I decided to check out the “new NBL” with the Melbourne Tigers playing the New Zealand Breakers at the SNAHC (State Netball & Hockey Centre). As one of many lapsed hoops fans I was keen to see if there was anything different or new.
I may represent a lot of the sports market when it comes to the NBL as I definitely fell out of love with the NBL over ticketing prices, scheduling decisions and arrogance of the “Field of Dreams” mentality of the NBL. By that I mean “If we build it, they will come” belief that people who play or love basketball will happily pay whatever price for the love of the game. As the NBL found out love does come with a price tag when it comes to sports fans and what is more important sports families.
Now hopefully you haven't stopped reading this believing it is another “bash the NBL” article. Unfortunately for the NBL those articles are very easy to write, I must admit as I walked past the Melbourne Zoo on the way to the game I thought to myself, “What's that smell? The new NBL? No, I was just passing the elephant enclosure” like I said it's easy to do.
I decided to go into Sports Geek “secret-shopper” mode to see if I could buy a membership on opening night. This is quite a common practice at AFL clubs who make strong sales pitches to walkup fans for the first few rounds. Last year I strolled up to a North Melbourne Kangaroos game and bought a membership to support the Roos staying in Melbourne in 10 minutes. I approached the membership collection desk which was operating smoothly handing membership packs to returning members. They directed me to the ticketing desk for ticket pickups, who then directed me to ask for Lee at the ticketing counter. Now the SNAHC (or the Cage as the Tigers call it) has never been quick for walkup sales but it think it suffers like Etihad Stadium in comparison to the MCG which caters for walkups like no other stadium in the world.
After a 10 minute wait in line I asked, “Can I buy a membership?” to the ticket counter. I was again pointed toward Lee, after a short wait I met Lee and asked, “Are you guys selling memberships tonight?” to which he replied, “Sure, I can sell you whatever kind of membership you like”. He handed me a membership application form and asked what type of membership I'd like. I said I had been a member before (1992-2005), when I said my name he said he recognised it. What amazed me was his ability to name my mates who were still members and where they sat. To say that I was surprised would be an understatement it is that kind of customer service the NBL needs to get back in the game. If you follow me on Twitter you'd know I was impressed.
Now I had a ticket to the game I was interested to see how Larry Sengstock's Australisation of the NBL will go. There was an energy around the stadium pre-game fitting a season opener, strong activity in the merchandising store with fans taking up the offers of 50% available. There was an abundance of hand clappers which I know the kids love, but if you're following the “Australisation” strategy they should be out. Yes there is importance to “hook” the kids on the sport but for the NBL the fence-sitters are the parents and from my observations hand-clappers and thundersticks are not well received.
I must agree with Ron Reed's commentary that perhaps the Tigers didn't get the “Australisation” memo which outlined no National Anthems (there were two Aus & NZ) and less music played throughout game. What you can't complain about is the effort and quality of basketball on the court. Mark Worthington fresh from the Dragons championships, “If you can beat them but your team no longer exists then join them”, won over the Tigers faithful when he “hulked-up” after a poke in the eye and drew a charge in a vital 4th quarter play.
Now this isn't a game report it you want those look here, however I must admit it was an enjoyable night. The crowd was enthusiastic and the Cage was loud at about 70% full (although I'm happy to be corrected). It was a little strange adjusting to the 40 minute game from a 48 minute game but it was good to get out by 9:15pm rather than 9:45pm.
Overall it was a good night, it is far to too early to declare the “NBL is back!” but if they continue to serve up a great product on the floor and attend to every fan like it's their last one they'll be headed in the right direction.
Sports Geek score
Game – A – Quality athletes, quality basketball
Customer Service – A+ – Exceptional
Price – C – Very pricey and may be out of reach for some especially due to GFC (Global Financial Crisis not Geelong Football Club)
Game Entertainment – C – Dial back the music and hand game back to fans
Merchandise -B – Selling, available
Ticketing – B – Lines moved swiftly, could have used another ticket operator on opening night
Concessions (Food & Beverages) – B – Like most venues but not price gouging as much as at AFL games
Parking – D – Unfortunately the SNAHC is a hard venue to get to by car and now the SNAHC (not the Tigers charges) $10. Sports Geek suggests public transport or park at Zoo.