The heads of the NBL are excited, the team owners are excited, the team staff are excited, the players are excited… But are the fans and spectators excited?
That’s the glaring question as the latest NBL season starts in less than a months time. Over the past many, many years the NBL has struggled in Australia, even though at a domestic level it has been the complete opposite. Last season was meant to be the beginning of a new era of the NBL, Larry Sengstock took over and new criteria for team entry into the competition was added. However, this meant that three teams dropped out and boy, what teams they were to drop out. The Sydney Kings and the Brisbane Bullets, two of the staple teams over the NBL’s journey couldn’t find the proper backing to enter the league and the South Dragons, the newest of all the league teams and also the reigning champions. Surely this meant that the NBL wouldn’t come round for a season 2009/10, but it did and it survived the season in its entirety.
Over the course of the decade there have been a few key points where the NBL was seen to be floundering and also only a few key reasons as to why they were floundering. The first and most important reason was advertising. The advertising and marketing department of the NBL were almost non-existant. There were no ads on TV, no posters, no billboards, no radio advertising or anything that even resembled marketing. The second reason was the media. The NBL was banished to Foxtel, which there is nothing wrong with by the way, however not every person in Australia owns/can afford Foxtel and have no way of watching the sport. This drastically shortened the amount of viewers basketball received. Then there is the other forms of media, such as newspapers. In the Herald Sun, the NBL is lucky to receive a slim article down the side of a sports page, courtesy of Grantley Bernard, and the scores for the latest round is found nestled in with the golf tournament scores, tennis scores, American sports scores etc. at the back of the classifieds. The final problem is actually the least difficult of the problems, attracting players. The NBL has been accused of not retaining enough high quality players, or of not enticing enough players from overseas to commit themselves to the NBL, bring in the viewers, the TV and advertising deals, you bring in the money. Bring in the money, and the public recognition, you bring in the quality players.
Instead of last season marking the beginning of a new era, I believe that Larry Sengstocks second season at the helm marks a new beginning. Over recent weeks we have seen FOUR major sponsors sign with the NBL, including iiNet jumping on board to become the naming sponsor. We have seen the Australian Boomers play against Argentina (admittedly their second-team) in an international series, not just that, but an international series in Australia, when was the last one of those against one of the top basketball nations in the world? Then we also have players like Luke Nevill, Wade Helliwell and others, returning from overseas to play in the NBL. That bodes well for the sport when some of the higher profile stars of Australian basketball, who have plyed their trade overseas and succeeded, return to Australian basketball to play in their home country, in front of their home fans.
Now I get to the important part, there is a new media deal around the NBL where a little station called OneHD will show games live on FREE-TO-AIR TV, thats right, FTA TV. That has just increased the NBL’s TV audience significantly and the best part is that each year, of the five year contract, OneHD increases the amount of games it shows live. Then there is the TV ad to go with the new deal on OneHD. I find one problem with that ad however, to me it looks like a cheap version of the AFL ad where the AFL is seen to be better than any other sport around. That doesn’t really bother me, the main fact is that the NBL is finally doing some sort of advertising. The next stage is TV advertising for the individual teams in each state, Melbourne Tigers advertising their first home game for example, against the returning Sydney Kings no less, on TV will return some spark to the Melbourne-Sydney rivalry and will demand a sell-out crowd at the Cage. Other deals that can happen include radio stations agreeing to broadcast games live, for example SEN (I remember a few years back they broadcasted the Melbourne Tigers home games, Andrew Gaze at the helm) could piggy-back the OneHD broadcast and the joint effort of those two stations will reach even more people and the NBL’s audience will again increase significantly.
So as you can see, the main bump in the road for the NBL and its teams (let me get that straight, this isn’t just about the NBL, its the teams who need to step up their campaigns too), is advertising and marketing. That is the brunt of the sports industry. To make audiences fall in love with your sport and their local team, to inspire passion and incite rivalries between clubs. Key the marketing campaigns up a notch, increase the audience, increase the money, increase the quality players, increase the sponsors, increase the NBL! It’s just one big, long chain.
The NBL season starts on 15th October with the Melbourne-Sydney rivalry set to re-ignite in a big night at the Cage in Melbourne. The start of the new NBL era begins NOW!