By Zac Piesse
The Southern Huskies are ready. The basketball community is ready. But most importantly, the Tasmanian public are ready and waiting, for a National Basketball League (NBL) franchise. “The NBL provides connection in the community… It brings people together. It’s a meeting place.”
Tasmania has lacked this meeting place for decades. The last time Tasmania had the opportunity for an NBL team was in 1996, when the Hobart Devils braced the NBL for a ten year stint among the former prime of the NBL in the 1990s. David Bartlett, the former Premier of Tasmania and current President of the Hobart Chargers, with the other members of the Southern Huskies Consortium Bid, believe that it is time that the whole of Tasmania got an opportunity to support a state-wide team, in a consistent national competition. Mr. Bartlett stated that Tasmania lacks a truly national sporting franchise. “We have the (Hobart) Hurricanes, but they only play four games a year. It is important that basketball is the first sport to create a franchise in Tasmania and capitalise the market. We could become a Basketball state.”
Tasmania has always been a great place for developing junior basketball talent, with many talented junior men and women basketballers given the opportunity to compete at the highest level in college, and more importantly in the NBL. The state has seen countless juniors ply their trade overseas. Tanner Krebs and Kyle Clark, who both grow up in Tasmania play for St Mary’s College of California, Callum Barker played for Bradley University, Hugh Greenwood played for the University of New Mexico, the list of NCAA Division One Basketballers will only continue to grow if the opportunity for a national franchise continues to flourish.
Barker, who had the benefits of playing in the South-East Australian Basketball League (or SEABL) for the Hobart Chargers, recognised how integral the exposure for young basketballers to play against fully grown men, in a national competition whilst still in high school. He spoke about the importance of this, but also wants the state to progress, with the opportunity of an NBL franchise on the horizon. “I think my pathway would have been similar however an NBL side close to home would of benefited me by allowing me to train at the highest level and against some of the best athletes in the world. I think it would have prepared me for college better.”
Mark Radford, who is Basketball Development Manager for the North-West of Tasmania and also the State Head Coach, believes it is integral for the growth of youth basketballers of the state to have a local team playing in a national league, week in, week out. “It’s like any sporting team, the closer you are to them, the more real they are.” Providing opportunity for all of the basketball juniors throughout the state is important, but he does not feel as though the potential franchise is a Hobart team, despite all home games being played in the south of the state, it is a team for all of Tasmania. “You want to belong to something. You want to belong to the Huskies. They can become part of your weekly routine. I go to work, I go to the Huskies. It can have a greater impact on the whole Tasmanian community.” Radford, Barker’s former state coach, echoed his sentiments when also discussing the benefits that an NBL franchise would have for the younger basketballers of the state.
The Hobart Chargers, have been a staple of the Tasmanian Basketball community, and have been at the forefront of basketball in the south of state. A large quantity of the elite junior basketballers, who have gone on to play overseas were given their first experience of senior basketball through the Chargers, playing in front of a relatively large crowd at a young age. The Chargers have competed in the SEABL since 1990, and have had a large amount of success, winning four championships in that time. The Chargers were the perfect feeder club for the NBL, which operates throughout the year at a different time in comparison to the SEABL. This offered role playing and fringe contracted athletes the ability to fine tune their game during the NBL off-season.
Mr. Bartlett, witnessed the growth of the Chargers first hand throughout his tenure as President. “In Tasmania over the last five years we have seen an increase of over 35% participation, doubling from year to year.” He said it was due to a number of factors. “The Ben Simmons factor… The NBL’s resurgence, and the success of the Chargers and NW Thunder in the SEABL. We’ve been rebuilding the product over the last two years. We had 3 and a half thousand at our preliminary final. We’ve gone from averaging 500 (per game) to averaging 2000 to SEABL games.”
The NBL has been undertaking somewhat of a resurgence in the past few years, moving from strength to strength, alongside the growth in participation on all junior levels, and the Australian flavour that is taking the National Basketball Association by storm, in the US. In the first weekend of games for 2018/19 NBL season, the league has seen unprecedented attendance figures, breaking the previous record that had not been broken since 1995. 48,820 fans braced seats to support their favourite NBL franchise. Two NBL games are now also been shown live on free to air television, every weekend, which is integral for the growth of the league itself.
One of the major issues of the Southern Huskies NBL bid, lies in the need for a television market to exist for the franchise. The NBL have already chosen to expand to a South-East Melbourne franchise, and considering the growth in population for this area, it is a move that seemingly makes sense. “The problem with this thinking that suddenly TV is the only thing that matters, is that you will end up sending the NBL going down the same route that you did in the ‘90s, all about the big clubs.” Mr. Bartlett stated. “There’s a big underdog story to tell. National leagues have avoided Tasmania for so long, there’s a big pent up demand about wanting to see Tasmania in a national league.”
The Southern Huskies have purposely created a bid that is different to any other NBL franchise in the past. The bid wants to create an NBA-like atmosphere when attending games, allowing local businesses to be involved in the process of the bid. “We are trying to create a new business model that the Huskies won’t just rely on tickets and sponsors alone. Every beer, every ticket to a Foo Fighter’s concert in the winter, every room we sell at the hotel on site, will all be contributing to the Huskies budget.” The Tasmanian Government is also on board and is willing to invest over $10 million into a High-Performance Centre at the Derwent Entertainment Centre.
The main hurdle that remains for the Southern Huskies is the purchasing of the Derwent Entertainment Centre (DEC). If the location cannot be purchased, the bid may be over. It is crucial to the consortium to own this asset. It is currently owned by the local city council and is valued up to $20 million, but the Southern Huskies first bid to purchase the DEC has been rejected. If the DEC is sold to the Southern Huskies, it could signal even greater benefits for the local council, with the MONA precinct walking distance from the DEC. “They’ve got to follow public process, they have to show their rate payers that they’re getting value for money on what the GCC (local council) are trying to do.”
The Southern Huskies are not yet an NBL franchise. They do not own a stadium. They do not have a single player. They do not have a coach or front office. But they do have the support of the Tasmanian public. 5000 members have already signed up for a franchise that does not exist. The NBL is ready for expansion, and the 10th franchise is yet to be named.
It is time for Tasmania to be given the opportunity to compete at a national level once again.
* Image courtesy of The Mercury, Tasmania, News PTY LTD