The man behind the lower North Island ANBL bid

Last updated 05:00 26/08/2014
UNLIKELY CANDIDATE: Bill Wallace is the man behind the lower North Island bid for a ANBL team.
UNLIKELY CANDIDATE: Bill Wallace is the man behind the lower North Island bid for a ANBL team.

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Bill Wallace freely admits he is an unlikely candidate to be heading up New Zealand's bid for a second professional basketball team.

A rugby man, the Wellington businessman worked at the NZRU during the establishment of Super 12 where one of his colleagues was Fraser Neill.

Neill is now the chief executive of Australia's National Basketball League and he turned to Wallace in February as he looked to ramp up his expansion plans.

''The old call out of the blue: 'can you help me?' It's just another task,'' Wallace says with a chuckle.

''I'm director of a couple of companies and I was looking to do something for the community. So this fits with this ambition. I'd like to put something back. Wellington's a great city so if I can do something, I'll do it.''

In an ideal world, Neill would expand the ANBL from eight to 12 teams for the 2015-16 season.

There are five regions targeted for expansion: Brisbane, Canberra, Tasmania, a second Melbourne team and New Zealand's lower North Island.

Neill has an affinity with the area, his wife is from Wellington and in Wallace has a man he trusts to lay the foundation for a sustainable long-term franchise.

The vision is for a co-operative model, with fans owning the team and support from local government in more of a symbolic capacity than a financial one.

Wallace has assembled a four member establishment group, comprising himself, Greater Wellington Regional Council chair Fran Wilde, Basketball NZ chief executive Iain Potter and Spearhead Manawatu's Craig Nash.

Not being a basketball person, Wallace set about doing his research and started attending Wellington Saints games.

''I loved it and thought this is an appropriate sport for the 21st century. It's an international sport, an Olympic sport so I didn't take a lot of persuading.''

The bid to join the Breakers in the ANBL has support from the Wellington, Palmerston North and Porirua councils.

Entry in 2016-17 is looking more realistic than 2015-16 but ''we may get a lucky break and start early.''

''We don't want one or two people to bankroll this, we want the fans to own it,'' Wallace said.

''We will look for some cornerstone investors because we need working capital to start this business up. It's well into seven figures but I think it's do-able otherwise we wouldn't have taken this on. But essentially the fans will own the club and that will be central New Zealand.

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"We are saying Taranaki across to Hawke's Bay down to Nelson/Marlborough. That gives us a pool of five New Zealand NBL basketball communities and quite a few people.

"At the moment we're focusing on Wellington and Manawatu as our base but that may change as the evaluation moves.''

The next step is firming up a viable financial model to present to Neill, which Wallace expects will happen by January at the latest.

He will seek out the knowledge of Breakers owners Paul and Liz Blackwell and their general manager Richard Clarke as well as Saints owner Nick Mills and netball's Central Pulse.

Neill will provide access into the inner workings of Australia's NBL teams while Wallace also plans to lean on connections at NRL club the South Sydney Rabbitohs.

''We'll get a whole heap of information and ask ourselves 'what are the levers for success that apply to Wellington?' We don't want to reinvent the wheel and say we know it all because we don't. But I think we'll succeed.''

One obvious advantage that basketball has is that it's considerably easier to fill the 3800-capacity TSB Arena than it is the 34,500 Westpac Stadium.

''We're weather proof,'' Wallace said.

''I've watched the Pulse with interest and for a team that's relatively unsuccessful, they get huge support. They get support in the media, support from the fans and we've had quite a few discussions with the Pulse to find out what works for them."

- The Dominion Post

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