In Australia, basketball and football have a fair bit in common. Their respective national leagues both started in the late 1970s and were held during the winter.
Originally, there was a local aspect to the competitions, with teams such as Frankston and Coburg entering the National Basketball League, while Mooroolbark and Leichardt graced the National Soccer League.
The 1980s were testing times, with the composition of both leagues being changed multiple times. Teams were removed and renamed in order to find a market.
The NSL even changed the dates of their seasons from winter to summer in order to avoid the other football codes and try and slot into the sparse summer schedule.
The next decade brought along the boom period. Australian-bred players were mixing it among the best on the world stage. Luc Longley, Andrew Gaze, Mark Viduka and Robbie Slater were household names.
Crowds blossomed at domestic league matches and it looked as though both were on the verge of becoming somewhat mainstream.
Basketball of course had the upper hand to their round ball counterparts due largely to a man named Michael Jordan.
Then things changed. Financial problems struck both leagues and it was almost as if two or three clubs were being culled each year. New teams were quickly put together only for them to fold four years down the track.
How could these sports grow if this kept happening?
Luckily for today’s Football Federation Australia, the Crawford Report was released and many of the problems were resolved when the A-League was launched, and it has gone from strength to strength since its debut season in 2005.
Unfortunately, Basketball Australia has not been able to do the same thing and today they are suffering for their failure.
The National Basketball League and Basketball Australia have recently de-merged. This is supposedly to give the power back to the clubs, but how can clubs be trusted to make the big decisions if half of the time they cannot stand on their own feet?
For a long time now I have been ridiculing the decisions of Basketball Australia because I can see there is so much potential for the NBL in Australia, but they are restricting it in a big way by not allowing a total re-launch of the product.
I certainly am not a marketing expert, but the things you read and hear really tell you everything.
Basketball is the number two sport globally. Fact. Basketball is the second highest team participation sport in the country. Fact.
In metropolitan Melbourne, basketball is the number one sport played by children. The sad thing about this however, is they’d be more likely to know who ‘Uncle Drew’ actually is rather than Mark Worthington.
Basketball Australia could be doing so much more to cash in on this.
There is no question the NBA will always be 100 times the size of the NBL on the world stage, but our league can offer a lot more to Australia.
How can the league be rejuvenated? Here are the fundamentals:
Get some publicity by relaunching the league.
The majority of the Australian football community were excited when the A-League was first announced as it offered a fresh start.
The new basketball league would start simplified and the teams would have secure financial backing, having been made to met the criteria placed upon entry by Basketball Australia.
Place a large emphasis on the community
For example, the suburbs in south-east Melbourne have the highest participation rate in the country; bringing back the South East Melbourne Magic would connect with the area while also perhaps rebuilding relationships with mid 90s NBL fans who have since fallen out with the game.
The Magic franchise would be heavily promoted through the various basketball associations. Schools would be visited and players would be seen practising at their local stadium and watching some of the local action to help promote the brand.
A club, not just a franchise
NBL clubs would have scouts identifying the best underage talent in the area and have development squads to keep a tab on the next generation and make it an easier transition to the NBL.
This way the NBL can also be used as a pathway to better and even bigger things for these players and ensure there are always good players coming through the system.
Have cross-town rivalries
Cross-town rivalries can never be underestimated. The derbies in the A-League have taken the league to another level and if new rivalries can reach the level of the mid 90s then it is being done correctly.
To continue on from the above example, the Magic’s main rivals will be the Melbourne Tigers, who are based in the north-west of Melbourne.
Derbies also attract the casual fan, who might not watch basketball at all, but they are drawn in by the spectacle of two sides from the one city going head to head.
Rod Laver Arena would be a sell-out.
Reverse the current season schedule
Is it a coincidence the league fell apart when it was moved to summer?
May to October is the perfect time frame for the NBL. Why? Because it is the majority of the off-season for the NBA and Euroleague competitions.
This means promising Australians who play overseas could come back home and play a few games for their local side.
Imagine Andrew Bogut suiting up for a game with the Sydney Kings, the crowds would double while the quality of games would also improve.
Cut NBA players could also come over to Australia in the interest of rekindling careers in their off-season.
The NBA finals would be held a month into the season so the NBL could cash in on the expanded Basketball coverage.
Winter is also the time that most local basketball competitions are held in, and therefore this maximises the exposure the league receives.
As basketball stadiums are undercover, many would prefer this to sitting out watching your footy team in the rain.
The finals series would be held in October, the only month in this country where sport is at a minimum. This means the best teams with the best players would be playing where there is maximum exposure.
Use smart timeslots
If it is going to be in winter, be smart about it. AFL and NRL are always going to dominate the landscape, but there is no reason as to why the NBL can’t take advantage of that.
For example, West Sydney could host a game on Saturday Afternoon at Allphones Arena before a big NRL match next door at ANZ Stadium. This is an easy way to capture fans and add to crowd figures.
There are no Monday night matches in the AFL, so a Tigers home game could become a regular fixture on that night.
Adelaide rarely ever hosts Friday night AFL matches, so the 36ers could play a few games in that timeslot.
Doing this would also allow for larger TV audiences.
Regional games are crucial
Tend to markets with a low concentration of sports. While it may limit the exposure by having a single team in the one regional area, regional fixtures can only grow the game.
Hobart has no national professional sports teams. A team correctly set up here could not fail; Tasmanians are made about their sport and would take the opportunity to take it to their mainland counterparts.
While I don’t believe the Gold Coast is currently viable for an NBL team, the South Brisbane franchise could take a few games a season to the Gold Coast Convention Centre, while rivals North Brisbane would do the same with Cairns and Townsville.
These places could very well have their own franchise, but it would be smart to build up interest first and foremost and then look for a financially viable way to expand.
Expand links to other clubs
Basketball Australia and the NBL would need to merge once again. The WNBL would also be reformed somewhat to allow for a franchise to run a team there as well.
This will help to create a real family atmosphere and have the notion of one club for everything.
NBA affiliations could also be established while a Champions League-esque Asian Basketball Championship could be created as possibly a pre-season tournament or a reward for the top teams.
Free-to-air is essential
While internet TV is the way of the future, and Basketball Australia have succeeded in the NBL.tv project, free-to-air coverage is invaluable.
Channel Ten are simply not doing enough for the sport right now so it is time to look at other options.
Optimally, three games a week should be live while the rest could be replayed at a later date.
Basketball Australia may even have to pay the networks to cover NBL games and therefore get a favourable schedule before the league can stand by itself, but it is necessary it happens.
There are so many more suggestions people have come up with that would better the league I have missed out on. But I’m not alone in that category – the NBL has also missed out on them.
I really want to see basketball in this country succeed. With the likes of Andrew Bogut and Patty Mills playing in the NBA, and Dante Exum predicted to be a first-round draft pick, it’s not the development side of the game that needs fixing.
But to produce more of these players and become a major player ourselves in the world of basketball, the NBL needs to be fixed.
Can’t wait to see the Magic and the Tigers lock horns once again.