Professional Netball has always struggled to gain attention and viewership. The sport seems to be undervalued, underestimated and misunderstood, particularly the general public.
However, before the pandemic, the popularity of netball was rising and participation rates were at an all-time high with it being the second largest team sport for women, behind football.
Although the game has never featured at the Olympics, it has recently become hugely popular. Let’s find out what is fuelling its surge and why there are more people playing netball than ever before.
Since the England squad were ranked third in the world and secured Gold at the Commonwealth games in 2018, participation in Netball has risen. Not only that, after the Vitality Netball World Cup (NWC) in July, more than 160,000 Brits started taking part in the sport.
The sport has also significantly grown in viewership. The 2019 NWC included 16 countries and was watched by millions of people worldwide.
The tournament, held on home turf in England, also saw a record-breaking amount of ticket sales and every England game was a sell-out. The England team even managed to reward fans, taking home the bronze medal. While this was of obviously fantastic for the sport, the real win was the fact a staggering 6 million Brits claimed to have followed or attended the tournament.
Changing the Game
Netball is thriving and growing for another reason: the players! Today, netball is not “only” for women but for men there is a game similar called ‘Nets’. Nets is a fast-paced variation of the sport, played on netted courts. The teams, men’s, women’s and mixed, compete internationally, further raising the profile of the game.
Additional initiatives are being made to broaden the sport’s appeal. Netball Fast5 is a new, quicker version of the sport gaining popularity across the country. Fast5 uses five players, instead of the traditional seven.
Another one of the latest initiatives from England Netball is ‘Walking Netball’ which is reportedly the sport’s fastest growing programme. This project allows all ages groups and physical abilities to come and play as it is a slower more accessible version of the sport.
England Netball, the national governing body in charge of the game’s strategic plan have reported an average week during the season saw almost 685,000 women and girls playing netball nationwide. This is thanks to the 3,500 netball clubs offering programmes.
In 2021, Sky Sports announced a new multi-year broadcast deal with England Netball. As we said, the NWC broke records, seeing 550,000 people tune in to watch the semi-final alone. The partnership with Sky is a massive milestone for the sport and bodes well for future success. The deal highlights the growing interest in the sport and should open opportunities for sponsorship deals.
The 2023 Netball World Cup will only increase interest in the sport, so brands and organisations should get ahead and harness this ever-growing potential.