Where will the next NBL expansion team go?

Where will the next NBL expansion team go?

Larry Kestleman, CEO of the NBL, has stated that he wants more clubs in the league within the next few years which is set to be especially thrilling for people who live in areas that might gain a new club.


However, the biggest question is: where should these new teams be located? Every city believes that they should get one, but some factors could make or break their chances of capturing a coveted NBL license.




It’s no surprise that the five largest Australian cities each have an NBL side, while Wollongong is still in the top ten.  The biggest surprise is that the Taipans reside in a town with just over 150,000 citizens.  There are much larger cities in the country that have had teams and folded due to poor attendance.  Luckily for Cairns, their community is extremely strong and receptive, keeping the club in the league for eighteen years.



Top Twenty Greater Capital City Areas (* – NBL team)

City Population City Population
Sydney* 5,029,768 Hobart 224,462
Melbourne* 4,725,316 Geelong 192,393
Brisbane* 2,360,241 Townsville 178,864
Perth* 2,022,044 Cairns* 150,041
Adelaide* 1,324,279 Darwin 145,916
Gold Coast 646,983 Toowoomba 114,024
Newcastle 436,171 Ballarat 101,588
Canberra 435,019 Bendigo 95,587
Sunshine Coast 317,404 Albury-Wodonga 90,576
Wollongong* 295,669 Launceston 86,335


It seems logical that the bigger the city, the more basketball fans would inhabit it.  This kind of thinking would give the smaller cities a significantly tougher challenge in acquiring and keeping an NBL team.



AFL Alignment

There has been a lot of talk, and many articles written about the possible involvement of Australian Rules Football clubs creating AFL backed NBL teams, just like Collingwood and GWS have licenses in the Super Netball league.


This scenario opens up many advantages and a few downsides.  On the plus side, it automatically brings a brand name with fans and an experienced front office to get past the painful early years. 


On the negative, it gives a free-for-all for AFL teams to poach players from the NBL to play football.  There are already many basketballers who transferred to AFL, with Scott Pendlebury being a famous case.  It also robs the new team of creating and sculpting their brand, as the team would not be able to find their own culture if it came with the history and reputation of the AFL club.


One argument for AFL involvement is the far-reaching exposure, not just in a team’s home city, but all around the country.  North Melbourne and Hawthorn play games in Tasmania, GWS has matches in Canberra and Sydney has influence all throughout New South Wales.  If an AFL club decides to apply for an NBL license, why not the Canberra Giants to work with encouragement and impact of the GWS Giants?  The Giants’ home games in Canberra were only 1000 less than at their home ground, Spotless Stadium.



Other Sports

A good way to gauge a team’s feasibility in a new city is to see how other sporting teams are faring in that area.  It would be reasonable for fans of another sport to start following a new NBL team, especially with the influx of popularity of basketball lately.


To do this, the four biggest sporting leagues in the country will be compared: AFL, NRL, Big Bash and A-League.  Excluding cities that already have an NBL team (see below), here is a lowdown on the teams:



Team Average Home Attendance Capacity Filled
Geelong Cats 35,111 97.53%
Gold Coast Suns 13,663 54.65%
League Average 34,010 61.93%


There are only two cities that compete in the AFL that doesn’t belong to a city with an NBL team, Geelong and the Gold Coast.  This data doesn’t give an accurate picture as there just isn’t enough cities with an AFL team. 


It does say that for the sixth most populated city in the country, the Suns are second last in the league for average attendance which is concerning.  However, that might be due to the team only joined the competition in 2011 and have not seen success to recruit bandwagon fans.



Team Average Home Attendance Capacity Filled
Canberra Raiders 14,100 56.38%
Gold Coast Titans 13,688 49.96%
Newcastle Knights 15,619 47.33%
North Queensland Cowboys 16,512 62.31%
League Average 15,167 50.40%


Again, only a low number of teams are from non-NBL cities with only four of the sixteen NRL squads, but it’s a great sign to see all four NRL teams are around the league average.  All four teams would be higher or just near the average if not for the Brisbane Broncos, who have 14,000 more fans than any other team in the league.

Big Bash League

Team Average Home Attendance Capacity Filled
Hobart Hurricanes 17,570 90.10%
League Average 30,533 74.10%


Only one team this time for a non-NBL city, and even though they have the lowest average home attendance, the Hurricanes sell over 90% of their capacity.  That is good for second highest in the league (behind the Sydney Thunder) and shows that there is a demand for high-quality sporting events in Tasmania.



Team Average Home Attendance Capacity Filled
Central Coast Mariners 7,848 39.12%
Newcastle Jets 9,586 29.05%
Wellington Phoenix 6,359 18.43%
Average 11,690 42.91%


It may be an indictment of the A-League in general, but the crowds are much lower than the other sports.  The reasons could be a lack of support for elite soccer in Australia, or more likely the teams playing at stadiums that the teams aren’t capable of filling.  Brisbane Roar plays at Suncorp Stadium, which can hold 52,500 fans but the team only has an average home attendance of 9,214.



Second City Teams

In other sports, the local derby is a massive spectacle.  The Melbourne Stars vs Renegades Big Bash game almost always sell out, while the battles between Adelaide and Port Adelaide are hotly contested.  A long time ago, the NBL had such contests, and they were brilliant.


In Melbourne, a fan would be either a Tiger, a Giant or a Magician.  There was no cross contamination.  So with the news that the Melbourne suburb of Knox is making a huge push for a second Melbourne team, the intertown rivalry could be back in force.  The East of Melbourne, where Knox is located, has been called “strongest area in Australia in regard to basketball participation and numbers” and would be one of the most suitable settings for a new team.  Being out in the East, with Melbourne United playing at Hisense Arena in the city, would negate the issue of stepping on each other’s toes and give both teams their own, separate identity.


Another city that has been discussed for a new NBL team is Perth.  The Wildcats games are constantly sold out, and they lead the league in average home attendance by a wide margin.  It makes sense to capitalise on that popularity out west. 


The Fremantle Dockers AFL team have been rumoured to be seeking an NBL side and would bring all the advantages from earlier in this article.  The downside is that Perth is definitely Wildcat territory, judging by the manic fans at home games and online.  It may be possible that Perth will reject another team, as it would seem blasphemous to barrack for someone other than the Wildcats.


Previous Teams

Whenever the subject of expansion is discussed, there is always the chorus of “Bring back (insert defunct team)!”  Whether it be the Newcastle Falcons, Hobart Devils, Townsville Crocodiles, South Dragons and even the Melbourne Tigers, there will always be someone who wants the glory days back. 


This reasoning would be very low, if not the lowest, reason to give a city an NBL team and as much as people ask for it, giving a team to a city because it used to have one is not going to happen.



It seems that NBL expansion is a matter of “when, not if”, and “sooner, rather than later”.  It seems that there will be at least two new teams joining the league in the next few years.  The most probable outcome is that there will be one new Melbourne side, but other than that it’s up in the air. 


Will an AFL side dip their fingers in the best basketball league in the country?  Highly possible.


Will Canberra, Hobart or Newcastle get a second chance?  There is a good chance.


Will Melbourne revert from the United to the Tigers?  Highly unlikely.


Whatever cities gain the new NBL licenses, the discussion will be long and exhaustive.  This league has lost many, many teams in the past and it would be horrible for any to go under now.  The sport of basketball is growing at a rapid pace, so hopefully bringing new teams to new cities will increase the exposure of the sport to more people and sponsors.


Author: Kyle Abbott (85 Posts)

Kyle has barracked for the North Melbourne Giants, Victoria Titans, Victoria Giants and the South Dragons. He's hoping the Melbourne United don't fold like the rest of them