From The Press Box: Just as Melbourne Tigers have changed, so too can Pride

LOVE them or hate them, Melbourne Tigers will be no more.

 Basketballer Mark Worthington poses with Melbourne United coaches Chris Anstey and Darryl McDonald. Ballarat Pride could draw inspiration from the Melbourne Tigers’ rebranding this week for a fresh start in the VNL. PICTURE: GETTY IMAGES

Basketballer Mark Worthington poses with Melbourne United coaches Chris Anstey and Darryl McDonald. Ballarat Pride could draw inspiration from the Melbourne Tigers’ rebranding this week for a fresh start in the VNL. PICTURE: GETTY IMAGES

Controversially, club owners Larry Kestelman and Michael Slepoy this week unveiled their new Melbourne United branding to try to appeal to a larger and more lucrative Victorian fan base for their National Basketball League franchise.

They hope to “unite” all basketball fans, acknowledging legends from gone-by rivals like South East Melbourne Magic, North Melbourne Giants and Victoria Titans.

Maybe a similar route could be just the tonic to revive state league netball in Ballarat.

We will learn more next week, once Victorian Netball League submissions are closed, what a working group made up of key sporting bodies about town has put forth to try to win back a state league licence for the city.

To be clear, while the working group has stated it plans to completely restructure Ballarat Pride, it has made no word either way on a club rebranding.

Let us hope it might consider one.

Just as a woman might get a fabulous new haircut when scorned by a lover, Ballarat Pride should adopt a new name to move forward from its initial dumping from the VNL.

Looking back over the past 20 years, Ballarat Pride and marquee women’s basketball team Ballarat Lady Miners (now Ballarat Rush) have been this city’s most consistently successful sporting teams at state league level or, in the Lady Miners’ case, the entire Australian east coast.

Ballarat Netball Association formed Ballarat Pride in 1995 to win a state league spot in division five competition, with the dream of playing championship division.

That dream came true, but at a price in struggling to compete against talent-laden, power Melbourne-based clubs.

Community support, tighter administration, recruitment, high-calibre training regimes – whatever the working group might have planned is certain to start turning this around.

This column calls for Ballarat to make a shocking new entrance if – and when – it steps back out in the VNL after this season.

Pride has offered a fantastic pathway.

It is time for a new chapter in Ballarat netball.

On the national stage, netball spectator numbers are rapidly increasing for the ever-growing popularity of the ANZ Championships, that feature teams from our greatest rival netball nation, New Zealand.

Crowds are matching major football codes in rugby, soccer and some AFL matches. Their potential to draw more fans courtside is really only bound by stadium seating.

Major sporting bodies and the City of Ballarat have thrown their support behind a VNL licence renewal campaign because they know how important netball is to not just this region, but western Victoria as a whole.

AFL Goldfields general manager Rod Ward says the footy-aligned netball competitions they administer boast more than 3000 netballers.

And leagues are constantly evolving to meet a booming demand.

A state league licence for this city is bigger than a pathway out of one association. The changing structure of weekend netball competition alone, particularly in junior footy-netball ranks over the past few years, has taken the game’s reach wider.

Some may say Pride is just a name, already standing for the pride of Ballarat and the pride this city has in its netballing strength.

Others fail to grasp the concept at all. Those outside netball ranks often question “Pride of what?” or are confused the logo is not a lioness.

The club, as it is, already wears the city’s official stars and colours.

Pride as a brand, like the Melbourne Tigers, evokes too much feeling on the past and how things were back in the 1990s.

More concerning, the name Pride conjures the too-fresh memories of the club’s VNL struggles over the past six years. 

Perhaps the soccer-influenced United branding is a bit much.

This columnist is open to reader suggestions.

melanie.whelan@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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