Commonwealth Bank Trophy
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Logo Commonwealth Bank Trophy
|No. of teams||8|
|Sydney Swifts (4th title)|
|Most titles||Melbourne Phoenix (5 titles)|
It was established in 1997 as a true national league to replace the ailing, state club-based Mobil League. Designed from the beginning to be more marketable to the general public, it saw large increases in crowd sizes and sponsorship over its predecessor. From 2008, it was replaced by the ANZ Championship.
The Trophy was an eight-team, single division round-robin competition, based around a fourteen-week season starting in May and ending in August. The top four teams played off in a knockout finals series, culminating in the Grand Final in the first week of September. While crowd turnout fell short of that in the three football codes, matches were generally attended by several thousand people, with a record crowd of 13,436 being achieved in 2004. This has necessitated a shift to larger venues, with smaller suburban venues of earlier years having to be abandoned in favour of larger city arenas. A significant number of games were shown both on free-to-air ABC TV and on pay television.
While the Commonwealth Bank Trophy was an elite competition, it lacked the attention and sponsorship of the two main football codes. This means that there was not the money to pay high player wages - indeed, according to Australian Workers' Union National Secretary Bill Shorten, many earned less than $4,000 a year from the sport. This means that the vast majority of players - including most of those in the Australian team - juggled training and game requirements with part-time or full-time employment, and raised their own funds if they were to afford added assistance such as the services of a physiotherapist. In an attempt to address this somewhat, most players in the competition made the decision to join the Australian Workers' Union in late 2005. The Union changed its registration rules to allow this to occur.
Australia had not had a national netball league of any form until 1985, when the Esso Superleague was formed. It saw the top teams from each state league face off against each other in a short national season. However, this meant that the teams representing each state changed from year to year, and many teams struggled to raise the sponsorship necessary or attract sizable enough crowds to meet the requirements of travelling interstate. The competition became the Mobil League in the early 1990s, but when it continued to struggle, Netball Australia decided to terminate it and look at setting up a permanent national league. Finally, they announced that the Mobil League would fold at the end of the 1996 season and be replaced by a new format in time for the next season.
The National Netball League, as it was initially called, had a more commercial focus from the beginning. Eight teams were created - two from New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia and one from Queensland and Western Australia. These were representative sides made up of the best players from each state, rather than being limited to members of whichever state club had qualified that particular year. The season was doubled in length, and the unpopular double-header contests (made necessary due to the financial limitations of the previous competition) were abolished. The teams were given generic mascots with the theme of birds in order to assist with marketing and merchandising, and the uniforms were revamped, with new brightly coloured bodysuits being introduced to attempt to improve the image of the game. These last two moves did attract some controversy among players - several felt the use of birds as their mascots was condescending and sexist, and some felt that the new uniforms were using sex to sell the games.
The changes had an immediate impact in terms of sponsorship, as the Commonwealth Bank signed on as naming rights sponsor and several others followed suit, bringing in far more than the Mobil League had. They also brought sizable media attention in the months leading up to the first season of the new Commonwealth Bank Trophy. While netball authorities were disappointed with the low turnout at the early games, crowds rose substantially throughout the first season, and by its end, some smaller venues, such as Melbourne's Waverley Netball Centre were already becoming too small. People had to be turned away at some later games; an event that had rarely, if ever, happened in the Mobil League.
The Commonwealth Bank Trophy received a major boost in 2006, receiving a prime-time television deal with on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's ABC2 digital-only channel. This saw matches televised live every Friday night for the first time, with additional highlights packages broadcast on regular free-to-air television.
- 1 Note: Many clubs play several "home" matches at alternate grounds.
- Adelaide Ravens (1997-2002, abolished to make way for the AIS Canberra Darters)
- Sydney Sandpipers (1997-2003, abolished to make way for the Hunter Jaegers)