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Netball crowds get jump on rugby league

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John Stensholt

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News haiku: football v netball

Some netball games draw bigger crowds than NRL matches. So here's an idea for footy. Animation by John Shakespeare.

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With netball drawing bigger crowds than some National Rugby League games, administrators are considering moving matches to bigger stadiums and changing the structure to keep more teams in contention for the finals.

The moves, also designed to be more friendly for broadcasters, come as the sport's flagship competition, the ANZ Championship, enters its final stages.

Crowds across the 10-team competition, which features five teams each from Australia and New Zealand, are up about 8 per cent compared with the 2013 season and television ratings have increased about 15 per cent.

Jo Harten of the Magic, top, competes with Sharni Layton of the Swifts during the ANZ Championship minor semi-final on June 8.

Jo Harten of the Magic, top, competes with Sharni Layton of the Swifts during the ANZ Championship minor semi-final on June 8. Photo: Getty Images

In May, the NSW Swifts attracted a record 10,000 home crowd, outstripping two RL matches played in Sydney on the same weekend. The Melbourne Vixens, which finished first on the ladder this season, have attracted crowds of up to 8000 and have more than 3000 season-ticket holders.

Both the Vixens and Swifts had home matches in the first round of the finals over the past weekend, drawing crowds of about 6000 to 8000.

Trans-Tasman netball league general manager Andy Crook says the Australian teams need to take more matches to larger stadiums. "In order for us to keep growth and for the sport to go to the next level, we need to move to those bigger venues."

The league is pushing for the Swifts to play more games at the 15,000- capacity Allphones Arena.

The league is pushing for the Swifts to play more games at the 15,000- capacity Allphones Arena.

He says the Queensland Firebirds and Adelaide Thunderbirds regularly play to capacity crowds at their respective venues, which hold 3000 to 3500 spectators, and should move matches to bigger stadiums next season.

Mr Crook cites the Vixens as a good example, with the team having moved to Hisense Arena, a venue double the capacity of the State Netball Centre, and attracted bigger crowds.

He also wants the NSW Swifts to play more than the occasional game at the 15,000 capacity Allphones Arena rather than the smaller Sydney Olympic Park Sports Centre, which holds about 3500 people. Another plan being considered for next year is splitting the teams into Australian and New Zealand conferences, with a separate ladder for each. Teams from both conferences would qualify for finals, rather than just four from the overall 10 teams now.

"At the moment, it's not long into our competition when you might have four or five of the teams virtually out of contention pretty early in the season," Mr Crook said. "This would be a way of keeping interest in the competition for more teams for longer in the season."

Netball Australia and its New Zealand counterparts are also negotiating a new broadcast deal with the contract incumbents SBS, Fox Sports Australia and Sky Sport in New Zealand.

Mr Crook hoped a new deal could be signed within about two months, with next year's Netball World Cup in Sydney also part of the contract.

The league has also put more resources into online and social media. Mr Crook revealed videohighlights viewed online and via YouTube have quadrupled this year to about 100,000 compared with last year.

He said the five Australian teams generally broke even financially and, given they are owned by their state netball associations, are able to tap into grassroots junior programs to find fans and spectators.

"It's a connection that other sports want, but we can say that we are very close to the grassroots in our sport."

The Australian Financial Review

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