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Nottingham Forest in relaunched Netball Super League but five-time champions Bath out

Nottingham Forest in relaunched Netball Super League but five-time champions Bath out
Nottingham Forest in relaunched Netball Super League but five-time champions Bath out

Nottingham Forest has launched a netball team which will compete in a revamped Netball Super League next year as the sport gears up to become fully professional.

In the biggest shake-up of English netball’s top division since it launched in 2005, five-time champions Team Bath have controversially missed out on a place in the rebranded league, which will be reduced from 10 teams to eight in a bid to produce higher quality matches.

Nottingham Forest Netball will be one of two new sides joining the UK’s elite domestic competition next season, marking the first time a Premier League club will have representation in netball’s top flight.

Netball’s so-called ‘big three’ – Manchester Thunder, London Pulse and Loughborough Lightning – are all included alongside newcomers Birmingham Panthers, while a rebranded LexisNexis Cardiff Dragons, London Mavericks and Leeds Rhinos are the other three clubs to retain their places in the competition.

England Netball announced plans last October to revamp the NSL as part of a major push to professionalise the sport and capitalise on the historic silver that England won at the 2023 World Cup.

Under the new plans, the average salary will increase by at least 60 per cent, while the minimum salary – which is just £4,000 a season – will double. A new salary cap and banding structure will also be brought in to ensure players are paid in a more transparent way.

Most netballers in the NSL have been semi-professional for years, unlike in Australia and New Zealand, whose domestic leagues – Suncorp Super Netball and ANZ Premiership – are fully professional.

Claire Nelson, the NSL managing director, said: “This is an incredibly exciting day as we unveil the clubs which will help to define our league as we enter this new era for our domestic game.

“Going from 10 clubs at present to eight next year will be a case of fewer, bigger, better. We have big plans as a league and believe that we have the right Clubs who can come on this incredible journey with us.”

Netball finally has its big moment, but can it become professional?

This is a seismic moment for English netball, which missed its chance to start the journey towards professionalism when England won a historic Commonwealth title on Australia’s Gold Coast in 2018. Participation in the sport in the aftermath of the team’s triumph jumped but in the elite domestic game, it was hardly a catalyst for transformational change.

For years, many England internationals have plied their club trade in Australia and New Zealand, the two heavyweights of the sport whose success on the court has been widely attributed to having world-class domestic leagues. But that could soon change with a more robust and more competitive NSL.

From next year, matches will be played across the country in bigger arenas in the hope of growing the sport’s existing fan base and delivering enhanced match-day experiences for fans.

Inevitably, a lot of the big decisions will have come down to money which, put simply, netball does not have a lot of. This season the average player salary in the NSL is £7,500 and the league’s salary cap for the whole squad, comprising 10 players and two marquee players, stands at £120,000, which is set to increase next year.

Those sorts of figures are peanuts to a massive Premier League club like Nottingham Forest, whose inclusion in the NSL has come at the expense of one of the league’s most successful teams.

The culling of Team Bath bears huge resemblance to other patterns of events that have occurred when women’s team sports have started the push towards professionalism.

When the Football Association revamped the Women’s Super League in 2013, Doncaster Belles lost out to Manchester City, a decision which at the time caused widespread uproar. When the Rugby Football Union rebranded its women’s premiership in 2017, Lichfield, a club that produced scores of England women’s rugby internationals, was controversially excluded.

Yet these are exciting times for netball. A more streamlined league may produce more competitive matches and help grow the league’s commercial appeal and, for the first time, offer real career opportunities for netball players.

At a time when netball has been trying to keep pace with the huge growth of other women’s sports, many will argue this sort of revamp has been long overdue.

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