Netball counts down to World Cup 'summer of excitement'
Netball burst dramatically into the UK sporting consciousness last year, when England stunned huge favourites Australia to grab the Commonwealth Games gold medal with a memorable last-second victory.
Now the triumphant Roses are hosting this year's Netball World Cup (NWC2019), with the 15th version of the event to be held over 10 days from 12 July in Liverpool.
And with 50 days to go, organisers are confident the sport can continue its upwards impetus during the multi-million pound event.
England will be looking to end the historic domination of Australia and New Zealand, while fellow home nations Scotland and Northern Ireland will also be looking to exceed expectations in front of partisan crowds at the M&S Bank Arena.
"People often don't understand that the sport is so exciting," says event director Lindsay Impett, who was also involved in the staging of the 2012 London Olympics. She now works for the Netball World Cup company on behalf of England Netball.
She says many people may remember a different, slower, game from their school days, before rules changes that were introduced in 2016 to speed up the action.
"In the long term, I want the world cup to encourage people to go and see the excitement of a netball match in person. Netball is a very close, end-to-end, sport."
The 2019 Netball World Cup and 2021 Rugby League World Cup
The 2019 Netball World Cup has been working on "special sporting synergies" with the 2021 Rugby League World Cup (RLWC).
"There were similarities around the countries that compete, and also the fact that Liverpool is our host venue and will stage games in 2021 RLWC," says Ms Impett.
"It is also of use because rugby league is bringing together its men's world cup, women's world cup and wheelchair world cup to all be contested at the same time in 2021.
"I have been working with them regarding swapping knowledge and information, and looking at things from different perspectives. It is about them coming along and shadowing my team, and seeing what we are doing. It has very much been a long-term approach, we have been working with them now for 10 months.
She adds: "For both of us we are trying to expand our audiences - particularly from rugby league's point of view, they are trying to get more people to come to watch their women's game.
"From our point of view, we have a real core, female, support, but we want to get that out further, getting netball to a RLWC audience and beyond, and expanding our fan base. Rugby league has a strong Northern focus, and that can help netball tap into that geographic area."
Ms Impett says the international landscape is now much more competitive than in the run up to previous world cups.
"I think in 2019 we are in better position for a potential change than ever before. Australia are the best team in the world at the moment, but potentially more open to losing their world title than they have ever been before," she says.
"We hope to put on the best-ever women's sporting world cup - what I mean by that is that it will be the best fan and visitor experience for those who attend."
She says organisers are working with sponsors, such as title partner, health insurance firm Vitality, to make activities and experiences around the event as exciting as possible.
At the same time she hopes to recreate the collective community feel in the North West this July that there was around London 2012.
Ms Impett says there are four "pillars" to the World Cup - namely, an event that features elite sport, one which empowers women and girls to be the best they can, where fans are invited from from around the world, and one where those visitors learn about the city of Liverpool and its culture.
The event has already sold more than 75% of its 120,000 tickets, which are priced from £10 to £65 for adults, and £7 to £35 for juniors.
It is hoped that as well as taking in the netball, visitors will go to some of Liverpool's attractions such as the Beatles Museum, or enjoy the wider region, such as visiting the Lake District national park.
Chris Brown, director of Marketing Liverpool, says "more than 4,300 people have already bought tickets from overseas. While the biggest contingent is from reigning champions Australia, fans will be coming from more than 30 countries".
He adds: "The domestic sales show that England, Scotland and Northern Ireland will be strongly supported too, with many people coming for the duration of the tournament.
"As well as creating a brilliant atmosphere at the games, and around M&S Bank Arena Liverpool, it provides a huge economic boost to hotels, restaurants, attractions and all other businesses connected to the visitor economy.
"The economic impact is of course immediate, but there is a significant long-term benefit too... TV channels will be broadcasting images of the city to viewers around the world."
'Strong sporting brand'
Ms Impett says the strong ticket sales have provided cash to put on the best tournament possible.
"It means a better sporting presentation, and better fan experiences around the event," she says.
"There will be a variety of activities at our fan park run in conjunction with our sponsor, and there will be a playing court there too, where people can try out netball for themselves.
"At the world cup games there will be various half-time interactions, such as using players to do skills workshops. Sponsors Vitality will also be promoting health and encouraging healthy living."
She adds: "Social media is very important, and we will be running a number of interactive events. We have got a strong brand, with a strong colour scheme and a real identity."
According to England Netball data, the game is the UK's number one female participation sport, with about 1.4 million people, mostly women, playing.
It also estimates that some 130,000 adult women started playing netball - or more netball - as a result of England's high-profile Commonwealth Games success.
That victory provided another - financial - boost, as England Netball renewed its sponsorship deal with Vitality, in a partnership believed to be one of the largest in UK women's sport.
Indeed, sponsorship money is one of the main revenue streams for the world cup - the others being ticketing, hospitality, fan visitor packages, TV rights, and merchandising.
Revenues will be distributed to the International Netball Federation (INF) for expansion of the sport, while participating countries will get a percentage of the take, and event organisers England Netball will receive a small amount for development programmes.
Despite the inflow of cash for the game, Ms Impett says equally important considerations are promoting the game globally and in the UK, encouraging more playing and attending, and promoting Liverpool and the North West.
"My overall objective is to promote a memorable world cup for all those who attend," she says.
"England Netball want their main legacy to be raising the profile of the sport so that it retains a long-term interest - encouraging new players and coaches, and increased participation in clubs and schools."