May 19, 2016 will go into the history books as a huge day for the state of netball, and the wider sporting community, in Australia.
In an interesting move, the three preferred bidders for the new team licences are AFL clubs Collingwood and Greater Western Sydney, as well as rugby league team Melbourne Storm. This sounds like a way of ensuring that clubs are financially stable from the beginning, as well as bringing in new netball fans from other codes, eager to support their club in any form.
Has the world imploded?
As a Collingwood fan, my initial thought was ‘does this mean they’re looking unlikely for a women’s football licence?’ Not so, according to the Collingwood Football Club’s CEO Gary Pert. It’s clear that the club has had an overarching vision to emulate multi-sport European football clubs, such as Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, which also field basketball and handball sides respectively.
“We want to be a bigger, more diverse sporting club where men and women could come to the club and live their dreams and ambitions”
In an interview with Andy Maher on SEN, Pert admitted that this plan had been in the works at the club over the past 7 or 8 years, involving redevelopment of the football club’s training facilities at the Holden Centre. A netball court was built over 5 years ago, along with separate women’s training and change room facilities in the hope of gaining a licence for a women’s AFL team.
“We want to be a bigger, more diverse sporting club where men and women could come to the club and live their dreams and ambitions,” the CEO said. “I think today was a step forward in that.”
The dilemma for fans
So what does this mean for Victorian netball fans who are already behind the Vixens? It’s a good question, especially considering that Collingwood has famously been described as the club everyone ‘loves to hate’ for decades.
Expansion has worked in the past for Melbourne though. The introduction of a second Melbourne team, Melbourne City, into the A-League in 2010, was a success, particularly after its purchase by UK club Manchester City. This was in spite of initial team Melbourne Victory already having won 2 championships in the 5 years since it had been established. It’s made for a great rivalry in any case.
Combined with the five-year broadcast deal, there are great opportunities for broadening the support base of netball fans in Victoria, considering it is the most popular sport for women in the state. Collingwood’s popularity, with 80,000 members and many more supporters, has the potential to provide an incentive for fans to support their aligned netball team, alongside veteran netball enthusiasts.
This Collingwood fan is going to, anyway.
Does this spell the end for the Vixens?
However, a second Melbourne-based team will likely require the Vixens to look elsewhere for funding and high-performance training facilities.
The Victorian Institute of Sport, which supports the Vixens financially, have told the club that the institute would be unable to sustain two Victorian teams, and could not be seen favouring one over the other. These funding cuts could cost the Vixens up to $250,000. It can only be hoped that the excitement and popularity surrounding the new league will uphold the club.
Don't dream it's over just yet
In today’s announcement, CEO of Netball Australia Kate Palmer described this expansion as “the beginning of full professionalism in Australian netball.” Gary Pert echoed this statement when talking of a future where “every young boy and every young girl” could look at their club as a place to live out their ambitions, whether as a player, coach or member of staff.
That’s the dream, right?