Three rounds into the Sal’s NBL 2019 season and there is a growing feeling around New Zealand that the National League is making great strides forward.
An increased visual presence and more accessible media coverage, a number of exciting games, a rise in player talent and a plethora of new initiatives has people talking NZ hoops.
Across five games played between ANZAC Day and last Sunday afternoon, more than 11,000 fans came through the turnstiles. Viewership across the league’s media partners and various platforms has more than doubled since last season. After three rounds the league has enjoyed more than 250,000 views, with additional numbers from SKY TV and Prime TV set to arrive soon and bolster those numbers even further.
There is a buzz around the elite-level of the game as one of New Zealand’s most participated sports starts to up the ante.
As he completes his third month in the top job since moving from Melbourne to Wellington in early February, NBL General Manager Justin Nelson is pleased with what he’s seeing.
“Before arriving I was very respectful of the longevity of the NZ NBL and the enormous passion for basketball the community has, they are two strengths that we will build on going forward,” said Nelson as he prepares for another big round of basketball, starting this Thursday night when the Canterbury Rams and Hawke’s Bay Hawks is beamed live across the nation on SKY and Prime TV.
Attending and watching up to four games each week, Nelson says he wants to take in as much basketball action as possible during his first season so he can work with the teams on lifting the bar when it comes to delivering a strong and sustainable product, higher levels of fan-engagement and putting on a show.
“There’s a lot of people working hard across every NBL team to put the show on and it’s amazing what can be done when everyone is pulling in the same direction,” explains Nelson, adding “There’s a growing feeling amongst all of us that the league is on the rise and I want to make sure I’m out there helping and working alongside every team as much as possible.
"Every team exists in its own market, so we aren't competing for the same customer, in fact by working together we can all enhance each other's business and increase the offering to the fans. It's always hard for teams in sport to lower the competitive shields away from the game, but we are making really good progress in that space."
It was recently announced the Final 4 will be heading to Christchurch for the first time in 20 years this July when Horncastle Arena plays host with its 6000 seats and Nelson wants “sell-outs both days."
"It’s the pinnacle of the league and we want the fans to let the hair down and have a great weekend.”
Excitingly, in recent days the NBL announced six entities have expressed an interest in joining the competition in 2020 and are now preparing formal bids to be a part of the action.
Based on the league’s 2023 Growth Strategy, the optimum NBL competition will have between 10 and 12 teams, so the chance of increasing on the current nine teams in 2020 is likely.
On the back of the Southern Huskies in Tasmania joining the competition this season, the NBL announced that two of the six parties interested in joining the league are also from Australia.
"It's early days, but it's good to see so much interest in teams wanting to join the league.
“There’s plenty of work ahead of us, but so far so good. We have a basketball-loving community who want to be engaged with the elite level, they want to be entertained and they see spending two hours with us at a game as great family fun,” said Nelson.
Images from last week’s game in Canterbury where hundreds of fans took to the court after the game to meet their favourite players highlights the message the league is pushing.
“All credit to the teams and the players, they are doing a great job engaging with the fans,” said Nelson, adding “We want everyone going to a game to know they can meet the home team on court afterwards for autographs and photos, it’s the cornerstone of what the Sal’s NBL stands for, we are a fans-first product and the players are the public face of that.
“They (players) are doing a fantastic job, I couldn’t be happier with their professionalism towards making the fans feel special and included in the league.”
So with rising crowds, more viewers and interest from new teams to join the league, what’s next?
According to Nelson the new initiatives and push to take the league to more fans more often is all about being prepared to work hard at it, and to that end it’s a relentless attitude to keep pushing for more of the same.
“The teams and the players are buying into the mantra that we all need to walk the talk and that comes down to working hard at it every single day and being relentless in our pursuit of consistently putting on a great show.
“You have to live and breathe this stuff every day. I'm very impressed by the work being done, but we need to keep pushing to ensure we maintain momentum in what is a very competitive market.”
The Sal’s NBL enters Round 4 this week with some more big games on the menu.
Thursday May 2 - Rams vs Hawks - 7:30pm
Friday May 3 - Airs vs Sharks - 7pm
Saturday May 4 - Giants vs Rangers - 7pm
Saturday May 4 - Huskies vs Saints - 7pm (9pm NZ time)
Sunday May 5 - Jets vs Sharks (3pm)