It’s crunch time as the new-look NBL tips off
The NBL season tips off tonight, and if you didn’t already know that, you’re not alone. The league is still far removed from the days when the season opener would grab the casual sports fan’s attention. However, with both free-to-air TV and the Sydney Kings returning, tonight does provide plenty of cause for optimism.
It won’t mark a return to the glory days – when free-to-air coverage and the Kings were both staples of the league – but it will definitely show that a few steps in the right direction have been taken. And after years of almost exclusively moving the other way, that can only be a good thing.
The five-year TV deal with Ten and One HD is perhaps the most positive change to have taken place.
One will broadcast games this season on Fridays and Sundays, as well as often showing a third game from New Zealand. Additionally, One’s parent channel Ten has even been locked in to show the Melbourne-Sydney clash on Australia Day and could potentially air other games as well.
The new arrangement seems like a vast improvement on recent deals with Fox Sports, which featured less coverage and, as is the case with pay TV, a smaller potential viewing audience.
Still, One has its critics. It’s not available in all areas and there is concern over the fact Townsville will only have four of their games broadcast this season (in comparison to Sydney’s 20).
However, with more reach and coverage, as well as increased levels of coverage in years to come, it does seem like this is the TV deal the league has been crying out for.
The Kings’ return, meanwhile, is undoubtedly important. Last season the league had no presence at all in Australia’s biggest city and the season before that, it was up to the ultimately unsuccessful Sydney Spirit experiment to fly basketball’s flag.
Both scenarios were unacceptable and while the Kings won’t be selling out the Kingdome every week, having them back in the NBL is a definite improvement on years gone by.
There’s a long road ahead, of course. On Monday, for example, the basketball pages on the Daily Telegraph and Sydney Morning Herald websites – which were hard enough to locate in the first place – featured almost no Kings-related content, just days away from the season opener.
Encouragingly, despite the lack of media focus, it was announced earlier in the week that 7000 tickets had been sold to Saturday’s first home game. The real test, though, will be whether the crowds stick around after that.
For Basketball Australia, while the return of the Kings should be celebrated, the issue of not having a presence in Australia’s third-biggest city, Brisbane, remains. As does the issue of the Tigers being Melbourne’s sole representative (it’s foolish to suggest fans of the Magic, Giants, Titans and Dragons would be willing to support the one team they all loathe).
But reform was never meant to be a quick process. Hopefully they find a way to fill these voids soon enough.
BA have certainly done a good job on the sponsorship front this year – signing up iiNet as the NBL’s major sponsor and announcing other key partnerships, including a league-wide apparel deal – so it’s not like the current administration aren’t getting runs on the board.
On the court, meanwhile, the NBL has lost arguably its most marketable player in American Corey “Homicide” Williams. He would’ve been perfect for the league in a market like Sydney – or even just travelling the country as a Townsville player again – but alas, the colourful import will be plying his trade elsewhere this season.
That disappointment aside, however, quite a few Aussies abroad have decided to return and we should see another competitive season – we might even get a repeat of last year’s ultra-tight finals race.
Perth are the hot tip to claim a second-straight title. New Zealand’s stocks have gone up with Kirk Penney released by the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. Gold Coast, with Mark Worthington on board, have potential. The same can be said of Townsville and Melbourne.
With only nine teams in the league, it’s bound to be close.
It’s not quite the glory days, and no one’s pretending it is. But for the first time in a while, basketball seems to be on the right track. Crucial pieces of the puzzle – from having a competent administration to being on free-to-air to having a quality presence in Sydney – are starting to come together.
And as a basketball fan, that will make tonight all the more enjoyable.
Michael DiFabrizio is completing his journalism degree. As an AFL writer, he has been an expert columnist at The Roar since 2009, and appeared in The Age and on ABC television and radio. Follow Michael on twitter @mdifabrizio
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