While some of Australia’s sporting codes have seen a decline in crowd attendance this year, new research shows that netball has bounced back from the pandemic in a big way.
According to research by Gemba, an Australian company that provides information, strategy and communication data on sports and entertainment, fans are attending professional matches at a higher rate this Super Netball season than the year before the start of the pandemic.
In 2019, 17 per cent of surveyed Australian netball fans over the age of 16 indicated that they had attended at least one live netball match.
And in 2020 and 2021, during the height of lockdowns and state border closures, which forced the Super Netball league to play many of its games at centers or without crowds, this attendance dropped to 15 and 16 percent respectively.
But in 2022, with a home and away season in full swing, that number jumped to 31 percent over a four-month period from January through April.
This rise so early in the year is likely a product of Super Netball’s early start to the season, to wrap up the competition before the Diamonds begin their preparation for the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in July.
The league’s pre-season Team Girls Cup was also reintroduced to the netball calendar this year and took place on the last weekend of February, after the previous two tournaments were cancelled.
Still, Gemba’s head of marketing strategy, Adam Hodge, said Super Netball and its clubs have to work hard to encourage people to attend the games.
“Our research data shows that netball fans are returning to games after COVID restrictions,” he said.
“It seems like the sport has come back strong and everything they’re doing is working.”
Melbourne Vixens get creative with game day events
One club that is trying new ways to attract fans is the Melbourne Vixens.
The team already has an extremely loyal fan base and one of the highest membership counts in the competition, having been in existence since 2017 and winning three premierships over the course of the Trans-Tasman Championship and Super Netball era.
However, during the last two years of the pandemic, they have only been able to host five games at John Cain Arena, so the club has been desperate to reconnect with the community and rebuild the atmosphere at its home venue.
Listening to fans, who have long complained that the sport places too much emphasis on promoting itself to children, rather than adults who can afford to invest in the game, and capitalizing on Super Netball’s new broadcast deal, the Vixens have emerged. with a clever way of trying to access the adult market.
A switch to Fox Sports for the 2022 season meant the league was able to reclaim its Saturday night primetime television slot, presenting an opportunity for the club to present Sippin’ Saturdays, where fans can enjoy their netball with a glass of wine.
“We know that the 18-35 age group loves their netball and by and large they are still playing or have recently retired and are huge fans,” said Angela Banbury, general manager of netball development for the Vixens.
“It’s been popular, and we have another one coming up this weekend with the Vixens and NSW Swifts Round 11 game.”
Banbury said the nights have been a hit with both men and women, suggesting it was a great date idea.
“Both men and women have been attending,” he said.
“They get a reserved seat and a drink on arrival, and there’s a dedicated room that overlooks a view of Melbourne where they sit before the game starts.”
Other initiatives the club has incorporated into its game day experience in recent years include the English Family Sensory Room and Cubs Corner.
Cubs Corner caters to new parents and young families, giving them the space to bring babies in strollers and sit in front of or behind glass in a converted corporate suite.
The Sensory Room is a similar setup, allowing fans on the spectrum and their families to watch from a comfortable space with activities like coloring and toy blocks close at hand, as well as headphones, yoga mats, bean bags and stuffed animals.
It was first introduced in 2019, the same year Renae and Joe Ingles’ son Jacob was diagnosed with autism. This year, the Vixens announced that they had officially named the sensory room after him.
“We had seen a lot of sensory rooms pop up around the place, particularly overseas, and that, combined with our link to the English, made us think, why not introduce our own?” Banbury said.
“The beauty of this is that it’s a safe space for the whole family and it keeps them from having to be separated, in terms of one kid going with mom or dad to the game and the other kid staying home because it’s too much for them.” to go to a sporting event.
“We’re three years down the road and during that time, a lot more funding has gone into the room to make sure the environment is set up right.”
Part of that involved working with KultureCity, a US non-profit organization that specializes in the area and certifies these spaces to make sure they meet the standard.
KultureCity has also helped the AFL establish its sensory rooms in Docklands and Kardinia Park, while both Renae and Joe Ingles sit on the board.
“KultureCity is one of the leaders in helping educate those involved in sports stadiums and clubs about what people on the spectrum need to attend a game,” said Banbury.
“Some of our staff had to go through online training and then we had to send them photos of the facility and all the activities we offered for them to approve.”
The Vixens space is the first that the non-profit organization has certified in netball worldwide.