The Australian NBL is ready to give Wellington its shot, with a spot in an expanded league by 2015-16 now a strong likelihood for the capital.
Australia's National Basketball League believes a Wellington-based regional entity should be part of its first wave of expansion, which it has pencilled in as at least four new teams by the 2015-16 season.
League chief executive Fraser Neill and expansion strategist Graeme Watson hit Wellington yesterday for two days of meetings that they hope will kick-start a process that will end with a second New Zealand team in the league by the season after next.
Although the team would be based in Wellington, the vision is for it to be a regional entity and playing games throughout the lower North Island, and possibly on the other side of Cook Strait.
Manawatu, Hawke's Bay and Taranaki are all strong basketball centres and Neill said the hope is that the new entry would deliver the league into those communities, as well as the base in the capital.
There are suggestions the venture could also include Nelson, with the South Island city having the facilities and participation numbers to be part of the expansion side.
The league has an ambitious plan to double in size from its current eight teams to 16 within five years. That would result in something like 22 home fixtures in a 44-game programme, meaning there would be plenty of product to share around.
"I remember the success of the Hurricanes region when Super Rugby first started," said Neill who worked for the New Zealand Rugby Union at that time.
"We would like to create that sort of a vibe around the region. We strongly believe the lower North Island region has what it takes."
Neill said the regional aspect of a second New Zealand entry would be a key factor under the ANBL's desire to strongly engage communities and to spread interest in the league as widely as possible.
"We're absolutely adamant that new teams have to integrate with their communities. They can do a lot of good things in the community and the community can reciprocate that with support."
A Wellington-based entry is being considered along with Tasmania, Canberra, a second Melbourne side and Brisbane for 2015-16. Neill said the aim was to include four of them by 2015-16, but all five could be added if they all stacked up through the consultation process.
After more meetings today, Neill and Watson will return in March to engage further with key stakeholders including chamber of commerce and local government organisations.
By the end of March the league will then send out the Expression of Interest documentation to the groups it has identified as having the potential to be involved and by October or November hope to be in a position to make a final decision on the expansion teams.
"We think it's achievable," said Neill of a 50 percent growth in the league.
"Everyone thinks it's ambitious but we need to get a critical mass of teams to make the league attractive."
He said there would be a stringent requirement for the expansion sides to present as sustainable business models capable of being part of the league for the long term.
"There's no point putting anyone in who's going to disappear in a year or two. We've got to get this right."
Neill confirmed he would be talking to Saints owner Nick Mills as part of his initial consultation process. He said the Wellington entrepreneur had done a lot for basketball in the region and deserved to be included in discussions.
The success of the Breakers had also paved the way for a second New Zealand club, Neill added.
"The Breakers have shown what can be done with basketball in New Zealand. The support they've had encourages us that there's an ability to service a second team here."
The ball is now in Wellington's court. Or, as the ANBL would prefer it, in that of the entire lower North Island region.
- The Dominion Post
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