An interview with Clare Briegal, CEO of the international Netball Federation
London, UK – December 10, 2020 – When Fifa shared some record breaking statistics, including 433 million views, 82 million video views and 2 million new followers, Imagen was inspired to interview some of the key professionals working in women’s sports to see what they perceived as the key drivers fuelling this growth. Since the publication of that report, it’s clear that a lot has happened to disrupt the industry. Sadly, we’re not pointing to any trailblazing innovators, but instead a trailblazing virus that abruptly halted all live sports events. In light of that we’re keen to explore what this means to sports fans and to broadcasters: from challenges to tackle, trends in the new play book and even opportunities to score in a new socially-distanced world.
As part of a follow-up series to this report, we’re asking industry leaders in the world of women’s sports what their experience has been since the ban on live events, what trends they’ve seen and how they’ve been adapting their use of content and content management technology for fan engagement.
Clare Briegal, CEO of the international Netball Federation, talks about her fears of reverting back to the default ‘male’ model of sports broadcasting, as well the opportunities that lie ahead.
What are the main challenges for women’s sports that have arisen in the wake of Covid-19?
Sadly, I’ve seen a reversion back to the old default male dominated model of sports in broadcasting. There has simply been a void in women’s sports in the media and on TV in certain countries, which I must admit has affected netball. Whether this is due to gender bias in the resources being cut in sports publishing or broadcasting – female decision makers being disproportionately affected – or whether the heightened risk is causing execs to panic and revert to the men’s sports which may be perceived to carry less risk, we can’t know for sure. But that void, and the preference for choosing men’s sports to fill scheduling gaps right now, is evident. In the first few months of lockdown, there were no live sports, so there really was a blank slate of the kind of sport that could have filled that airtime. Men’s football made the cut and despite the INF pitching world class footage and innovative content and stories, including the Netball World Cup film made entirely with Lego, we received limited response.
How have the INF looked to fill the content void?
As well as creating a lot of athlete-led content for our social media channels, we paired up with NETFIT Netball in a 24-hour live broadcast aimed at education and development. International athletes, teams, coaches and broadcasters from the global netball family led the sessions. It was a fundraising event that engaged netballers of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, with the INF Facebook pages and NETFIT Netball streaming the footage
New Zealand, Australia and South Africa have been able to run their leagues and create their own new content; we’ve been heavily reliant on the national leagues to fill the void in international events. Increasingly the broadcasters in our leading netball nations are picking up content and even swapping it amongst themselves to satisfy the demand. There’s never been a bigger appetite. While the audience is still developing for netball overall, and is still in its infancy, growth is strong. Coverage of the Vitality Netball World Cup 2019, reached ground-breaking numbers and, a year afterwards the event won a major industry award for best sporting event.
With any crisis comes opportunity through the disruption that ensues; what opportunities have you been able to identify for women’s netball?
While INF’s Members would normally meet just once every two years, in person, for Congress our leaders are now used to using Zoom and it’s become second nature to connect with people around the world, more often. The technology was there, but it’s the habit and culture that’s changed. More communication across different functions and different regions and countries will surely be conducive to faster progress! We now consult each other regularly on important matters so it’s easier to push things forward.
What’s next for women’s netball following the year we’ve had?
We need to be able to follow through on the promises and commitments that were made pre-Covid. While there’s obviously been a change in priorities following the impact of the pandemic, the bigger picture of what we’re trying to do in women’s sports shouldn’t be lost.
We’re now at a tipping point. It’s hard to see right now but we’re in a fortunate position where, if we’re re-writing the rule book, we can pick what we like of the old world, to include in the new world. Governing bodies should use this as an opportunity to reset. We need leadership and milestones.
The bidding process for Netball World Cup 2027 has started; our decision makers are already looking ahead. Furthermore I’m aware of progress in other team sports such as cricket and rugby. They’re already thinking about the growth of women in sport and have made commitments to set goals. Every sport should follow suit!
Men’s sports will recover naturally – we can see already that air time being granted primarily to ‘mainstream’ men’s sports like football – so the effort and investment should now go into women’s sports. We need to maintain, at least, the work that’s been done pre-Covid and look to move the needle, not regress. As I mentioned before, the audience has only been growing, and despite Covid-19 the demand for women’s sport hasn’t dwindled.
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