NBA popularity in Australia won’t grow the NBL

3 minute read

Why has the NBL struggled in recent times when there seems to be more basketball fans in Australia than ever before?

It’s generally assumed the popularity of the NBA in Australia would create growth in the local pro league.

Perhaps this is a false dichotomy — the NBL and NBA are mutually exclusive — with many choosing the latter.

You only need to look at the hundreds of hoop fans camped out to see Melbourne-born NBA All-Star Kyrie Irving a few months back.

According to the NBA, Australia has the largest amount of League Pass subscribers than any other country outside the United States.

In fact, basketball has high participation rates in Australia, particularly among children.

There’s quite a lot to like about the NBL this year; a new approach to officiating, promising imports and the hope of stability.

Australia is even producing quality players with three featuring in the NBA last season; Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills and Aron Baynes — and that will likely surge to four, with Matthew Dellavedova poised to take the third guard spot at Cleveland.

Dante Exum was shown to the world at the 2013 Nike Hoop Summit, and if you saw the FIBA U19 Championships in Prague, you’ll understand why he’s touted as a top five NBA draft pick in 2014 — if he doesn’t choose to go to college.

Then there’s Ben Simmons, eligible for the 2016 draft, who is cutting his teeth in high school ball at Montverde Academy in Florida, and will without doubt receive offers from some of the best college teams in the States.

So why, then, has the NBL regressed more than any other professional sporting code in Australia given the popularity of the sport?

It’s possible the NBA is proving to be a competitor rather than a comrade.

The two leagues coincide with each other over the Australian summer, and in a generation where NBA content is at our fingertips, many choose the best quality product.

As part of their global push, the NBA is currently hosting a number of preseason games — tours, in fact — throughout Europe and Asia.

Pundits have long called for preseason games in Australia to create buzz around the game in Australia.

The notion of the NBA coming to Australia is welcome, but whether or not it has long-term benefits for the NBL is still questionable.

NBA players visiting Australia and the wide availability hasn’t increased popularity of the NBL in Australia, so why would an exhibition game be any different?

However, the NBA holding a preseason or exhibition game in Australia would probably only win over more young basketball players and League Pass subscribers.

There are many NBA fans who ridicule the NBL and dismiss it as an inferior product — what benefit is this to the NBL when basketball already has so many participants and fans?

When Kyrie Irving came to Australia, the press were writing stories about the Cleveland guard meeting Australian Rules Football players — yet there was no spike in NBL coverage.

The NBL has had trouble marketing its brand and star players — particularly in the big smoke cities where a number of professional sports teams are fighting for the same market.

Even college basketball has grown in popularity in Australia, thanks to the likes of ESPN and a growing number of Australians competing at division one schools.

The NBL is not only competing with the A-League and Australian Baseball League, but the NBA as well — without dismissing the host of other recreational activities people prefer to participate in over the summer.

It’s no wonder there seems to be more basketball fans than ever before, yet the NBL has stagnated.

With the de-merger from Basketball Australia finalised, hopefully this will be the impetus for change — now that the clubs have a 50 per cent stake in the league.

Article originally written on October 10, 2013.