Key Points:

Tomorrow's second test between the Silver Ferns and Australia will be watched by upwards of 7000 netball-mad spectators in the Vector Arena.

Millions more here and across the Tasman will tune in from home via the coverage provided by three broadcasters, while the match will also be beamed live into the Cook Islands for the first time.

After the match the Silver Ferns will sign autographs and have their pictures taken with their public, while the throng of media gathered will analyse each side's performance.

It may seem all very normal to us, yet to any other nation in the western world, Australia included, it is remarkable that a women's sport could have such prominence.

New Zealand is the only country in the world where a women's sport sits alongside men in television ratings.

Yet it hasn't always been this way.

Netball, or basketball as it was known here until 1970, was a game developed in high schools during the 1900s, but it took up to about the 1950s for its popularity to really take hold.

In an era when women's sporting endeavours often encountered fierce resistance, netball was seen as a more acceptable game for girls because it was less aggressive and more graceful. And, as men didn't play it, no male sensibilities were offended by women taking it up.

So how did netball go from becoming a nice game played by schoolgirls to the semi-professional mega-brand it is today?

It has taken many years hard work and lobbying and the pioneering spirit of hundreds of netball administrators and volunteers over the years, who decided women should be valued for more than just their ability to make a good scone.

Netball was first beamed into our homes in the 1960s but according to Auckland University lecturer Margaret Henley, the real growth in television coverage and push for greater recognition for our top netballers didn't come until the 1980s.

Henley said a new breed of radical netball administrators and the political climate at the time helped push the game into the mainstream.

"During the '70s there were increasing calls for women to be more evident and more public recognition of the activities and endeavours of women and women in sport being one. But the early feminist movement, the second wave of feminism in New Zealand, were not concerned with sport, they were too busy on equal wages, child care and women's health which were huge issues and really important issues at that," said Henley.

"So it wasn't until the early 1980s that there was much more of an organisation of women looking towards getting images on television in women in a range of activities and sport being one."

The incoming Labour Government in 1984 established a Ministry of Women's Affairs which brought about political lobbying at a higher level and Henley said netball was able to take advantage of this.

During this time Netball New Zealand was undergoing leadership change with the new faces taking a more radical approach to expansion. Spearheading this was Netball NZ chief executive Anne Taylor, who promoted the need to make netball more attractive to sponsors.

It was at this time Netball New Zealand hired a marketing company to try and capture the increasingly important women's market.

This also coincided with the rise of the national team in the 1980s under Lois Muir culminating in the 1987 World Championships win. Wai Taumaunu, Margaret Forsyth, Sandra Edge and others became household names, while Muir also began to get recognition for her coaching practices.

By the early '90s netball was on quite a roll and the national team moved to indoor stadiums on a more permanent basis. Henley said the move indoors made life easier for the broadcasters.

The 1999 World Championships was a real marker - netball had come of age, the epic final between Australia and New Zealand captured over a million viewers in this country alone, while the 8500-strong crowd was a record at the time.

Since then netball has steadily increased in popularity. Media coverage continues to expand and the game is bringing in more sponsorship dollars than ever before.

2008 will be looked back as a landmark year, with the advent of a new semi-professional league pushing the game into a bold new era.

It is a position New Zealand netball would never have found itself in had it not been for the tenacious efforts of these netball officials over the years - a point that is not lost on Silver Ferns coach Ruth Aitken.

"When you look back at the moves that were made in terms of the marketing side of things of netball how it shifted from just being a nice game for girls at school and women playing socially, to push it in to that semi-professional environment they were quite remarkable really."

All that, and they can make a good scone.