IN A POTENTIAL BOOM PERIOD FOR WOMEN’ S PROFESSIONAL SPORT IN THIS COUNTRY, THE INAUGURAL SUPER NET BALL COMPETITION WILL NOT ONLY SHOWCASE THE WORLD’ S TOP NET BALL TALENT, IT WILL –FINALLY–PROVIDE A DECENT INCOME FOR MANY OF ITS STARS. AMONG THE FRONT-R
Our netballers have prepared like professionals for a long time. Now they’ll be paid like it.
Back in 2003, year-11 student Kimberlee Green was in the middle of a regular PE lesson at St Patrick’s College, Sutherland. Midway through the class, a message was delivered to her teacher. There was a phone call for Ms Green at the front office, an important one the likeable Mr Redrup thought she should take. On the other end of the line was then-coach of the Sydney Swifts, Julie Fitzgerald, with an invite to be part her team’s Commonwealth Bank Trophy ambitions going forward.
“Jules has given me the opportunity to live a life that I’d never thought I’d ever be able to live,” Green ponders today for Inside
Sport. “To this day I’m still excited and happy that she actually gave me that phone call and believed enough in me … that this young whipper-snapper who had a little bit of attitude at 15 years old was going to have the ability to do what I did.”
Fitzgerald says of Green: “It’s been an absolute delight, not only to watch her grow as an athlete and become one of the best centre-court players in the world, it’s been an opportunity to watch her grow into such a mature young woman. She’s a fantastic ambassador for our team and our sport. Kim is really tenacious. She’s one of the fittest and strongest mid-courters going around. But most of all she has a beautiful feed. She reads the circle really well, provides them with great ball.”
Green, now 30, is considered among the top netball players in the world. “Getting picked up early from school, finishing a little bit early so that I could get to training was always a bonus. I’d rock up to training in my school uniform and get a little bit of flack for it from the girls, knowing that they were just that little bit older.”
It was tough for a kid like Green back then, trying to keep up with the best players in the world on the court while relying on family to cover the costs of almost every aspect of her new, elite netball life. “My first contract was $500,” she recalls. “In terms of school it was really tough. As an athlete you make so many sacrifices, but when you’re so young it’s hard to comprehend sometimes.”
The Commonwealth Bank Trophy ran from 1997 to 2007. It was an eightteam comp which featured now-retro- now-retro-retrosounding team names such as the Melbourne Kestrels, Adelaide Ravens and Sydney Sandpipers. Back in the day, then-Australian Workers Union (AWU) national secretary Bill Shorten claimed the average netballer was earning just $4000 a season. If the players needed something “extra” like a physiotherapist, they paid for it themselves. They juggled training, playing and work commitments the same way a weekend division-F men’s soccer player does today. Unsurprisingly, in 2005, most of the players in the Commonwealth Bank Trophy made the decision to join the AWU. Green’s career trajectory mirrors that of the flight and fortunes of netball in Australia. She is captain of one of three new teams in a revamped domestic national comp labelled Suncorp Super Netball, which is a symbol of the exciting growth in recent opportunities for women’s sport in cricket, rugby and AFL. The Aussie Diamond is a good one to ask about all matter of things netty, especially the sport’s nurturing of its next generation in light of increased player payments from ever-increasing broadcast rights deals. “Sports have become a bit more savvy,” Green says of the current developing player landscape. “There are a lot of programs that fit into the HSC and into curriculums. They have specialised courses now. I know netball has just
started to get on board with a few things like that. Because sport is becoming so big, especially in the female space, schools are starting to recognise that, realistically, if we can support these athletes in their schoolwork, but also on the netball court or the footy field, sport can prove a really good avenue.”
Another keen observer of the improving station of netball’s up-and-coming young talent is Netball NSW chief executive Carolyn Campbell, who oversees the operations of both the NSW Swifts and Giants Netball, the latter debuting in Super Netball when the revamped comp swings into action this month. “The biggest uplift has been at the rookie level,” Campbell tells Inside Sport. “In my Sydney market, the top players continue to be well-remunerated. But now the rookies have had an uplift which the game has been able to afford.”
The good news for the firstyear players is that the minimum salary will more than double for the 2017 Suncorp Super Netball season, rising from $13,250 to $27,375 – nowhere near a full-time wage, but as Campbell points out, a helping hand that wasn’t there before. “Most elite-level players are still semi-professional to a degree, but particularly at that rookie level, they probably wouldn’t have been able to live on what they were getting in the past from netball alone; a lot of them had other jobs or they were studying. We are all about the holistic development of the player anyway, so that they do have skills and education for life after netball.”
The gender pay divide in sport screams loudest when looking back on reactions in 2007 to the arrival of netball’s successor to the Commonwealth Bank Trophy, the much-hyped ANZ Championship. The brand-spankingnew league delivered increased player salaries as well as broader coverage on television via Fox Sports in Australia and on Television New Zealand, Prime and Sky Sports across the ditch.
Then into her fifth season of elite-level netball, Kim Green was like many of her up-and-coming peers – excited at the at-long-last financial recognition of the southern hemisphere’s emerging talent.
“My first contract was $500, so for me, heading into the new ANZ Championship, where the minimum salary was $12,500, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, this is a big step up! This is incredible,’” she says. “To be completely honest with you, we had players there going, ‘Oh, this is easy,’ because they hadn’t been a part of the previous league, where you got paid $500 and wondered why you weren’t getting more.”
Hitting the local sportscape like a comet, the ten-team league, featuring Aussie sides the Queensland Firebirds, Adelaide Thunderbirds, NSW Swifts, West Coast Fever and Melbourne Vixens – and five domestic outfits from New Zealand – produced enthralling netball and nail-biting, buzzer-beating finishes. The passionate, no holds-barred players were front-and-centre in promotional campaigns, helping to elevate the game to a new level in terms of player remuneration and respect. Problem was, according to Green, that’s where it parked for the best part of a decade.
“There was a whole lot of excitement amongst the players about the new league, but I think a whole lot of hope, as well,” shares Green, who in 2015 took up a role with Netball NSW as a wellbeing officer and has just transitioned over to the Giants’ women’s AFL squad in a player development capacity. Green is also 18 months into a university degree in counselling, which is very much satisfying a strong passion for looking after the welfare of players.
“For me, back in 2008 when the ANZ Championship started, my personal hope was to play netball for a living – to be able to put everything all in one basket so that you could be the best player you could be.
“The transition in 2008 … to be honest, we jumped up a big level, but then we stayed stagnant for nine years; there was no pay rise in nine years of the competition. That’s tough when athletes are really starting to build careers and are putting in extra hours at training, but still getting paid the parttime salary of a semi-professional. Like I said, there’s a whole lot of hope there and I hope, again, going forward, that we can continue to step up and keep promoting the sport. We have an incredible product.”
CONTRACTED PLAYERS IN SUPER NETBALL WILL SHARE IN A TOTAL OF $5.4 MILLION IN PLAYER PAYMENTS.
While the trans-Tasman league failed to move past its peak, that being seemingly the league’s very formation, netball in Australia has been reprogrammed to incorporate change into the growth of the sport, according to Carolyn Campbell.
“The whole commercial model has morphed, and probably will continue to morph,” Campbell says. “The good thing about netball is it has always lived within its means. But the Super Netball competition has a new commercial platform to it. There’s been some major changes. The fact it’s an Australian-only competition, I think, will have increased and sustained interest.
“What the numbers were showing us was that the Australian-versus-Australian games were really sought-after viewingwise, more so than when our teams played New Zealand-based sides. Local-versuslocal games are going to double the amount of people actually watching the game. In regards to pay and conditions, because it’s a new league which is starting from scratch, we’ve been able to deal with that all the way through so that we’ve got everything revised and renewed.”
Under a new collective bargaining agreement for players, netball compares very favourably to its rival women’s leagues, for want of a better term. Contracted players in Super Netball will share in a total of $5.4 million in player payments. Each club will have $675,000 to spend on its list of ten contracted players, meaning the average player salary will be $67,500. According to the Swoop website, players will be entitled to a groundbreaking parental care policy, private health insurance contributions of up to $1500 per annum per player, and 100 percent income protection on all earnings for up to two years in the event of injury or pregnancy.
Australia’s leading female cricketers are the best paid of any women’s team sport in the country. Many Commonwealth Bank Southern Stars players, who were runners-up in the ICC World T20 in India, are earning in excess of $100,000 a year. On top of that, Cricket Australia will soon increase its female player payment pool from $2.36 million to $4.23 million, with maximum retainers for the Southern Stars rising from $49,000 to $65,000.
In November 2016, the AFL finalised a pay deal for the first two years of its new women’s league. In year one, marquee players will be paid $27,000, the next tier of players will receive $12,000 and the remaining listed players will be paid $8500. All three tiers will rise in the second year. According to the ABC, the new deal also ensures female players in the eightweek competition beginning in February receive a travel allowance when playing interstate, income protection insurance, coverage for out-of-pocket medical expenses and an allowance to pay for a carer for a child under 12 months.
The average salary in the Aussie rugby sevens women’s squad is approximately $55,000, with the top three or four women earning around $80,000 to $90,000. Fringe players, meanwhile, earn something closer to the minimum wage. Recent reports suggested rugby's players' association will down the track be requesting that base salaries for women – between $20,000 and $40,000 – be raised to the men’s benchmark of $50,000.
The FFA recently said it was likely to soon address the wage landscape in the W-League. The salary cap for the national women’s league is set at $150,000 per club, with a minimum spend of just $35,000. Meanwhile, an elite women’s rugby league tournament, run in line with the men’s NSW Intrust Super Premiership, could be launched as soon as 2019. The competition would mark the first time female rugby league players receive match payments.
Perhaps there’s hope for all aspiring female professional athletes, whatever their game …
If any team personifies netball’s latest chapter in Australia, it’s the Greater Western Sydney Giants’ foray into the nation’s new domestic competition. The team was born out of Netball NSW’s attempts to keep the state’s talented players within the NSW system, rather than see them wearing the colours of their many interstate-based rivals.
“We had, in the old ANZ Championship league, about 33 percent of the players in the Australian teams coming out of our pathways system in New South Wales,” says Carolyn Campbell, who is also responsible for the operations of the NSW Swifts. “We have 115,000 registered members. I’m very proud of how
our pathways system has developed the players. What we were having, though, was a bit of a blockage at the top end where we couldn’t necessarily accommodate all the players coming through.
“When it was mooted there was going to be expansion to the league and the opportunity to have a second team in the Sydney market particularly, I put together a working group which came up with how this might look and how that might work. That’s sort of the brainchild as to how that happened.”
One of three new Australian outfits, alongside the Magpies and the Sunshine Coast Storm (backed by Collingwood of the AFL and the NRL’s Melbourne Storm respectively), the Giants look set to make an impact in year one. The strong line-up is headlined by star England goal shooter Jo Harten and former Swifts stars Green and Susan Pettitt. When Inside Sport rocks up to a training session at the still-new multimillion-dollar Netball Central complex at Sydney’s Olympic Park, the mood amongst the Giants players is festive, jovial and fun – this despite a full morning of prehab to get the glutes firing, a solid agility session, plenty of conditioning and then all-important connections and structural work.
“Netball can become very serious very quickly,” says the squad’s skipper, Green. “It’s always important to have that fun side. I mean, we work super-hard, don’t get me wrong, but we do have a little bit of laughter here and there throughout training. As athletes, you’re striving to be the best and you almost have it in your DNA where you’re concentrating on one thing and one thing only: sometimes you forget to enjoy the moment.
“We’re just starting to transition into connection work now that we have a few more players back, who have been off doing all sorts of things. So it’s all about connections now and building those. We might play a bit of half-court at the end of a session; just starting to ramp-up our match-play and seeing what that looks like; having some structure around what we do on court.”
“THE CHANGE TEAMSPLAYERS RARELY BECAUSE OF MONEY; THEY LOOK FOR THE OPPORTUNITIES WHERE THEY CAN BE THE BEST ATHLETE THEY CAN BE.”
Mentoring the Giants in their inaugural 2017 season will be one of the most professional and experienced campaigners the sport has to offer in Fitzgerald. As stated earlier, Fitzgerald coached the NSW Swifts when the side claimed the inaugural ANZ Championship back in 2008. Fitzgerald is returning to Sydney following three seasons across the Tasman coaching the Waikato BOP Magic in the ANZ Championship.
It’s important to Fitzgerald that this initial crop of players sets the standard for the Giants, who might only now be just starting out on their netball journeys. “We want to make sure that we’re very much prepared for the competition; that we’re getting those combinations happening,” Fitzgerald says.
“Like everybody else, we’ve had a very disrupted preseason because of end-ofseason international tournaments. Players have been away, so we’ve had people coming in and out all the time. We have to work around that. But more than anything else, I’m trying to instil in the group that we are the foundation Giants team; we lay the foundation of what’s accepted on and off the court and everywhere else. We can set the standards of what’s expected of future generations of Giants.”
Like her career pupil Green, Fitzgerald has been a close-up witness to the advancement of elite netballers’ cause in this country over the last two decades. Make no mistake, says Fitzgerald, the way the game is played has changed to coincide with more TV airtime and more money for its stars. Whereas they used to be blocks of clay which she could mould over the course of a season, the modern netballer is an elite athlete, super-charged and ready for war.
“I think the greatest difference I’ve noticed, as the sport has become more and more professional, is the amount of time we’ve had to dedicate to things like sports science – diet, recovery and nutrition and all those things which help us make better athletes,” says Fitzgerald. “In the old days we never really had the time to explore that area properly. Now we get to train at far more suitable times of the day. Instead of working all day and training at 7.30 at night, we can really dedicate ourselves to things professionally.
“There’s no doubt in the world, now that they’re working full-time, and not rushing to training and trying to fit a million things into their lives, that they’ve become better athletes. They’re fitter and stronger than they ever were before. I still don’t think they’re motivated by money. The players rarely change teams because of money; they look for the opportunities where they can be the best athlete they can be.
She continues: “As a coach, I think you just have to adapt to the new era. The game is definitely faster than it ever was. The girls are stronger, the game has changed a little bit and you have to keep changing with that. And you also have to be invested in the players’ development to help them reach their full potential, mentally and tactically.”
Heading into the first Super Netball season, Green sums up the sport’s progress in Australia nicely. “Back in the day when we were in the Commonwealth Bank Trophy, we probably didn’t deserve what we have now,” she says. “We weren’t the athletes we are now. We’ll probably look back on today in ten years’ time and think, ‘Oh my god! We thought we were such athletes then. Look at us now!’ That’s just the evolution of netty … of all sports, really.”
Taylah Davies puts in the hard pre-season yards at training.
Giant pre-season leaps towards a strong first season. Skipper Kim Green.