NBL back on boards and seeking prime time

NBL back on boards and seeking prime time

More teams, more games and an online presence are crucial says the Australian’s Sally Jackson

IT has been a decades-long timeout but, following an extensive restructure this year, the newly revived National Basketball League has a game plan to boost its media coverage and win back lost audiences.

New NBL chief executive Fraser Neill, at a Sydney Kings v Townsville Crocodiles game, says he hopes to double the number of teams within five seasons.

Under top sports administrator Fraser Neill, who signed as chief executive in October after stints running rugby union and racing, the NBL aims to match the profile and popularity of sports such as A-League soccer.
That would return basketball to a status it hasn’t enjoyed here since the early 1990s, when for a brief period it was one of Australia’s most popular spectator sports.
Then came the launch of payTV and the inexorable rise of the internet, which gave fans easy access to the dominant US NBA competition for the first time.

Neill said he believed the game had ‘‘rested on our laurels a bit’’.
‘‘And maybe took the media for granted,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s a very competitive market. A major focus for us is to drive the coverage in TV, print, radio and social media.
‘‘I do enviously look at what other sports are achieving. I look at the big boys, the AFL and the NRL, but also at what the A-League is getting, and the cricket. I’d love to have that sort of coverage.’’
A turning point for the NBL came in July, when it split from Basketball Australia and returned to self-government, a move its executives promised would reinvigorate the local professional league.
The local sport returned to free-to-air TV in its 2010-11 season when it signed a five-year deal with the Ten Network, which airs two games per week split between its main channel and digital channel One.
In the current season, now in its seventh week, the NBL is producing and supplying its own game coverage to Ten for the first time. It is also bypassing traditional platforms with its own online service NBL TV, which streams every game live through its website.
‘‘Reaching our fans through online mediums is definitely a priority for the NBL,’’ said NBL media head Paul Cochrane, a former senior sports journalist with Ten who joined the basketball body in September.
‘‘It has been a proven formula across all sports globally and . . . it is obviously the future in sports broadcasting and fan engagement. Our challenge is to best utilise the technology and integrate it into our future growth.’’
But first the sport has to rebuild. Currently there are only eight teams in the competition, a figure Neill said he aimed to double in five seasons.
A priority is launching a new Brisbane team to replace the Bullets, which folded in mid-2008 when owner Eddy Groves, the controversial childcare tycoon, went spectacularly bust.
‘‘We need consistent national media coverage,’’ Cochrane said. ‘‘Currently we have a whole pocket of southeast Queensland that is not catered to with an on-court product: that’s a big media market that isn’t captured.
‘‘Expansion has to be part of our strategy, but any growth will only be done under a fully sustainable model.’’
Neill would also like to see mid-week games added to the schedule and is mulling over changes to make the sport more entertaining, such as miking players and coaches and introducing rule changes to make games faster and higher-scoring.
‘‘We can make great TV product,’’ Neill said.

‘‘I’m seeing what is our product, what have we got to sell, what are the stories, how do we get it out and where is the market?
‘‘Our challenge is to . . . let people know the NBL is a great product, too, and it’s right in your backyard.’’