The Sal’s NBL recently announced a full slate of games (75) to be broadcasted next season across Sky Sport and Stuff, and with that level of coverage the topic of future growth continues to be high on the agenda.
Following the exit of the Southern Huskies and Supercity Rangers at the end of season 2019, the league has been putting stronger foundations in place to ensure all current and future teams can thrive in a competitive and balanced environment.
One region the league knows will play a huge role in its ongoing growth phase is a market that is screaming out for more New Zealand NBL action – Auckland.
According to the league “every market is important, but there is no market more important than Auckland right now” especially with participation bursting at the seams and a plethora of talented players in the city looking for an opportunity to play on the national stage.
With the Franklin Bulls (South Auckland) busy preparing for its very first Sal’s NBL season (2020), the league is now looking ahead to 2021 and has confirmed its desire to see another Auckland-based team on court.
The Otago Nuggets have already been granted provisional entry for 2021 and should the league land a centrally based Auckland team it will take the competition to 10 franchises, the perfect number according to General Manager, Justin Nelson.
“Our optimum model is ten teams and we firmly believe there is enough talent across the country to support this, especially when you factor in the players returning from colleges in the United States over the next few years along with the elite talent coming through the system across New Zealand,” said Nelson.
“Basketball is on an extraordinary rise and we need to make sure we are catering for the lift in talent so these young stars can continue to work on their game here in New Zealand, hopefully pressing for future Tall Blacks selection.”
Auckland has had a storied yet highly successful past in the national league across its 38-year history and just months ago it took another turn with the termination of the Supercity Rangers, a franchise the league believes failed to connect with the city’s huge basketball community.
An Auckland-based team has won eight NBL championships since the league started in 1982, the last of which came in 2012 when the Auckland Pirates won the title with a team featuring Lindsay Tait, Dillon Boucher (pictured), Alex Pledger and Ron Dorsey.
The search is now on for sustainable ownership that meets the league’s priorities, which include strong business acumen, the required skill sets in management, a focus on community engagement and an ability to tap into Auckland’s high level of emerging and established playing talent.
While the NBL sees a possible alignment with the NZ Breakers as an important piece, casting the net wide is necessary.
“We always have people asking us if we are talking with the Breakers about them having a team in the Sa’s NBL, that’s not a new topic of conversation,” said Nelson.
“The Breakers do a great job providing Auckland in particular with a fun and engaging product during the summer, we’re not in a competitive space with the Breakers and the ANBL, we play at the opposite time of the year.
“In fact we think there might be a good opportunity to work together across the winter months and help them develop a year-round business. I’m sure the same thought has crossed their mind given they are a sports and entertainment business.
“We have a good relationship with everyone at the Breakers and have held lots of good discussions in the past. The door is always open and we welcome more discussions in the future, we think there could be a good fit for them in the New Zealand league, especially when it comes to fostering and developing future talent, but at the same time their key business is the Breakers in the ANBL and we totally respect it. That has to be their main focus.”
Though the Breakers are possibly the best placed current organisation to put a team in the local national league, Nelson says the league is working hard to get “as many irons in the fire as possible.”
“A Breakers-backed team in the Sal’s NBL is just one opportunity we regularly talk about. To be honest, we are looking at everything as we really believe a well-run, strongly branded and engaging Auckland team will be very successful.
“Whether the team is backed by successful business professionals, private owners, the Breakers, or maybe even current or past high-profile players, we just want to keep having positive discussions and put everything on the table. We want to get this right.
“In other parts of the world a sports and entertainment business might actually own elite teams in different sports. There are a number of Aussie Rules teams also operating elite Netball teams. Manchester City in England owns other football teams around the world. Who knows, we could attract interest from other parts of the world? We want to talk to as many people as possible and get the best result for men’s basketball in New Zealand.”
And what does success in Auckland look like?
“Success is made up of lots of things, including more opportunities for the elite players in the region and competitive success built out of sustainability, but I think we would all like to see a fierce rivalry between the Franklin Bulls in the south of Auckland up against a team based in central Auckland. If we can have basketball fans across Auckland turning up in their thousands to show their allegiance and passion at those local derbies in particular, that’s a great outcome and a huge step in the right direction.”