Kelly Ryan has been CEO of Netball Australia for eight weeks. In that time she has already made a massive impact, striking the deals that secure the future of the flagship domestic competition, the Suncorp Super Netball.
Despite Ryan’s lack of time in the role, her experience as a sports administrator means she is well aware of the priorities of the sport and is keen to set a direction for the future growth of the sport.
She spoke to The Inner Sanctum about her views on the long term direction of the sport.
“I’m looking forward, to over the coming months, actually slow down, and go back a few steps… and just really understand some of the key strategic reasons and rationale as to what we’re trying to do with SSN,” Ryan explained.
“Obviously the big opportunities around growth are something that I’ll certainly be trying to spend some time on in the next few months, especially as we start to lead up to a new broadcast deal in 2022.”
Some of those big opportunities give Ryan a chance to look at will shape the way netball is played at the elite level in Australia.
“I don’t think that [development] starts and stops just because there’s a new broadcast deal as part of that,” the CEO said. “I still think there’s enormous opportunities for us to continue to invest in the current league that we have.
“It’s still really infant in terms of its development so I think we want to make sure that we get the current mechanics of it right, and continue to grow it in its existing form.”
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“I think the talent that will hopefully be coming through in the ranks, albeit they’ve certainly had interrupted years, so haven’t had the opportunities as much as they would’ve liked to have grown.
“I think the game will continue to be played, and continue to evolve, and as we see it’s highly competitive, it’s incredibly fast and it’s really physical, so I think those things will certainly continue to grow.
“And off the court, I think there’s again still opportunity to grow that connection between our amazing participation base and then the elite competition, so we can hopefully have some more growth from a fan engagement perspective in that regard,” Ryan said.
Fan engagement is an important part of the sport’s growth plan, whether it be the increased audience brought by the new broadcast deal or more engagement with merchandising and other fan engagement avenues.
Ryan knows that the engagement of existing fans is key to the fabric of the sport, but for growth, new fans are needed.
“I do love the fact that SSN is really a product that has such a wide appeal in the first place, so it doesn’t just appeal to your typical netball participant if you like, it actually does cross over into the different realms of sport and entertainment for that matter.
“So I think with that as your base then you really get a great opportunity to then work out what moments you particularly want to focus on and harness certain segments of that audience,” Ryan continued.
“We’ve got a great array of customer insights in terms of segmentation etc, that we have at the moment, which we are working through to work out what we prioritise ahead of next season and into the next few years.”
With netball facing increasing challenges for the leader in women’s participation and engagement in sport, it is increasingly important to ensure that those insights are harnessed and converted to maintain netball’s position.
“It has to be a huge opportunity for us to continue to make sure we maintain our number one status in terms of women and girls playing sport,” the former netballer said.
“I think there’s also enormous opportunity for us to also make sure that we are seen as being really inclusive and diverse, so the growth in the men’s game is something that I think will be hugely important to netball.”
While participation rate and structural growth at grassroots level are one of the priorities for Netball Australia, one of the other topics of conversation is the expansion of the top-flight domestic competition, the SSN.
“No doubt we will continue to have an eye on the future as well, and that’s getting the balance right, because we want to grow the competition, and we want to grow netball more broadly,” the CEO explained.
“You can’t just launch into having new teams if they’re not going to be completely sustainable and viable, and you need to make sure you’ve got the talent bank to actually fill those teams as well.
“There’s a lot of work we would need to continue to do in the pathways process, for instance, to make sure that the sport can sustain any additional teams.”
Over the past few years, those pathway programs have been severely disrupted by COVID-19, as competitions have been cancelled. Those concerns are in addition to the financial hits that the sport has faced over the past two years as well.
“It’s really disappointing that things, as we have traditionally known them, are not rolling out,” she explained. “Those decisions to move or cancel or postpone events are not ones that we make lightly – we literally run every opportunity to ground to make sure we have exhausted all opportunities before we have to make a final call on it.”
But the CEO can see the upside of the difficult decisions and the fact that the status quo has been so significantly disrupted. In her eyes, it’s a chance to change some of the structures of the game, and ensure that netball is continuing to innovate and push the boundaries of engagement and growth.
The Australian Netball Championship (ANC) is a prime example. With border closures, Netball Australia is looking at hub models to work out how many teams can come together to compete against each other, while those in states that are locked down will work more internally on talent development.
“So that’s the space that we are now in, and that’s the space that I think we’ll continue to explore, even if COVID was all of a sudden a non-issue, I think there are ways we can continue to innovate those products.”
The other major Netball Australia product that is going through some slightly different routines at the moment is the international netball, where the Diamonds are hoping to have a successful 12 months.
“We are really mindful that we want to give opportunities for our Diamonds to come together, to build that connection and have that competitive on-court action as well,” Ryan explained.
The Diamonds will be taking on the English Roses and the New Zealand Silver Ferns in the coming months as they gear towards the Commonwealth Games in August 2022.
“It’s about having the opportunities and the scenarios to at least give us some opportunity to have as many professional hit outs as we can before Commonwealth Games comes around next year.
“We want to win back all the trophies and maintain our number one status in the world, and we don’t shy away from the challenges, but the opportunities that come with that, so that’s hugely important.”
But for Ryan, the Diamonds are, and can only be, part of the picture. As the CEO of Netball Australia, she has a responsibility to grassroots competitions and the top-flight domestic competition.
Despite only being in the role for eight weeks, it’s clear that Kelly Ryan has big plans for her time as the CEO of Netball Australia, and the sport is set to be better for it, at all levels.
In just a short time she has struck deals to secure the financial future of the game, set up the flagship domestic competition for the next two years, and has brought sharply into focus the importance of growth for pathways and engagement with fans.
Who knows what happens in the next eight weeks, or the eight after that.
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