Comment & Analysis @paulprenders
Joanna Adams keen to see Vitality Superleague prosper in bumper netball year
Coverage of the Superleague Grand Final gets underway on Sky Sports from 5.15pm - follow on our YouTube channel or on Sky Sports Mix
Last Updated: 17/05/19 11:48pm
After the most exciting Superleague season almost anyone can remember, the stage is set for this Saturday's Grand Final and England Netball chief executive Joanna Adams tells Paul Prenderville it can be just the start.
"If we had a magic wand I'd want our league to be the strongest league in the world, to be able to tempt some of the top players up here - that's what we'd really love," Adams says over a cup of tea.
"And, for it to be a true professional sport. So none of those girls have a job, the Superleague girls are professional."
It's ambitious but it's also Adams in a nutshell, and netball is perhaps halfway to both of those goals. On Adams' watch the sport has experienced its greatest boom, culminating in what promises to be the most high-profile three months it has ever seen, certainly in this country.
All eyes, understandably, are on a home World Cup and a crop of players at their peak and buoyed by the Roses' first ever gold medal after those heady days on the Gold Coast last April.
But before that, a thrilling regular season in the Superleague will give way to this weekend's Grand Final when Wasps, chasing a third successive crown face Manchester Thunder, who have beaten the back-to-back champions twice this season and are going for a first title since 2014.
It's a testament to that recently arrived term in the sporting lexicon - the product. That's something that Adams is well placed to comment on, having arrived in her position as CEO in January 2015 following three years as the England Netball commercial and marketing director.
Having held similar roles in the football world, Adams has seen the growth in netball explode this year and is in no doubt where it started.
"It is a breakthrough year and I think that is because of the Commonwealth Games gold. It opened up netball as a sport to people who weren't just netball fans.
"Our Superleague is so important for us and it was always part of our strategy to have regular international competition and a domestic league.
"Other sports that have 'that moment', maybe in the Olympics, if they don't have a strong domestic league then they don't have a product offering.
"So it's really important and we need the league to get more professional. It's got to keep having investment going in for it to professionalise."
Everything so far on this journey for the Superleague has been pointing upwards and, while Adams rightly sees no negatives, she sees plenty more room for growth.
Suncorp Super Netball is the benchmark with its huge TV coverage, global superstars, scrutinised media coverage and crucially packed out arenas.
Repetition of the word professional is evident through the conversation, it is how the sport has to take the next step.
Fans are desperate to see more and a new TV deal is around the corner, but getting people into bigger venues is the next step.
"We need more investment into the clubs themselves and the one thing that will hold our league back more than anything is facilities," she adds.
"That's the major thing that will hold our league back. It's not investment coming in, it's not the quality of the play - we know that we can sell out venues - it's having venues of that right size for the league to grow. That's probably a 3,000-5,000 seat facility and there just aren't enough in this country for multi-sports.
"So we need to lobby to make sure that happens because otherwise you don't want to keep taking the sport to a central venue. You want home and away competitions, you want 10 strong teams in this country playing out of a 3,000-5,000 seat arena."
One of the main areas of growth has seen rugby, league and union, getting involved in the Superleague. Wasps were first, Saracens have followed and Leeds Rhinos are widely expected to earn a licence, if they can satisfy all the necessary requirements.
It's a model Adams is quick to praise.
"It's fantastic because of the investment that comes in as well, it has that investment from the men's game and you're learning from what they've done.
"The money is there to allow us then to professionalise the environment for the athletes. It's not all about money to pay the athletes more, it's about the infrastructure. If you can tie in with a team that's already there you can tap into a lot of that infrastructure and learning.
"We'd love to see that whole 'Real Madrid' model. We don't want to lose the netball brand and you don't want it swallowed up. "
So while the domestic game prepares to celebrate a memorable season and crown its champion, the summer's festivities in Liverpool loom large, where the Roses will come to the end of a cycle that Adams has overseen, almost from inception.
"It's been nine years and it was nine years ago that we wrote that strategy really," she added.
"It has been a culmination of all of that work. Lots of people don't appreciate that and our participation growth has been because we had a vision, we wrote a strategy which we've stuck to, and it's worked.
"And the bit that didn't work up until four and a bit years ago was performance. We were always third and that was the big change that I think I probably made.
"Fran Connolly, our development director, is brilliant at what she did and we've just carried on doing what we created. But performance was the one thing that we knew we had to change.
"In honesty, we don't actually want a full-time England programme. What we would love is for those girls to be playing in environments in their clubs which meant that we didn't have to run a full time programme."
Rather than the end, it ought to be the start.
As the sport embraces its time in the sun, you sense another wave is in the offing as England Netball and the Superleague look to go from strength to strength.
Watch the Vitality Netball Superleague Grand Final live on Sky Sports YouTube channel and also on Sky Sports Mix on Saturday, May 18 from 5.15pm. Also, Sky Sports will be showing every game of the 2019 Vitality Netball World Cup in July.