Five reasons to look forward to the Melbourne NBL Cup

All nine NBL teams will converge upon Melbourne for a month-long basketball showcase, and it's looking promising.

In a groundbreaking move for Aussie hoops, the NBL has announced that the league will converge upon Melbourne for a month-long basketball spectacle. Starting on February 20, all nine NBL teams will enter the NBL Cup, where all 36 games count towards the regular season standings. To make things even more interesting, there is $300,000 worth of prize money up for grabs, perhaps providing added motivation. A recent Twitter thread between Andrew Bogut and Shane Heal raised questions about player compensation and living expenses for the event, and the league has declined comment.

At the conclusion of this novel initiative, teams will return to their respective home arenas and play out the rest of the home and away season. NBL fans have never seen anything like this before, so here’s five reasons why the NBL Cup shows plenty of promise.

1. More regular season games

If you’re not from Melbourne, don’t panic! NBL Cup games are scheduled to be played on top of the existing home and away season. Barring potential COVID shenanigans, league organisers have asserted that teams will “host their customary 14 home games during the regular season”. This means all NBL fans can enjoy an extended regular season, without missing out on the opportunity to attend home games.

Moreover, there are benefits to having a larger sample size of regular season games. In theory, the final standings will be a more accurate reflection of where each team stands, and the tantalising race for top four spots is prolonged. Furthermore, more games equals more exposure for everyone on the NBA radar, ranging from prospects (Josh Giddey, Mojave King) to draft-and-stash players (Justinian Jessup, Didi Louzada Silva), home-grown NCAA alumni (recent college returnees including Dejan Vasiljevic, Tanner Krebs, Jack White, Mason Peatling, Isaac White), and names that have made their debut on the NBA scene like Jock Landale, Deng Adel and Xavier Cooks. While NCAA Division I basketball is limping forward in the face of COVID-19, Australian-based NBA prospects will enjoy additional opportunities to impress scouts.

Lastly, fans have waited long enough for some NBL action. The league usually kicks off in early October, meaning the 2020-21 season’s January 10 tip off is over three months overdue. COVID-19 may have robbed fans of an October start date, but the NBL cup is a nice consolation, given that it involves an expanded regular season.

2. Buying time

Although COVID-19 is largely under control in Australia, things can change in an instant. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk recently wasted no time in implementing a hard border closure, following a COVID-19 outbreak on Sydney’s Northern beaches. The pandemic has already derailed one NBL season, after the 2020 finals were cut short in anti-climatic fashion. Hopefully it doesn’t happen again, and the NBL Cup will go a long way towards achieving a free-flowing season.

With all nine NBL teams based on Melbourne, travel is suddenly taken out of the equation. This buys the league some time, at a stage where the country is inching towards a vaccine rollout. Furthermore, by banking regular season games in the Melbourne hub, the NBL has contingency if COVID-19 strikes and future games have to be cancelled.

3. Market share growth opportunity

The NBL Cup has been strategically sandwiched in between Australia’s dominant summer and winter sports. With the summer of cricket and the Australian Open virtually wrapped up by February 20, the NBL is capitalising on a short window preceding the AFL and NRL seasons - which both kick off in mid-March.

Although the A-League runs parallel to the NBL season, and many Australian basketball fans are fixated upon the NBA, the NBL's governing body has nevertheless found the optimal solution to a difficult problem.

In theory, the NBL should command a greater share of the Australian sporting audience once the Melbourne tournament is underway, and this may attract more casual supporters to the game. The league's hardcore fan base will be watching the games regardless of any in-season tournaments, but this is a prime opportunity to grow the game overall.

4. Double headers

The NBL is aiming to schedule double headers as part of the cup fixtures, offering Melbourne fans some serious value for money. This is something the NRL has sporadically implemented in recent years, at venues such as Suncorp Stadium. After initially trialling a Brisbane-based double header in 2017, the NRL expanded this concept to Sydney following its success.

Double headers provide greater incentive for fans to attend games, while also retaining the attention of TV viewers. NBL executives are anticipating that permitted attendances will increase up to 75 per cent in Victoria by the time the Cup rolls around.

5. Tried and tested formula

The NRL hosted its inaugural “Magic Round” in 2019, where all eight games of the season’s ninth round were hosted at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium. This concept was borrowed from the Super League in England, where since 2007, an entire round of Rugby League matches is held annually throughout various cities. The NRL’s Magic Round was “hailed a success” after generating impressive crowd numbers, and is expected to continue in future seasons.

The NBL Cup differs from the NRL model in that it traverses several weeks rather than a single weekend, but the underlying principles are similar. By bringing the entire league to a Melbourne hub and accumulating games in relatively quick succession, the NBL is appealing to the sizeable basketball fan base in Melbourne. After all, Melbourne is currently the only city supporting two teams in the competition.

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