Regional fan base best expansion bet

NEWCASTLE Basketball general manager Ivan Spyrdz has welcomed a call from Boomers legend Andrew Gaze for the NBL to look at the nation’s regional centres when it comes time to expand.

Newcastle was the birthplace of the NBL but has not been represented since the demise of the financially crippled Hunter Pirates in 2006.

Nathan Tinkler-owned Hunter Sports Group had met with with Newcastle Basketball and Basketball Australian about re-establishing a team in the national competition but those plans were put on hold in September 2011.

Gaze, a BA board member and five time Olympian, said the national team would benefit from a expanded league but only if the competition remained sustainable.

Former Brisbane Broncos chief executive Bruno Cullen has joined a push for a revival of the Brisbane Bullets, who folded in 2008 when owner Eddy Groves handed back his licence to the NBL.

Gaze, a seven-time NBL most valuable player, said having Brisbane in the league was ‘‘very, very important’’  and also pushed the case for Newcastle, Geelong and Hobart.

‘‘Those towns have got tremendous passion and the regional teams usually get great exposure –  look what happened in Cairns and Townsville,’’ he said.

Spyrdz said Newcastle Basketball would help any organisation – membership model or private ownership – who wanted to look at the feasibility of an NBL side, but Newcastle Basketball was not in a position to start a side.

BA chief executive Kristina Keneally said expansion was ‘‘one of the most serious decisions’’ for her organisation.

‘‘Expansion is critical to the future of the NBL  but it requires a team to have a sustainable financial model,’’ she said

‘‘In the past we’ve seen clubs fail to survive. There’s not a big margin there.

‘‘There is no doubt private ownership is incredibly important.

‘‘But if you look at the clubs in our competition that do well off and on the court, they’re the ones with a strong community and membership base.’’

Newcastle Basketball has 2300 members, not including Maitland and Central Coast associations.

‘‘In the [second tier]  Waratah Championship, we had 11 home games at which five attracted over 1000 spectators,’’ Spyrdz said.

‘‘That is far and above any Waratah Championship team and not that far off some NBL attendances.

‘‘There is certainly a big supporter base here.

‘‘But [for] venues like the Newcastle Entertainment Centre [without] dispensation from Venues NSW and the state government,  to run out of venues of that size is not viable as a start-up.’’

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