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?

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