’ in the game.
It was bad enough when CEO Chris Symington pretty much laid success of the season at the feet of the Super Shot with this comment:
“Contrary to some media commentary, we attribute this season’s increase in viewership to a range of factors, including the fact we were the first elite female sport to run a full competition after the outbreak of COVID-19. While the Suncorp Super Shot is an important innovation, it was one of many reasons for the success of the 2020 season.”
You didn’t have to be a genius to know that an increase in viewership was due to the fact vast segments of the nation were locked down with nothing to do but watch the telly, as Netflix and Stan viewership can attest to and New Zealand netball were honest about when they looked at their viewership of the ANZ Premiership “Big surge in netball fans outside NZ streaming ANZ games” as would have been same in Australia with our competition. Last season the UK fans in my netball list who were subscribers to the Netball Live app were minimal, this year massive numbers, you could tell, as many were always complaining about it glitching or not being able to set so could not see scores prior to watching the game when they of course woke up, long after it had been played.
To be frank. The constant reference of an increase in viewers for this season and attributing to success of Super Shot being of interest is disingenuous to say the least, some would even say dishonest.
Anyhoo… The anger amongst fans has been bubbling along, quietly, until that is Chair of the Super Netball commission, Marina Go – who had not commented as yet or responded to the anger of fans about the decision – had an interview with “The Netball Show”, a well respected and very popular UK netball podcast. As a side note, interesting that the Chair finally responds to questions to a UK media outlet and not an Australian way, but that is maybe a discussion for another day?
Our latest podcast is now online and it's a real pleasure to let you hear @SachaShipway chat with Chair of the @SuperNetball Commission @marinasgo— 🏐 The Netball Show 🏐 (@TheNetballShow) October 29, 2020
Hear about some of the BIG decisions taken this year
FULL PODCAST : https://t.co/0bS1MKozJ3 pic.twitter.com/S73GcvGxQg
The questions put to Marina Go by Sacha Shipway were pretty much the same questions that many of us had been waiting to have answered. It was worse than feared. Prior to this interview I ‘thought’ the powers that be in Super Netball really didn’t give a rats about fans but bloody hell, after this interview I ‘knew’ they didn’t! In fact, rather wished I had never listened.
We heard about how hard it was to get the season up & running, and yes, we are all grateful to everyone involved in this happening. A little less, ‘fans don’t understand’ might have been appreciated as contrary to what seems to be popular believe at the SSN commission, we are not dolts, many in fact know exactly what it is like to juggle corporate interests, various stakeholders and yet still get an event off the ground. Also of note when discussing ‘sponsors’ and ‘stakeholders’ needs – where stakeholders in this case really means broadcaster & big sponsors – there was no mention of the Queensland Government?
The interview then proceeded on to the contentious super shot. We were given statistics like a 12% increase in viewership and over 30% in digital?
A 12% increase in viewer stats when a lot of the country was in lockdown is really not something to brag about and to be honest, I would have thought we might have gotten higher viewership? Then again, you rarely saw it advertised, so I guess, you have to even know it is on to watch it, so not sure how all those fans of the super shot, you know, the “NEW” fans they were wanting were ever going to appreciate the brilliance of the super shot when they didn’t even know a game was on 🤔 [yes that is massive sarcasm].
With the over 30% digital component? Not quite sure what that figure is made up of? It was not clarified, it could have been sign ups on the Netball Live app? Could have been digital engagement on social media? Could have been extra views on Telstra TV? Who knows?
We have all been screaming “Show us the data”, but so far, Netball Australia and Super Netball have liked to ‘refer’ to data backing them up but not showing us the evidence of this data?
Who knew worse was to come though in this interview…
The Players Association surveying their own players was pretty much just arrogantly dismissed, almost misrepresented by saying 40% of players were fine with it. Thankfully, didn’t go the full Trump and did clarify that 20% were actually ‘indifferent’ to it and 20% - yes only a measly 20% - were in favour.
After all the players have given up this season, if I was a player listening to that interview I would have been seething with the disrespect shown.
Of course there were references to the “Suncorp Super Netball Competition Committee” making these decisions, like it is an arms distance decision, not the sole decision of the Chair Marina Go or the CEO Chris Symington. The last reference I can find to this committee and who is on it making these decisions was a release from 2018 about the introduction of the committee:
Suncorp Super Netball Competition Committee members:
- Carolyn Campbell – Netball NSW CEO (NSW Swifts/Giants Netball)
- Simon Taylor – Netball WA CEO (West Coast Fever)
- Richard McInnes – Netball QLD General Manager of High Performance (Lorna Jane Queensland Firebirds)
- Kathryn Harby-Williams – Australian Netball Players’ Association
- Jo Weston – Melbourne Vixens (player representative)
- Chris Symington – Netball Australia Executive General Manager – Events
- Andrew Collins – Netball Australia Executive General Manager – Sport
- Peter Hertan – Netball Australia General Manger – Compliance
- Bill Allen – Netball Australia General Manager – Event Operations
Whether these people are still on this committee or not, I have no idea? I could not find an updated version. We do know that Jo Weston was NOT in favour of it and I can’t imagine Kathryn Harby-Williams would go against the majority of players wishes? I suspect that would have been why Harby-Williams even spoke to media releasing the stats from their survey?
Loved being a part of the @SuperNetball Competition Committee that weren’t consulted about this before being informed of the rule changes a couple of hours prior to it being made public 😳 https://t.co/75bXxHsEKz— Jo Weston (@joannamweston) June 24, 2020
I still can't get this line from Jo Weston out of my head:
“There are only so many bells and whistles on a bike before it becomes a clown car.”
Now we come to Ms Go’s response to fans. The vibe was very much, just a noisy minority on social media, she had people contact her loving it, we didn’t understand, Leaders have to make decisions that are for the best and they know best, fans don’t and the ultimate slap in the face, I kid you not, she really went there, she invoked PM Morrison’s odious “Quiet Australians” as in quiet netball fans were in favour of the super shot.
She then finished up with a disingenuous comparison to WBBL with a swipe at netball fans not being able to compromise like cricket fans did with changes to WBBL. FFS! Shortening overs and the number of overs or similar does not fundamentally change the game of cricket, they were not given a great big bloody rubber bat as a gimmick mocking the game. Many try to make this analogy and it is a rubbish one.
Netball already has Fast5 as a short hit & giggle – or in our case “shoot & giggle” – version of the game, we did not need to change the ‘peak’ version of it, just like other sports such as cricket have NOT changed the ’peak’ version of their games.
As I stated earlier, I ‘thought’ Super Netball admin held fans in contempt, this interview pretty much confirmed the utter disdain with with fans are regarded at the highest levels of the sports governance.
I won’t lie. My stomach churned.
Like many fans, we have given up hundreds of hours in watching the sport, promoting the sport on social media and among our friend groups, thousands, literally thousands of dollars in club memberships, ticketing, subscription to the app, merchandise you name it, all in the support of netball and to be given so little respect by those at the top is gut wrenching.
For someone who came from a media background, I don’t quite understand what Marina’s aim was in this interview? If it was to allay concerns of players and fans it was an epic fail, all it did was engrage fans more. It also was a massive contradiction to her words last year about fans in “‘Why sport needs more female leaders’: Marina Go”:
Sport is about winning. Fans are passionate about the teams they follow and winning makes up for everything. Passionate fans attend games and livestream matches, they buy merchandise and memberships, and they voraciously consume media about their chosen sport and team. Sponsors sign up to sports because they want to reach those fans in a positive, passion-filled context. This can surge when a team is winning and shrink when it isn’t. So it takes courage, clarity of thought and strict adherence to governance principles to choose long-term sustainability over a fast-fix win on the weekend.
How is the sugar hit of a super shot that fans hate, who Ms Go acknowledges as being so important to sport fit in with this long-term sustainability? It sure as hell is not reaching fans in a “positive, passion-filled context”, though, I suppose to be fair, ‘hatred’ is a passion? Not to mention, what is the use of a 'female leader' if that leader is just going to fundamentally change what these elite female athletes do best? There are enough blokes who have tried to do that in the past, we don't need a woman in charge to shaft us as well, we expect a woman in charge to promote what is unique and skillful about one of the rare female dominated sports around, not cheapen it with gimmicks.
Anyhow… Regardless of Ms Go and her attitude of not all fans are on social media, most actually are, as in most Australians are on some form of social media. To dismiss those stats without showing your own data is the height of arrogance and disdain for fans.
If you care about the governance of our sport and it’s future direction, I would urge you to listen to this podcast interview.
What do you do when the sport you love hates you?
In the meantime, what do we do? We are held hostage, this is not good for the future of the game as all in the marketing game know, a complaint spreads further than praise. This will have ramifications and to be frank, can’t be a good look for sponsors either. You also have the issue of many who even though may have good intentions to continue supporting their clubs despite those at the top, it grates, resentment at being held hostage grows over time and this would be terrible if it had an onflow affect to clubs?
Some suggestions so far as to how to let our feelings be known, without harming our clubs, is to maybe let major sponsors know we are unhappy, tag them in our complaints. I am loathe to do this as I worry with a recession and less money to spend on sponsorship it could harm continuing sponsorship.
I do agree we should all be using similar hashtags so that Super Netball can’t ignore us and we don’t go away. I do like Lisa Alexander’s #NotBasketball it is short, sweet and sums up why so many dislike this gimmick. Maybe adding a #ShowUsTheData could be helpful?
Another suggestion I saw was to maybe treat Super Netball as many treat Murdoch media? Don’t give them the stats in their online interactions. Don’t retweet them, screenshot a tweet, insta or facebook post and then comment on that graphic instead? This could work as I am sure Super Netball would not like missing out on that fan engagement not to mention would be rather embarrassing for them in front of their sponsors?
Of course, if you decide to display your displeasure with Super Netball in this manner, ensure when you do share that screenshot that if the original message involved a sponsor, player or club that you include their handles or tag them when sharing, we don’t want to harm sponsors, not or course harm the data analytics for players as clubs as they need them for personal sponsorships.
I am not sure what else we can do? Any ideas, toss them out there. Share with others, just please, always remember, don’t let your anger with the game’s administration cause harm to the players or clubs, this is not their fault.
Though if clubs could stand by their fans and make a bit of a rumble with the commission, well, that would be helpful, or maybe even push the Super Netball commission to get a better broadcast deal for the game, like WNBL has managed to do, which will attract more sponsors without bastardising a seriously skillful and unique game for a few so-called extra eyeballs? Just a thought.
AKA one of Super Netball’s deplorables 😉
Professional desk jockey