Disclaimer: Before you read this article three things should be noted. Firstly, sorry to all the Australians who read this blog, but if you do continue reading, I hope you can sympathise with us. Secondly  I would like to completely separate Basketball New Zealand from the New Zealand Breakers. The Breakers are now well promoted, well resourced and well covered by the media. They have made huge strides in recent years and should be congratulated for their contributions to basketball in New Zealand. And thirdly, this is all my own opinion, based on my experiences and frustrations as a fan. I don’t speak for anyone else.

The fact that you have located this site and have begun reading this fairly lengthy article indicates that you are likely to be something of a basketball enthusiast.

Like me, you’ve probably got multiple tabs open in your browser right now, checking stats from games, doing your best to keep abreast of the latest NBA, NBL and European frantic free agency periods, possibly even using the Trade Machine on ESPN.com to hypothetically correct the train-wreck of a season facing your favourite team (yes, I’m a Nuggets fan…).

You’re most likely a tech savvy and well informed individual, who uses a smart phone, has a twitter account, an NBA LeaguePass account and has learnt that the three letters ‘Woj’ now indicate breaking NBA news. What separates you from the millions like you though, is that you live in New Zealand.

And this is where it gets tricky.

Here in New Zealand, being an NBA fan is easy – regular season games are available a few times a week on ESPN or every minute of every day with your League Pass account. You can buy NBA jerseys from your local Rebel Sport, you can talk about players with most of your sporting-minded buddies and you can watch the NBA finals at almost any bar around the city.

What you can’t do however, is support your own national basketball team.

There has been a lot of coverage lately around the lack of funding Basketball New Zealand (BBNZ) has received from High Performance Sport NZ, mostly because of our new favourite son; Steven Adams making New Zealand basketball a dinner time conversation. But I’m going to go ahead and say it – lack of funding is not an excuse.

In the modern age of the internet (yes, that does sound like something your dad would say) it should be easy to follow the progress your national basketball team – I can’t go near a computer without knowing the every move of Team USA. It is unfortunate though, that I know more about the Australian Women’s basketball team than I do about the Tall Blacks.

This is not the fault of the media, who have done a fine job of trying to cover the sport in recent times – the rise of the Breakers even means we are getting a little more than just a re-hashed press release too. I believe instead that BBNZ have a number of fundamental issues relating to how they view the sport which is creating frustrated and disconnected fans.

Firstly, the focus of the organisation is firmly on ‘grassroots’ player and coaching development. Obviously this in itself isn’t a bad thing at all, but when your resources are extremely limited, as they are with BBNZ it becomes all too easy view the community like students rather than fans. For example, if BBNZ were bicycle shop, it would be investing all it’s resources in teaching kids to ride bikes, rather than selling it’s bikes and helping customers. BBNZ seem oblivious to the fact that New Zealand already has a large section of the public who love and understand basketball, or even just appreciate sport in general and would love to have a local and national team to support if it was sold to them in the right way.

I have never played a game of rugby, can’t kick a ball to save myself and don’t fully understand how a scrum works, but I still won’t miss an All Blacks game – and it is this sporting mentality that is being overlooked by BBNZ. People love to support the national side, they’ll watch the games, wear the jerseys and cut out the players pictures from the Weetbix boxes even if they’ve never touched a basketball in their life. BBNZ have not made supporting the team an option for the casual fan, instead burying it deep in a website that is the internet equivalent of the TV show Horders. Fans want easily accessible video content and photos, player profiling, easily accessible stats, results and ways to watch and follow their team – NONE of which should blow the budget (Youtube is free now guys) and until they get that, BBNZ can never claim to be a modern sporting body. It should be noted here that www.nzhoops.co.nz is a great alternative to the giant smoldering turd that is www.basketball.org.nz

Secondly (yes, all that was only one point) – Funding. BBNZ don’t receive any money from High Performance Sport NZ, but I’m sure that’s not news to you – we know and accept that now, let’s move on. As almost every single media article I’ve read about this issue regurgitates; basketball is the second biggest sport in the world and is one of the most participated in sports in the country. Up until now though, this has been used as an argument against the lack of government funding coming into the BBNZ offices. Let’s look at it another way though – shouldn’t a sport with such a large following be able to support itself? Why have BBNZ not been able to capitalise on the huge potential fan base and create something that resembles a profit?

I believe the answer is found within my first point (can you remember that far back?). BBNZ doesn’t understand the needs of the modern sports fan. There are two major revenue streams which don’t exist for BBNZ and the first, most obvious one is merchandising.

I have a Tall Blacks tee-shirt in my cupboard, it’s one of my favourite t-shirts and one I wear proudly – but good luck trying to get one of your own, I purchased it from a former player on Trademe. So here we go BBNZ – a little money making tip from me to you, ready?: Sell t-shirts BBNZ, please for god sakes SELL T-SHIRTS. It’s so monumentally simple. Everyone loves tee-shirts, everyone loves basketball. This may come as a revelation to you, but PEOPLE WILL ACTUALLY PAY TO WEAR YOUR BRAND AND PROMOTE YOUR PRODUCT.

I do not have a marketing or business background, I studied Geography at university and am therefore under qualified in making these comments but, I have done my own very basic investigation into this anyway and you can easily make $20 profit from a t-shirt if you sell it for a reasonable $40 to $45, probably more if you’re smart (and let’s not assume that at this stage). Lets say BBNZ sell 2,500 Tall Blacks t shirts (that’s not even 1 for everyone attending the upcoming game at the NSEC) – boom, that’s $50,000 profit right there, enough to cover Steven Adam’s insurance for the World Champs next year. This doesn’t even include the massive market for basketball jerseys in New Zealand at the moment. I’d buy a Phill Jones or Kirk Penney Tall Blacks jersey the day they went on sale, and I bet hundreds of others would too, that’s not to mention how many ‘Adams’ Tall Blacks jerseys would sell next year. How about NZ NBL Final Four t-shirts? Historical jerseys from famous NZ NBL players? The list goes on – and sorry it’s beginning to sound like a rant. I just find it down right ridiculous that I can buy a Team USA jersey in any Footlocker in New Zealand, but I can’t wear a Team NZ jersey unless I actually make the team (not going to happen).

My second money making tip for BBNZ is (and this is going to come as a surprise…): How about you actually play some games in New Zealand so fans can PAY to come and watch you. If the New Zealand Breakers can sell out Vector Arena multiple times over the course of one NBL season against teams like Townsville, then surely it follows that if the national basketball team, containing not just the Breakers but the best New Zealand has to offer play a game there (especially against Australia) it should be the same. I know this seems like a stretch given the present situation, but lets just imagine it’s marketed properly. That’s income right there, and it’s money earned from doing exactly what it is your organisation is set up to do – play basketball. Imagine for a second my friends, sitting in a full 9,000 seat arena, supporting your national basketball team.

It has been four years since the last game the Tall Blacks played in New Zealand. FOUR YEARS. We currently have some of the best, if not the best crop of talent this country has ever seen and this is what’s happening. BBNZ cannot even organise a single home game for our national team in four years. WHAT ARE YOU DOING? No wonder they don’t get any funding, I wouldn’t fund that either. I know I’m not the only one who is disgusted by the fact that we are having potentially the golden days of New Zealand basketball pass us by because a group of people (using the word ‘people’ there instead of something else took restraint) can’t figure out how to promote a sport that basically does all the promoting itself, to a nation of fans desperate to support their team.

I’m hitting the keyboard keys pretty hard right now, and using way more capitals than any sane person should, so I think I’ll take a break.

It’s been well over 12 hours since the Tall Blacks finished up their first warm up game in China last night, perhaps I’ll check the boxscore and see who played well…

Nope, doesn’t exist? Oh well… Never mind…

So lets recap instead then, so you can all go to bed; Basketball in New Zealand receives no government funding, but this shouldn’t matter because the crop of talent is the best it’s ever been, it’s a very popular sport in this country receiving ever increasing media coverage, we’ve got a three-time NBL championship team playing here and we’ve even got our very own NBA player now, so it should mean that BBNZ has more money than it’s ever had. They’ll be fine, right?

I don’t know anyone who ‘works’ for BBNZ but I do know that for some odd reason they’re based in Wellington, and all signs would point to the fact that they most likely do not have an internet connection into the building. So I’m going to break this whole article down into 5 points that they can write down in red crayon and stick to their wall.

  1. You’d make more money if fans could actually pay to see their team play.
  2. You’d make more money if fans could actually pay to wear Tall Blacks (or NZ NBL) merchandise
  3. Following basketball in New Zealand (both the national team and the NZ NBL) would be actually be feasible for casual fans if your website was simplified. Crowding every centimetre with text is not the answer and blank space is not the enemy.
  4. Social Media is free, use it properly
  5. Fans do actually want to have daily updates about how the team is going, videos of trainings, photos, please try to do this so we don’t have to create Weibo accounts and learn Mandarin. At the very least tell us when the games are on in advance.

Upon re-reading this post, I realise that I may sound like a raving madman, but I’m actually ok with that under these circumstances. For too long basketball in New Zealand has been keep locked away from us fans and it’s time that BBNZ stopped taking pity on itself and actually were as proud of the sport they are supposed to be promoting as us fans are of supporting it. We have national heroes like the staunch Mika Vukona, the seemingly unstoppable offensive machine that is Corey Webster and the human highlight real called Tom Abercrombie that deserve more than this. Let us be fans BBNZ, let us support our team.

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