Heroine ... Liz Ellis celebrates Australia's World Cup win against New Zealand in 2007. Photo: Angela Wylie
Six months ago, the sport of netball went from being labelled too ''insignificant'' to warrant mainstream media coverage, to a TV deal many men's professional leagues would be envious of, and former Australian captain Liz Ellis is determined to make the most of it.
After the 2012 ANZ Championship season, the Ten Network ended its four-year partnership with Netball Australia, saying netball was ''not a premium sport'' and leaving the sport's fans shocked.
The participation rate was among the highest in the country - golf and soccer are the only sports that beat it - and games were selling out, but suddenly the most prominent women's sport in Australia was without a TV home.
Leader ... Liz Ellis. Photo: Getty Images
The decision opened the door for Foxtel, which signed on just weeks before the season to show every game live, with SBS also broadcasting select matches on free-to-air.
In September and October, the pay TV company is investing in the grassroots level of the sport, with the Foxtel All-Stars Liz Ellis Academy, a series of coaching clinics, to follow the same concept first created for soccer with the Tim Cahill Academy.
The academies are not televised, and aim purely to develop kids' passion for sport by learning from the best. Those who are chosen to take part - and anyone aged 12-16 can apply - are asked to bring a friend who perhaps doesn't play or had given up the sport.
''When you consider the first Foxtel All-Stars Academy was done with Tim Cahill … I think it's brilliant that [Foxtel] have turned around and said, well, we're massively into netball. We've got to give the same opportunity to their grassroots as well, so I think it's a huge coup [for women's sport],'' Ellis says of the program.
And with visibility vital for attracting sponsorship and revenue, the fact Foxtel is investing in netball could be seen as another step up for girls wanting to pursue professional sports careers.
''If you had have told me five years ago or 10 years ago that the players would be paid like they are now, I wouldn't have believed you, especially the top players, so I think the sport's made huge strides forward in the last few years,'' Ellis says, noting the vast room for improvement.
''There are five teams where if … you are one of the best in that team, then you can make a living full time, so there's a way to go at the bottom end; the younger players who come in are on entry-level contracts, it's not enough for them to live on, but it's certainly moving in the right direction.''
It's a similar story across all women's sporting leagues, with only a small proportion of female athletes earning a full-time wage, but things are getting better. Cricket Australia upped the ante earlier in the year with a new pay deal for the top-level female cricketers, despite only sporadic television coverage of the national team, the Southern Stars.
Perhaps the key to women's sport coming closer in status to men's is shaking the ''women's sport'' tag, which is Ellis' hope for the future.
''There's no need to refer to women's sport, because it's just sport, it's sport played by athletes who happen to be women,'' she says. ''I'd like to see the term 'women's sport' become redundant.
''A lot of people when they carry on about women's sport are like, 'Well, women don't watch it.' Well, it's not a matter of women watching it; it's a matter of people watching it, and you know, men like to watch netball - it's OK!
''I look up into the stands and there's as many blokes there as there are women, which is great and that's also reflected in the television ratings.''
And while netball may have been traditionally played by women, it has been steadily growing in popularity among men. Mixed netball leagues are increasingly common and in the ACT, nearly 20 per cent of all netball participants are male.
''There's a growing popularity for young boys to want to play and that makes sense,'' Ellis says. ''And there are opportunities - even at the elite level, we've got men umpiring top games, we've got a head coach at the ANZ Championships who's a bloke, first time ever this year … now the opportunities are there and as a result they're playing it.''
While the opportunities for boys to make money out of netball are currently more limited than for girls - a rare reversal of fortunes - boys are still invited to apply to the Liz Ellis Academy.
The primary goal is to get teens out and having a go.
''There's a huge dropout rate for all sports [among] boys and girls in that 12-16 age group, which is what these academies are really aimed at … I thought it was a great way to address that dropout rate.
''My whole belief about sport is it should be fun, so I'm building a program that is built around fun more than anything else. Sport is fun, sport gives you good tools for the rest of your life.''
Perth: September 8 (entries close August 21 at 11:59 AEST)
Sydney: September 23 (entries close September 6 at 11:59 AEST)
Brisbane: September 26 (entries close September 6 at 11:59 AEST)
Adelaide: October 2 (entries close September 16 at 11:59 AEST)
Melbourne: October 6 (entries close September 16 at 11:59 AEST)