Eight is enough as Nine backs new netball competition
AUSTRALIA'S highest-profile women's sport is set to take on the AFL and NRL after Netball Australia revealed details of its new national competition set to kick off next season.
While much of the announcement had been pre-empted, officials confirmed the present 10-team ANZ Championship - with five teams from Australia and five from New Zealand - would finish at the end of this season.
The five Australian franchises - Queensland Firebirds, NSW Swifts, Melbourne Vixens, Adelaide Thunderbirds and West Coast Fever - will be joined by new teams in Melbourne (backed by Collingwood), in Sydney (backed by the GWS Giants), and on the Sunshine Coast (backed by Melbourne Storm and the University of the Sunshine Coast).
Netball Australian chief executive Kate Palmer said the new eight-team competition - backed by a five-year broadcasting rights deal with Channel Nine and Telstra - would mean higher salaries for players, bigger distributions for the clubs, better sponsorship opportunities and "unprecedented exposure for netball".
"This is the most significant broadcasting rights agreement in the history of Australian women's sport," Palmer said.
"It is truly transformative.
"It lays the foundation for the full professionalisation of elite netball and the cementing of Australia's reputation as having the prime netball competition in the world."
The new competition will start in February next year, and will see two live games and two delayed games played as a prime-time, Saturday night double-header on Channel Nine, with the remaining two live games available on Telstra TV.
The five New Zealand teams will also switch to a new national competition, and be joined by one extra team which will be based in the "Auckland area".
That competition has also secured a five-year broadcast rights deal, with games to be played on Sunday afternoons, Monday nights and Wednesday nights.
Netball New Zealand has also flagged the possibility of a "Champions League-style playoff series" between the top teams from each competition, and potentially some from other countries.
The New Zealand teams in the ANZ Championship have struggled in recent years, with the Firebirds (7-0) and Swifts (6-1) dominating this season.