Forget the bandaids, the NBL needs genuine reform

Michael DiFabrizio Columnist

By Michael DiFabrizio, Michael DiFabrizio is a Roar Expert

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8 Have your say

    Dragons Victory - photo by Joseph Sirucka

    Dragons Victory - photo by Joseph Sirucka

    Late last week, the South Dragons pulled out of the 2009/10 basketball season. A few days later, the Melbourne Tigers joined them. By that point, it seemed like finally someone in the sport had the foresight to say enough is enough. Pity it didn’t last.

    Now Basketball Australia is forging ahead with the teams that didn’t pull out.

    BA’s seeking a new team in Melbourne, possibly sourced from the associations.

    Basketball Australia’s chief Larry Sengstock scoffed at the notion of taking a year off, á la football, replying: “I think there’s another model you could look at – baseball – that shut down their league, and hasn’t recovered.”

    And doesn’t that just fill you with confidence? Basketball’s now comparing itself to baseball, of all sports.

    If it didn’t have the ability to tear the sport apart, it’d almost be funny.

    But as of Wednesday, the boss of the Melbourne Tigers, Seamus McPeake, didn’t rule out the possibility of a rebel league.

    “Look, at the end of the day, that may be their call but I can assure you there are enough people around nationally that we will end up going with a league on our own against them, and let’s see who’s professional and who runs a better show,” he told SEN.

    “It would be pretty sad if it gets to that, but if that’s how they want to drive it, bring it on.”

    When asked about BA’s plans to continue with a season, his response was blunt: “It’s absolutely impossible for any club to make money moving forward on the conditions that were presented to me.”

    Evidently, the words “profitable” and “NBL club” don’t have to be an oxymoron. Since McPeake took over, the Tigers have been able to string together a healthy profit-making streak. That was, incidentally, until last year.

    According to McPeake, no club made a profit under last year’s model.

    Last year, there was just one game per week on Foxtel. There was no major sponsor. There was no team in Brisbane and Sydney was served only by the Spirit.

    This year, it is likely to be the same or worse on all fronts.

    Last year, with the review yet to be tabled and a crisis in both Brisbane and Sydney, management pushed ahead with a makeshift season, put together against the clock.

    This year, the term “makeshift season” is even more applicable.

    Is history repeating?

    Now fair enough, the league can’t fully replicate what happened with the A-League. But the aim of landing somewhere in between netball’s ANZ Championship and the A-League is certainly attainable.

    It would be a heck of a lot closer to the mark than any comparisons with baseball, that’s for sure.

    Right now in Melbourne, there aren’t enough courts to satisfy the number of kids that are playing the game. Nationwide, the participation levels surpass those of AFL, rugby league or rugby union.

    Over in the States, there are more Australians playing college basketball than any other foreign nationality.

    Over at FIBA, Australia’s ranked as the second-strongest nation in the world across both genders.

    They’ve got the participants. They’ve got the talent. What they don’t have is the capacity to properly market what they’ve got.

    Basketball deserves so much more than the state it’s currently in. It certainly deserves more the make-it-up-as-we-go-along reform offered by Basketball Australia.

    In his letter to supporters on the weekend, Dragons co-owner Raphael Germinder outlined what the clubs were promised in the new league.

    “Its charter was to deliver financial stability, broadcasting of all games, government funding, a new governance and leadership group, a viable budget to connect with community and market the game, adequate player salaries … and finally playing a different time of year,” he said.

    Financial stability clearly isn’t a feature of the proposed league. Broadcasting of all games isn’t a feature. Government funding is yet to be approved. The introduction of new leadership took its time and hasn’t fully occurred, according to some players.

    Viable isn’t a word that jumps to mind when describing the league, the player salaries aren’t as high as first mooted and as for playing a different time of year – starting in October instead of September doesn’t really count, does it?

    One of the main reasons for this failure was time. The change in leadership was a slow and drawn-out process. The administration also had to divert its attention to issues with the NBL, such as the demise of the Sydney Spirit and the temporary fall-out with the Cairns Taipans.

    Once the NBL season finished, it was like a weight had been lifted off the shoulders of BA and its reform. But by then, it was too late.

    At the end of the day, the 2009/10 season (if it even eventuates) will be no more than another bandaid solution. Just like last year. Just like a number of other examples throughout the sport’s history.

    Now is the time to take stock, and to finally deliver some serious reform.

    Michael DiFabrizio
    Michael DiFabrizio

    Michael DiFabrizio is based in Mildura, Victoria. He has been an expert columnist at The Roar since 2009, leading to appearances on ABC News 24 and in the Age. Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelDiFab.

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    The Crowd Says (8)

    • May 15th 2009 @ 9:22am
      YT said | May 15th 2009 @ 9:22am | ! Report

      Was it the circumstances of last year that caused McPeake’s golden goose to suddenly become un-profitable as you “incidentally” infer, or was it the fact that he blatantly over-spent on the salary cap.

      Simple accounting: if your expenses are more than your revenue, don’t spend more. Please don’t justify the excesses of these owners and look to blame it on the organisation. Investigate the connection between the ego-driven owners group and the demise of the NBL, you’ll see they were the ones who accepted Tim Johnstone; they were the ones who realised the weakness of their own group to adminster the points and salary cap; and they’re the ones who after committing to the reform showed all the fortitude and support of a rubber band.

      No the game will survive without them. Yes, it will be something different, but personally I don’t want or need a select few telling me what product I should be consuming. The game in all of its other properties (WNBL, ABA, Juniors, International Teams) is doing just fine, this is the only thing that stinks, and the reason comes down to private owners, not those looking to return it to the community.

    • May 15th 2009 @ 11:06am
      Midfielder said | May 15th 2009 @ 11:06am | ! Report

      I think from someone outside looking in I get the feeling those running basketball overstate who / what they are in the Australian sporting landscape and then fall short of achievable targets and growth as they are always seen to be failing.

      I would step down the league to an affordable one played over a 6 months and forget the US season and build it up using local talent from ground zero. Let it grow to what it will become … its like Basketball is … Demanding respect … rather than Commanding respect … and therefore I see almost certain failure as there appears almost no change to the already tried and failed business model now being used.

    • Columnist

      May 15th 2009 @ 1:39pm
      Michael DiFabrizio said | May 15th 2009 @ 1:39pm | ! Report

      YT, it’s good to see your passion for the game.

      You’re right to say the owners have a lot to answer for, they historically have catered to their own interests and not necessarily what’s best for the game. Although a lot of that is in the past now — there’s been too much said/written over the last 7 days about what happened in the past, so I’m not going to focus on that too much.

      As for the profitability situation, it wasn’t just the Tigers. According to McPeake, no club made a profit. That would include the Townsville Crocs, who pride themselves on the face they have broke even or recorded a profit in each year of their existence. You wouldn’t accuse them of spending over the cap. And even the thought of the Tigers not making money is hard to fathom — McPeake isn’t in it (and never has been) to lose money.

      • September 8th 2013 @ 12:00pm
        Lisa Mac said | September 8th 2013 @ 12:00pm | ! Report

        Michael DiFabrizio – I love your style of writing, particularly in this field! I am currently writing a paper on the entire reform process of BA from 2000 – 2013, and have cited some of your work! If you would like to read it when its done next week, Id be more than happy to share my views on the failed reform process!!!!

    • May 16th 2009 @ 12:38am
      Glen said | May 16th 2009 @ 12:38am | ! Report

      No basketball club in Australia will ever make a profit… It’s just not an Aussie sport! Sorry to burst your bubble, but basketball has tried to break it into the Aussie sporting/ENTERTAIMENT sphere for more than 20 years and has actually gone backwards. I remember going to see Larry Senstock, Leroy Loggins and a whole troupe of others play for the Brisbane Bullets at the entertainment centre in Brisbane in the heyday and it was huge but…. it was all focused on the corporate box receipts. The game was just a sideshow to the hospitality. The novelty of a North American non-contact, predominately non-caucasion, sport with a break every 15 seconds was just too weird for the average footy-loving punter. Anyway, good luck!

    • May 16th 2009 @ 1:25pm
      Clint Dogg said | May 16th 2009 @ 1:25pm | ! Report

      No Melb Tigers, Brisbane Bullets or Sydney Kings = NO NBL!.

    • May 17th 2009 @ 5:50pm
      Timmuh said | May 17th 2009 @ 5:50pm | ! Report

      I’m not really much of a basketball fan, especially since the Devils were killed off over a decade ago. But neither do I like the idea of seeing sporting codes die.
      With the advent of One and Fox, could a new NBL look at a mid-week schedule. Play rounds over Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday nights in winter with no football to compete against. Bound to get some free to air coverage on One and might fill a local sporting void for Fox midweek as well.

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