It has been a big 12 months for Australian basketball, both on the NBL scene and the International scene. Since the NBL season has just reached its conclusion with the New Zealand Breakers taking out the first iiNET NBL Championship, it is time to take a look back at what has occured in Australian basketball.
This season of the NBL saw many rules introduced or changed so they were more in line with how basketball is played elsewhere in the world. These rules included –
- The shape of the key will become rectangular, similar to the FIBA regulations
- The 24 second shot clock is reset to 14 seconds after a foul instead of simply continuing from where it left off (when below 14secs)
- The three point line was extended from 6.25m to 6.75m making it more like the NBA
- A ‘no charge’ zone was added directly under the basket, again similar to the NBA
These rule changes ensured that the NBL games were always played at a fast pace with action aplenty. The extension of the three point line also separated the men from the boys in terms of shooting range.
The Sydney Kings made a return to the national league and unearthed a number of great Australian players. Julian Khazzouh had a breakout season and was instantly added to the Australian Boomers squad. Ben Magden showed the Adelaide 36ers what they were missing out on and was rewarded at season’s end with the Rookie of the Year award. Luke Cooper also showed that he will be an excellent player in future years, if not for the season ending ankle injury at the beginning of the season, who knows what he may have produced.
There was one other way to show that the NBL was on the way up and that was the return of many overseas Australian players to the NBL. Players like Luke Nevill, Wade Helliwell and Julian Khazzouh who as just mentioned had a breakout year. Then there was the returning imports like Ayinde Ubaka, Rosell Ellis, Kevin Lisch and of course the headline himself, Corey ‘Homicide’ Williams.
The NBL also saw an improvement in the attendance figures for this season, with the overall league attendances up 11% on last year. The Cairns Taipans themselves enjoyed a 32% increase in their attendance figures. Also the Sydney Kings, in their return season as mentioned, gained the largest crowds for the entire season at a few of their home games in the KingDome.
The main winner for the NBL however, was the return to free-to-air TV. This return ensured that they were once again on the main platforms of media and seen by hundreds of thousands around Australia.
The NBL is looking at improving and expanding back to its former glory over the next few years. They are hoping a team in Brisbane isn’t far away and also a second team in Melbourne, in Knox where a new stadium and more costing approximately $60 million has been developed. Most people would call the reintroduction of the Sydney Kings this season a success, even though they finished at the bottom of the table. With eyes to the future they have the players to compete and also the attendance figures to keep alive.
Those were a few quick positives on the NBL this season, although as with everything else in life there are always negatives and they provide more of the focus than the positives.
We’ll start by looking at the main problem and that is marketing. Marketing by the NBL in general and marketing by the individual clubs.
The current ad that was circulated on TV showed a strong basis for the improving fast pace and action of the NBL in the upcoming season. However a strong premise doesn’t necessarily make the ad a success, this current ad has many flaws. The main one is seen in the visuals. The lighting arrangement on the latest ad is shocking, all on a dark background does nothing. Some form of display that draws peoples attention needs to be added, the dunks and blocks are good, however they are not enough. The background makes the ad bland in a way, it needs to be livened up a little. After all, isn’t the NBL being livened up itself? So why not produce the ads so they are making bold statements?
Next is the new tagline of the NBL – “It Goes Off!”. Firstly, what does that even mean, and secondly, is that the best they could come up with? While I understand the line fits in perfectly with the whole ad idea of an exploding ball and the 24 second shot clock promoting a fast paced, ever changing game, the tagline also is a rather limp end to the whole scenario. Like the ads themselves, the tagline needs to jump out at the audience and “It Goes Off!”, just doesn’t do it.
As I said individual clubs are also in my sights. The main problems are seen as player recognition, drawing attendances and improving popularity within Australia as a whole.
The clubs should make it their goal to get their players out into the open as much as possible in between seasons and during seasons. An idea for this can be to hold a clinic at a basketball centre and then hold the team training at the same place, immediately after the clinic. This proves two points, first is that the club is giving to the community in the form of the clinic and second, the club is becoming known to that community. The chances of kids wanting to go to teams games after seeing them up close is much higher after doing that then if nothing was done. This also shows the target market for the NBL teams, the kids. If the kids support a team, they will talk their parents into buying memberships so they can have a backpack, a singlet or whatever, they will then convince them to take them to at least one game. See the potential upside there?
The other thing is game nights themselves, lets just say the pre-game atmosphere is well, dull! That was something the South Dragons did right, the atmosphere at their games was amazing. For team introductions they went NBA style, with light displays, fire and big screen motion pictures. Clubs are currently just announcing their teams, then promptly standing at the free throw lines or half court for the national anthem. Bring in the entertainment! Bring on the lights and the noise! Bring on the atmosphere and bring in the crowds. I have a really corny idea that is really simple to see at the same time, Melbourne Tigers playing ‘Eye of the Tiger’ as the team is announced, ‘The Cage’ is blacked out, big screens showing a tiger approaching from distance to run into profile and swipe the screen leaving behind claw marks, this then fades to the Tigers logo, ‘Eye of the Tiger’ opening beats (no words, just music) continues playing as a spotlight shines on the players entrance, courtside announcer begins to introduce the teams starting five as the spotlight follows each one through a guard of kids from a basketball club (see the kids again!), as they reach the end of the guard the next player is announced and so on, introductions end and stadium lights back on for the singing of the national anthem. If you can imagine that, the courtside and arena atmosphere has increased ten-fold already and the crowd is pumped for the game!
Not only is the NBL on the up and up, the international scene for Australian basketball is also on the improve. After many years of not seeing or hearing anything from or about the Boomers, the past 18 months has been an avalanche of news. Firstly with the Argentina v Australia series last year, the news of the Australia v China series starting this year and also with the continued success of Australians, men and women, in the overseas competitions including the NBA and WNBA.
The series against Argentina last year was the first international series against someone other than New Zealand in a long time. Even if it turned out to be the Argentinian B-team the fact remains that one of the top basketballing nations in the world came to Australia to play against us.
This past week it has also been announced that Australia will be playing China in the YouYi (friendship) games starting in June. The series will be played annually for the next five years with Perth, Shanghai and one other undecided upon location to be hosting the games. The mastermind behind this is former Olympian and Perth Wildcat Andrew Vlahov, who was also a key component in the Argentina series. China is a massive market to break into and if Australian basketball can manage to do just that, who knows where it could lead.
There has also been great success for Australian basketballers overseas. Players like Andrew Bogut, Patrick Mills, Joe Ingles and Brad Newley plying their trade in the elite competitions of the world. Bogut and Mills especially are doing Australia proud, Bogut when he is on the court between injuries and Mills when he just gets on the court. The women are also doing a fantastic job for Australian basketball. Liz Cambage was recently selected number two in the WNBA Draft and Rachel Jarry was pick 18 in the same draft, joining players like Penny Taylor, Erin Phillips and of course, Lauren Jackson who are already representing Australia in the WNBA. Jackson has also come out and said that she will be focusing on winning a gold medal with the Australian Opals in the London Olympics, which means that she will be missing a fair chunk out of the WNBA season, another great move for Australian basketball.
Basketball in Australia is definitely on the improve and getting some of its former glory back, however there is still a ways to go yet. The only thing that basketball fans can ask and hope for is that Larry Sengstock and his fellow big-wigs in Basketball Australia continue to implement new ideas that can take the game to new heights. As mentioned earlier most of this is to do with marketing, the more advertising there is the more brand recognition and that is exactly what is needed.