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Exclusive: Super Netball 2021 Season Commercial Reflection

I
n an interview with Ministry of Sport Netball Australia chief commercial officer and acting EGM events, David Lee, reflected on the 2021 Suncorp Super Netball season.

Discussing the challenges and highlights of the 2021 season, Lee said the biggest achievement was being able to complete a full season despite the difficulties presented by COVID-19.

“The key highlight was actually getting our full 60-match season completed,” Lee told Ministry of Sport.

“It was significantly challenging on lots of levels, certainly for our athletes, our clubs, and a lot of our staff.

“We had four relocations across the season in order to give ourselves the chance to complete the season and be able to ensure we could meet all of our commercial and broadcast commitments as well.

“That was the single biggest achievement of the season and we had great support from our commercial and government partners that ensured we could achieve that.

“It was really a collective buy-in from everyone.

“There were some times we were right on the brink of having to delay things and having charter planes on runways not necessarily knowing which direction they were going to be heading.

“There’re certainly some good stories to tell at the end of it and we’re certainly really thankful for a fantastic grand final and the calibre of netball across the whole season.

“From a reach perspective, we achieved more than six million viewers for Suncorp Super Netball this season, from a free-to-air perspective, we were up over 7% year on-year for a five-city metro perspective which is a fantastic effort for this environment and given free-to-air audience decline generally that is occurring.

“We also achieved 6% growth through our Netball Live numbers from a streaming perspective and that was off a really strong base from 2020.

“Our growth across the board was fantastic.

“We did have some challenges with some of our broadcast scheduling towards the end of the season where we needed to host some matches mid-week to get those games away, and even with that compromise, we still achieved great outcomes,” he said.

Explaining the response and communication from commercial partners throughout the season, Lee said it stood out as a strong point for the league.

“It’s really important,” Lee said.

“Things changed so quickly it was hard at any given moment to provide an accurate line of sight of what’s happening.

“Within a day or hours it could change.

“We were really focused in on making sure we engaged our partners, whether that was by group video Zoom calls, obviously individual discussions with our partners keeping them across everything before it went public.

“That was a real focus and really key and they understood the lengths we were going to in order to keep the season alive and deliver on the engagement initiatives they had with their own brand through Suncorp Super Netball, which was really critical.

“We certainly did a significantly greater amount of video-on-demand content and using our athletes in particular to help tell those stories.

“HCF’s a good example.

“One of their key campaigns is recognising and thanking the volunteers behind the scenes.

“We were able to do a lot of work there to make sure we could come up with creative engagement with our fans and push that through our channels, and that was the case with campaigns with all of our partners.

“The communication piece was really key, and we certainly took some of the learnings out of 2020 from that point as well and there’s no doubt having been involved over the last five years personally and being involved in helping create Suncorp Super Netball and seeing the challenges we’ve faced this year, it was significantly harder this year and continues to be even now with our Diamonds and what we’re trying to embark upon, than it was in 2020.

“It tests your processes and your resilience at the same time,” he said.

When asked about his favourite commercial partnership messages throughout the season, Lee said: “There’s heaps of examples and largely I love seeing our athletes get involved and get behind our partner brands and their individual club brands.”

“If you watch netball broadcasts, you always see really strong integration with ads with a lot of our partners.

“Certainly Origin Energy and their ‘good energy’ message and how that was brought to life through our social and digital comms channels and through the free-to-air messaging through Stacey Marinkovich the Diamonds coach was a great example of that.

“Every one of our partners want to see particularly girls stay in sport, there’s always a drop-out rate for all sports between 14 and 18 years of age.

“It’s certainly been a core focus of Suncorp over the past five years through their ‘team girls’ initiative and helping to encourage girls to stay in sport.

“A number of our partners are focused around that area and that was brought to life in a number of different ways,” Lee said.

On the focus for the 2022 season and new changes to expect with the upcoming new broadcast partnership with Foxtel and Kayo, Lee said the league understands the challenges ahead of it and is embracing the change.

“We can’t take anything for granted, that’s for sure,” Lee told Ministry of Sport.

“We’re already starting to develop a COVID-safe plan for next season, so we are even more robust if we face some of the same issues we have.

“We hope the vaccination rates mean we will be able to get venues happening around the country with fans in there again.

“That will probably help ensure if we need to react quickly, whether that means moving into any hub location or anything like that, we can do so minimising the risk for our athletes and all personnel involved and also try to mitigate costs.

“It is a significant cost that we’ve undertaken this year and, on the back of 2020, as well, there’s no way of avoiding that.

“We’re also entering a new broadcast arrangement with Foxtel and Kayo from 2022.

“Channel Nine and Telstra have been fantastic partners in helping us grow the sport to where we are and making the decision to make the change and shift to Kayo and Foxtel had a range of different considerations behind it.

“We’re already well and truly underway in our planning, as you would hope by this stage and we’re going to see a lot of exciting innovations with that relationship and the way netball is broadcast, the way we engage with our fans and that digital focus will be really critical.

“Central to all that and one of the biggest initiatives we’ve had in recent years is growing the profile of our athletes.

“We know, at the moment, if you surveyed 100 Australians, how many of them would be able to nominate even one or two current netballers within their top five or 10 most well-known female athletes in Australia.

“We know we’ve got work to do there and we’re really confident what we’re embarking on next season will really amplify the way netball is perceived and the way it’s reported.

“There’s a lot of work being done now to change that up for 2022 and Kayo and Foxtel will be really critical, as well as all of our commercial partners.

“We see with other sports the agenda for the week is often set through the media and through some of the magazine shows and other programs that run outside of game day itself.

“Foxtel and Kayo have an absolute desire to make sure netball is one of their five tier-one sports, and that piece will be really central,” he said.