I guess the saying is right. The west of Australia is behind the east. 20 years in fact. Well at least in basketball terms.
In their final home game of the season, the Perth Wildcats drew 12,381 fans to the Perth Arena, their all-time franchise record, including the 1990’s worldwide basketball boom in their 73-58 win over the Breakers.
The move to the new arena in the CBD has helped the already successful Wildcats pull in even more fans. They regularly get bigger crowds than crosstown rivals the A-League’s Glory and were challenging the Big Bash’s Scorchers.
It’s because of this that makes it so hard to believe that things over the other side of the country could be substantially different.
Crowds have jumped slightly on last season but the TV ratings on Channel 10 and ONE are deplorable, with the NBL coverage frequently being outrated by women counterparts the WNBL on the ABC.
It was thought that the revolutionary online games pass ,which gives you access to every game on demand would help, but it seems not.
For the third season in a row, the minor premiership has been won by the New Zealand Breakers, hardly a good thing for the Australian National Basketball League. To make it worse, no real home team looked like challenging for top spot, with the Breakers sewing it up three weeks ago.
Basketball is the sixth most participated sport amongst juniors in the country behind soccer, swimming, football, cricket and tennis. It is ahead of rugby league. One begs to ask, why is it like this? Where is it going wrong?
In the mid-late 2000’s basketball in Australia went through some major changes. Clubs were folding left, right and centre. The best example was the South Dragons, who won the championship under Brian Goorjian and were never to be seen on a court again. The NBL was pretty much relaunched, but in all honesty it hasn’t helped the game.
Let us go back to the previously mentioned basketball boom period. The season was played over winter, directly against the football codes, but it held its own. There were three teams from Melbourne, the then basketball capital, all of which would pack out Rod Laver Arena or the Glasshouse at home matches. Andrew Gaze was smashing records.
We saw last year, the arrival of big names helps the league get their nose in the media. Patty Mills was boosting crowds all over the country when he arrived to play for the Melbourne Tigers, but had to leave relatively soon after. The Tigers backed it up this year with former number 4 NBA Draft Pick Johnny Flynn, who was looking to relaunch his career.
There are a number of things that Basketball Australia and the NBL have to do that are necessary.
Promotion of the game is the biggest issue that needs changing. The NBL has to win over the media, and the key is the All Star game. This needs to be made a major event on the Australian sporting calendar. Do that and the fans will follow to the NBL.
Not having a team from Brisbane is a big mistake and they should have been included in the revamped league from day one. Promotion of the game is another thing that needs a massive improvement, and creating inner-city rivalries is something that always gets the fans going, so second teams for Melbourne and Sydney is a must.
Expansion in the league is also needed. The governing body should look at cities like Hobart and Canberra to run largely community-based clubs to make the fans really feel apart of it. On the court, the 12 minute quarters should return to ensure value for money for fans and to be on par with NBA standards.
Also on the options list is changing the season to run from January to May, which could help with bringing in players from overseas. It also would appeal more to fans, as this is when the domestic playing season starts around the country and people would feel more into it.
It is a crucial time for basketball in this country. It needs to change. We’re at the crossroads.
The NBL finals start this week too. Bet you didn’t know that. Let’s hope for the sake of Australian Basketball that one of our sides can knock the Kiwi’s off their perch.