VNSL

A figure for everyone to admire

Claire Nelson discusses Strathclyde Sirens aims this season and beyond.

Claire Nelson, Netball Scotland and Strathclyde Sirens CEO, is a leading voice in the netball world, recognised for putting mainstream media on notice. Her passion to better the sport comes through every decision she makes. She recently sat down with The Netball Post to discuss all of the ways Strathclyde Sirens aim to be (in the words of their new hashtag) “Reaching New Heights”.

“It’s exciting for us that we are being tipped as a team to watch and could go for top four,” Claire acknowledges. “If ever we had a season where we could go and do it, this is our one.” She openly states “I built this team in 2017 to win […] I am here to build a club for the future but I am also super competitive”. However, she does admit that the outside expectation around Sirens reaching the top four is “massive pressure.”

Sirens are working hard to meet this pressure in the opening rounds of the 2022 Vitality Netball Superleague. Despite the absences of key shooters, Lynsey Gallagher and Emma Barrie, confidence and combinations are building across the court. Nelson believes the Sirens have the talent to beat any of their VNSL opponents, however the key factor in the team achieving a top four spot this season will be  “consistency week in, week out.” She hopes that if the players keep backing themselves their performance will keep developing.

Another very important element of the Strathclyde Sirens’ campaign this year is their return to their home venue, Emirates Arena in Glasgow, after two years away. Claire is very much enjoying having the Sirens and the whole of the Netball Scotland team back in their Emirates home. It was particularly difficult for Sirens fans to travel to attend matches at the centralised venues in 2021 so the team are extremely happy to be back playing in front of Scottish fans, who Claire sees as “the best in the world”.

Of course, on the subject of home and away fixtures, it was only natural to discuss the suggestion made during the season opener that some teams might be “upset” about travelling for games again this year, naming Glasgow in particular.

“That narrative was five seasons ago,” Claire says. She pointed out that, while travelling places is a financial burden and practical strain on all clubs and players, Strathclyde Sirens have to bear this more than any other team. Equally, she felt the comment was disrespectful to the work of the club and Netball Scotland: “We put on the best matchday in the Superleague. We go out of our way to look after the teams that come here. This [playing in Glasgow] is a great experience.” However, Nelson was pleased to see that the individual’s perception of this situation was shown to be “inaccurate”, as many big names in UK netball spoke out in support of the Siren’s CEO when she responded to the comment on Twitter.

So, how do Claire and the Sirens want to “change the game”?

Metaphorically, not literally of course (no super shots here thank you!)

Off the court, one of the most talked about aspects of the Sirens brand is their constantly evolving digital strategy. The team has taken social media by storm becoming netball Tik Tok icons, creating relevant campaigns for more media interaction in women’s sport, hosting online pre-game parties during COVID and dazzling fans with creative, stylish graphics and videos.

The latest example is the team’s 2022 season launch trailer which is a keystone piece to their digital strategy this year. The “mini-movie” packs a punch and at one point Claire even wanted to host a cinema premiere launch event for fans and players! (Fingers crossed certain public health-related circumstances will allow this next year.) 

If you haven’t had the chance to watch it, the video shows winged Sirens squad members standing tall against a cityscape accompanied by words describing their on-court superpower such as “relentless”, “tenacious” and “composure”. Captain Abernethy swoops down at the end to lead her squad’s charge. The video has been a great jumping off point and we’ve since seen the release of individual graphics of each squad member explaining how her superpower drives her game. 

“I had to be reined in,” Claire admits in excitement. She is extremely proud of this campaign which is not only “inspiring” and “aspirational” but also “pushing the envelope”. Nelson and the Sirens are working to make netball more attractive and accessible to new communities and generations of fans. It’s only the beginning in “redesigning the future of what women’s sport looks like”.

This is not the first time Strathclyde Sirens have made waves in the sports media space to ensure that women are better represented. In 2021, the side launched their #headlinesnotsidelines media campaign. When asked what started this campaign Claire said “it was born out of some frustration” during the pandemic (when little sport was being played).

“Our team was playing week in, week out on Sky, and then we started winning […] still we weren’t being covered”.

The Scottish side decided it was better to take matters into their own hands and devised the campaign with guidance from the media and PR contacts on what kinds of content would be most attractive to mainstream media outlets. This allowed them to maximise coverage and we saw a dramatic increase in the team’s presence within sports reporting. The campaign also helped to widen the netball fanbase by putting Sirens front and centre for new audiences, such as a spread in the teen magazine Shout and a weekly video series with the BBC.

However, women’s sport is still on the back foot with large gaps in our media presence. Claire believes the only way to address this is through a “collective push” from all VNSL squads to engage with #headlinesnotsidelines and “be activists for change”. She invites all professional netball teams to take up this challenge and share this tagline.

Looking at Sirens’ work across the board it is hard to deny that the Superleague side is, as Claire states, “able to drive change” through “self-belief, consistency, innovation, creativity”. The team is becoming a fast favourite among all VNSL fans for their performances on court as well as the amazing work they are putting out online and in the media which is constantly attracting new fans. They are most definitely champions of the future of netball and women’s sport and it is fantastic to see the drive and passion from Claire which is clearly at the centre of this program. 

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