There is no NBL all-star weekend this year. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, there has only been 1 NBL All-Star game since 2008.
But why? The last time the fans were asked if they wanted an All-Star game 90% of fans wanted to see the All-Star game back, So why is it that the league puts little effort into putting these games together?
This season Larry Kestelman took over an unstable league which had 25% of the league, Townsville and Illawarra, unable to fund an NBL (it’s a sad fact two teams make up 25% of our league, but that’s another article) and Adelaide and Sydney understood to be over $1 million in debt.
Kestelman has no doubt had his focus (and rightly so) on making sure 8 teams play the full amount of regular season games instead of promoting a meaningless exhibition game so it’s fair we give the NBL executive director a pass this season.
But even before that, it’s been difficult for the league to deliver an All-Star game no matter what percent of fans want to see it.
In recent past 10 years, the few All-Star games have been poorly attended. The most recent game in Adelaide saw a modest crowd of approx. 4,300 attend and previous All-Star game held in 2012 wasn’t able to sell out the 3,500 seated State Netball and Hockey Centre.
Furthermore, ratings generally see the games viewed by far less than the general audience who watch an NBL regular season game.
Flying in 20-30 people from teams across the country is a huge investment and when that’s combined with poor attendance, low TV ratings and team owners who dislike the idea of their star players being injured in a game which makes no difference to a team’s success.
What could be a potential solution?
Playing an all-star game at the end of the season has been discussed previously in an attempt to remove some of the issues around the game.
This has many problems, the largest being that most NBL imports have left the country for their playing gig at that time of the year. It’s not uncommon for NBL imports to exit the country before their team’s award’s nights, let alone an exhibition game. God forbid a player, be injured in this game when an import player is in between playing jobs, taking away his ability to earn a living.
How about a “state of origin” type game, it’s been mentioned before. Sure it could be organised, but with strong basketball representation in all 8 states and territories, this means an “origin” tournament would include as many teams as NBL teams and why would you launch a “new” basketball concept when we are still trying to get the current one right.
Sure it wouldn’t feature star imports, but it could include our future NBA and Boomer’s talents like Ben Simmons, Thon Maker, Jonah Bolden, etc. who would be available and quite possibly already be enjoying an offseason in Australia.
Throw in some of our leagues’ most talented young players like Majok Majok, Mitch Norton, Mitch Creek and a few select tyros from the Center of Excellence (Australian Institute of Sport) like Dejan Vasiljevic or Will Mcdowell-White we’ve got a game on our hands.
The game would no doubt be an athletic contest with all those young legs. The game would also be likely well attended if the recent Louisiana State University tour with Ben Simmons is anything to go off. Simmons and a bunch of under 23 kids from LSU were able to draw strong crowds in Sydney, Newcastle and sell out a 10,000 seat venue in Melbourne.
The allure of seeing a “future NBA star” can sell tickets. Maybe even more than what the common NBL all-star game could produce. It would be a game where fans get to see NBL players face fresh faces also.
With our current league, set-up teams face each other 3-4 times and then if they make the finals there’s a reality that fans see their NBL team play an opponent 7 times in 6 months. Seeing the same names, jerseys and faces can lose its lustre at some point.
This game would include the allure of seeing “fresh” players you don’t generally see, like a Ben Simmons, Jonah Bolden take on some your favourite NBL players.
To bolster the game perhaps a slam dunk competition and three-point shootout could be held at halftime or the end of the game.
Imagine Ben Simmons vs. Thon Maker in the Dunk Competition finals, something sure to get recognition on ESPN and every other sports panel show across the world.
Perhaps 1-2 spots in the dunk contest are presented to winners of a social media competition where players from across Australia send in YouTube video. The best dunkers being selected to dunk against Simmons and Maker.
An exhibition is a very different concept than a regular season game where victories mean something and rivalries exist.
To compensate for that, would an Under-23 “Future Forces” type game be faster, athletic and entertaining? Most likely.
Would it have a fresh feel and a “star quality”? With college and AIS talent being included most definitely.
Would it deliver a financial return? Unknown, but it’s clear a game like this would be much cheaper to present and would have a lot less riding on it than an NBL All-Star game.
This is clearly a low-risk option to promote the game in our country. The chance to see some of our finest hoops talent and atmosphere of a capacity crowd excited to see a Ben Simmons or Thon Maker play in front of an Aussie crowd before their heading to Europe or the NBA for the next decade.
Of course there are hurdles to this. Most glaringly, why would the NBL invest money into something which is promoting players who are not a part of the NBL. But a game focused on young talent could surely be something that Basketball Australia and The Australian Institute of Sport could see benefits in a look at supporting alongside the NBL.
This could be a huge marketing opportunity for universities, not just Australian Universities but wouldn’t international Universities, perhaps US colleges, benefit by promoting an event like. An event where thousands of potential university students, who obviously love US sports, may be persuaded to study at their university.
There’s a lot of upside in something like this, perhaps next season when Larry and the NBL have 12 months to plan an NBL schedule we could see something like this if the common All-Star concept is again deemed a lot of hard work for little reward.