What can the British Basketball League learn from Australia?
Only a few short years ago, Australia’s National Basketball League (NBL) was on its knees . Close to half the League’s teams were close to folding, if they hadn’t already, and sponsors were harder than ever to attract. In stepped multi-millionaire Larry Kestleman, who paid approximately $7 million for the League, charting a new course for growth.
Matt O’Brien was appointed NBL Chief Commercial Officer, having previously been head of sponsorship at NBA franchise the Cleveland Cavaliers for 5 years. In 2017, they generated US $280 million in revenue, the sixth-highest in the NBA. O’Brien was involved in signing Goodyear Tyres as the Cavs’ first-ever jersey sponsor last year, reported to be the second-largest in the NBA. It’s no surprise the NBL now has an abundance of reputable sponsors including Burger King (naming rights), Qantas (Australia’s largest airline) and Under Armour (American sports apparel giant).
Alongside sponsorship deals, the NBL have recognised the importance of broadcasting the league on free to air television in order to grow the sport. It’s a necessary action if they want to compete with Australian Rules Football, National Rugby League, A-League Football and cricket’s Big Bash League.
Since Kestleman’s takeover, NBL teams now travel to the United States to play NBA teams during their pre-season schedules making a three-game series against some of the world’s best players a reality. The games have so far proven to be an invaluable opportunity for the NBL to prove they can keep up with NBA calibre players. It benefits the NBL by putting it firmly on the map and proves it can be a viable path for players looking to pursue an NBA career. Terrance Ferguson is proof of this when he signed with the Adelaide 36ers for the 2016/17 season as an NBA prospect. He was snapped up in the first round at pick no.21 by NBA franchise Oklahoma City Thunder after playing just one season in the NBL.
Along with the attracting big name sponsors and striking vital broadcast deals, the NBL has now turned its attention to bringing in players who will attract bigger crowds. Former no.1 NBA draft pick and 13 year veteran Andrew Bogut recently decided to spend his remaining years with the Sydney Kings. He could have easily signed with another NBA franchise, or in Europe/China to maximise his career earnings. Instead, he decided to offer his experience on helping the NBL on its mission to be regarded as one of the biggest basketball leagues outside of the NBA.
Basketball in Australia is in the best state it’s been for over a decade. The NBL has achieved record attendances and created a globally reputable league. 8 Australians currently play in the NBA, adding to its popularity in the country. Even more so when one of the eight players is Ben Simmons, former NBA no.1 draft pick and touted as the next Lebron James. Simmons’ first year in the NBA was astonishing, posting huge numbers and claiming the NBA Rookie of the Year award.
More Australians than ever are watching Ben Simmons in the NBA. Aussies lead the way when it comes to NBA consumption with more NBA League Pass subscriptions per capita than any other country in the world excluding America.
When you consider where the NBL has come from, it is hard to argue with Australian Basketball’s chosen model. Basketball in the U.K is constantly mooted as having untapped potential. Grassroots participation is huge and the NBA London game has sold out for the last 8 years. Should the British Basketball League be looking to Australia for lessons on how to develop the game?