Sport Basketball A long, painful death for the NBL?
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A long, painful death for the NBL?

NBL crowd
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The NBL is destined to fail under the existing model.

League chairman Graeme Wade is clearly a man of considerable qualities.

Thirty years of consulting experience, in Mergers & Acquisitions and Government advisory, tells us the current Global President and Chairman of CPA Australia is no dill.

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His latest challenge, however, just may be his greatest.

There is business and there is the business of sport.

The latter is a unique beast many a well-qualified suit-and-tie superstar has failed to comprehend and conquer.

Basketball in Australia is on its knees. Its flagship elite competition the NBL is dying a slow, ugly death.

Arguably the country’s greatest ever player, Andrew Gaze, advocates shutting it down for 12 months. But such a move will only be a temporary band-aid solution to a sore that weeps continuously.

Basketball in Australia is a conundrum. How can something so popular with youth not translate to success at elite level? There are two reasons.

The first is that their private ownership model is a failure because it lacks the fundamentals of any successful sporting club in this country. The AFL, NRL and A-League have learned this over many decades.

The following critical success factors (CSF) are what the best clubs within these codes have in common.

1. They are membership-sensitive organisations providing the perception that their members own the club;

2. They have sustained on-field performance;

3. They have clean, financially-beneficial stadium rights allowing maximisation of revenue;

4. Their consistency of team performance and mass of support allows them to maximise their corporate revenue opportunities;

5. They position their brand clearly and actively engage the community in which they operate;

6. Their financial strength allows them to resource their business generously and professionally;

7. The player payments are mostly funded by the governing body through media rights thus providing security and surety; and

8. They build an asset base of a non-core revenue stream through gaming activities. Alternatively they are subsidised via the governing body who determine their requirements are in the best interest of the growth of their codes. AFL clubs in the northern markets are beneficiaries of these arrangements.

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New Zealand Breakers celebrate after winning the NBL Grand Final series against the Cairns Taipans earlier this month. Photo: Getty

Basketball has a governing body, however it has nothing to do with the game’s supposed flagship product. The NBL operates independently of this so there is no distribution to clubs.

The game relies on deep-pocketed individuals to fund clubs. This is unsustainable – the data does not lie.

Since the inception of the NBL in 1979, 32 clubs have become defunct.

The demise of Townsville and Wollongong and the murmurings about the financial losses Adelaide and Melbourne United are incurring smells crisis which impacts significantly on the critical success factors I refer to.

Only Perth and New Zealand stand out as organisations that seem from a distance to tick most of the CSF boxes.

Both are member-strong,  community-based clubs.

The second reason for the NBL’s failure is that Australians love the best of the best.

When Gaze, Lanard Copeland, Mark Bradke and co were doing their alley-oops for the Melbourne Tigers in the halcyon days we knew no other.

Now pay television delivers us the best from Europe and the United States at the click of a remote. We have some wonderful Australians playing over there. This will not change.

The NBL cannot attract Australians capable of earning the money overseas competitions pay.

Basketball Australia need to take accountability and step back into the fold to fix their problem.

It begins with accepting its place as a second-tier sport. Its niche now is to sit on the periphery as a vehicle for those not quite good enough to play at the elite level.

Perhaps a South East Australia Basketball League (SEABL) is the answer, where regionalised community clubs with strong support commercially play in boutique stadiums not reliant on individuals with deep pockets.

To attempt to do anything else, Mr Wade, is the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and expecting a different result!

Too much good is happening at grass roots for this to continue.

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