Cash for comment? How NBL clubs can court the press

“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!,” yelled Howard Beale in the 1976 film Network.

That’s the feeling Australian basketball supporters should have at the moment as they search for news on the National Basketball League. With the exception of the Adelaide Advertiser’s Boti Nagy, most mainstream media outlets have been conspicuous by their silence when it comes to the NBL in the past couple of months. This follows a 2009/09 season where AAP pulled the pin on their game reports and Fox Sports showed just one live game per week.

An example of the media’s apathy and laziness towards basketball was shown last week when the news broke that David Barlow had quit the Melbourne Tigers to play in Spain. Who was it who broke this news?

Grantley Bernard? Nope.

Radio SEN or one of the television networks? Nope.

It was ex-Townsville skipper John Rillie, on his blog JR, On Fire.

Rillie didn’t discover this news through any contacts he acquired during his playing days. He found it on a European website after searching the internet for original story ideas – something any investigate journalist could have done if they weren’t so “busy” waiting for official press releases.

The dilemma for Basketball Australia and NBL clubs, therefore, is how to overcome the media’s attitude towards the game and increase column inches and airtime. The internet is often heralded as the answer, however it’s important to understand the difference between reinforcement, which is where the web simply entertains those already interested in basketball, and mobilization, which is where the net attracts new supporters. In the case of blogs, live streaming and Wollongong’s new social networking website, these are just preaching to the converted. Only mainstream media can mobilize new supporter bases.

The mainstream media are about to undergo rapid change. Fairfax has been slashing jobs, overseas newspapers are on the brink of collapse, and advertising revenue and circulation figures will continue to drop as outlets turn their attention to online reporting. Now, therefore, is the time for sports to show some innovation and exploit the press’ economic vulnerabilities. For example, why don’t the Melbourne Tigers pay a portion of Grantley Bernard’s salary in return for guaranteed coverage?

This concept initially came from Dallas Maverick’s owner Mark Cuban, in his blog post Why Pro Sports Need Newspapers:

“My suggestion…is to…create a “beat writer co-operative”.  We need to create a company that funds, depending on the size of the market and number of teams, 2 or more writers per market, to cover our teams in depth. 

They will report to the newspapers where the articles will be placed, who will have complete editorial control. In exchange, the newspapers will provide a minimum of a full page on a daily basis in season, and some lesser amount out of season. That the coverage will include game reporting that is of far more depth than is currently in place, along with a minimum number of feature articles each week in and out of season.

For the newspapers, it’s a way to get employees off the books, retain good writers that have a history with the papers and teams, and actually improve their publications.

I know this is in violation of all previous principles of editorial church and state, but then again, watching papers going out of business and not even being able to give themselves away means it’s time to start a new branch of that church. “

This suggestion is also similar to the concept of “interest funded journalism”, proposed by media blogger Dan Conover in his post 2020 vision: What’s next for news:

“Why shouldn’t the Sierra Club sponsor journalists? Why shouldn’t the Republican Party subsidize particular bloggers? If the American Petroleum Institute can spend millions on PR, advertising and political lobbying, why shouldn’t the Union of Concerned Scientists go beyond press releases and start funding, distributing and placing original content? Tired of trying to communicate your profession’s expertise to mainstream media? Why not hire some communicators and bypass the mainstream press entirely?”

While proponents of the media as a “Fourth Estate” will question the journalist’s ability to scrutinize their employer, commercial arrangements between sporting clubs and media outlets are nothing new. St.Kilda and Melbourne Victory are sponsored by The Age, and the Melbourne Vixens are sponsored by the Herald Sun. More blatantly, the Melbourne Storm is owned by News Limited. Storm’s column inches in the Herald Sun are clearly disproportionate to the size of its supporter base, and it’s hard to imagine the paper being critical of the club’s business practices. Dave Donaghy, who was the Herald Sun’s NRL reporter just 12 months ago, is now the Storm’s media manager. It’s difficult to imagine Caroline Wilson becoming Richmond’s media manager or Michael Lynch quitting The Age to become Melbourne Victory’s spokesman, but things are obviously very tight between the Herald Sun and Storm.

Cuban’s suggestion is simply taking these kinds of relationships to a new level by recognising the newspaper industry’s grim future and having the foresight to capitalize.

There are also other ways of being innovative, such as clubs filming their own press conferences and sending the footage to the television networks that don’t turn up. Of course, clubs could also put more effort into wining and dining their local reporters as if they were major sponsors.

The alternative is to continue sending off press releases and seeing them buried on page 80 next to the obituaries.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me mad as hell. I’m not going to take it anymore.

Scrutinising the Fourth Estate: A review of the AFL media in season 2009

As the AFL finals draw closer, let’s have a look at how some of the media outlets have performed this season….

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The addition of Leigh Matthews has improved Seven’s telecast, as has the end of its ridiculous half-time switcheroo in the commentary box.

 Global Financial Crisis not withstanding, a massive pay rise should also be handed to the bigwig who relegated David Schwarz and Ricky Olarenshaw to Sunday afternoons,  where hung-over  and sleep deprived viewers won’t notice they’re being spoken to by inarticulate buffoons.

Bruce McAvaney’s constant questioning during play suggests he’s auditioning for Eddie McGuire’s gig on Hot Seat (“kicks it to Player X, gee he’s playing well isn’t he? You get the feeling they need one more goal, don’t you reckon?), while someone needs to tell Nathan Buckley that it’s pronounced “isn’t it”, not “innit.”

If Seven can broadcast its talent quests and C-grade dancing contests live, surely it can pay the same respect to football, and it should also return its nosebleed camera to the good folk at Google Earth.

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The introduction of ONE HD has given viewers an extra dose of Robert Walls every Monday night, which is sure to curtail the Federal Government’s attempts to promote digital television.  

The channel has also made Julie Corletto and Irene van Dyk household names (what, you haven’t heard of them?) and has inspired little tackers all over the country to erect basketball rings next to their trampolines.

Mark Howard has been a surprise-packet on the boundary line and should permanently replace Christi Malthouse , while Pete Helliar should quit while he’s ahead with his stale “Strauchanie” character. Hey, he’ll have plenty of time on his hands to think of a new gimmick now that Pete and Myf has been given the Robin Nahas from Triple M.

foxsports

It may be off Broadway, but Fox Sports is home to one of the best play-by-play commentators in the business. Brian Taylor is measured and spontaneous with his humour, as opposed to Dennis Cometti who almost forces his colleagues to giggle at his scripted and distracting one-liners.

Unfortunately there’s not much else to get excited about in the network’s commentary box.  Matthew Campbell should stick to spruiking his bookmaking gimmicks, while Dwayne Russell’s predictable commentary really is “enough to make a grown man cry”, with his repetitive expressions (e.g. “Nails it!) and trivial facts.

And has anyone looked more uncomfortable on television than Gerard Whateley on Before the Bounce? Poor old Gerard, who is your in-bed-by-nine type and is accustomed to serious chatter on the ABC, didn’t know what to do when he found himself sitting amongst the blokey banter of Jason Dunstall, Danny Frawley and Damien Fleming.

nine

Footy Classified remains compulsory viewing, although it has suffered from the absence of the Beat the Press segment and regular interview guests.

Grant Thomas is an outstanding media performer and must be recruited by another radio network immediately, while Caroline Wilson appears to genuinely enjoy being on the show.

The only downside is the pretentious Craig Hutchison, who expresses his opinions as if they’re gospel and interrupts the engrossing dialogue of other panel members with contrived conflict.

The Footy Show has improved this year, although it would be even better if Supreme Court judges issued a suppression order on Shane Crawford’s immature antics, rather than worrying about harmless medical records.

sen

Andrew Maher’s elocution has been the subject of much criticism this year, with one letter to the Herald Sun suggesting SEN should give away a bottle of “foine woine at noine” to anyone who can understand him.

 SEN’s refusal to replace Billy Brownless with a new co-host makes the breakfast program sound tired, while The Run Home’s soapbox segment is riddled with cringe-worthy impersonations and in-house jokes.

This blogger has  banned The Good Oil ever since Mark Doran told a talkback caller, who was a South Dragons  supporter expressing his disappointment at the club’s demise, to “get over it” and follow the Tigers.

And is Luke Darcy instructed to leave his personality at the door when he hosts Friday drive with Liam Pickering?

The others:

Triple M’s sliding ratings certainly haven’t been helped by the laconic Hamish McLachlan. Let’s hope Gillon has a job ready for him at the AFL.

 3AW would do well to promote Sports Today producer Bruce Eva to its AFL coverage. Eva’s football knowledge is second to none and he has shown during his time at SEN and NIRS that he’s a competent commentator.

Super SEABL not so Crazy after all

 
Australia’s summer basketball league may be tarnished by negative headlines, but its premier winter competition, the South East Australian Basketball League, is experiencing no such problems.

In fact, a recent trip to Geelong to watch the Supercats play the Mount Gambier Pioneers showed how the NBL could learn a few things from its semi-professional counterpart.

The on-court standard was obviously inferior to the big league, but the Supercats’ game-night presentation was almost of a comparable standard. While The Arena is no oil painting from the outside, the interior redevelopments make it a first-class venue which must be the envy of other SEABL clubs. There’s food and bar amenities, an audible sound-system hanging from the roof, two thousand numbered seats and a big screen which purports to be “Geelong’s first 16:9 projector screen.”

Supercats management were clearly taking notes at the South Dragons’ home games, with the player introductions seeing the lights go out, and there were also cheerleaders (albeit adolescents), a mascot imaginatively known as “Supercat”, and competitions including a half-court shot for five thousand dollars.

The game was exciting, too, with some hot shooting from the likes of Dallas Jeffree and Tariq Naqqash seeing the Pioneers come back from a hefty deficit and almost snare an unlikely victory. The Supercats regularly draw around the 1500 mark, and every single one of them would have gone home satisfied.

The moral of the story is that basketball clubs do not have to spend millions of dollars on world-class players to put bums on seats. There are critics who oppose the prospect of a rigid salary cap in the NBL, fearing it would dilute its on-court appeal, but money guzzling ex-NBA players are not fundamental to a successful league. A professional game-night presentation, strong community attachment, off-court stability and a positive public perception are the basics that the NBL should be striving for.

The SEABL, and other winter leagues, has achieved stability because many of its clubs are owned by local associations financed by registration fees, rather than a perilous reliance on gate-takings and benevolence from private owners.

The league has certainly found its niche this season. It has secured Crazy John’s as its naming-rights sponsor, it promotes itself through mainstream media such as WIN, 1116 SEN and a weekly wrap-up on the Herald Sun website, and it’s trialling a live streaming service.

It is moving forward. Let’s hope the NBL can do the same.

"Geelong's first 16:9 projector screen"

"Geelong's first 16:9 projector screen"

Blinded by vision – no point spending like it’s 1999

Vision is a quality we usually seek in our sporting administrators, yet the demise of the South Dragons shows the danger of having stars in one’s eyes.

Dragons co-owners Mark Cowan and Raphael Geminder had high aspirations when they bought an NBL licence in 2005, launching the club with a whizz-bang presentation at the late-Richard Pratt’s Raheen mansion.

While 5000 was said to be the crowd required to break even, Cowan clearly had bigger ideas. “Every time I walk into Vodafone (Arena) I’ll look up to the back and see if there’s any empty seats. Until they’re all full I won’t be happy. And then when they are full we want to move to Rod Laver (Arena). That’s the next step,” he said in October 2005.

Four years later, instead of moving into Rod Laver Arena, Cowan is now returning to his graphic design business in Prahran with his basketball dream all but over. And, over the past three years, every time he looked to the back of Hisense Arena, instead of seeing filled seats all he saw was black curtains.

Yet, despite the downfall of the league since the time of those comments and the millions of dollars he and Geminder have lost, Cowan’s visionary tune hasn’t changed a beat.

“Our aspiration would be to play a lot of our games back at Rod Laver Arena in front of 15,000 people, that’s what we aspire to,” Cowan said last week during his emotional announcement that the club was shutting up shop.

This, it appears, is the difference between the Dragons’ idea of reform and the plans of Basketball Australia. BA has recognised that basketball at the professional level is in dire straits and therefore needs to take one step backwards before taking two steps forward. The biggest step backwards is the salary cap, which will apparently be enforced this season to put a full stop on an era of reckless spending.

Cowan, however, is such a visionary that he cannot fathom the prospect of taking one step backwards.

While the Dragons could certainly be a viable entity paying below the million dollar salary cap and playing in smaller venues such as Knox or Dandenong , Cowan and Geminder want to own a quasi-NBA team. They want to continue with the 10,000-seat stadiums, the pyrotechnics, the full scale marketing, the expensive imports such as Donta Smith and even the prospect of a marquee player outside the salary cap.

This would have been a raging success in the 1990s, but the landscape has changed. The spending required under those plans is disproportionate with the size of the market NBL clubs are now pitching to.

During Cowan’s press conference last week, he pointed to netball as one of the sports which has achieved significant reform.

“Netball didn’t take any time off, but netball went through a reform of its own volition, and now it has a far better television presence than basketball does — it’s attracting big crowds, and it’s doing really well” Cowan said.

What Cowan conveniently overlooked is that the ANZ Championship only appears to be “attracting big crowds” because it plays in mainly 4000-seat venues. The sport is aware of its limitations and when the Melbourne Vixens do play the occasional game at Hisense Arena, they attract no more fans than the Dragons did at the same venue.

This is the lead basketball should follow – crawling before you can sprint again, as Boti Nagy described it in the Adelaide Advertiser.

When Cowan almost broke down at last week’s press conference, the pain he was feeling was palpable. But what’s really sad is that Cowan’s pain is self-inflicted. No one forced the Dragons to fold.

“The Dragons weren’t a two-year project, the Dragons were supposed to be the next 20 years of my life,” Cowan said.

They still can be, Mark. Just realise that you’re involved in a struggling Australian league and, for the moment, the 15,000 sell-outs you dream of are, as they say, only in America.

Time for private ownership to become public

This article can also be found at THE ROAR   Go there and give it a cheer!

 

The National Basketball League’s most recent crises have drawn several conclusions from the game’s heavy-hitters.

The respective captains of the two rebel clubs clearly don’t do decorum, with Mark Worthington labelling Basketball Australia “idiots” who “killed our game”, and Chris Anstey describing the league  as a “piece of crap.”

Victorian Sports Minister James Merlino, who prior to this month’s announcement of a new basketball complex at Knox had never shown any great interest in basketball, suggested the prospect of a national league without Victorian representation was “a joke.”

“Basketball’s dead”, meanwhile, has become a cliché within sporting discourse, particularly from those who conveniently become instant experts whenever the game hits troubled times, in the same way as people becoming racing aficionados when the spring carnival arrives.

Beyond the emotion and hyperbolic ignorance, however, is the realisation that basketball can simply no longer tolerate the perils of private ownership.

Too often an entire sport – which comprises hundreds of thousands of participants, supporters, sponsors, administrators and volunteers – has been dragged through the mud by the self-serving agendas of one or two individuals.

The fraudulence of former Sydney Kings owner Tim Johnston epitomised the risks of private ownership, as did the more innocent troubles of Eddy Groves.

Now, as basketball has sought unified reform through the establishment of an independent board, the actions of a few owners has once again shattered the game’s perception.

The Adelaide 36ers are perhaps one of the proudest clubs in Australian basketball, with ‘Title Town’ home to the most passion-fuelled, knowledgeable supporters in the country. Yet, when the whole club recently stared death in the face due to its inability to secure a million-dollar bank guarantee, owner Mal Hemmerling showed his commitment by hopping on a big bird for a holiday.

This shows the ludicrous imbalance in the fate of a club under the private ownership model. Consistent crowds, healthy media coverage and a successful on-court history are all rendered irrelevant by the dependence on a sole benefactor.

The South Dragons are a similar story. Mark Cowan was known as one of the most passionate and wealthy owners in the league, yet, according to the grapevine, the whole club has been brought to its knees by minority owner Raphael Geminder’s refusal to support changes which are incongruous with his personal agenda.

Melbourne Tigers owner Seamus McPeake, meanwhile, believes it is impossible to make a profit under the proposed 2009/10 model, and he wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning if there was no prospect of earning a dollar that day.

Cairns and Wollongong, albeit out of necessity, have turned to a more sustainable model of community ownership to lead them into the new age of Australian basketball. With the Hawks now operating under a not-for-profit board acting in the interests of the club’s members, it is difficult to see them ever withdrawing from the competition because of some personal gripes, or being driven into oblivion by reckless spending.

Ignore the doomsayers; basketball in this country is not dead. The national men’s league is on the cusp of being placed in an induced coma, but the product of elite basketball is too good not to make a full recovery.

All it needs is some tender loving care from people who genuinely love the game.

Exit The Dragon

Scibz’ Spiel has typically made a point of avoiding self-indulgence – not once has the letter “I” been used in any of its blogs.

But for the sake of letting a shattered man grieve, please let me get something off my chest. This is not the best time to be writing as a passionate Dragons supporter still shocked and heartbroken by the news that the reigning champion has pulled the plug indefinitely, but if they don’t want to provide answers then I’ll simply ask questions.

The overriding feeling right now is WHY? Just two days ago, co-owner Mark Cowan was quoted in an official NBL press release speaking on behalf of club owners, saying:

“The dialogue we had with the BA Board was very fruitful and I believe we are edging ever closer to having ironed out the finer details in the blueprint for the new league,” said Cowan. “We’re feeling optimistic about the outcome of the EOI and look forward to working with the BA Board towards an announcement next week.”

On Wednesday, the club issued a press release announcing coach Brian Goorjian had been appointed as team consultant to Team China, with Cowan quoted:

“We see this as a great thing for Brian,” said Dragons chairman Mark Cowan. “Not only is he coaching at the highest level, but he’s representing our club and spreading the word about the Dragons throughout China.”

Goorjian himself spoke in an AAP article on the new NBL:

“I’m hearing some good things right now about [BA] making some firm decisions.

“We’re going to have to start back, and we’re going to have build it. It’ll grow. I have a good feeling right now about the next step, and it’s hopefully going to make huge headway over the next few years.”

Then there was the news that Tigers owner Seamus McPeake had cut ties with the club, seemingly paving the way for the Dragons to finally move to the financially-friendly Cage.

So what happened in the last day-and-a-half?

The Dragons’ press release simply finished with the sentence:

Further comment will be available next week.

This is a poor way to handle things – either explain to your members why they no longer have a club, or don’t announce it until you’re ready to provide answers. As a member who followed the club before it was even granted a license, it is insulting.

It is also incredibly heartbreaking to contemplate a summer without the sheer enjoyment this club has provided over the past three seasons.

The enjoyment of walking up Swan Street, head-high with anticipation, watching cars turn into the car park and looking toward the box-office to gauge how many people would attend that night. GONE.

The enjoyment of sitting with the same familiar faces, watching our beloved team, and sharing the ecstasy of success or the despair of defeat. GONE.

The enjoyment of heading towards the function room and eagerly awaiting the presence of players and coaches to mull over another great game. GONE.

The potential enjoyment of sitting at a Dragons game with our championship banner hanging from the rafters, after two years of pain. GONE BEFORE IT HAPPENED.

Being a member, I sat next to the same lady all season. We gave each other the occasional nod and smile, but for some reason never introduced ourselves until the playoffs.  We came across each other again at the members day after the grand final victory, both agreeing to renew the same seats again next year. “See ya next season”, we both said when departing.

No we won’t. Possibly never again.

It’s enough to have this self-indulgent blogger crying all over his keyboard.

Life of…Bruce?

Australian Rugby League CEO Geoff Carr last week described West Sydney as the AFL’s “Vietnam”, but it appears Sydney City is Australian Basketball’s battleground.

Not only is Sydney unlikely to be represented when the ‘new NBL’ is supposedly announced next week, but according to the following headline the city’s biggest newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, has forgotten the name of the man who only a few years ago took the Sydney Kings to three-consecutive championships.

Don’t adjust your monitors; apparently “Bruce Goorjian” has joined Team China as a team consultant.

Ah, gotta love Richard Murdoch’s….er…Rupert Murdoch’s press.

bruce-goorjian3