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HomeEntertainment NewsScoreboard bungle presents Super Netball with latest high-profile hiccup | Jack Snape

Scoreboard bungle presents Super Netball with latest high-profile hiccup | Jack Snape

The Lightning had the ball with eight seconds left, but didn’t seem to want to go near the goal. Something wasn’t right.

“Playing round with it too much, they’ve still got to score here,” commentator Cath Cox said, covering the Giants and Sunshine Coast in Saturday’s Super Netball clash in Sydney, that – according to the broadcast – was locked at 71-71. The players, observing the in-stadium scoreboard, thought otherwise. According to the LED signage in Ken Rosewall Arena, the Lightning led 71-70.

And so, as the clock expired, the Lightning players’ smiles suggested they seemed satisfied. The Giants looked concerned, but not defeated. Fox Sports – still showing the tied scoreboard – did their best to work out what was going on. “The teams are shaking hands like the contest is over,” Cox said.

The confusion slowly made way for bewilderment, and then something else. Toe-curling embarrassment took over as officials undertook a score review. Minutes elapsed, and the players waited on court. The Fox cameras – with little else to focus on – turned to the scoring table, where frantic conversations were taking place. The vision lingered, the conversations continued. One official held up three fingers, then changed it to two.

Eventually the game resumed with extra-time, and the Giants won 86-80. “We were always very confident that it was a draw, and we actually protested at the time the score was changed,” said Giants coach Julie Fitzgerald.

But the result left the Lightning feeling hard done by. “I think if we knew it was a draw, we probably would have gone for a goal,” Lightning captain Steph Fretwell said.

This was a night that undermined the brilliance of Fretwell, her teammates and the Giants. It also undermined the passion – and patience – of the crowd, many of whom stayed despite the contest running an hour longer than expected.

Steph Fretwell shoots for goal at Ken Rosewall Arena. Photograph: Jason McCawley/Getty Images

Netball Australia chief executive Stacey West issued a sorry statement on Sunday. “We apologise to our fans – both in stadium and at home – and to both teams for the errors that occurred,” West said.

“These errors should not have occurred and caused significant confusion in venue and also for those watching at home. There were failures in our systems, processes and communication that have been addressed to ensure this does not happen again.”

A review found the scores were accurate until a late time-out, when the scoreboard was “incorrectly adjusted by a bench official”. But that error was exacerbated, the league said, by communication failures that left umpires and teams in the dark over next steps.

The saga is the latest hiccup for domestic sport’s challenger brands – netball, basketball and football – to deliver the professional product expected by fans but on a tight budget.

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Netball Australia and the players endured an tumultuous bargaining dispute last year that left observers with the impression there is not a lot of extra cash lying around. The NBL has recently continued its broadcast deal with ESPN and Channel 10, which sees little revenue finding its way to the clubs, after production expenses are taken out. And A-League clubs are reportedly set to face cuts to their broadcast distributions from head office in coming years.

In contrast, the AFL has a $4.5bn, seven-year deal with Seven and Foxtel. Voices within the NRL have complained its deal with Nine and Fox undervalues rugby league, which competes with and often exceeds AFL ratings. Yet the NRL still rakes in around $400m annually. For those on the outside looking in on the major players in Australian sport and media, these numbers make for daunting reading.

But they are part of the reason why Saturday’s scoreboard disaster, as embarrassing as it was, and Netball Australia’s subsequent apology can be understood. Much of Australian sport relies on the efforts of volunteers, time-poor administrators and athletes who give up much of their lives and knee cartilage for mostly meagre earnings. Even the Super Netball scoring officials are unpaid. That makes individual criticism of them largely off limits.

Australia’s sporting marketplace is hugely competitive. Much has been made of the opportunity of leagues such as the A-League Women, WNBL and AFLW, but their growth and emergence is not wanted to come at the expense of others. The balance of maintaining a viable competition requires decisions on where to spend money, and invest scarce labour.

Professional presentation and, accurate scoring may be a necessity for sports to compete for commercial dollars; they should be expected for a competition that pitches itself as netball’s world leader. But it is inevitable there will be blips.

“I guess we go back and, hopefully, there’s no scoreboard error in weeks to come,” Fretwell said after the match. Perhaps, after Saturday’s night’s chaos, that is indeed the best followers of netball can hope for.

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