netball

Cardiff Dragons Predict Decade Of Transformation For Professional Netball

sportswales

By Rob Cole

Cardiff Dragons can look forward to being part of a new golden era for UK netball, their chief executive Vicki Sutton has predicted.

The bold prophecy came after the only Welsh team in the current Netball Super League were included in the new, slimmed down version of the tournament – for the next decade.

The reduction from 10 teams to eight from next season is aimed at increasing the quality, appeal and impact of the league and further professionalising the sport at the top level.

Four of the current top 10 teams across the UK have lost their Super League status and Cardiff Dragons beat off fierce competition to retain theirs.

Birmingham Panthers and Nottingham Forest are the newcomers to a tournament that already showcases some of the best players in the world game.

The hope and expectation is that the new league will drive up standards and increase the public appeal of a sport that boasts 11,000 registered players and more than 300,000 participants across Wales.

Netball has long been the ‘National Sport of the Women of Wales’ and the success of the Cardiff Dragons can only help the national teams at future Commonwealth Games and World Cups.

Currently ranked No 9 in the world, Wales are hoping to see their U21 side qualify for the World Youth Cup next month.

“The sky really is the limit for netball in Wales with this announcement. If you look at the Australian League they had a record attendance of 14,000 for a club game this week and this league isn’t too far behind them,” said Sutton, who doubles as CEO of Wales Netball and the LexisNexis Cardiff Dragons.

“Netball is definitely going places. We are getting more than 2,000 at some of our home games and it is a great spectator sport for all the family – you get a goal every 10 seconds, it’s indoors, it’s a real physical battle and we have some amazing female role models.

“Every game in the new league will be on TV, whether that is Sky Sports or BBC, or a mixture of both. It’s just going to be bigger and better than ever before.”

Having been one of the eight founding members of the Super League as Celtic Dragons in 2005, the Welsh franchise is one of only four survivors in the new phase of eight teams.

The Celtic Dragons met Team Bath in the inaugural final in 2006, but have struggled down the years to compete against sides with much bigger budgets.

This season, as Cardiff Dragons, they currently sit in eighth place with four wins with three games left to play.

Sutton has been in place for the past three years and over that period the commercial and playing fortunes have certainly taken an upturn that has led to such a positive outcome this week.

Now, both the current squad of players and the NextGen of aspirational athletes coming through the highly successful Welsh pathway system can set their sights on becoming full-time professionals.

“This is the biggest moment in the history of Cardiff Dragons. We’re in it for the next 10 years, we mean business and we’re excited about who we will be putting out on court in the future,” added Sutton.

“The dream is to have a fully professional squad filling out the new 10,000 seater arena in Cardiff Bay within the next decade.

“Netball is on the rise, we’re doing well commercially and we’re now a business, not just another sports club.”

The players will be the first beneficiaries with salaries rising to give them more time to train, recover and prepare for their matches. Squad sizes will reduce to 10 to ensure clubs are competitive and talented players are distributed.

A new salary cap and banding structure will ensure players are remunerated in a more even and transparent way.

The average salary will increase by at least 60% with the minimum salary payment more than doubling.

“We’re looking to become Cardiff’s first full-time professional female sports club. All the players in our current squad will be battling for positions on the squad for next year,” said Sutton.

“Previously players have had to balance other jobs, sometimes two or three of them, alongside training and playing 10-12 hours a week. That has been really challenging for them, so I’m thrilled that the players are going to benefit sooner than anticipated.

“There are three phases to this decade of professionalization and the expectation is that current salaries will double or treble throughout the three phases of professionalisation.

“The first two of over three years, and final one is four years. Salaries will increase next year, perhaps not high enough for all of them to quit their other jobs just yet, but it is still a very positive step in the right direction.

“We want to reward the players for their professionalism so they don’t have to worry about looking elsewhere.

“This also means the 13-year-olds playing in their clubs today can now look ahead and think about being a full-time, professional netball player because that opportunity will exist by the time they develop.

“We want to make the most of this amazing possibility and the ambition is to make the Cardiff Dragons players household names. We will get there and this announcement will help with that.

“The turnaround from where we are now to where we used to be shows we are walking the talk. It is a huge vindication of what we have been doing with our re-brand, our new board and our on court performances.”

Cardiff Dragons still have three home games to play to end this season, at Saracens Mavericks on 1 June and then at home at the Utilita Arena against Leeds Rhinos on 8 June and Team Bath on 15 June.

Then the focus will turn to the 2025 season and the battle for the new Super League title against Birmingham Panthers, the Rhinos, London Mavericks, London Pulse, Loughborough Lightning, Manchester Thunder and Nottingham Forest Netball.

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