“The Netball World Cup is the sport’s version of The Ashes,” says Kelli Underwood

Ahead of the tournament, Kelli Underwood chats netball, women’s sports and ratings aspirations

By Sally Rawsthorne

Kelli UnderwoodHeld in Australia for the first time since 1991, the 2015 Netball World Cup is almost upon us. Fox Sports will broadcast all 64 games of the 10-day tournament, with live and HD coverage of every Australian Diamonds match, semifinals and finals on the dedicated Netball World Cup channel. Fox Sports’ Kelli Underwood will play a key role in the network’s coverage of the tournament, commentating on 10 games in 20 days. The 2015 World Cup is Underwood’s first time as a commentator for the premier netball event. When Mediaweek spoke to her ahead of the tournament, Underwood was excited. “It’s going to be really good! There are rounds between 15 teams, with four teams from Africa – Zambia, Uganda, South Africa and Malawi. That adds a whole new element. Yes, we have the elite teams from Australia and New Zealand and England, but the Africans offer plenty of flair and flamboyance. They’ve got a really unorthodox style of playing, and many of them will be visiting Sydney for the first time. There are 192 elite players from around the globe. From Australian captain Laura Geitz who grew up in a country town in Queensland to the players who are coming from villages in Uganda and Malawi, there are some really good stories to be told.

“These teams also have some of the greatest names in sport! Jamaica’s team is the Sunshine Girls, Trinidad and Tobago are the Calypso Girls, Uganda is the She-Cranes, you’ve got the Scottish Thistles and the Fijian Pearls. Zambia is the Shepolopolos – I’m still trying to work out how to say that one,” Underwood laughed.

The World Cup has come at a good time – netball’s popularity as a spectator sport is on the ascent, Underwood said.  “Watching the sport is surging in popularity – they’re getting 10,000 people in Sydney for a NSW Swifts Game, 10,000 in Perth for a West Coast Fever game. The ANZ Championship was the most exciting finish to any sporting contest in Australia this year. New South Wales led for 59 minutes, but the Firebirds scored a goal with 15 seconds to go and they won. The Netball World Cup is the sport’s version of the Ashes – last time, the English team lost it at the last moment and were labelled chokers in the press. But that sort of goes with UK sporting teams, doesn’t it?”

More generally, Underwood said she was thrilled to see women’s sports growing in popularity. “I’m just as passionate about men and women’s sport. Lots has been said recently about women’s sport on TV and whether it’s an inferior product. You can talk about it all you like, but the [ratings] figures don’t lie. The ANZ Championship finale was the third highest-rating game of netball on Fox Sports ever. If you have a look at the SBS ratings for the Women’s Football World Cup, nearly 350k people tuned in to watch the Matildas play Japan in the quarter final. In the USA, 25m people watched the final – that’s more than people who watched the NBA final.

“It’s really disappointing to constantly hear that argument, particularly when it comes from other women. If you don’t like it don’t watch it, but at the end of the day it’s a contest. You can’t really compare men and women. Of course in tennis men serve a little bit faster than women, but does that mean you don’t watch Serena Williams because she only serves at 200km/hour, rather than 220km/hour?”

Underwood said she anticipated ratings to be in line with what other high-profile netball games have done this year. “They had over 100k for the ANZ Championship grand final, which was also over 100,000 on One for Ten. If we can get Australia against anyone in the final and can make it the highest rating netball game ever on Fox Sports, that’ll be a huge victory. There’s no reason we can’t!”

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