What about Netball?


Women’s sport is having a moment.

The AFLW had a record crowd on the weekend (50,000+) and women are getting celebrated for playing sport! It’s such a new thing! We’ve only been elite athletes dominating in our field for decades.

I’m stoked that women’s sport is getting talked about - we need it. But there is a part of me that finds it difficult listening to so much coverage on the women’s sports that are backed by big leagues. Big male dominated leagues.

I love that women are being recognised for the athletes they are. I support women and I want to work together to raise each other up, in every sport. But it’s no surprise that I want to talk about Netball’s role in this.

To give a bit of background - I am a former Netballer. I played for the Adelaide Thunderbirds for 10 years and won two premierships in 2010 & 2013. I love the game.

The thing is, Netball (traditionally) is a sport run by and played by women. It is the backbone of communities across Australia and features in the childhood memories of almost every Aussie girl growing up.

Yet, it’s constantly been overshadowed by men’s sport. (Or do we just call that ‘sport’?)

I get it, I love AFL. I went to a game on Friday night. It’s not about Us vs Them. It’s just about Us. How can we build Netball up? Why can’t we rival the big boys of AFL, NRL & Cricket?

Sponsorship and media is massive for sport. They are beasts that feed each other to survive. Without media and television rights - no one can view the sport. Without viewers there’s no sponsorship and advertising. Without sponsorship and advertising there’s no money. And without money, well, sport is a just a hobby like it is for you and I playing on the weekend.

But the only real options that viewers have is to watch men’s sports. And of course, it’s proven with ratings that we love it. But are we given enough diversity?

AFLW is getting a huge run because it is backed in. It’s written into contracts with media companies because of their affiliation with the AFL teams. The AFL has a vested interest in promoting this sport so you better believe it will be written about, talked about and televised. It’s rare for a women’s sport to just pop up and command broadcast rights with no proven concept. It’s not going anywhere regardless if it’s a good product or not.

Netball has to fight on its own without backing from a bigger business. It’s forced to forge its own way. It’s not given the opportunity to find its feet. It’s always make or break. If it doesn’t rate, it’s the sports fault. There is only one plausible reason: no one wants to watch it.

But I want to ask what role media, advertising and marketing plays in this?

It’s a fact that Netball is loved by millions of women throughout Australia. It is the most popular female sport BY FAR. 

But has it been given the storylines of AFL/NRL/Cricket players? 

Have we had rivalries build up over years and decades? Yes. Do you know about them? No. 

Have our Netballers overcome adversity to get to where they are? Yes. Do you know about it? No. 

Do we have women absolutely dominating, who are genuine superstars of the game? Yes. Do we know much about them? No.

For every epic storyline you hear about the amazing feats of an AFL/NRL/Cricket player I guarantee there is one just as good about a Netballer. You just don’t know about it.

Who is telling these stories? And will we listen? 

It gets tougher in today’s world of instant gratification. We need results immediately. We need viewers, readers and clicks to prove a concept. 

But we can’t stop telling these stories. We need to push back against those telling us that people just don’t watch netball. 

I’m not here to point fingers at the men at the top of media companies. I want to find solutions, not complain about how it’s always been.

Have we made it entertaining enough? How do we make people buy in and feel a part of it? What would happen if we backed our own sport in, instead of waiting for someone else to do it?

Women are being recognised all over the world for their strength. It’s time we, as Netballers, did the same.

Jacinda Ardern showed that acting like a woman is an asset. Playing sport like a woman is a graceful, strong and incomparable feat. No man can play like us, and that is our strength. We don’t need to hit to be heroes.

We move with agility. We pass with precision. We glide around the court doing 15 things at once because that’s what women do. 

It would be remiss of me to not acknowledge that netball has come a long way in the past 20 years. 

We owe so much to past players like Liz Elis, Cath Cox, Sharelle McMahon, Bianca Chatfieldand countless others. The game wouldn’t be in the position it is without these women. They went above and beyond to push the game and negotiate a decent pay wage. But now its time for us, collectively, to take over. We are all netballers and it is our responsibility to grow the game. 

We know how to work together:

Defenders, you take on the media.

Middies, you’ve got the advertisers.

And shooters, if you can tear yourself away from the mirror, you’re on the sponsors.

I’ll bring the oranges.

Let's show these boys what they're missing out on.

- Emily 

NOTE: I realise that AFL (and one NRL) clubs now own Netball Teams so there is a vested interest from footy. My point is about the game and where the media, advertising and marketing comes in. I realise that Channel 9 televises games on free to air TV. This is fantastic. But it’s clearly not on the same page as male-dominated sports and I want to know how we can get it there.

Would you love to see Netball on the same playing field as AFL, NRL and Cricket? How do you think we can grow the game to be a feature of mainstream media? Comment below with your thoughts!

If you’re a Netball lover I have a limited number of Netball Poems available in the Print Shop. While stocks last.