Newcastle’s WNBL bid put on hold for at least 12 months

NEWCASTLE’S hopes of entering a team in the Women’s National Basketball League have been deferred for at least 12 months.

Newcastle Basketball had been aiming for inclusion in the 2018-19 season, after receiving $5 million in state government funding last October to build a 2000-seat stadium capable of hosting national-league games.

But construction of the stadium, which is expected to take nine months, is still yet to start, after it was delayed by a land claim on the site made by the Awabakal Aboriginal Land Council.

Next WNBL season would be likely to start in early October, 2018.

OLYMPIAN: Suzy Batkovic

OLYMPIAN: Suzy Batkovic

Meanwhile, Newcastle Basketball’s initial expression of interest with regards to next season has not progressed into a compliant business plan.

In the circumstances, Basketball Australia recently told Newcastle officials there was “no possibility” of entry in 2018-19 and to instead focus on making a successful bid for season 2019-20.

Basketball Australia’s priority for next season is to establish a team in Brisbane, increasing the league from eight teams to nine.

WNBL general manager Paul Maley told the Herald on Wednesday it was decided the best course of action was for Newcastle “to take the foot off the pedal” and accept that 2018-19 entry would be unattainable.

OLYMPIAN: Katie Ebzery

OLYMPIAN: Katie Ebzery

“In terms of the growth strategy, the Brisbane market is the No.1 priority,” Maley said.

“What that meant for Newcastle is that we wanted to let them know immediately that there is no possibility of entering next season. The earliest consideration would be for season 2019-20.

“We thought it was better to advise them that there was definitely no possibility for next year so that they don’t rush in and put a whole lot of time, effort and resources into producing a bid.”

Maley said that even if construction of the new stadium was under way, it was unlikely that Newcastle would have been considered for next season.

“It’s really more a matter of prioritising Brisbane,” he said.

“That as a strategic priority sits above everything else … that’s not to say we will have a team in Brisbane next year, because we will need to receive a successful bid.”

Maley said factors like population and location meant it would “make sense” to eventually have a WNBL team based in Newcastle.

“We haven’t established a time line with Newcastle,” he said. 

“We need to. But right now, all we have said is take your foot off the pedal for the time being. What we have to do is give them a time line so that they know what they have to work to.”

Newcastle Basketball general manager Neil Goffet said the governing body’s decision “might be a blessing”, given that it was unclear when construction would start on the stadium.

HOPEFUL: Neil Goffet

HOPEFUL: Neil Goffet

“We are working on our bid and we just have to make sure it’s so good that BA can’t refuse us entry into the 2019-20 season,” Goffet said.

“There needs to be a lot of community support, but it’s a great time to be involved with women’s sport in Australia with so much of it now fully professional and televised, like the new Fox Sports deal for the WNBL.”

He was hopeful to have some clarity on the stadium time frame soon. It was reported in August that Awabakal was withdrawing its land-rights claim.

“We have been working closely with the Department of Premier and Cabinet and Minister Barilaro’s office to get the best outcome for Newcastle and the Hunter Region with regard to the stadium development,” he said.

“There are a few things in the pipeline that will hopefully come to fruition in the near future.”

Newcastle officials are hopeful home-grown Olympians Suzy Batkovic and Katie Ebzery will be involved if and when the city secures entry into the WNBL.