Netball South boss Lana Winders isn’t just hoping for full crowds at ANZ Premiership matches from April – it's vital for financial sustainability.
Changes to the Covid protection framework saw the Government scrap restrictions on crowd attendances for outdoor venues on Wednesday .
Netball was the big loser among professional sport with indoor gatherings limited to 200 people, up from 100 previously.
The red traffic light setting will be reviewed on April 4 with an expectation the country could move to orange, which would allow full crowds at indoor venues .
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Netball South, who administer the Southern Steel, usually play in front of packed crowds of around 3000 at Invercargill’s Stadium Southland. They are renowned for having some of the loudest and most parochial netball fans in New Zealand.
Winders had hoped Wednesday’s announcement would permit indoor stadiums to operate at 20 per cent capacity. Increasing numbers by just 100 people was limiting, she said.
Having crowds at sports matches wasn't just important for the financial viability of the organisation, but also the athletes. Aspiring Silver Ferns were building towards selection for July’s Commonwealth Games and playing in front of near empty stadiums was no substitute.
"I’m not just hopeful about [a move to the orange setting], we really need it," Winders said.
"It’s not easy keeping a professional netball team on its feet and moving forward and able to compete well and put out that performance environment that athletes need to be at peak performance."
The Steel played their opening home game of the season at Stadium Southland on Monday against the Mystics in front of 100 people, under the previous regulation.
They will be allowed an extra 100 fans in the stands for Sunday’s clash in Invercargill against the Stars.
Should New Zealand move to orange in April, the Steel would get a further six home games with full crowds, which would be a welcome financial boost.
Their first home game with a crowd could come against the defending champion Mystics at their Stadium Southland fortress on April 17.
"It actually puts us within a chance to come out of the season without losing money. It really debilitates us having no crowd at a game from a financial perspective.
"If we are able to get back to full crowds by the 4th of April we’ll be okay. If we don’t, we’ll be really struggling."
Netball New Zealand chief executive Jennie Wyllie was optimistic about a possible move to the orange setting and crowds returning to premiership games.
Not having fans in the stadium had been a significant hit to the teams, but there was a silver lining with the competition only in the early rounds, she said.
Netball Central chief executive Fran Scholey said the Pulse had budgeted for every scenario, including the doomsday situation of no home crowds in 2022.
A move to orange and no restrictions would enable them to make up ground financially. Their home doubleheader in Porirua last weekend saw both games played under the 100-person limit.
The Pulse were returning to the court after a Covid-19 outbreak, which saw seven players test positive for the virus, and two household contacts, forcing the postponement of their round one match against the Stars .
"There’s the potential to recover from that if we sell out every game for the rest of the season and we’ve obviously cut some things out," Scholey said.
"We should be breaking even and that’s the plan. We’ll be grateful just to get actual crowds into the stadium."
The Pulse have five home matches over the rest of the competition, four at Wellington's TSB Bank Arena and one at Palmerston North’s Fly Palmy Arena.
They had been cautious with their budgets and planning for 2022 with any spectators a bonus.
"You look at what you’ve done in previous years and if you’ve made a little bit of money you’re looking at using that money to potentially offset anything that happens in the next year, but that’s like any business you’ve got to do that."
Both Scholey and Winders said it was difficult to provide a ballpark figure of how much a home game generated financially with full crowds in challenging Covid-19 times.
Rising costs in the Covid-19 climate and changes in the availability of commercial partners to support games from a revenue perspective had made it tough.
"I've already done one reforecast and I’m about to do another one. The sand keeps shifting underneath us so much," Winders said.
"We run on the smell of an oily rag at the best of times when the environment is optimal."
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