NBL chief, Larry Kestelman spoke to media recently about the prospect of expanding the league through investment from AFL and NRL clubs, in what would be a groundbreaking initiative in growing the NBL.
The fan in me loves the romanticism of sport. The whole ‘any given Sunday’, ‘Cinderella story’, ‘local boy come good’, or any other cliche-filled narrative. While we in the media can paint that picture, sports is primarily a business; A sweaty billboard for any company willing to put their name to it. It may take the romanticism out of it, but there is a reason it is called professional sports.
One of the significant resources that Larry Kestelman has brought the NBL is being able to run it like a viable business with room for growth. Some decisions may initially rub some people up the wrong way, but it has worked. Well, to only say ‘it has worked’ undersells Kestelman’s achievements.
Any Australian basketball fan knows that expansion is the grand plan for the NBL. Kestelman has often discussed increasing the number of teams throughout his tenure. Asia has been mentioned, among other options throughout the country. Kestelman spoke to media again this week about prospects for growth in the NBL. “I’m not interested in hobbyists that love basketball and think they just want to own a basketball club. I’m interested in business models and how business people run it”.
The statement seems simple enough, a hoops tragic who wants to run a side for the sake of running a team should stick to playing 2k18. Kestelman then introduced a concept that could be a much-needed boost to the league, and Australian sports as a whole.
“The other very interesting model to me, and we’re in discussions and have been approached by a number, is actually for other sporting organisations to own the licence. Preferably the ones that play in the (basketball) off-season.” – Larry Kestelman
Expanding the NBL through both AFL and NRL teams. Genius.
Why it will work
Sporting clubs are not a new concept by any means, although professional sporting clubs in Australia are not as standard as they are overseas. On mainland Europe, most of the famous soccer clubs also have affiliates in other codes. Real Madrid and Barcelona rule La Liga (soccer), and Liga ACB (basketball) simultaneously. The same goes for clubs in Germany, Italy, Turkey, Russia, Isreal, Greece, and everywhere in-between. Even in America, private holding companies own teams in many codes. Pegula Sports and Entertainment own an NFL team and an NHL team. The system works.
It is a concept that may seem foreign to Australians on the professional scene. However, almost every country Australian football club has a netball affiliate, and possibly even a cricket one too. The professional model is just that on steroids, and the movement has already started with our professional sports.
AFL clubs, Collingwood and the GWS Giants, both have teams in the Suncorp Super Netball League. The Melbourne Storm are also part-owners of Netball side the Sunshine Coast Lightning, along with partnering with the City Football Group owning Melbourne City.
What the AFL and NRL clubs have to offer
Kestelman spoke of the roles that AFL and NRL clubs could play in the NBL:
“AFL clubs and NRL clubs, so someone like the Melbourne Storm, make a lot of sense because they have all the infrastructure and everything they need. For them to operate a basketball club is very simple.
“They already have big membership bases, employees, high performance, gyms, pools – everything they need. It’s literally a matter of putting a team together.” – Larry Kestelman.
The idea makes sense. New clubs share facilities and fan bases. This initial advantage is significant for the NBL, while the AFL have the opportunity to create a more profitable basketball side. An NBL side owned by an AFL club will have lower running costs than a team starting from scratch. From the initial advantages, the room for growth is enormous. Attaching ourselves to the most prominent leagues in the country can only be a good thing. Along with this, the AFL and NRL have excelled in the creating of pathways for young players, something which needs to improve in basketball.
While it may be a while before we see a Carlton Blues or a West Coast Eagles in the AFL, expanding the league with other codes’ ownership is the most promising option for NBL expansion yet.