Although netball was first beamed into Kiwi homes in the 1960s, it was not until the 1980s that the sport made a huge leap forward in television coverage. In a concerted effort to make the game better recognised and more attractive to sponsors, the Netball Association hired a marketing company and appointed a chief executive.
Sponsorship was attracted to the national team and major domestic competitions, and live television coverage of international tests in prime viewing time began. It also helped that the national team of the time, coached by Lois Muir, was one of the strongest representative sides in the game’s history.
Netball was frequently amongst the highest-rating programmes on public television. The 1999 world championship final, played in Christchurch between New Zealand and Australia, was at the time the highest-ever rating programme on TV2, with more than 1 million viewers in New Zealand alone. In 2011 netball coverage moved to pay television, Sky Television.
Commenting on the advent of indoor netball, Lois Muir remarked that ‘in the ’70’s, we’d go to England and play inside sports centres, where the crowds were small – 500 screaming girls they had brought in. But it was great, and I knew it had to come to New Zealand.’1
After seeing netball played in indoor stadiums in the United Kingdom, New Zealanders followed suit for major games in the early 1990s. The era of playing on cold, wet and windblown asphalt courts was over.
Once top netball matches began to be played indoors, suitable venues had to be found throughout the country. Not only did these require the capacity to seat thousands of fans, they needed special sprung wooden floors to prevent athletes from suffering knee and ankle injuries.
The largest indoor venue in New Zealand is the Spark Arena in Auckland, which can seat 12,000. In 2012, this venue pulled in a record crowd of 8,500 spectators for a test between the Silver Ferns and the Australian Diamonds.
Netball fans are vociferous and passionate, expressing support for their teams with unique noisemakers, known as ‘thunderstix’. The inflatable plastic, sausage-shaped bangers – which amplify applause – were created in the late 1990s by long-time New Zealand netball sponsor Fisher and Paykel.