The way Basketball Australia has let the sport die here is nothing short of dismal… Back in the early 90’s, Basketball was one of the top 3 or 4 sports in this country and due to some poor decisions by the sports governing body and the National Basketball League it has seen this great sport fall off the radar.
That, mixed with the current situation facing Eddy Groves, one of the countries great entrepreneurs, founder of ABC Learning Centre… and owner of the Brisbane Bullets, who as Brian Kerle pointed out in Sundays Courier Mail, “it’s no secret he has (also) been propping up the NBL for some time” – the NBL is set for a very quick death.
Due to Groves current financial situation, thanks to an over zealous sell-off by the markets and subsequent margin calls… not only are the Brisbane Bullets on life-support, Groves also owns the basketball stadium in Adelaide and is understood to have a significant interest in the 36ers, therefore the South Australian franchise might also be under pressure.
Another of the countries most recognised clubs, the Sydney Kings, are also on the brink of collapse, and word around the camp-fire is that West Sydney Razorbacks and the Wollongong Hawks are also in deep financial trouble.
Acting NBL Commissioner Chuck Harmison said this week the NBL was not in crisis and “We are going through a review process which is going to deliver some findings on how we can become a stronger league and keep teams in the league for a longer term,”
Well Chuck, today’s post is my take on the situation, what caused the deterioration, and what the league, clubs and the sports governing body MUST DO to revive the basketball brand here is Australia.
As Tim Morrissey, so rightly pointed out in the Daily telegraph this week “The NBL should never have pushed Channel 10 into showing games live on a Saturday night.” The league was getting great weekend coverage on free-to-air TV… but in their eagerness to make the sport main-stream they pushed to hard and Channel 10 chose Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks and Melanie Griffiths, over the NBL to entertain their viewers on Saturday nights – and rightly so. The only sport in Australia that has the right to grab prime-time eyeballs is the AFL.
Trying to take on a country’s religion was never going to work… and that’s one of the key rules in business and marketing that they broke -Know Thy Competition. The decision makers at the time completely lost sight of their competition, the other people fighting for their markets attention.
The NBL not only competes for fans (read:customers) against the AFL, NRL, A-League etc, but their target market now have endless options when it comes to entertaining the family… and that’s what the NBL sells = Entertainment. It’s the Nintendo WII’s, the Foxtels and the Facebooks that are stealing the fans away.
It’s not about the sport itself anymore, it’s about making a trip to the basketball an experience the whole family can enjoy. The standard of the competition has unquestionably risen since the NBL’s peak, but given that attendance levels haven’t grown at the same rate, it proves that it’s not just about the sport.
The night out for the family begins when they arrive at the stadium, not when the umpire throws the ball up at the beginning of the first quarter. At a club level, the organisations need to keep this in mind when preparing their game nights.
Get the cheerleaders, mascots and street entertainers out walking the corridors prior to tip-off interacting with the fans – when I was 16 I went on a Basketball trip through the USA, and what I remember more about the Chicago Bulls game was the pre-game atmosphere – not Jordan and Longley on the court.
It’s this interaction with the fans that the NBL has let slip away… As Morrissey mentioned in his article, “the Kings (and all NBL clubs) should not have stopped sending their players out to schools and into the community on a weekly basis.”
Think about all the “hot” new trends that are taking kids away from basketball – Nintendo WII’s, Online Multi-player games like World-Of-Warcraft etc – It’s all about two-way interaction. Kids no longer want to go to get entertained by watching, they want to get involved with the game… and getting back to the grass roots and getting players back into the schools is the perfect way to make this happen.
And why the sports governing body refused to support, endorse and implement the (now) worlds leading basketball development program is beyond me. Billy Bounce is a basketball development program created by one of the NBL’s ex-players Bruce Hultgren, who since receiving little (read: absolutely no) support from Basketball Australia, has taken the program to the India, Dubai and the USA where it has been endorsed by Five Star Basketball – the world leader in basketball education programs.
But for this to happen, the NBL needs to re-think their scheduling, revert back to a winter sport and stop with this mid-week game rubbish. As Sam Mackinnon said in his recent article “It’s hard to get publicity about the new season when it starts right in the middle of the footy finals, and it’s also difficult to pump our finals series when it goes head-to-head with the start of the NRL and AFL seasons.”
The NBL thrived as a winter sport, as it got to compete with the AFL and NRL as the only major team sport played indoors over winter, and with scheduling mid-week games, players are never going to have the much needed opportunity to get out to schools. Get them back out to school to do clinics – invite the kids along for free (or at least at a discount) – and they will bring their parents, just like we did in the early 90s.
The week days must be set aside to grow the sport, get the players into the communities and schools (have I said it enough yet?) and revert back to mid-week evening training sessions… where fans can get along to watch the sessions and clubs can build the relationship between kids and families.
And don’t even get me started on ticket prices… I understand the economics of the situation – that they need to charge this to cover player salaries, but every other business in the world works like this: The employees (read: players) get paid in proportion to what revenues they generate… So the better the player = the more well known they become = the more fans they bring to the games = the more merch they sell = the more revenues they generate = and only then are they paid more…
Yes, lowering the contract value of players may mean we lose some to the big dollars in Europe, but I would rather see a financially strong league locally, than no league at all… Plus, as Mackinnon pointed out “we shouldn’t forget that by having a July-to-December season, more of Australia’s top players who apply their trade in Europe could play in the NBL before heading back.”
But the NBL seem to have it round the other way – they need to increase ticket prices to cover players exorbitant salaries. Ask the average joe in the street who the 4 highest paid NBL “stars” are, and I would strongly bet that they wouldn’t have a clue – most Australians still think Andrew Gaze is in the league.
And that leads me on to my final point – Where have the leagues personalities gone? Back in the NBL’s good-old-days, the league was full of characters.. the people who where not afraid to speak their mind and make the league great… Simon Kerle, Bruce Palmer, Ray Gordon, Andrew Parkinson and Tim Morresey. Give some of the league’s characters a voice, just like the NBA has done by embracing the technology the fans have and getting players to blog.
The NBL needs to invest in the players, create characters that kids want to latch on to – where has the Dwayne the D-train gone, or what about Alabama Slammer James Crawford.. I can’t name a single player in the NBL that has a persona… and that’s what’s missing – when it comes to Basketball in Australia there is nothing for the kids to latch onto.
So to the board of Basketball Australia and the NBL;
To fix this sport and revive the brand… follow these key steps:
- Know Thy Competition – it’s not the other sports, it the internet and Playstaion 3’s of the world.
- Understand you are selling entertainment, not basketball tickets
- Interact with your customers – every business must do this to survive.
- Realise it’s not about the sport (read: product), it’s about the experience.
- Create some Characters, that kids can latch onto
- Ask the right questions, to the right people. Bruce Hultgren is the only person in the world who has specialized in the field of junior basketball development since 1991… and not only is he Australian, he’s ex-NBL. The schools program the NBL clubs need to embrace is already developed… Just email him firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Get me on the board of the league or a club 😉