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Events |Two by four

AUCKLAND IS the setting this month for the debut of a new tournament seeking to fill a gap in the market for regular international netball competition and reinforce its claim to be the world’s leading female team sport.

The Quad Series will commence on August 27 and has been masterminded by the coming together of netball’s national governing bodies in Australia, New Zealand, England and South Africa.

The new ‘Sanzea’ collective brings together the sport’s four commercially strongest nations, with the intention of building the game internationally and showcasing netball at the highest level on a regular basis.

“We’ve previously had a tentative go at creating a series between four countries, with England, New Zealand and Australia being constant in that,” Kate Agnew, head of events and international at Netball New Zealand, tells SportBusiness International. “This time around we’ve brought South Africa in, which we see as a real growth market for the sport.

Elite athletes

“It’s not been a common thing in netball to have a regular formalised international calendar. What we’ve been seeking, and England and Australia as well, is a longer-term international calendar. This is critical to us. So the chance to develop more content on a regular long-term basis is an outstanding opportunity for netball.”

Sanzea was formed in December with the remit to launch a regular tournament between the four nations.

Agnew says the Quad Series vision is for two standalone co-hosted events to take place each year for an initial three years, with New Zealand and Australia chosen to debut the competition as a means to get the ball rolling in 2016.

The Quad Series trophy will be up for grabs at each competition, with England and South Africa tentatively set to co-host their maiden event in January and February of next year.

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“The plan is that in a year’s programme we would have content in Australia, New Zealand, England and South Africa,” Netball Australia deputy chief executive Marne Fechner tells SportBusiness International. “This gives the respective nations the chance to develop their fanbase and showcase their elite athletes.

“The opportunity to bring together the best netballers in the world in a competition developed cooperatively as a brand is an exciting proposition.”

From 2017, two co-hosted events, one in England and South Africa, and one in Australia and New Zealand, will make up the calendar for the event. Agnew adds: “The Quad Series will happen annually, but if it goes really well, we might look at various hosting options and locations, which could be more exciting.

“But we want to get the first series off the ground and make it as successful as possible, and then help South Africa and England do likewise before building momentum from there.”

Agnew says organisers are keen to bring in innovations for the Quad Series, both for fans at the games and those watching at home, building on lessons learned from previous events.

“[New Zealand] recently hosted the first three years of the Fast5 World Series, England prior to that were involved with Fast Net, while Australia hosted the 2015 Netball World Cup,” she adds. “We’re always trying very hard to push the envelope in terms of our event presentation. However, innovation needs to be of value.

“With Fast5 we showcased new ways to present the game and we’re very keen to take elements of that experience through into the Quad Series.

“We’re looking at the use of technology in the presentation of the event.

“We believe we can add a lot more for our fans in the stadium, as well as working with our broadcasters to increase the enjoyment and knowledge of the game.

“We definitely think the more informed and knowledgeable fans are, the better they enjoy netball.”

Distinct brand

The new competition was originally labelled the International Netball Super Series before being rebranded as the Quad Series earlier this year.

Netball England has taken the lead on branding, in consultation with Netball Australia, Netball New Zealand and Netball South Africa.

The Quad Series has received the backing of the International Netball Federation (INF) and Fechner says the new moniker provides a distinct brand for the event, while freeing up its previous title.

“The Quad Series really demonstrates what this new event is, in terms of the four competing nations,” she says.

“The Super Series is something which we’d like to explore with the International Netball Federation.

“That’s a name that the INF wants to protect at this point in time in case there is a product that comes to fruition down the track.”

Agnew adds: “There are a lot of Super Series around the world and it can be quite difficult to understand what sport they’re aligned with.” 

Commercially, Fechner and Agnew say the inaugural competition has received strong commitment from broadcast partners in the four nations.

In Australia the Quad Series is set to be covered by commercial broadcaster Ten, pay-television broadcaster Fox Sports and the Netball Live App, which Netball Australia operates in partnership with telecommunications firm Telstra. Pay-television broadcaster Sky will cover the Quad Series in New Zealand, with Agnew hailing the “quite outstanding” pledge to broadcast all games live.

“We’ve each got strong partners in our countries and it’s really about how we come together to raise the profile from a broadcast perspective,” Fechner says. Agnew says she hopes this move will lead to a “real showcasing” of netball around the world, with talks continuing over broadcast and sponsor deals.

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Detailing the sponsorship strategy for the Quad Series, Fechner says: “We’re looking to pool rights, giving the opportunity for a global partner to come on board and be the overarching sponsor of the Quad Series, which is something new and hasn’t really been done before.”

Agnew adds: “What we want to do in the short term is showcase the opportunities that are there for partners.

“An overarching title partner would be ideal, but equally it may be we have different alignments where perhaps a company wants to take a lowerlevel position in one series and higher in another.” 

Looking to the future, the Quad Series and Sanzea will undergo a review after the first two years, with stakeholders looking to assess various criteria for its long-term viability.

“We’re looking for a very strong commercial outcome in terms of sponsorship, match attendances and broadcast numbers,” Fechner says. “Does it enhance the performance pathways of each of the nations and have we been able to develop it as a brand? All of these things you’d expect to question. There is a strong commitment to making this work.”

Agnew adds: “I think it’s really important to give each country the opportunity to host twice, so we can make sure the information we have is based on solid experience. “The kinds of markers we’ll be looking at are the benefits each country has been able to derive, as well as collectively, and they will be across commercial, broadcast, fan engagement, feedback from partners and the players themselves.”

Fechner admits future expansion to include other nations is an option as part of the effort to boost strength of depth in the global game. Fechner says: “There’s nothing off the table. It’s not a closed shop, so the potential to expand and where the Quad Series fits in the calendar year will all be aspects up for debate as the event grows.”

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