Fox fairer to fans but neglects Hodge homecoming

While the relationship between sport and television is typically a reciprocal one, it is the broadcast networks that usually wear the pants.

Sporting bodies around the world are pressured into scheduling games at the behest of their broadcast partner’s demands, with the lure of rights fees and advertising exposure usurping the convenience of those who still like to sit in the stands.

In the National Basketball League’s case, the Wednesday night timeslot on Fox Sports has been a necessary evil. Necessary because it allows the league to escape the competition of other summer sports such as soccer, evil because a mid-week clash is hardly family-friendly during the chunk of the season before and after school holidays.

It’s also particularly evil for those in Queensland, who have been expected to be in their seats by 6.30pm so Fox can maintain its regular 7.30pm timeslot in New South Wales and Victoria. The effect that this can have on attendances was evident in the Round Eight meeting between Cairns and Townsville. While no official crowd figure was given, the number of empty seats was embarrassing for a FNQ Derby which could have sold out the convention centre had it been played on a weekend.

It is appears, however, that common sense has prevailed. Just weeks after the Gold Coast Blaze happily announced that Fox had agreed to push back their remaining Wednesday night games to 7.30pm local time, the Townsville Crocs have struck a similar deal. This is a win-win situation. Fans now have ample opportunity to be in their seats by tip-off, while a larger crowd makes for an enhanced atmosphere and television product for the broadcaster.

This decision bucks the aforementioned trend of networks wielding their power to the detriment of fans, and symbolises a gradual turning point in Fox’s treatment of the NBL. The number of games being shown this year is a significant improvement on last season’s coverage, which didn’t commence until Round Six and included just one live game each week.

There has also been the introduction of regular “every second counts” promos filmed during the pre-season tournament in Darwin, and the decision to replace Steve Carfino with football commentators Brian Taylor and Dwayne Russell has assisted the league in its efforts to “Australianise” the product. Taylor’s wittiness has proven incredibly popular in the AFL and will attract the curiosity of mainstream viewers, although his lack of research and occasional inaccuracies must make some purists cringe.

Fox’s relationship with the NBL still has plenty of room for improvement, however, as all basketball fans will realise on Saturday 5 December. That’s when Melbourne Tigers recruit Julius Hodge makes his much-anticipated return to the Distinctive Homes Dome after walking out on Adelaide last season due to a pay dispute. Sixers fans are known for their passion and hostility at the best of times, meaning Hodge’s reception will make for a compelling spectacle in front of what will surely be a near-capacity crowd.

Compelling for those that can see it, at least.

As it stands now, the clash will only be shown on Rivus TV, a pay-per-view streaming service marred by technical difficulties.

The NBL should have done everything in its power to ensure this game would be accessible to the masses. If Fox refused to increase its broadcast schedule on economic grounds, the league could have asked to swap a future Saturday night broadcast for next week’s showdown. For example, the January 16 clash between Perth and Cairns is hardly going to have fans salivating in their living rooms and could have been sacrificed for the good of the game.

Instead, the only thing being sacrificed is another opportunity to showcase the best the NBL has to offer to a national audience.

Despite Fox’s improvements, it remains an all-too familiar story of neglect for Australian hoops fans.

Fox Sports' improved coverage has been a pleasant surprise, unlike the surprise Shane Heal received when he commentated a recent Snakes game.


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