It’s been an eventful time at the NBL lately, with the Australian league welcoming home Andrew Bogut, its most high-profile signing to date, and presiding over record crowd numbers.
The CEO Magazine caught up with Jeremy Loeliger, CEO of the National Basketball League (NBL) since 2015, to discuss the latest developments.
How important will the Andrew Bogut signing be in terms of attracting casual fans to the League?
I think Andrew’s signing is important to us for a number of reasons. Attracting that casual fan to an NBL game for the first time is a really significant one of those reasons.
It gives us an important independent voice of credibility. Andrew is not one to pull his punches or keep his opinions to himself. So, I think it’s a really great endorsement that he thinks this is one of the best leagues in the world.
He was tossing up whether or not to continue his NBA career or to come home. Those were his two preferred options and obviously coming home and playing NBL won out.
But there were certainly other options on the table, such as going to China for more money, or going to Europe, which was traditionally seen as a stronger basketball market.
That’s no longer the case. This is a significant hallmark in identifying to the general public that we are as good as the Europeans.
We perhaps don’t pay quite as much as the Chinese for import players, but for good, homegrown Aussie talent we are able to match those commercial conditions and do so with a much higher quality of basketball.
I think it’s going to sell a hell of a lot of merchandise for the Kings and the NBL. I think it’s going to sell a hell of a lot of tickets. I think a lot of people are going to tune in and watch us on TV for the first time to see exactly how he measures up.
We’ve all seen him go toe-to-toe with the best in the world in the NBA, but we want to see how he measures up against the other big men in the NBL.
I think it’s going to sell a hell of a lot of merchandise for the Kings and the NBL. I think it’s going to sell a hell of a lot of tickets. I think a lot of people are going to tune in and watch us on TV for the first time.
Can you tell us a little about the groundwork that goes into a major signing like this?
That last bit where you sign – that’s the easy bit. It’s always how the sausage gets made that nobody wants to see, they just see the end product.
Thankfully, this had the fantastic end product of the Sydney Kings signing Andrew and that conversation only took about 72 hours.
The conversation per se with Andrew had been going on for much longer though.
He and I had been speaking for the last couple of years about how he saw the end of his playing career playing out, what the timeframe would be and what the commercial terms would need to be (for the NBL) to be sufficiently attractive to him.
— Andrew Bogut (@andrewbogut) April 24, 2018
It’s been a good learning exercise for both of us to go through. I think it will set some interesting precedents for other player singings in future.
While they were only intermittent conversations over the past couple of years and conversations only really came to a head over the past week or so, in our heads it’s been playing out for quite a while and that’s probably why the actual deal came together so quickly.
Andrew was already very well-progressed on what the deal would need to look like.
He had also had a number of conversations with Melbourne (United, another NBL team) in the weeks prior. That informed his thinking a lot as well.
Between those conversations and the ones he and I had prior, he had a pretty good idea of what he needed to get out of it. I think that is why it all went so smoothly with the Kings.
Do you think the NBL’s ‘Next Stars’ program will strengthen the League’s ties with the NBA?
It’s not the principal motivation of Next Stars, but I guess it’s strengthening ties in the sense that we expect many more players to be going from the NBL to the NBA as a result, though it’s not a program that we are doing in partnership or in competition with the NBA.
The primary motivation for Next Stars is that it adds to our credibility. We can demonstrate to outsiders that young players are coming and using the NBL as a somewhat of a finishing league.
If we can show NBA scouts (that players in the Next Stars program) can play against full-grown men in a professional competition and then go on to become superstars in the NBA, we will prove ourselves repeatedly as a breeding ground.
That will go a long way to increasing relevance for fans, not just here in Australia, but importantly in the US and around the world.
The relevance to a US fan is a very important part of this equation. We’re currently in conversations around what a broadcast deal for NBL into the US might look like for next season with mainstream commercial national networks in the US.
The conversations around the Next Stars program are an important part of those conversations.
There has been a lot of talk around NBL expansion lately. How will you evaluate potential new teams that are seeking to enter the League?
There are three things that need to come together. The first one is an appropriate investor. It must be someone who has the right motivation and the appropriate means to hold an NBL licence.
The second is infrastructure. We have made our fans well aware that we are dedicated to entertainment, first and foremost. As such, if the venue isn’t up to standard, then it is very hard to bring the level of entertainment up to a standard that we would be happy with. You need to be able to bring the right number of people in there and be confident that you can put on a great spectacle both in the venue and on television.
We have made our fans well aware that we are dedicated to entertainment, first and foremost.
Television is actually an important consideration. It’s got to be a good-looking venue with appropriate lighting. As simple as that sounds, that is a fairly significant impediment for a number of venues, though not one that can’t be overcome.
Third is interest. There needs to be a sufficient population base with a demonstrated interest in attending and supporting local basketball.
That includes both consumers who are willing to pay to watch games and local businesses that are willing to do their part to introduce, and keep, a professional team in their city.
There's no doubt @BenSimmons25 is the face of 🇦🇺🏀 right now, but you know it's for real when you get the @60Mins treatment. Catch the Simmons story tonight at 8:30pm on @Channel9 📺 pic.twitter.com/EKn4rjheyC
— NBL (@NBL) April 29, 2018
Hopefully we see Ben Simmons win NBA Rookie of the Year soon; how do you ensure these positive headlines translate into sustained interest?
It’s a good question. The sustainability of interest in the League and the sport is something that we’re very invested in, emotionally, intellectually and economically.
We continue to be more invested by the day. We need to, in partnership with Basketball Australia and the state basketball associations, continue to develop our pathways for basketball talent in this country and also for attracting Australian-born talent back to this country.
Ben Simmons is not going to be the only instance of an extremely talented young Australian taking the NBA by storm in the next decade. What we need to learn from the Ben Simmons experience is how to create stronger bonds between those players and the NBL and basketball in general in Australia.
What we need to learn from the Ben Simmons experience is how to create stronger bonds between those players and the NBL and basketball in general in Australia.
We need to do this before they leave the country and become global superstars, so they become organic ambassadors for the League and the sport in Australia.
Ben has done a fantastic job on-court raising the profile of the game. But in order to leverage his fame now, it’s just too hard to get time in his very busy schedule. We can’t expect Ben or those other Australian NBA players to do the heavy lifting now that they are already there and are so concentrated on their careers.
We need to spread the load around many more shoulders. It’s a great thing that we have some fantastic talents coming through the ranks and it’s up to us to harness that talent and make sure that the pathways are not just sustainable, but can maintain public interest for a long time.