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Tain Drinkwater

Growing Grassroots The Key For New Netball NSW CEO Tain Drinkwater

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n an exclusive interview with Ministry of Sport, newly announced Netball NSW CEO, Tain Drinkwater, highlighted the crucial aspect of growing the grassroots sector of the game, while declaring the sport must have no limits commercially when planning for the future of netball.

Growing the grassroots sector

With ties in both mining and rugby league, where she was instrumental in the creation of the National Rugby League Women (NRLW) competition, Drinkwater said she hopes that experience gives her the knowledge to implement success in the sport of netball in the grassroots sector.

“I am really passionate about grassroots sport and providing pathways for young women,” Drinkwater told Ministry of Sport.

“I’ve done a lot of work in the rugby league space, working with the NRL to develop the NRLW premiership competition, and there was tremendous opportunity there.

“Ultimately, netball is really the number one sport for women and girls, and alongside soccer, has the biggest number of grassroots participants in Australia.

“I think grassroots is crucial to the success of, in particular, netball in NSW where we’re very fortunate where we’ve got over 100,000 participants, and our reach is exceptional.

“I guess the challenge is to engage more broadly and through different engagement points to really grow that base and by that I mean not just focusing on young women, what are the opportunities for young boys and young men, and how do we make greater contributions to the communities that we work within?

“I see grassroots as the critical aspect for netball, and the way we engage in that space is something that I am really keen to focus on,” she said.

Expanding commercial partnerships

In the quest to grow the game in more ways than one, Drinkwater said she is keen to expand the list of Netball NSW commercial partnerships, but only with parties that will enhance the code.

“We’re always looking for people to get on board with us, but similarly, it’s important that any commercial partners that look to work with us to grow the game are aligned with our vision and our culture and our brand and profile,” Drinkwater said.

“We’re very fortunate that Netball NSW and both the Swifts and the Giants have had long-time partners such as QBE and HCF, who understand how to engage with our audiences and create those partnerships.

“Similarly we have a really strong partnership with the NSW Government.

“There is a good opportunity to grow in that commercial space, which will allow us to invest back into our associations and grassroots programs.

“But ultimately, I think there is tremendous opportunity given the netball product.

“You look at a rugby league product versus a netball product, it certainly connects with a very diverse and large participant base and I think we can grow our commercial partnerships, particularly with the Suncorp Super Netball product to really provide more opportunities to invest back into those grassroots programs,” she said.

The changing game day experience

With Netball NSW recently signing a streaming deal with ClutchTV, and with a 2022 Foxtel deal awaiting Netball Australia, Drinkwater said there is plenty to look forward to in terms of coverage of the game.

When asked on the changing game day experience for fans, the former Brisbane Broncos general manager said the COVID-19 pandemic has given the opportunity for the sport to think outside the box.

“I actually think COVID has provided the opportunity to really think about different ways of doing business,” Drinkwater told Ministry of Sport.

“The members and fans are the lifeblood of any organisation, it might just be that we serve them in a different way, and we’ve demonstrated that in the new partnership with ClutchTV, and we’re now able to live stream all our Premier League games.

“In terms of changing roles, we might just change our service delivery model.

“Similarly, you’re still going to need to service that lifeblood of any organisation and we just need to be innovative and responsive to change and focus on what products can we offer and what we can do differently.

“Rugby league does a tremendous job in creating these [COVID-safe] fan experiences, and I would like to see how we’re marketing netball as an entertainment product.

“What are the game day activations?

“How do we make it a whole day experience for families?

“It is a family-orientated sport.

“So I absolutely think there is an opportunity to really innovate in that space of game day.

“This morning I had a conversation with our head coach of the Giants to talk about this specifically, because I think there is a lot of upside for netball to make it a more dynamic, live experience.

“Using our live streaming platform, how do we make it a really engaging and entertaining product that you can see online?

“What are the experiences we are providing to people to connect with our teams, to connect with our coaches and to connect with our members and associations?

“I think we all need to acknowledge that life is going to be different from now on and I think that’s great because there are people who live remotely and in regional communities who can’t come to games, so how do we create an entertainment product for them that is going to meet their needs?

“I think game day, not only in a physical sense, but game day in an online sense [is the changing way],” she said.

Netball NSW’s biggest challenge for the future

Asked for her opinion on what Netball NSW’s biggest challenge was for the next three years, Drinkwater said challenging the notion netball cannot expand their reach even further into the community is the largest one on her agenda.

“We need to take a far more aggressive approach to securing our current base, and then expanding our reach to connect with the wider part of the community,” Drinkwater said.

“Netball has typically been very polite, very unassuming, and I feel we really should be more bullish around being willing to change and focus on what is out there in terms of continuous improvement to attract people to our sport.

“We’ve just got such a great product, [the challenge is] how do we stamp our mark on sport?

“I think that the agreement with Foxtel is a major TV deal that netball has been able to do in its own right.

“Some of the other female codes, and they are obviously great competitions in their own right, are offshoots of more dominant, male equivalents.

“Netball is a pure product and I think we should be really clear on what value we can add,” she told Ministry of Sport.