Why ugly netball dispute is years in the making

Australia’s elite netballers continue to face uncertainty over their future, as the pay dispute between the Australian Netball Players’ Association (ANPA) and Netball Australia drags on.

In a stoush that has been bubbling away since February, a new collective player agreement (CPA) is yet to be reached, with the previous settlement expiring on September 30.

In the absence of a new deal to replace the old one, all Super Netball players are out of contract with sparse job security and no wage for over eight weeks.

why ugly netball dispute is years in the making

Netball has been locked in an ugly pay dispute since February.

Both sides made their arguments public when negotiations again broke down last month after the ANPA rejected what Netball Australia labelled as a “groundbreaking” arrangement.

The main sticking point in the negotiations has been the type of share model that the sport would enter into in partnership with the players.

At the time, Netball Australia offered to increase its investment by over $1.2 million, marking a 20 per cent financial boost across a new three-year deal ending September 30, 2026.

Advocating for a profit-sharing plan, the $1.2 million available would be offered in addition to “the earning potential of a profit-share partnership model”, as well as “any forecast material increase in the sport’s revenue in the short term”.

The plan would see players receive 25 per cent of league-generated profits after Netball Australia retains the first $500,000 as a cushion.

Netball Australia also proposed a base wage increase of nine per cent over three years and a maximum salary cap increase of three per cent over the same term.

However, for players being paid the minimum salary of $43,000, this increase would not make a huge difference.

In October, the ANPA, the supporters of a hybrid revenue share and profit share model, claimed that it could not “in good conscience” commit to a three-year deal that does not accurately reflect the players’ contribution to the sport’s growth.

why ugly netball dispute is years in the making

The Australian Diamonds’ 2023 Netball World Cup squad.

The ANPA presented a 20-25 per cent revenue-sharing model to ensure the players receive their fair share of the income generated by sponsorship — a bigger share — before expenses are deducted to determine profit.

The ANPA also voiced its concern about the potential for a profit-sharing model to be manipulated, with the total revenue number being harder to exploit.

It is understood that this is not the first time the ANPA has pushed for a revenue-share model.

An erosion of trust has occurred over many years between the players and Netball Australia management with the ANPA wanting to ensure greater financial transparency and a fairer share of sponsorship revenue.

“Adding to the players’ concern is a lack of clarity around the finances underpinning the game, and uncertainty around the strategic direction for netball,” a statement in October read.

However, the financial struggles of the sport have been publicly documented over the years and Netball Australia has repeatedly argued that it cannot afford to adopt a revenue-share model.

Netball Australia based its stance on an independent report that found the model to be unsuitable for netball in its current situation and would threaten the sustainability of the sport.

“We’ve tried to explain on multiple occasions why it doesn’t work for our sport and that’s purely because we don’t generate enough revenue to pay for the cost of the league,” Netball Australia CEO Kelly Ryan said in a statement in October.

“The league runs at significant losses, as we sit here today, the model we have proposed would help us work closer together and then when we start generating more of a profit, they will become significant beneficiaries, but to carve out revenue before we’ve actually paid our expenses is a huge financial detriment to the sport and would put us further behind.

why ugly netball dispute is years in the making

Netball Australia CEO Kelly Ryan speaks during the 2023 Australian Netball Awards.

“Our offer might not be what they want, but it is something better than what they have today.”

The independent report has been deemed commercial in confidence, therefore it cannot be shared publicly.

To this, the ANPA wants to better understand the sport’s financial situation and create a real player-administrator partnership to help generate more money.

So how did we get here?

In October last year, executive chairman of Hancock Prospecting Gina Rinehart pulled her proposed $15 million sponsorship of Netball Australia and the Australian national team, the Diamonds.

Rinehart’s decision came after Indigenous shooter Donnell Wallam spoke out about wearing the Hancock logo, given the company’s founder Lang Hancock’s, Rinehart’s father, 1984 proposal that some Indigenous people be sterilised.

The Diamonds did not display the Hancock logo during the 2022 Constellation Cup series against New Zealand.

why ugly netball dispute is years in the making

Donnell Wallam (L) and Maddy Proud hug after following Wallam’s debut for the Diamonds in October 2022.

Players were also upset when Netball Australia chose to sell the hosting rights to the Super Netball grand final from the 2022 decider.

Adding to this was conflict surrounding the Diamonds’ CPA negotiations in June.

Once again unable to agree, Netball Australia refused to name the 2023 Netball World Cup team unless players signed a proposed three-year deal.

When a deal still could not be struck, the existing CPA was extended until August 31 to cover the tournament before being stretched until mid-way through next year.

Diamonds players were also threatened with legal action after Super Netball stars collectively boycotted the Netball Australia Awards on Saturday night.

The Diamonds squad was contractually obliged to attend, however Australian netball great Liz Ellis was accidental snubbed and restricted from presenting the showpiece award named in her honour.

What to expect next?

The ANPA called for independent mediation in October “to achieve meaningful and fair progress” which Netball Australia was “not opposed to”.

why ugly netball dispute is years in the making

Hannah Petty of the Thunderbirds competes for the ball during the 2023 Super Netball grand final.

Senior federal politician Bill Shorten was brought in to attend meetings and offer assistance, but it has since been reported that the process has stalled again.

In the meantime, with no CPA, player signings have been delayed. This has prevented all eight Super Netball teams from announcing their 2024 teams and starting pre-season.

This has flowed on to fuel uncertainly around player movement with the Melbourne Mavericks preparing to enter the league next year.

The schedule for the 2024 Super Netball season also cannot be released.

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