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  • Writer's pictureJosh Kempton

The NBL has never been in a more healthier position

The NBL season reached a thrilling conclusion on Sunday afternoon with the Perth Wildcats securing the last finals place over Melbourne United by percentage amounting to just a single in-game point.

NBL Commissioner Jeremy Loeliger believes it's only just the beginning of what the ceiling is for the NBL competition.

“It’s never been in a healthier position on or off the floor, we’re exceeding pre-COVID measures on every metric,” Loeliger told Sports Breakfast.

“Our attendances are well and truly up, viewership across all of our different broadcast platforms is well ahead again, that’s eight consecutive seasons now of viewership growth, and if you put the two COVID seasons aside, then it would be eight consecutive seasons of in-venue attendance growth as well.

“But probably more importantly is just that that growth is spread so evenly across the competition. Obviously the Perth Wildcats always fill out RAC Arena with that very, very strong Red Army, but Sydney again setting a new record for single-game attendance this season, the Brisbane Bullets, despite finishing ninth on the ladder, they were selling out games right up until that final round, the Adelaide 36ers, they’ve just missed out on playoffs, but they’ve sold out their last five games … it’s just been incredible.”

The league moved to a revised finals format this season, with six teams competing for the championship through a play-in game system, up from four in the old layout.

The top two teams automatically qualify for the playoff series, with the winner of a game between third and fourth ranked teams progressing there and the loser playing the winner of a game between the fifth and sixth placed teams for the last place.

Loeliger said criticism around the play-in format had quieted.

“It’s become a lot more positive the closer we’ve got to the end of the season. There were some naysayers early on saying six out of ten teams competing in the postseason was too many and it was diluting the quality of the postseason,” he said.

“I think it’s fair to say some of those pundits are eating their words now, because even the teams who missed out, Melbourne United, Adelaide 36ers, could’ve gone the whole way and won the championship.

“It’s been received extremely well. I won’t lie, we’ve got lucky, we introduced it in a season when it’s been incredibly competitive, and I think it’s served it’s purpose in terms of its engaging more fans, more markets for longer, so we’re very, very pleased.”

The competition’s main problem club appears to be the Illawarra Hawks, who finished last on the ladder with just three wins for the season, five wins behind the second-last Brisbane Bullets.

The Hawks were purchased back from the league ownership by a consortium in 2020, but the league has had previous concerns over their viability.

Loeliger said the Hawks would bounce back.

“Illawarra had a tough year this year, on paper that was a pretty competitive team but it didn’t play out the way they would’ve liked. They certainly had more than their fair share of injuries, particularly with their import players,” he said.

“You’ve got to remember twelve months ago they were finalists … these smaller markets, sometimes these swings and roundabouts and peaks and flows tend to happen a little bit more quickly.”

The NBL finals will begin with the play-in games on Thursday night, with the Wildcats taking on South East Melbourne in an elimination game at 3:30 AWST time before the Cairns Taipans take on the Tasmania JackJumpers for the right to enter the playoffs at 6:30.

IMAGE: Getty Images


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