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.

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