Since its inception, Super Netball has grappled with an identity crisis. Over the years it’s been variously marketed and consequently perceived as: an anodyne competition aimed at primary school girls fond of sparkly My Little Pony figurines, a world-class league likely to be embraced by casual male sports fans, and a brutal version of the grassroots game played by 1.2 million Australians that leaves players battered and bruised.
In trying to please all masters since 2017, the league, its governing body Netball Australia and broadcasters have often disappointed many. But if the slick hype reel for season 2023 unveiled by broadcaster Fox Sports in Melbourne yesterday is anything to go by, the seventh iteration of Super Netball is going to step into its power as a fierce, fast and feminist sport.
The 60-second spot puts a new spin on the familiar netball mantra of “Here If You Need”, highlighting the journeys of Malawian Melbourne Vixens shooter Mwai Kumwenda, who learnt to shoot on a rudimentary ring, South African Sunshine Coast Lightning defender Karla Pretorius, a new mother, and Sydney Swift Maddy Proud, who played the 2021 grand final with a broken rib.
“Ifs can be iffy,” goes the voiceover. “Did Mwai care about ifs when she swapped tyre hoops for Vixens kit? Did Karla, when she came back after having her first kid? Hell, Maddy won a grand final with broken ribs.
“We’re not just here if you need. No, we are what this game was meant to be. All of us together, no matter the creed. The crowds howl and teammates cheer, the new chant ringing in your ear. We are here.”
It’s an ad that roars, a little like the Helen Reddy classic. If the unapologetic tone is reflected in marketing efforts this year, it could help the league realise its oft-cited potential as a tier-one sport. Many believe that quest relies on converting into fans the tens of thousands of Australian adults who play the sport, but historically haven’t watched it, as well as attracting new ones.
Netball Australia chief executive Kelly Ryan said while “Here If You Need” will always resonate at the community level, Super Netball isn’t about such niceties.
“You don’t come to a game because it’s a nice day out. You come because it’s the absolute pinnacle. We have amazing athletes and teams that work incredibly hard in the gym. They’re fierce, they’re fit and they’re incredibly powerful,” she said.
“And it’s time that we actually made sure that we replicate that in a marketing sense and actually pitch this product the exact way that it’s intended … which is nothing but fierce contests, complete passion, commitment. We are here and we want people to notice, to recognise and appreciate the game for what it is.”
Sue Gaudion, who joins former players Cath Cox, Bianca Chatfield, Stacey Francis-Bayman and Emily Beaton in commentary this season, said the promotion was about the league “owning what it’s always had.”
“I don’t know if we’ve had a fear as a sport of standing out because we’ve always wanted to be so connected to our grassroots, (but) the reality of the situation is, when you watch any elite sport, it’s a different beast. It always will be. I’m really proud that the sport’s about to embrace the game for what it is,” she said.
Gaudion, who will juggle broadcast duties with her role as general manager of pathways and performance at the reigning premiers the West Coast Fever, said Super Netball wasn’t about being a “nice person”.
“Of course, the rules are there and we all embrace the rules, but they (the players) are athletic beasts and we need to promote that and be proud of it as females,” Gaudion said, on the eve of International Women’s Day.
In the second year of Fox Sport’s five-year deal, two of four games each round will be available for free, while the other two remain paywalled.
For the first time, select matches will be available in 4K ultra-high definition, a move host Hannah Hollis yesterday described as historic. Player “mic-ups” during warm-ups, coach interviews during play, live bench audio and huddle mics at quarter breaks will also return.
All games will be called from the venue, after the broadcaster experimented with “down the tube” last season, an approach heavily criticised by fans, especially in Western Australia.
Speaking at the launch, Melbourne Vixens co-captain Liz Watson made it clear her side was determined to avenge an embarrassing loss to the Fever in the decider last season.
Watson said coach Simone McKinnis had told the group it’s rare to “back up” after losing grand finals. “So we’re saying: ‘We want to be that first team that can do that’ and it definitely fired us up,” she said.
With a virtually unchanged line-up, Dan Ryan’s “green machine” West Coast fever side is favoured to go back-to-back though. The 2022 grand finalists face off in Perth in round one, which begins March 18.