Net Gains: Controversial grand final sell-off suddenly a genius move

It was the executive power play that had the potential to split the game. But Netball Australia’s grand final sell-off is suddenly looking a genius move. NET GAINS

Cash-strapped Netball Australia’s move to sell the grand final to Western Australia has been vindicated after West Coast Fever upset minor premiers Melbourne Vixens to become the first team into the Super Netball decider.

The governing body’s decision to buck tradition and sell off the marquee match was howled down by fans, while an angry playing group lambasted officials for failing to consult them on a decision made just weeks before the end of the regular season.

NA chief executive Kelly Ryan revealed the sport’s perilous financial position made the opportunity to raise revenue from the match too good to pass up, with the organisation reportedly receiving around $650,000 in cash and in-kind support in a deal with the West Australian government.

Netball Australia CEO Kelly Ryan. Photo: Supplied
Netball Australia CEO Kelly Ryan. Photo: Supplied

The move was widely seen as unfair for the Melbourne Vixens, who by the time it had been announced, had sewn up the minor premiership and were odds-on favourites to win the first spot in the grand final – a victory that would have earnt them hosting rights in every season except the past two Covid-affected years when the finals were played in the Queensland hub.

But the Fever’s 71-62 win in a stunning major semi-final win over the Vixens at Melbourne’s John Cain Arena on Saturday night, stopped any narrative of a stolen grand final in its tracks.

While the players association had been careful in their talks on the issue to remind athletes that their ire at a lack of consultation should not be directed at their Fever colleagues, there’s little doubt the public anger at the final being held in the west motivated West Coast players ahead of the semi.

Kiera Austin (left) and Rahni Samason of the Vixens look dejected after the Super Netball semi-final loss. Photo: Getty Images
Kiera Austin (left) and Rahni Samason of the Vixens look dejected after the Super Netball semi-final loss. Photo: Getty Images

Speaking after the victory, Fever captain Courtney Bruce revealed her team’s determination to host the grand final on merit.

“We wanted to earn the right to host that grand final and we’ve done that, so I’m absolutely stoked,” Bruce said.

NA officials are likely to have been just as happy, the Fever’s win all but ensuring Perth’s RAC Arena will be a full house on July 3.

While general admission tickets were snapped up on the opening day of sales, seating had also been set aside for members of the competing grand final teams.

NA officials would have been sweating on the Fever locking in one of the spots, with long odds thousands fans would have been able to make the trek.

Fever captain Courtney Bruce (left), challenging Vixens shooter Mwai Kumwenda for the ball, was outstanding in defence, helping her side to a home final. Picture: Getty Images
Fever captain Courtney Bruce (left), challenging Vixens shooter Mwai Kumwenda for the ball, was outstanding in defence, helping her side to a home final. Picture: Getty Images

Had the Vixens won on Saturday and then faced the Giants or Magpies in the decider, the outcome could have been hundreds of empty seats. Instead, whoever now makes the grand final will have to face one of the most dedicated groups of fans in the green army.

NA will essentially get a free kick in the PR war with fans on this issue too, given they will now be remunerated for an event they would have had to fund under the previous model.

It’s money and cache they desperately need at the moment.

Originally published as Net Gains: Controversial grand final sell-off suddenly a genius move