What it means for Midlands as Nottingham and Birmingham enter elite netball world

The new relaunched Superleague will begin in 2025 Credit: ITV News Central

Two years ago the netball world lost a significant player.

When Wasps Rugby went bust, the effect was felt across sport with a knock on effect being Wasps Netball disbanding.

Wasps had been one of netball superleague's most successful teams and was a huge loss to Coventry and the West Midlands.

Severn Stars, based in Worcester were still there, but the gap left by Wasps' demise meant thousands of girls now lost the prospect of elite sport in the area and potential pathways.

I remember chatting to one parent, particularly upset for her daughter who had the road to elite sport suddenly ended.

It also revealed a huge issue with netball.

Because the league isn't fully professional, unlike the leagues in Australia and New Zealand, teams have partnered with other organisations for funding and support.

Loughborough Lightnings training Credit: ITV News Central

Loughborough University for example for Loughborough Lightning and sports teams, such as Wasps and Leeds Rhinos Rugby.

Whilst the University model gave a certain amount of stability, the danger of joining with a sports team meant netball was vulnerable if the finances of said club were perilous.

Strangely, it appeared rugby was keen to partner with netball - a sport where there is simply not enough money to go around.

Netball as a whole is also at a crossroads.

It's biggest competition, the tournament at the Commonwealth Games could be no more if the Games itself does not continue.

The sport has lost significant ground to women's football, with an increase in girls playing that in school.

Broadcasters meanwhile aren't currently prepared to throw lots of money at a sport that needs to grow its audience.

This in itself though is a vicious cycle - how can you grow an audience without exposure?

The aim of England Netball has always been to push towards a fully professional model and that's why today's announcement is so significant.

In our patch, the entry of Nottingham Forest Netball and Birmingham Panthers will create sides and a fanbase in two major cities.

The tender process for new franchises was hugely competitive and I bet one of the requirements was access to an Arena to play in.

Why? Well for broadcast and audience growth reasons.

Perhaps this is one reason why Nottingham and Birmingham now have teams and sadly Severn Stars will miss out.

Nottingham Forest have already committed to playing at the nearby arena and the League says 50 per cent of all matches will be held in similar venues.

Universities will still be involved.

Loughborough will obviously still support lightning as their dominance continues.

Nottingham Forest Credit: ITV News Central

Whilst Forest have partnered with the University of Nottingham and Panthers will take up with Worcester.

It will be interesting to see how the hybrid model works in Nottingham Forest's case.

It will though be devastating for Severn Stars who will lose their place - but hopefully the players can find new homes and the support may drift towards Panthers

Though I can understand the anger that some will be feeling. Team Bath also miss out and they've been another significant player over the years.

A few months ago, when I was talking about the state of netball with a few people within the game, I suggested that if I was England Netball, I would be approaching the major football teams in England to create and support a side.

There's currently no elite team in the whole of the North East, but could you imagine a Newcastle United netball side against a Sunderland netball side?

The exposure and the interest would be huge.

Fast forward to today and Forest are the first football club to take that plunge. Remember what I said before about a lack of money in Rugby?

Credit: PA Images

Well that doesn't exist in football and in netball terms, any money put in would surely not count in profit and sustainability terms, as it currently doesn't for a partnered women's football side.

I'm still of the belief that initially that is the way forward and how you enter the first steps of professionalism.

This revamped superleague will start in 2025 and there will be more money for players, smaller squads and less teams in the league, but with a focus on growth.

It will be interesting to see what broadcasters make to the new model, but when you consider that vast parts of the country have no representation at all and we in the Midlands now have three teams, we are quite fortunate indeed.

And it may help to bring back girls who are aiming for a career in elite sport.

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