What goes into planning and running an annual, week-long national netball tournament for 500-plus participants? Plenty. And plenty of dollars, too.

Junior Levi (Queensland) sizing up against Josh Byron (NSW) at the 2016 Australian Championships. Photo: PowerShots Photography

Despite some recent hiccups in mens and mixed netball history in Australia administratively-speaking, there has been an increased interest and growth over the past decade when it comes to the Australian Mens and Mixed Championships and its elite pathways.

South Australia and Western Australia have recently rejoined to compete under the Australian Mens and Mixed Netball Association (AMMNA) umbrella, with the number of teams competing at the tournament nearly doubling, from 21 in 2008 to 39 this year.

It’s also thanks to Tasmania who are again in the fray, along with a team from the Australian Defence Force, the Australian Capital Territory who – after nearly a 20-year absence – are entering teams in multiple divisions and an invitational New Zealand U20 mens side.

That growth is on the back of strong competition within the states’ M-League competitions – part of the elite pathway for mens and mixed netball in Australia. There are differences in the amount of teams and divisions which compete in each state, plus slight variations in the way they are run, but they are of relative interest to many and draw good crowds – in the low hundreds – particularly for the finals.

Last year’s Australian Championships in Melbourne saw the largest aggregate crowd recorded in the events’ 32-year history. Some 4000 spectators filed through the doors during the week of competition, including 1400 on Grand Final day.

Give the success of the event in recent years, the next logical step was to push the sport into view of more people. The answer? Live streaming. But it doesn’t come cheap. Making the most of the opportunity has meant that for this year, at least, the majority of the associated costs have been privately funded. This is despite a major broadcast sponsor in Game Clothing and most, if not all, of the state associations pitching in.

AMMNA run the risk of remaining an amateur sport if they don’t take these kind of calculated actions. The committee and state bodies know full well the benefits they could potentially reap if the venture proves successful. But it’s obviously incredibly tough to sell a product when potential investors haven’t seen it before. Each of the streamed games will feature commentators, including Channel Nine’s Wide World Of Sport’s Sue Gaudion and Queensland Firebirds defender Laura Clemesha, who will no doubt add to the overall production.

This year, through the players, coaches and administration, AMMNA’s flagship event will pump over a million dollars into the economy. Yes, you read correctly. That’s a hefty chunk of change. It’s a rough total price of flights, accommodation, uniforms and consumables for 500 or so people for a week. On top of that is the requirement for an empathetic employer to be able to take the time off work, and the wrestling of the idea of giving up one’s Easter holiday break. At the very least.

The Championships are one of few netball events in the country where the umpires aren’t even paid. They, too, put their hands into their own pockets to afford the privilege of officiating the best mens and mixed players this country has to offer.

Guy Keane competing at the 2016 Australian Championships. Photo: PowerShots Photography

Victorian Open Mens co-captain Guy Keane has played at every Australian Championships since 2005. During his illustrious career, the price to compete has become greater and greater.

“Over those 13 years it’s been between $1000 and $2000 (to participate). It was about $1000 in my first year and slowly increased since.”

The financial aspect can also put players off trying out for state teams, let alone national duties. Keane didn’t nominate for the Australian Sonix tour to South Africa in 2013 for such reasons.

Queensland Suns poster boy Junior Levi will bib up for his fifth Championships, which begin this weekend on the Gold Coast. He, too, is well aware that there are players who miss out playing owing to monetary motivations.

“That answer is always “Yes”, even if it is a home-hosted Championships. (But) when you are at an Open level, and you are considered the best of the best, you are more willing to make it a priority and make sacrifices. When I stop having fun and passion for it, then I’ll take the financial impact into it.”

The idea of paid subscription for the live streaming was mooted, but quickly dropped, so as not to put people off from watching. For the initial year at least. But Levi is adamant that the stage is a necessary step to move the sport forward.

“Live streaming is that platform. What we do with it is up to us. Sue Gaudion will draw attention to the sport, which will be huge. You never know who will be watching and listening.”

Long term, the hope is to enable AMMNA to potentially create its own national league. At the very least it’s a means to show that while women have the spotlight in a sport it has historically dominated, men can play netball too. And very well. The ability to cover player costs associated with the event, so that the very best players can compete year-in, year-out, is surely also high on the agenda.

Those who run the Championships are selfless volunteers; their level of commitment is second to none. If there’s a box they desperately want to tick this year, it’s not just more bums on seats, it’s that the live streaming pays off, even if in a small way.

 

The 2017 Mens and Mixed Australian Championships begins Sunday April 16, with the Grand Finals taking place on Saturday April 22. Live streaming of the event will kick off from Wednesday April 19 and include all finals. Commentators will include Sue Gaudion and Laura Clemesha, amongst a host of past and present mens and mixed netball players and coaches.