Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Transtasman netball 'as strong as ever'

Aussie boss says shape of competition rests on broadcasting deals.

The head of Netball Australia insists the organisation's relationship with its New Zealand counterparts is "as strong as ever" despite plans to split the transtasman league.

The Herald this week revealed the 2016 ANZ Championship is set to be the last of its kind and the New Zealand and Australian teams are expected to compete in separate competitions from next year.

Talks of a split were instigated after Netball Australia, which has long been concerned with the competitive imbalance in the league, forged ahead with plans to increase the number of Australian teams in the league. The deadline for expressions of interest in the additional franchise licences close this week and Netball Australia boss Kate Palmer was able to confirm there would be three Australian teams added to the league next year, having received submissions from "six serious contenders".

The increase in the number of Australian teams next year from five to eight will force a restructure of the competition and the likely new format will see the league split into two. It is understood the favoured option would have the New Zealand and Australian teams compete domestically and the top sides meet in a Champions League-style play-off series at the end.

But Palmer insists her organisation is not turning its back on the transtasman partnership.

Asked if she can guarantee fans there will be an ANZ Championship next year, Palmer said: "Absolutely. We can see the value of the product, this is about taking another big step up again.

"Our relationship with Netball NZ has never been stronger. In terms of the partnership we are committed to working together to achieving the best outcome for both countries."

Palmer said no firm decisions have been made about what shape the competition will take in 2017 because that rests on the outcome of broadcast negotiations.

"I can't yet say if [a split] is the best option. We're looking at a number of different options, but we want all our major partners at the table before we make a final decision. So, until we have signed a broadcaster, which is critical, I can't say what format is best."

While doubts have been raised over the ability of the sport to clinch a paid television deal in Australia, Palmer said negotiations had been positive.

"We're really pleased that, for the first time, we have competition in the market for broadcast rights," she said.

"Australia has tended to lag behind New Zealand in appreciating women's sport, but recently it has gained momentum and there is a real appetite for coverage of women's sport."

It's likely any potential broadcast partner across the Tasman will favour more local content because domestic rivalries typically draw stronger ratings. A move to a more domestic focused league is also likely to have the backing of broadcasters here.

Netball New Zealand chief executive Hilary Poole said that if a split did occur the organisation would contemplate adding a sixth New Zealand team to ensure the product does not get repetitive and remains appealing to broadcasters and sponsors.

Sky TV spokeswoman Kirsty Way said the company had been fully involved in the discussions over the reshape of the ANZ Championship.

"[Netball NZ] are certainly working with us and discussing what would make good content and in what time slots.

"The matches involving the Kiwi teams are certainly the most popular, so we'd be supportive of more local content - it's good for our audiences, and it's good for the sport in New Zealand."

Steph Bond, who heads the New Zealand Netball Players Association, said she was yet to have any formal conversations with players about the potential changes to the format, but she believes maintaining some form of transtasman competition is important.

"The transtasman component is pretty vital," said Bond.

"From the players perspective, that transtasman rivalry is something that they really enjoy.

"We're supportive of having a competition that is going to create the best high performance opportunities for our athletes."

A formal announcement on the format of next year's competition is not expected until mid-May.

- NZ Herald

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