Homicide’s credibility, worth pays price for social network self gratification

For a man with a lot to say, Corey Williams’ medium of choice is an odd one.

The Melbourne Tigers import was the centre of attention during his side’s clash with Perth on Friday night, entering the game on the back of accusations that he’d defaced a courtside banner belonging to the Wildcats at an earlier practice session.  

The ill feeling between Williams and the Wildcats was made manifestly clear when the latter’s chief executive, Nick Marvin, told The West Australian: “Corey clearly has no respect for the Perth Wildcats fans and uses every opportunity to disparage us… We’ll reserve our right to respond by the way we play.”

Williams had the opportunity to respond not just through his on-court performance but also through half-time and post-game interviews with One HD sideline reporter Caty Price.

The Corey Williams of previous seasons would have relished the chance to counter Perth’s claims and talk trash in front of a national television audience. Alas, the Corey Williams of previous seasons has seemingly become so infatuated with the notion that his colourful antics are beneficial to the media-starved NBL that he is now behaving as if it is his raison d’être for being in the league.

Sure, he continues to play excellent basketball and has boosted the Tigers’ playoff chances.

That, however, is currently secondary to the excessive self-promotion that has reached a level equivalent to a boxer who, on the eve of a televised bout, engages in contrived conflict with his opponent for the sake of driving pay-per-view buys.

The only difference is that Williams is seeking to drive the number of followers he has on Twitter. Rather than respectfully answering Price’s questions, Williams treated the reporter with a sexist disdain, patronisingly telling the “sweetie” that if those watching at home wanted to hear the truth about the pre-game accusations cast at him, they must instead subscribe to his social network ramblings.     

In other words, he paradoxically had so much to say that he preferred to articulate it through a medium that only allows 140-character posts.

Unlike the boxer who receives the financial spoils of an increased buyrate, Williams’ goal brings nothing but the self-gratification that obviously comes with tweeting: “770 friend request in less than an hour? Let’s make it 1000 and that’s even a better look people!”

The irony of Friday night’s happenings is that Williams truly believes he was conducting himself in a manner that was for the good of the game. As one of his post-game tweets claimed:  “Sumtimes the game needs pranksters. Things like this only make it fun, entertaining and memorable…”

What the game truly needs is strong relationships with its media partners. The NBL’s presence on One HD has provided an enormous fillip for the league, yet Williams sees the network and its audience as ancillary to his own ego. In his mind, the means of degrading a reporter are justified by the end of attracting more people to his Twitter account, where the sexist comments continue through tweets such as “wild cats [are] too sensitive like women” and “Man the fuk up.”

Perhaps instead of manning up Williams should wisen up, because at the moment the only thing “Homicide” is killing is his own credibility and the opportunity to maximise his true value to the league through media platforms other than his own BlackBerry. 

Corey Williams hasn’t been the only NBL player to cause controversy on Twitter this season. Then Sydney import Taj McCullough tweeted this comment straight after his side’s loss to Townsville. It was soon deleted, but not before Scibz’ Spiel got a screen shot.

Forgetful fixture critics need to draw upon lessons of the past

It’s understandable why fans of the National Basketball League would like to have selective memories.

Amid the flurry of teams collapsing, cheques bouncing, and supporters simply choosing to walk away, highlights for the league have been as sparse as the stands at the Sydney Entertainment Centre.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising, then, that the schedule for the 2010/11 season has come under attack despite being a marked improvement on recent efforts.

In fact, basketball writer Daniel Eade, in his column on backpagelead.com.au, went as far as arguing: “I don’t think I could imagine a worse fixture for the upcoming season.”

It doesn’t require an imagination to comprehend a worse fixture than this season’s – a quick glance in the rear vision mirror would suffice.

Eade laments the fact that the season won’t be opening “with a bang” due to the Melbourne-Sydney clash on 15 October being scheduled for The Cage rather than the Kings’ much-anticipated return to the Kingdome.

But wasn’t it only eight months ago that New Zealand and Cairns tipped off the year in front of 2,428 fans at NSEC? Not much banging going on there.

The opening round of the season won’t just be about the Kings – it will also symbolise the NBL’s return to free-to-air television through One HD. A Sydney-Melbourne blockbuster, whether it’s held at The Cage, Kingdome or Seamus McPeake’s kitchen, is the ideal showcase for the sport in front of a curious and, in some cases, novice, audience.

While it’s unfortunate that Sydney’s homecoming against New Zealand the following night will be on the end of a double header (meaning fans’ first impressions may not be of a team playing at its optimum), the question of who the Kings should be facing is irrelevant. The mere spectacle of the club returning to its old stomping ground ensures it will be highly marketable with more media hype and bums on seats than any other home game against the Breakers could attract.

There’s a reason why the South Dragons opted not to request a derby against the Tigers for their first ever home game, nor on Boxing Day in their second and third seasons despite the enormous success of the 26 December 2006 fixture. Those dates alone are drawcards. Why waste a marquee event – in Sydney’s case a meeting with Melbourne – on a date that can be used to elevate the status of an otherwise ordinary match-up?

Also, contrary to Eade’s claim that “every team should be playing multiple games each week whenever possible”, the spacing between contests is a welcome relief from the ludicrous situation whereby clubs would play as many as three games in four days before having two weeks off. It allows clubs to promote and emphasise each home game rather than having them lost in a cluster that, for a league with minimal media visibility, only the most hardcore fans can keep up with.

Finally, Eade questions Larry Sengstock’s comment that the focus on weekends was in line with feedback from fans. “Was this a questionnaire? Did the NBL send out surveys? I never got one,” he asks.

Perhaps, Daniel, it was the feedback known as disastrous crowd figures over recent seasons.  Crowd figures that were particularly poor during the Wednesday night timeslots you suddenly yearn for. Crowd figures that are the very reason you’re so concerned with the fixture in the first place.

How quickly we forget.

From con to icon: Kings forgiven for their sins

It’s a Saturday evening during the summer of 2008/09 and I’m walking up Swan Street, Richmond, dressed in a South Dragons polo shirt with a membership lanyard hanging from the neck. 

About to cross the Punt Road intersection for a night of hoops at Hisense Arena, I spot a couple in their mid-20s heading towards me from the opposite direction. As they stroll past, the male mutters under his breath, “Pfft, no one cares about the NBL without the Kings and Bullets.”

It seems a flawed observation.

The Sydney Kings had descended into a laughing stock during their latter years, tarnished by connotations of empty seats, bouncing cheques, a fraudulent owner, and threats of having their licence revoked in the middle of a playoff campaign.

The Brisbane Bullets, meanwhile, were hardly a hot ticket item prior to finding themselves in the middle of Eddy Groves’ fall from financial grace.

Yet, according to the passerby on Swan Street, the Kings and Bullets’ presence was somehow metonymic for public interest in the entire league.

This is a classic example of the power of nostalgia.

As has been argued in the circles of academia, nostalgia represents the yearning for a history that never was.

The Kings of the modern era were an off-court disaster, but the need for nostalgia sees the reshaping of history in order to perpetuate desired myths.

In the Kings’ case, effects of the Tim Johnston era were replaced by memories of the club’s glory days under the ownership of the late Mike Wrublewski during the 1990s. By reinscribing images of a sold-out Sydney Entertainment Centre into the Kings’ brand, the game’s doomsayers could argue that the club’s demise signalled the death of the league as a whole.

However, with the NBL confirming the resurrection of the Sydney Kings for season 2010/11, this practice could suddenly work in basketball’s favour.

A case in point is Wednesday’s article on the Daily Telegraph website, with sports Chief of Staff Tim Morrissey trumpeting the Kings’ return.  Morrissey opens the article with a reference to Rodney O – the Kings’ popular court announcer during the 1990s – before reporting that Bob Turner would run the club as CEO. 

Turner, of course, led the Kings under Wrublewski and played a pioneering role in using the media as a promotional tool.

Former greats such as Steve Carfino, Damian Keogh, Brad Dalton, Dwayne “D-Train” McClain and Leon “Neon” Trimmingham are then mentioned as possible role-players within the reborn franchise, while accompanying the article is a black and white photo of a triumphant Kings team circa 1990.

The Telegraph concludes the article by informing readers that Morrissey played for the Kings between 1988 and 1994.

Save for a brief reference, the escapades of Tim Johnston are conspicuous by their absence.

With the Kings’ brand seemingly cleansed, the NBL finds itself in unfamiliar territory, whereby society’s insatiable appetite for nostalgia has seen the otherwise merciless Sydney media represent basketball through a favourable narrative.

The Kings of old are back.

Will anyone care?

Perhaps we’ll have to ask the bloke on Swan Street.

Nostalgia’s done wonders for Bert Newton’s career; now it’s about to help the reborn Sydney Kings.

Twenty20 Basketball: What’s in it for me?

When Basketball Australia worked through the turbulence of last off-season by announcing an eight-team National Basketball League, the murmurs of a potential rebel competition were quickly quelled.

And with this season’s NBL producing the most even league in its 31-year history, the faith bestowed upon the governing body by its clubs and television partner appeared to be vindicated.

It was of great surprise, therefore, that a press release filtered through yesterday trumpeting the launch of a new eight-team tournament to be held at Adelaide’s Brett Maher Court in April 2010.

The tournament, which possesses a prize pool of $250,000 and is the brainchild of former Melbourne and Brisbane chief Jeff Van Groningen, does not have the sanctioning of BA and, if Townsville boss Ian Smythe’s comments are any indication, may struggle to include current NBL players.

”I’ll be reluctant to release any players, but I haven’t been approached by anyone,” Smythe told the Townsville Bulletin.

Despite its somewhat rogue characteristics, the “Foot Locker Elite Classic – High Stakes Hoops” still has the ability to benefit the sport.

The backing of ONE HD means that over 37 hours of live Australian basketball will be boomed into the country’s households via free-to-air television, while the sponsorship of recognised brands such as Foot Locker, Triple M and Spalding is a massive tick of approval for an undeservingly-maligned product.

However, the biggest threat to the tournament’s success is the decision by organisers to comprise eight generic franchises owned by Elite Classic Basketball and leased on an annual basis.

These teams have not been named according to geography, instead adopting names such as “Monarchs”, “Cyclones” and “Rush.”

This contradicts the very essence and appeal of sport. Sporting discourse is laden with nationalistic, patriotic and jingoistic undertones. We primarily choose our allegiances on the basis of a team’s spatial relevance and sense of personal ownership.

It’s typical “us against them” logic.

The Foot Locker Elite Classic has already been described as basketball’s version of Twenty20 cricket, yet even the Indian Premier League, with all its blatant commercialism, still recognises the importance of locality by having team names such as Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata.

Likewise, the KFC Twenty20 Big Bash – which has recorded a 40 per cent increase in television ratings and a crowd of 43,125 at a recent Victoria Bushrangers game – is an extension of state cricket. While this has been challenged by the signing of foreign players such as Dwayne Bravo and Chris Gayle, supporters and the media overcome this by welcoming them as “one of us.”

Football clubs, meanwhile, are often accused of turning into corporations; however their brands still carry historical values such as class, race and on-field folklore.

The Foot Locker Elite Classic has failed to give fans any reason to emotionally invest in its product.

The only attraction is the event’s novelty factor, which is unsustainable beyond its inaugural season.

Therefore, while organisers hope to replicate the successful Twenty20 Big Bash, the tournament is more likely to resemble Channel Ten’s Beach Cricket series, in which the sponsor gets blanket coverage, the commentators get a trip to idyllic beaches, ex-players get to reminisce and the viewer is left wondering: “What’s in it for me?”

There’s plenty in it for ONE HD, with the signing of Lance Franklin and Julie Corletto as team owners allowing the network to shamelessly cross-promote its AFL and ANZ Championship coverage respectively. Apparently Brad McEwan and Sandra Sully are ordering their “John Wooden’s UCLA Offense” DVDs as we speak.

But the ability to match television ratings with bums on seats will be a harder task. Adelaide has a strong basketball following, as seen by the 36ers’ league-best crowds, but they are a knowledgeable crowd who won’t appreciate having their intelligence insulted by lame gimmicks.

They’re questionable gimmicks, too, with 48-minute games and convoluted rules contradicting the Twenty20 concept of giving fans a simpler and abbreviated product in an era of instant gratification.

As the tournament’s title suggests, the stakes certainly are high. Not just for the players, but also for the organisers who have the job of turning this corporate enigma into anything more than a one-hit wonder.

Will Brad McEwan and Sandra Sully swap the auto cue for the white board and engage in some cross-promotion at the Elite Classic?

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.

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.

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"