It is Australia’s largest participation sport for girls, yet netball is still fighting to meet the standards other elite sports have set in this country.
Sunday’s Super Netball semi-final between the Melbourne Vixens and Collingwood Magpies could not have come with higher stakes.
And yet, even with a spot in the preliminary final and bragging rights as the best team in the city up for grabs, the Melbourne derby had empty seats visible on the broadcast from the State Netball and Hockey Centre.
The Vixens average about 6,000 a week at their usual home court, Melbourne Arena, and their membership numbers alone outweigh the 3,050-seat capacity of the smaller venue.
But fans can hardly be held accountable.
Netball Australia (NA), which takes back control of ticketing and venues during the finals, hiked up ticket prices and really should have locked in their regular venue for such a big match.
In fairness, it was Father’s Day and they were beaten in securing Melbourne Arena way back in October by an esports tournament that pounced while NA was still trying to figure out a complex schedule that accommodated the Netball World Cup.
But for a sport that is still trying to cement itself as a frontrunner in the Australian landscape, it gave people more reasons to watch the game from the comfort of their homes, instead of paying extra to watch their team at a subpar venue.
What has upset fans further is that these ticket prices were different to the ones now on sale for the preliminary final to be played at Sydney’s NSW State Sports Centre — another relatively small venue.
General tickets for an adult range from $33-39, with platinum seats priced at $47 and one section of exclusive diamond tickets at $70.
Meanwhile, the nosebleed tickets limited to one side of the court for the Vixens-Magpies clash ranged from $38 to $55, and the platinum and diamond seats that made up the majority of the stadium were priced between $110-115.
Add on parking for the day and ticket processing fees, and most would consider that to be a pretty expensive family day out.
And ticket prices are just one part of the argument, as the second revolves around the venues booked.
Super Netball chief executive Chris Symington confirmed the league had a hold on Sydney Superdome for the preliminary final in case the two New South Wales teams — the Giants and Swifts — made it through.
But with the Giants out of the equation, Super Netball opted for the State Sports Centre instead.
While its true that the Swifts and Giants usually hold their standalone fixtures at the stadium, which holds 3,854 people, it would have been nice to see NA back its sport to reach the 10,000-plus crowds that have flocked to Sydney derbies and doubleheader fixtures held at the Superdome this year.
That being said, the latter is extremely expensive to book and could lead to money being lost rather than gained if the crowd fell short.
All the while, NRL clubs are being paid money to take their home games to other venues.
Overall this problem spotlights the struggle women’s sport faces when it comes to providing the best stage for its athletes and unfortunately netball does not have a profitable men’s side of the game that can be used to back its women, like cricket or AFL does.
Hopefully by the time we reach finals next year the Sydney Tennis Centre, otherwise known as Ken Rosewall Arena, should have its upgrade complete with a roof, allowing netball to capitalise on a venue within the same vicinity, with a smaller hire fee and a nice in-between option for capacity.
But more needs to be done to ensure the best league in the world lives up to its name, giving fans good reason to put their bums on seats and heavily commit to the sport they love, rather than turning them away.
Lightning set for Super Netball three-peat
Despite stadium and ticketing issues, the stage has been set for a blockbuster finish in the Super Netball grand final.
The Sunshine Coast Lightning locked in home-state advantage when they beat the NSW Swifts 58-48 in the major semi-final on Saturday.
With their coach Noeline Taurua finishing up at the end of this season to concentrate on her New Zealand Silver Ferns commitments, they have done everything they can to ensure they send their mastermind off with an appropriate gift.
Taurua already won gold at the Netball World Cup in Liverpool this year and if all falls her way could very well finish the 2019 season with a third consecutive Super Netball premiership.
We are still not sure whether Laura Langman will continue playing Super Netball next year and if she does whether it will be with the Sunshine Coast side, so there is a chance the grand final could very well be her last game with them too.
But it would be sad day for netball fans if she was to depart considering the form she is in and the spirit in which she plays the game.
In the Lightning’s 10-goal victory against the Swifts on Saturday, she finished the game with a huge 46 feeds and 18 goal assists — as well as two intercepts, one pickup and a deflection.
Langman touched the ball more than any other player on court, having played centre for four quarters as one of the oldest players on either side.
The Lightning now wait to see who they will face in their challenge for the three-peat between the Swifts and Vixens, but they are strong favourites to take home the trophy and will certainly be tough to beat.