Dana Johannsen 's Opinion

Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Dana Johannsen: Netball bosses slow to change

Endless loop of feasibility studies with nothing to show from it for transtasman competition.

Allowing more teams to qualify for the play-offs will go some way to addressing one of the perennial grumbles of the league. Photo / APN
Allowing more teams to qualify for the play-offs will go some way to addressing one of the perennial grumbles of the league. Photo / APN

Netball bosses are assembled in Melbourne this week for the latest round of talkies about the future shape of the transtasman league.

But if the first six years of the competition have taught us anything, it is don't expect any changes any time soon.

Since the ANZ Championship kicked off in 2008, the sport's bigwigs seem to have been locked in an endless loop of feasibility studies, focus groups, reviews and stakeholder consultation as they consider improvements to the shape and structure of the competition. Yet now into its seventh season, the product is the same as it was when the competition kicked off in 2008.

The latest discussions taking place are around a "shift and shape" of the competition. League bosses have been mulling over moving the tournament to the summer months, while also considering a couple of options to extend the play-offs format.

While the idea of summer netball is the most significant change suggested, and one that has pricked the ears of other sections of the media, the reality is there is little enthusiasm for the concept outside of the headquarters of the league's broadcasters. Relocating the competition might solve a scheduling problem for the broadcasters, and eliminate an impending clash with the 2018 Commonwealth Games, but it would create a whole set of new issues for franchise and league management. Filling stadiums - a challenge facing all professional sports at the moment - will become eminently more difficult for the game's marketers, who will have to try to convince fans to abandon their plans of going to the beach and BBQs to sit inside a dark stadium. The Mystics may as well look at moving their home stadium to the Coromandel as that's where most Aucklanders are over summer.

There are huge financial hurdles for the teams to overcome as well in making the initial switch. With one season ending in June and the next starting around October, it will mean teams' operating costs will double that financial year. Unless the league can find a lot of extra cash to assist with the move, they won't be able to get it off the ground.

More promising are the changes to the finals format that are being looked at. Options considered are extending the number of qualifying teams to five, or expanding the grand final format to a home and away series.

Allowing more teams to qualify for the play-offs will go some way to addressing one of the perennial grumbles of the league - the much-maligned one and a half round draw. Critics argue the draw heavily favours the New Zealand sides, given the competition on this side of the Tasman is not as tough as the Australian pool. Some conspiracy theorists even suggest the draw is being deliberately kept that way to continue to give the Kiwi teams a leg up, ignoring the obvious financial and scheduling constraints to moving to a double round draw.

Worryingly, ANZ Championship general manager Andy Crook has hinted any changes to the competition structure won't be implemented by next year, with 2016 a more likely target.

With a start-up competition a conservative approach to growth was always called for. But given the league will be in its ninth season at the earliest by the time league bosses get around to making any changes, some are beginning to wonder whether it is prudent to be so prudent. Perhaps the league need to form a focus group to look at that.

- NZ Herald

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Dana Johannsen

Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Dana has more than a decade's experience in sports journalism, joining the Herald in 2007 following stints with TVNZ and RadioSport. Over that time Dana has covered several major events including the 2011 Netball World Cup in Singapore, 2011 Rugby World Cup, 2012-13 Volvo Ocean Race, and the 34th America’s Cup in San Francisco. A multi-award winning journalist, Dana was named New Zealand Sports Journalist of the Year in 2012 after scooping both the news and feature categories at the TP McLean Awards. The previous year she picked up the prize for best news break. She was also an inaugural recipient of the Sir John Wells scholarship at the 2009 NZSJA awards. Dana also writes a weekly sports column for the NZ Herald.

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