Tanya Lee | Give netball its due!
Recently, during a radio interview, I discussed the underfunding of women's sports. This was on the heels of the Reggae Girlz's historic qualification to the World Cup.
I was joined in the interview by current netball president, Dr Paula Daley-Morris, who admitted that it is a struggle to procure sponsorship for the Sunshine Girls. I was stumped. I struggle to understand how netball could be underfunded in Jamaica, given the immense spectator support, coupled with the consistently high world ranking of our Sunshine Girls.
While I can understand the underfunding of female football, as it is still a growing sport, netball has long reached maturity across Jamaica. It is the largest female sport, played in every nook and cranny of the island. We are consistently a top-five contender, thanks to the hard work of people like Marva Bernard over the years. The Sunshine Girls, given their consistently high ranking, automatically qualify for the International Netball Federation (INF) Netball World Cup on each occasion.
THE SUCCESS OF THE SUNSHINE GIRLS
Jamaica has unfailingly gifted the world's top netball leagues a long list of world-class netballers at both the senior and Under-21 levels. Just this week, our Sunshine Girls captain and the world's best goal shooter, Jhaniele Fowler, finished second in a global poll for World Netballer of the Year. She currently plays in the Australian Super League, where she was also voted the Most Valuable Player. Shamera Sterling also finished in the top 10.
Our nation's achievements in netball continue to inspire. In March, the Sunshine Girls created history by beating the New Zealand Silver Ferns twice to win the Taini Jamison Trophy. This was the first time the trophy was leaving the shores of the home team. The Sunshine Girls went on to secure the bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games and were silver medallists at the Fast5 World Series.
The Girls are currently third in the world, just one point behind New Zealand. It's incongruous that netball is struggling for sponsorship.
UNDERSELLING THE SPORT
One of the issues I have with sports administration in Jamaica is that there isn't a healthy enough reliance on numbers and metrics in selling sports, and I believe some of our products are thus under-supported.
Just this year, SportsMax sponsored the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) high-school netball competition. It was my understanding that high-school netball didn't previously attract sponsorship and that SportsMax was the lone sponsor. At the onset, I contemplated whether I would yield any returns for the brand.
BIG SPECTATOR SUPPORT
After this season, I am convinced that netball is ISSA's best-kept secret! Upon watching the urban, rural and all-island netball finals, all I saw was a sea of people from all walks of life losing their voice in support of their high schools. I sat on the edge of my seat in the lunch room as members of our camera crew gave a recap of the matches, praising the talent of the girls from Gaynstead High and Denbigh High but also revelling in the unbridled enthusiasm of the spectators. They had never seen anything like it!
I had a similar feeling after being invited by Marva Bernard to attend the Americas Federation of Netball Associations Netball Championships this year. With netball, a sponsor taps into hundreds of passionate fans on game day. And it's a wide demographic as the intense spectators consist of a healthy and varied mix of men, women, teenagers, toddlers, children, past students, the business community, teachers, principals, and anyone you can think of cheering loudly for our girls right across the island.
The direct engagement opportunities that netball provides make this an excellent sponsorship decision for any brand seeking reach, sales, and visibility chiefly among a demographic that influences the most purchases - women and children. The most influential consumers are at netball!
I hasten to now call upon sponsors to lend more support to our netball programmes at all levels. The sport has done us proud. I also call on all netball stakeholders to increase the visibility of netball and our players. The investment requires a strategic plan well beyond the stands. We must now properly package numbers around netball to attract more sponsorship.
- Tanya Lee is a Caribbean sports marketer, author, and publicist and is the regional marketing manager for SportsMax. She can be reached at email@example.com.