Remember Australian basketball?
Well it's a new season and the sport that has lingered a little in the shadows since the glory days of the early 1990s has hit the court running.
Looking bigger and better than it has for many years, the National Basketball League (NBL) has launched with purpose and intent for the 2015/2016 season.
This is Australia’s reincarnated, 21st century National Basketball League.
The man behind much of the new impetus is 35 year old lawyer and new General Manager of the NBL, Jeremy Loeliger.
"The new vision can be encapsulated in one word - Professionalism," he told The Huffington Post Australia.
"So the main changes we’ve been driving are all around that professionalism angle, recruiting the right people and demonstrating to both our fans, but also our players and most importantly to our corporate partners that we’re here to run this as a sustainable and professional business," he said.
Loeliger pointed out that reconnecting with the public is also one of the keys to success, but there are several ways to do it.
“All the research suggests that the Mums and Dads and kids are pretty loyal, rusted-on supporters and they love to go and actually spectate in the stadium,” he said, adding that there is also a drive, through technology, to attract the group in between.
“The slightly older demographic of 15-25 year olds -- we had to give them a reason to get along to games as well and to be more invested in, not so much the sport (because) they love basketball, but they need to be more invested in NBL.
"And so that’s the reason for our driving the new technological regime of the NBL I guess, our new website, which is much more sophisticated than the old one."
This is the strategy and innovation needed behind professional sport as a business in the modern era.
The NBL is basing this move on the understanding of the modern-day sports follower: spectator, broadcast viewer, interactive participant and the attraction, if not expectation, of information on demand -- be that by way of statistics, instant replays, game reviews and analysis, social media interaction or just live streaming.
But who are the fans watching on court?
The names the Australian public immediately recognise when talking basketball are Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova, Andrew Bogut and Joe Ingles among others, but they’re all still committed to their overseas contracts as are many of Australia’s top players.
Former player and Melbourne United Basketball Operations manager, now Fox Sports commentator, Tommy Greer says while the popularity of these elite Australian players has helped, it has not been the defining factor in this new move.
“The NBL was headed in this direction no matter the success of the Aussies overseas; but it’s been extremely helpful and the fact we had seven Aussies in the NBA last year definitely helped put basketball back on the map in the minds of young kids without doubt and basketball has now moved into the number two spot for participation rates among kids,” he said.
The business thinking that has gone into the new NBL structure, both on and off the court, is impressive. There is a purpose and a strategy in place with thoughts already towards enhancing the new product.
The crowning glory for the NBL management in preparing this new version of the competition has been the sealing of television deals for both pay and free-to-air coverage: Fox Sports will broadcast every game live while the Nine Network will be airing the 3pm feature match on Sundays.
Greer says the increased media exposure through the live broadcasts is a bigger deal than people perhaps understand.
“I think having our game broadcast throughout the week is really going to put the sport back on the map and I think with that will come the player profiles. People will start to identify with the players in the League and hopefully they will start to become household names,” he said.
The first weekend of the season has come and gone with mixed results for most of the eight teams -- which is actually good for the NBL.
Loeliger said attracting talented imports was part of the plan but that retaining our native talent was also important.
"We’ve got so much exceptional talent here in Australia that we’ve lost a lot of guys to Europe and to Asia and to the NBA -- this year you’ve seen a lot of them come back to Australia
With U.S. imports such as Hakim Warrick on the list for Melbourne United and the Illawarra Hawks recruiting strong Aussie talent the coming weeks will be interesting to watch as the competition settles.Suggest a correction