Welcome to Tuesday Team Talk. Every week, the H+K Sports team will give a unique perspective on the stories making the headlines across the world of sport.
For all you football fans out there, I urge you to take a moment to think about Manchester City’s current status in English football. Previously a team that struggled to hold their place in the top-flight, have now been transformed entirely. The spark in this transition? Someone coughed up a frightening amount of cash and all of a sudden a footballing dream team was created. In a matter of seasons they went from the very average, to the star—studded, going on to win the Premier League and become a leading force in European football.
Now hold that thought…
And bear with me as I jump to a point that will probably seem completely unrelated.
Wasps were crowned Champions at the weekend.
Random hey. And a lot of you will probably read this and think ‘huh, the rugby season is finished’ right? However those in the know will realise that I’m not talking about rugby at all, I’m in fact talking about netball.
It was a season finale to remember. First and second place – Loughborough Lightning and Wasps, respectively – went nearly goal for goal for the majority of the 60 minutes in a 100 plus points thriller. Netballers get some slack, having been referred to as ‘dainty flamingos’ in the past, however this final proved that the sport and its participants are anything but. It was the ultimate battle of physicality, the power and strength on show from both teams was enough to make any sports fan sit up and go ‘wow’. In the words of my male housemate, “as if this is a non-contact sport!”
In what was one of the most competitive and evenly matched finals for a while, it was Wasps that emerged victorious. Lightning just pipped to the post (excuse the pun) by a clinical and determined performance that was unbeatable on the day.
Admittedly, having played netball at Loughborough Uni, I’m slightly biased, but it would be fair to say that Wasps were unpopular winners.
It would have been understandable for you to look to rugby when I mentioned Wasps for the first time. Wasps Netball made their debut in the Netball Superleague this year, one of three new franchises this season and they were also part of the same franchise as Wasps Rugby Union. The new venture was designed to be a force in the national game and was a first of its kind in regards to a netball team being directly linked to a professional male counterpart. On the surface, it sounds great. It gave netball exposure to a more diverse audience, attracted higher level sponsors and used the fan base of an existing team to drive and build attendances for another. However it split opinion within the netball world, hence why there wasn’t an overwhelmingly positive response when Wasps lifted that trophy on Sunday.
The key reason being, that people felt they bought their way to the top, rather than earning it. Tamsin Greenway, winner of the Superleague in both 2015 and 2016 with Surrey Storm was brought in as Head Coach and surrounded herself with some of the best players in the league, many of whom had played under her at Surrey. Now the vast majority of netball isn’t professional. Only those on the centralised England Netball programme receive the whole of their wage from the sport. However as the sport’s popularity increases, broadcast coverage increases and funding increases, teams have a greater ability to incentivise players through a paid, part time contract.
And this is where we hit the catch 22.
I’m a big advocate for the growth of netball. I’ve played it for nearly 15 years and it is incredible to see the games being broadcast on free-to-watch TV and players getting paid to play the sport that they love. But it opens up a whole new dynamic as the sport becomes increasingly commercialised and the financial backing behind clubs becomes more and more uneven. This isn’t a new problem to have within sport – think back to my Manchester City analogy. All makes sense now hey. Although football is certainly not the best example of a sport trying to solve the issue. Look at rugby with the salary cap and the draft in the NFL – all designed to level the playing field as much as possible. There are flaws of course and it would be virtually impossible to create a league where each team started as equals to each other. But at least it’s the acknowledgement and attempt to stop what could become a bigger issue spiralling out of control.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s a negative that netball is getting more and more financial backing – anything but! However, in order to sustain a competitive Superleague where each game doesn’t become a forgone conclusion, the relevant people need to be aware of what could arise if precautions aren’t taken. What those precautions are, remain to be decided but the question should still be posed.
I’m purple through and through, but I don’t mind saying that Wasps were the better side on the day and you can’t take that away from them. They haven’t broken any rules by doing what they did and they certainly still had to go out there and do the job. From a netball point of view, Sunday was an incredible showcase for the game and let’s not forget that. It’s a nice predicament to be in, but it’s a predicament all the same and one that certainly caused some debate following Sunday’s game.
And at the end of the day, look at Manchester City now… that story suggests that Loughborough’s time is still to come!