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NBL Commissioner, Jeremy Loeliger: “We Would Be Crippled Without Fans”

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n an exclusive interview with Ministry of Sport, NBL Commissioner, Jeremy Loeliger, discussed how the NBL has managed the COVID-19 pandemic and what the NBL will look like, post COVID-19.

“From a commercial standpoint, we would be crippled without fans in attendance,” Loeliger told Ministry of Sport.

“The reality is we don’t enjoy the benefit of the hundreds of millions of dollar broadcast rights that some of the other sporting codes enjoy; we are very heavily dependent on gate-takings, particularly for our clubs.

“The NBL clubs keep 100% of their ticketing revenue and that’s absolutely fundamental to their ability to open the front door.

“Had we been a winter sport, essentially we have had to either delay the season significantly or play in a hub-type environment without fans,” he said.

The NBL was forced to cancel its 2019/20 season during the final’s series, deciding to crown the Perth Wildcats as champions after leading the Sydney Kings 2-1 in the best-of-five series at the onset of COVID-19 restrictions across Australia in March.

Loeliger said despite the 2020/21 NBL season only being due to start in December, the league still lacks certainty for the future as COVID-19 still continues to hold live sports and events to very specific restrictions.

“We haven’t been as immediately impacted, I would say we have been just as impacted, but the immediacy of it is not the same,” Loeliger said, discussing how the NBL has been impacted compared to other major sporting codes in Australia.

“What we lack is certainty; what the AFL and NRL have is certainty of the here and now, so they have specific parameters of which to operate, and they have no choice but to operate within them.

“We on the other hand, are planning for a season that doesn’t start until December, so we’re contingency planning with so many different possible outcomes, we cannot plan for every single one of them.

“One of the frustrations I guess is that only one particular scenario can play out, and so planning for all the others will eventually become redundant.

“So that’s a lot of work that will go down the toilet, but it’s work that needs to be done.

“The pleasing side of it is you do start looking at things quite differently and ideas do present that otherwise wouldn’t have manifested.

“There’s been some pretty inventive ideas that have been kicked around the table in the past three to four months by clubs, by partners, by our executives, and our staff, and some of which have stuck and will become a part of the NBL in the long run,” he said.

When asked about how the NBL has navigated the question marks surrounding commercial partnerships during a global pandemic, Loeliger said the response from the NBL’s key partners is one of optimism and support.

“In terms of the commercial partnerships, we’ve been incredibly fortunate because most of our sponsorship arrangements were multi-year, most of our sponsors are fairly significant national blue chips,” he said.

“No doubt they’ve been impacted, but they’ve probably weathered the storm better than a lot of the smaller companies, but most pleasingly has been their loyalty and faith in the NBL.

“Many of them have reached out and asked how they can help, which has been a really pleasant surprise and I think testimony to the fact they are all, for the most part, long-term partners that have been there for the past three, four, or five years and we’ve got to know them very well over the renewed evolution of the NBL.

“We’re not in the same position as some of the other codes, particularly those winter codes that are right in the midst of having to deal with the impact of not having any or really limited fans in attendance.

“We’re still going on that journey with our sponsors and trying to manage it to make sure we have as many people in venue as possible.

“Our broadcast arrangements aren’t going to be affected by coronavirus we expect, so for the most part we’re still very confidence we can deliver on our commitments to them, and they’ve not taken a step back on delivering their commitments to us, so that’s been very pleasing,” Loeliger said.