The game out-growing its 'playground sport' status in the UK
Emma White, Communications Executive
It’s safe to say, netball is having its moment here in the UK.
Following victory at the Commonwealth Games in spring 2018, the England Roses – recently renamed to the Vitality Roses – have led the charge on bringing the sport out of the shadows and into the spotlight.
The Roses ended 2018 on a high, following a double win at one of the most widely recognised and high-profile sporting award ceremonies – BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards 2018. They were the winners of the prestigious Team of the Year Award and saw off competition from several highly regarded sporting moments to secure the Greatest Sporting Moment of the Year following their last second win over the Australian Samsung Diamonds at the Commonwealth Games.
The Roses also took home a further three Team of the Year awards in 2018: Team of the Year at the Sports Journalists’ Association (SJA) British Sports Awards 2018, the Sunday Times Sports Women of the Year Awards and the BT Sports Action Woman Awards.
To cap off a remarkable year, long-standing England netball player Geva Mentor, who made her national team debut in 2001 and has gone on to feature in 5 Commonwealth Games including this year's triumph on Queensland's Gold Coast, was also recognised for her achievements with a CBE in the New Year's honours list.
With netball now being regularly discussed not only in the elite sporting world but more mainstream media too, it goes without saying that its profile is on the rise. The traditionally viewed ‘girls playground sport’ is evolving and it’s just the beginning.
Success on court is an encouraging benefit to England Netball’s commercial offering, as they look to become more commercially sustainable. Joanna Adams, CEO England Netball, has recently outlined the sporting body’s plans to switch their current funding model from 64% grant-funded to 64% self-funded in the next two-three years. [i]
Sport England have also recently announced their further commitment to England Netball’s commercial proposition, providing the governing body with £2.8milion of additional National Lottery Funding for 2019-2021. [ii]
Phil Smith, Director of Sport at Sport England said: “Sport England’s focus is to close the gender gap in sport, by giving girls and women of all ages the chance to be active however they choose. Team sport can be life changing and England Netball is doing a great job of growing their sport. We are delighted to be backing their success.”
Long term support from Vitality – the health and life insurer and investments provider – has allowed the sport to remain fully professional for those players in the elite pathway, and their renewal for a further three years is thought to be the largest female team sport sponsorship in the UK. [iii]
Through Vitality’s mission to make the UK healthier, the partnership supports the sport at all levels, from grassroots through to elite. Vitality now has naming rights to the national team, the Vitality Roses, and is also the title sponsor of the Vitality Netball International Series and the Vitality Netball Superleague.
Nike have recently joined England Netball’s partnership roster, as their official kit supplier and strategic partner. The impact of one of the most globally recognised brands investing in the sport has not gone under the radar.
With their Next Level Netball campaign, Nike are bringing more mainstream exposure to netball, giving the historically viewed ‘girls playground sport’ a new urban and fashionable image. Above the line advertising showcasing the Vitality Roses players as Nike athletes has been well received by the netball community and featured players have been actively sharing content and supporting the new partnership across their personal channels.
Brands looking to work with a governing body and athletes who genuinely appreciate sponsors support need look no further. Appearance opportunities with enthusiastic and willing players is a luxury rarely afforded in the sporting landscape and provides brands with authentic content that resonates well across netball audiences.
England Netball have seen a 44% increase in grassroots participation across the UK in the last year (2017-2018), with netball remaining the number one team sport played by women in the UK.[iv]
But it is not just a sport for women. Male participation is on the rise, with new formats of the game – such as Fast5’s and ‘Nets’ (indoor netball) – facilitating the sport’s appeal to a wider audience. Taking on a form like Twenty20 cricket, Fast5 is fun, fast and vastly different from the traditional format.
TV broadcasting has seen a similar positive uplift. During the BBC’s TV coverage of the 2018 Commonwealth Games, 1.5million people tuned in to the netball final in April to see the Roses claim their first ever netball gold medal, in a dramatic final play of the match against hosts Australia. [v]
After 12 years, Sky Sports – the long-term broadcaster of netball in the UK – continues to deliver regular coverage of netball. In 2018, Sky Sports’ viewing figures for the sport more than doubled. [vi] With a focus on sports not previously covered on television, Sky Sports Mix achieves its fundamental aim of bringing the magic of live sport to millions more Sky TV customers, at no extra cost.
Attendance at matches continues to be a priority for England Netball too. A recent report from data-driven sport agency Two Circles highlighted that Millennials are behind a soaring growth in attendance at UK sporting events. [vii] Netball appeared in the top five – alongside American Football, Basketball, Ice Hockey and MMA – for the largest average year-on-year attendance growth since 2012.
The players and coaches - notably Head Coach Tracey Neville – have a genuine appreciation for support from the netball community and sponsors alike. Their reaction to being recognised alongside well-known sporting icons, such as Alastair Cook and Tiger Woods, is refreshing and admirable.
With the profile of the Vitality Roses rising, through national TV coverage of the BBC Sport’s Personality of the Year Awards as an example, it will only be a matter of time before the players become more commercially aware of personal sponsorship opportunities.
Big year ahead – 2019
2019 will be a very busy netball calendar. The highly anticipated Vitality Netball Superleague is back on 5th January as Super 10 returns for the opening weekend of the 2019 season, with all 10 teams preparing to take to the court for a fast-paced day of first class netball.
International netball will return to the UK for the Vitality Netball International Series, as part of the Netball Quad Series in January with the Vitality Roses up against South Africa, New Zealand and World Number One team, Australia.
In July, the Vitality Netball World Cup will take place in Liverpool, bringing the best of international netball onto home soil. There has been a joint broadcast deal agreed to ensure maximum opportunities to watch. Sky Sports will be the host broadcaster for the tournament and will show every game live across its platforms on each day. The BBC will also show every game free-to-air across its TV and digital channels from day four onwards, until the tournament concludes on the 21st July. [viii]
With all of the Vitality Roses group matches already sold out, it promises to be an exciting tournament, as England try to claim the World Number One ranking.
Whilst many sports, and associated brands, try to target female audiences as part of their CSR agendas, netball is ahead of the curve. Netball provides a receptive, engaged and loyal audience with a genuine passion for the sport.
It has moved on from its school ‘playground status’ and cemented its place in elite sport. It is an exciting time to be working in the sport, and across the next five years, heightened interest commercially and at grassroots level will demonstrate the best is still to come.