Leeds Rhinos head coach Dan Ryan believes Vitality Netball Superleague model isn’t ‘sustainable’
Leeds Rhinos head coach Dan Ryan believes the Vitality Netball Superleague isn’t ‘sustainable’ and that it sits in a ‘grey space’ compared to Australia’s Suncorp Super Netball.
However, the 36 year-old, who used to coach the Adelaide Thunderbirds between 2016-2018, has some ideas on how the UK Superleague can adopt the same professional standards as the Suncorp league.
Ryan believes it is down to making the league a ‘professional environment’ in order for it to ‘thrive’ as a ‘sporting product’.
He told NewsChain: "The biggest thing to note with the Australian and New Zealand leagues is that both leagues are fully professional, all the athletes are full-time netballers or high-performance professionals in their respective roles.
"So you are talking about a professional sporting environment, sporting products and competitions, whereas the UK Superleague sits in a grey space between still being this amateur stage shifting into semi-professional with a handful of athletes and staff being fully professional.
"So it’s still a diverse and collective mix in the Superleague in terms of how financed individuals in certain roles are.
"But also how the league itself is run and operated so I think that’s the first step of the UK Superleague is to professionalise the product and by doing that looking at the processes and the procedures that allows professionalism to take place.
“That’s all the hard work Australia and New Zealand have done for a number of years and I think when the environment is fully professional, where your athletes are paid as fully professional athletes and you have full-time staff, then you’re able to thrive as a sporting product.”
In the Australian league all the franchises operate off ‘similar business models,’ whereas in the Superleague each franchise is either fully incorporated into a wider sports club, funded through universities, are run by a governing body or even run solely as a small business.
But he has warned that it’s ‘dangerous’ in terms of the ‘sustainability’ of the league as a whole.
The Northern Ireland head coach added: “You look at the environment in the Superleague at the moment and you’ve got 11 franchises in the league and each of those franchises operates very differently.
"Everyone’s income generation, cash flow, revenue streams vary and everyone's expenditure and investment in terms of how much of the salary cap they spend also vary.
"It’s not necessarily streamlined across the board which I think makes it all a little bit dangerous in terms of sustainability for the league.
"I think what probably needs to happen from a business perspective is that we need to get a streamlined model that offers a little bit more consistency in how each of the franchises operates.
"So when an instance like a Covid-19 happens, we don’t have a scenario where clubs are in a position to keep moving forward and other clubs are in a position where they just can’t do anything because of the circumstances and their level of resource or financial state, so that makes it is really difficult for the sustainability of the competition.
“But also to do that the biggest thing is the injection of funding so England Netball don’t provide any funding to the franchises, they really all are independent in the way they generate income and make money and bring in sponsors.
"That makes it difficult too because the minimum operating standards of how a franchise needs to run, in my mind, doesn’t necessarily match up to what a professional environment does look like.
"So there’s a bit of work that needs to be done in terms of lifting the standards of how we operate and a lot of it is going to come down to funding and resourcing and like anything, money makes the world go round and money makes a franchise grow, so it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. It’s about finding the ways to bring the vision to life.”
However, he is aware that bringing the ‘vision to life’ does take time and stressed that the Australian league hasn’t just come out of ‘nowhere’.
He said: "It’s been years of hard work from countless people, from all different stakeholder positions within our game.
"I think people saw the brilliance of netball as a sporting entertainment product.
"At the moment there is great backing and support from the Nine Netball, one of the biggest sports networks in Australia and one of the biggest sporting broadcasters in the world. They really believe in the product and the game and have done a fantastic job for it.
"The amount of money that’s invested in from Suncorp and from Netball Australia into the franchises allows them all to operate on similar business models, it’s a very fair and an even playing field.
"Some clubs are sourced better than others, there’s no question about that, however salary caps are the same and expectations of athletes are the same too.
“So it’s set up really well and it hasn’t happened overnight, it’s been a long gradual process and the sport is in a really healthy position at the moment.
"But it’s continuing to push them all which is so important, the moment it stands still is the moment it will start going backwards.”
He revealed that the Superleague’s long-term vision is to be the ‘best netball competition in the world’.
Ryan, who guided Manchester Thunder to the Grand Final in the 2015/16 season, said: "The long-term vision of the Superleague is to be the best netball competition in the world and to be fully professional sports league which I think is a really bold statement to make.
"But I think it is really important because Australia and New Zealand would have had that same mission statement decades ago as well.
“So to have that as your end goal is so critical, but now it’s about getting really clear and realistic around the processes that need to take place immediately to allow a vision like that to unfold.”
He also believes that the 2019 Superleague season was the most competitive in a ‘long time’ and that the 2020 season would have been even better, but it was cancelled after four rounds due to the coronavirus pandemic.
He said: "There have been some big recruitments from teams and different changes and six teams out of the ten teams were capable of knocking into the top four if not winning the competition, so it was such a shame that the competition couldn’t go on.
“But I hope the break that the sport has had and the fans that have been denied the opportunity to see netball in this country, that the hunger and thirst for it is going to be overwhelmingly strong when we get back up and running for the 2021 season.”
He will now look ahead to the new season after a 12 month delay of embarking on the new journey that is due to begin in February 2021.
Ryan added: "I’m really grateful that we’ve had an opportunity to prepare properly and build a programme and a three-year strategic plan, to be fully integrated to the rugby club and see first how much they generally care about netball being a success as part of the organisation has been amazing.
"We know that we have a really good product to offer any athlete in the country and around the world that might want to come and play in this competition.
"One thing I am really passionate about doing is that I’m running a full-time professional training environment for the athletes, you know a lot of franchises don’t have the ability to run a full-time programme because of a number of different challenges.
“But for me with my background, it’s non-negotiable that if we want to be playing in one of the best netball competitions in the world we need to be preparing and playing in a daily high-performance environment.”
As the signing window is now officially open, he is also looking for athletes who ‘live and breathe’ the sport and the professionalism he will provide surrounding it.
Ryan said: "For me when it comes to athlete recruitment I want athletes who live and breath that professionalism, that then allows the product to be put out on game day for us to grow as a brand and grow as an identity and hopefully, in turn, we represent the Leeds Rhinos organisation really well.
“And the commercial value we bring to the business allows us a netball department to grow and flourish and that’s what our vision is and that’s what we want to bring to light.”