Magpies’ future in peril as Netball Australia turns modest profit

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Just as Netball Australia was preparing to announce a modest profit after two years of multimillion-dollar losses, the Super Netball competition was rocked by the news that Collingwood’s netball program could be scrapped.

Magpies chief executive Craig Kelly addressed players and staff on Tuesday morning to advise them that the club had officially placed its netball arm under review, with a decision on the future of the program expected in the coming weeks.

Collingwood’s future in doubt.Credit: Getty Images

Netball Australia CEO Kelly Ryan, who had earlier detailed to The Age the first signs of a financial recovery since the Hancock Prospecting sponsorship saga, said the governing body was working with Collingwood, who have battled poor on and off-court results despite their alignment with the country’s biggest sporting club.

However, Ryan said regardless of the outcome, Netball Australia was “committed to an eight team Suncorp Super Netball competition in 2024”, which is required under the sport’s broadcast deal with Fox Sports.

Ryan revealed Netball Australia would turn a modest profit of a few hundred thousand dollars – she declined to reveal the precise figure – which came as a “relief” after losses of $7.2 million over the past two years. But she said netball would not get into a “dollar for dollar” war with other women’s sports in negotiations for a new pay deal.

Netball was plunged into a financial crisis last year when Hancock Prospecting withdrew a $15 million sponsorship after Diamonds players expressed concern about wearing the company’s logo on their uniforms, out of solidarity with Indigenous player Donnell Wallam. The Victorian government then swooped in with a replacement deal.

However, Netball Australia remains more than $4 million in debt and has extended its long-term loans to 2025 as part of resetting finances. “So ahead of the AGM, a complete change. We’re not talking about deficits anymore, we’re actually talking about profits, albeit modest profits. But a big swing from where we were,” said Ryan.

Collingwood, who entered Super Netball in 2017, are on the bottom of the ladder and their crowds are reportedly the lowest in the competition.

‘Modest mindset’ in pay talks

The profit comes with the governing body and the Australian Netball Players’ Association locked in negotiations over pay and conditions for a new collective player agreement, which will replace the one that expires at the end of September.

The union wants pay rises for the players, but Ryan said the sport had to continue to “work in a really modest mindset”.

“So [the] sport’s still got to grow, the sport still needs investment in all areas. There’s not one aspect of our sport that we shouldn’t be contemplating investing in, and all of those investments have to be considered in totality, not in individual silos,” said Ryan.

Netball Australia CEO Kelly Ryan. Credit: Getty Images

“I think that they [the union] are incredibly cognisant of that. And our conversations [with the union] talks to the fact that paying down the debt is still the sport’s No.1 priority because that has to be released, then we’ve got some real genuine upside.”

Asked whether Netball Australia was committed to a pay freeze, Ryan said: “Especially when we’re just talking about being financially responsible, you can’t increase your expenses more than your revenue. And that’s just where we’re at, at the moment, is that SSN [Suncorp Super Netball] revenues are not increasing. So therefore, any increases in expenses, as you can appreciate, would have to be incredibly modest.”

Ryan said there was no timeline for reaching a new deal.

Netball not in pay race with other female codes

Ryan acknowledged that not being able to offer increased wages in this agreement could be detrimental to the sport, as other codes make themselves more attractive to athletes.

Notably, star Collingwood veteran Ash Brazill announced her retirement from netball at the end of this season while she’ll continue to pursue AFLW.

In 2021, Netball Australia penned a two-year landmark pay deal that kept netballers as the highest-paid female domestic athletes, with a 22 per cent pay increase for top players.

The average contracted player saw a 15 per cent pay rise from $64,167 to $74,000, while the maximum salary of contracted players rose from $75,167 to $91,500.

Over the past two years other Australian women athletes have benefited from new pay deals.

Cricket Australia announced a pay increase of almost 66 per cent for top female athletes in April, where Australian captain Meg Lanning could earn $1 million a year, and the top CA contract holder on a WBBL deal could earn more than $800,000 a year, with the capacity to break the $1 million mark with further earnings in the Women’s Premier League (India) and The Hundred (UK).

The AFL awarded AFLW players with a 94 per cent pay rise in last year’s CBA.

However, while Netball Australia is mindful of what other codes are doing, Ryan said it wasn’t the only marker for success.

“We’ve got nearly a million people playing our sport. That shows that our product is rich and strong in its own right. [At] the end of the day, we’re not bankrolled by men’s codes, we are working by ourselves for ourselves and have for the last 96 years,” said Ryan.

‘We’re not bankrolled by men’s codes, we are working by ourselves for ourselves and have for the last 96 years.’

“So when women’s sport wasn’t as relevant as it is today, we’ve always had to push hard to fight for our share, we’ll be fighting hard for our share in a different landscape now. So, it’s not a new challenge to netball to always be working hard … We’re not going to sit here and just try and match dollar for dollar with what the other sports are doing, that’s not going to work.”

Netball Australia in healthier position following sponsorship saga

Adding to the financial stress last year was billionaire Gina Rinehart’s decision to withdraw the Hancock Prospecting sponsorship deal, saying she did not want to add to the sport’s “disunity problems”.

Donnell Wallam of the Australian Diamonds. Credit: Getty Images

Visit Victoria jumped in to replace the money and entered a $15 million partnership, which included the 2023 Super Netball grand final sold to Victoria.

“Obviously, it was a challenging time for everybody in the sport. There wasn’t one stakeholder group that was less affected than another stakeholder group, and everybody was genuinely working together to try and work our way through it,” said Ryan.

“We always have to be believers that everything happens for a reason. So, we now have a really strong partnership with Visit Victoria … that we’re really appreciative for, but at the same time, we recognise that we add huge value [to them].”

Who is netball’s Sam Kerr?

While some female superstars have helped lift their codes, such as Sam Kerr for soccer and Ellyse Perry for cricket, Ryan said netball has some work to do in this regard.

“That’s something that has to be addressed, where we actually need more athletes being profiled more often to build their own individual brands,” said Ryan.

“We’re just so fortunate that we’ve got some amazing athletes that are highly educated and highly articulate and that helps in so many different ways. So, we really want to make sure that we maximise what they have to offer.”

Ryan said the rise in popularity of other women’s codes only strengthens all their positions. She doesn’t see the Netball World Cup in the same year as the FIFA Women’s World Cup – on home soil – as a bad thing.

‘I’m not sure, why it’s taken the globe this long to actually get its head around the fact that women and girls love playing sport, and heaven forbid, they’re actually really good at it.’

“I think it’s great for everyone, it kind of seems a bit surreal that it’s taken us this long to actually turn attention to women’s sport, the way that it should always have had attention. For some reason, I’m not sure, why it’s taken the globe this long to actually get its head around the fact that women and girls love playing sport, and heaven forbid, they’re actually really good at it.”

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