Following their debut season in both the NBL1 and New Zealand NBL competitions, the Southern Huskies announced via a media release today, that they are ceasing operations.
BREAKING: The Southern Huskies are NOT renewing their NBL1 license and will WITHDRAW from the NZNBL effective immediately, citing untenable relationship with Basketball Tasmania.#AussieHoops #NZNBL pic.twitter.com/HkVkiQoCuW
— Damian Arsenis (@DamianArsenis) August 9, 2019
Citing an untenable relationship with Basketball Tasmania as one of the key reasons behind the decision, the Huskies management have formally announced that they are not renewing their NBL1 license and are officially withdrawing from the NZ NBL.
"The decision has been made by Southern Huskies Basketball to withdraw from New Zealand's Sal's NBL effective immediately and not to renew the NBL1 licence for the Hobart Huskies Men's and Women's programs. We believe our relationship with Basketball Tasmania is untenable and after investing over $1.7 million dollars in the Tasmania Basketball market since 2017, we have made the difficult decision to remove ourselves."
Launched with grand plans to bring the NBL back to Tasmania, there was a groundswell of support for the Southern Huskies following the financial demise of the Hobart Chargers. Successful Tasmanian businessman and former member of the defunct Hobart Devils, Justin Hickey was the man behind the Huskies who bankrolled the project with his personal capital.
Hickey was seeking to revolutionise how Australian sporting franchises are owned and operated while attempting to modernise how they conduct business and generate revenue, with a vision of a self-funded recurring revenue model.
One of the foundations of Hickey's model was the acquisition of the Derwent Entertainment Centre (DEC), an outdated multi purpose venue north of Hobart’s CBD, with plans to turn it into a beacon for professional sport.
In an interview with Ben Mallis back in August 2018, Hickey explained the importance of owning the venue.
“Naturally, stadium ownership is important,” Hickey said. “Implementing everything our team knows about how to successfully run large commercial venues is important.
“With venue ownerships comes a strong revenue stream. In the off-season, we will generate revenue from venue hire, along with our own Southern Huskies events.
“With events, we will have our own ticketing systems, food and beverage revenue, premium club memberships and alcohol sales, just to name a few. [That is] not to mention other revenue streams kicking in, such as the hotels and other revenues associated with the hotel like conferences and events of significance to the state."
Unfortunately for Hickey and the Huskies, negotiations with the Glenorchy City Council fell through and went into a stalemate. This plan did not come to fruition, due to a difference in opinions over the council’s valuation. It was reported to be $18.6 million for accounting purposes, while the estimate from a commercial valuation was undisclosed.
The Huskies had been facing challenges, both logistical and financial for the upkeep involved in three teams.
“It’s a huge investment and one that we have started this year because we have two teams playing as the Hobart Huskies in the Victorian NBL1 League and one team playing as the Southern Huskies in the NZNBL League. Both are excellent leagues in their own right,” said Mike Sutton, Huskies COO.
Despite making the difficult decision to cease operation, the statement noted the positive impact the Huskies had on basketball in Tasmania.
"We have enjoyed our time in Tasmania and believe we have had a positive impact in a short period of time. We're proud to have provided significant investment to keep the pathway program running for NBL1 after the previous incumbent went into administration and to have completed a very difficult first season across all three of our teams.
"We believe there's a lot to be proud of in what we have achieved since the start of this journey but circumstances over the past month have made it impossible to remain part of the basketball program in Tasmania."
Those circumstances referred to, appear to involve Larry Kestelman and the NBL.
Rather than supporting Hickey and the Huskies' long-term vision of fielding an NBL team, Larry Kestelman and his NBL appeared to be working on a version of Hickey's proposed vision and business model for a Tasmania NBL.
In June this year, Kestelman opened negotiations with the Glenorchy City Council to buy the Derwent Entertainment Centre (DEC). According to The Mercury, Premier Will Hodgman confirmed Kestelman had strong interest in Tasmania being the next NBL team, yet tellingly, there were no references made to the Huskies at the time. Since then, the NBL has been in discussions with the Tasmanian state government and Basketball Tasmania, and announced that the annual NBL preseason Blitz will be hosted in the Apple Isle.
Reading between the lines, it appears that the NBL has forced Hickey's hand, with the Huskies set to provide the Tasmanian Government with a full exit report.
"A detailed exit report explaining these circumstances in full will be presented to the Premier in due course and we hope the inclusions of the report will have a positive impact on change for the betterment of basketball in Tasmania."
For the NZ NBL the decision comes as a blow, with the league recently terminating the licence of the Supercity Rangers, while Basketball Australia recently also blocked the addition of South Australia's Mount Gambier Pioneers due to the NBL's rights over a national league being played in Australia.
NZNBL General Manager Justin Nelson expressed his disappointment in the decision, and also alluded to underlying issues between the Southern Huskies and NBL, but was quick to turn his focus to the growing strength of the league in New Zealand.
"While we know there is a lot unfolding in Tasmania with regards to the possible arrival of the ANBL, it is unfortunate our league seems to have been caught in the crossfire between the Huskies and the ANBL,” said Nelson. "Clearly there is a lot going on between the two parties and that situation is rapidly unfolding, but it’s not our problem and we’ll focus on the strong and viable teams we already have in our league.
“New Zealand basketball is strong, this is an issue off our shores and we feel disappointed for the Tasmanian fans who enjoyed following their team in our league. Though we have been let down, we’ll get on and focus on the growth we have in our own backyard. This is our nation’s top league and we’ll get on and serve the people of New Zealand.
“While some may take the view we’ve been messed around or we are losing something out of what’s happening in Tasmania, believe me, we moved on from the second we were informed by the Huskies. We wish everyone involved at the Huskies well, especially the fans. It is what it is, we’ve got too many good things happening right now in our league to spend time focusing on something that is out of our control.”
The Huskies statement confirmed that all remaining creditors would be paid, and that no further comment would be provided.
Full release from Southern Huskies
The decision has been made by Southern Huskies Basketball to withdraw from New Zealand’s Sal’s NBL effective immediately and not to renew the NBL1 license for the Hobart Huskies Men’s and Women’s programs.
We believe our relationship with Basketball Tasmania is untenable and after investing over $1.7 million dollars in the Tasmanian Basketball market since 2017, we have made the difficult decision to remove ourselves.
We have enjoyed our time in Tasmania and believe we have had a positive impact in a short period of time. We’re proud to have provided significant investment to keep the pathway program running for NBL1 after the previous incumbent went into administration and to have completed a very difficult first season across all three of our teams.
We believe there’s a lot to be proud of in what we have achieved since the start of this journey but circumstances over the past month have made it impossible to remain a part of the Basketball program in Tasmania.
We’d like to thank our supporters, volunteers, sponsors and partners for their support.
A detailed exit report explaining these circumstances in full will be presented to the Premier in due course and we hope the inclusions in the report will have a positive impact on change for the betterment of Basketball in Tasmania.
Arrangements will be made with all remaining creditors to be paid.
No further comment will be provided.