Constellation Cup 2021: Netball New Zealand bears financial burden of crowdless series against Australia

By Bridget Tunnicliffe for RNZ

Netball New Zealand chief executive Jennie Wyllie admits her heart sank a little on Saturday night, when she realised no fans would be allowed to watch the long-anticipated Constellation Cup.

"We were just so looking forward to being able to get those Ferns out playing in front of their fans, more so than anything else, but after that, it kind of kicked into action around how do we put our contingency plans into place," Wyllie says.

Netball New Zealand has announced that all four tests between the Silver Ferns and Australian Diamonds will be played in Christchurch, closed to the general public, as a result of COVID-19.

"Ultimately, keeping the teams in one location that we can control the environment that they're in made sense,"Wyllie says. "And the Diamonds are travelling out of Christchurch into Australia, so if we could limit the amount of travel, given they were leaving from Christchurch anyway, was also quite favourable."

Wyllie has spent quite a bit of time over the phone with counterpart Rod Steiner in Australia.

"I think I interrupted most of his Sunday... we've been in close contact throughout this series. As you can imagine, he was looking for some reassurance because whilst it's only Australia it might feel quite a long way away for them when it's their team and management."

The lack of revenue from ticket sales will cost Netball New Zealand, but not as badly as it could have been.

When England Roses played a series in New Zealand last year, their quarantine costs were covered in full by Netball New Zealand. At about $7000 per person, it didn't come cheap.

But Netball Australia is sharing costs with Netball New Zealand for this series.

"That's something that we really acknowledge them for as well and it's been a really important factor for our relationships with Netball Australia to be working through that kind of thing.

"Sharing of the costing is pretty much 50/50. It's a significant outlay, but it has been 18 months since the Diamonds have been on court, and this is really important for them and ourselves in our preparations for 2023 [World Cup], so these are the choices that we make in these uncertain times."

Gina Crampton in action
Gina Crampton in action Photo credit: Getty
NZ skipper Ameliaranne Ekenasio
NZ skipper Ameliaranne Ekenasio Photo credit: Photosport

Just how much money the organisation will lose from tickets sales is to be determined.

"That's a piece of work that we're currently just assembling. I can tell you it's not an insignificant amount of money for us as a women's sport, but it's one of those things that we were aware of being a risk as we went into this and unfortunately, this is the way the cards have fallen for us.

"As a relatively lean sport, it is a material amount for us."

Netball New Zealand hoped to break even after the Roses tour - with the Constellation Cup, they expected to make some money.

"These MIQ costs are always one of those things that we needed to be able to mitigate any financial impact. We had forecast to be in the positive, and to be able to put that aside and continue building, knowing it is uncertain whether there will be borders open later in the year when we traditionally play netball.

"So we do need to be able to plan for that and unfortunately, given we are unable to be able to have fans there, it will result in a loss for us."

Despite that, Wyllie is pretty confident they won't have to cut back any domestic competitions this year.

"We're pretty committed to ensuring that we don't have to keep cutting into the muscle of our domestic netball. I think we saw in 2020 there was a need for that to preserve the sport, but there are long-term consequences, if we don't play secondary schools and age groups and similar events like that, so all of these things need to be weighed up."

She says it helps that Netball New Zealand has been conservative and planned for contingencies.

"We would really be reluctant to go down a track of cancelling events, but again, COVID sometimes takes that out of our hands as well. At this point in time, we intend to play a full calendar this year, both internationally and domestically."