After a year in which Melbourne was starved of live sport, the influx of games will come right on the back of the Australian Open tennis and if Melbourne continues to keep COVID-19 at bay, officials hope capacity at John Cain Arena could increase from 25 per cent now to 75 per cent.
“As permitted attendances hopefully increase up to 75 per cent in Victoria by early next year, this will be a great opportunity for tens of thousands of fans to enjoy a unique basketball event for Melbourne and Australia,” NBL owner Larry Kestelman said.
“We plan to play a lot of double headers and ensure tickets will be great value for families. We will start on the weekend of the Australian Open finals at Melbourne Park and the NBL will provide fantastic sporting entertainment all the way through to the Australian Grand Prix and beginning of the AFL season.”
The NBL has already announced its rolling schedule for the first five rounds starting on January 10, its first 39 games are to be played over 37 days. The Melbourne Hub will form the next part of that schedule, which is expected to be released in the coming days.
NBL chief executive Jeremy Loeliger said the league’s plan was for all clubs to still have their normal 14 home games, subject to COVID-19 outbreaks and border closures, plus the additional games from the hub.
“Playing these extra games in Victoria will provide us with valuable time for restrictions on crowd numbers to continue to be eased around the country, hopefully allowing more fans to see their teams play at home,” Loeliger said.
“It also enables us to accumulate more games in an accelerated format should any unexpected issues arise later in the season.
“The additional games will also generate much-needed revenue for our clubs during this COVID-affected year but are also a huge bonus for our fans and the game of basketball across Australia as we bounce back from an unexpectedly long off-season.”
The NBL has high hopes for its NBL Cup competition and could continue with the concept in future seasons should it prove a hit. The 36 games in Melbourne will be normal regular season games that count on the ladder. Additionally, teams will earn three NBL Cup points for each win and a point for each quarter won.
The team with the most NBL Cup points at the end of the hub will win the NBL Cup and take home $150,000. Second place will win $100,000 and third place $50,000.
The NBL will announce the schedule for the Melbourne Hub shortly and all games will be broadcast by the league’s broadcast partners SBS Viceland, ESPN and SKY Sports in New Zealand.
Roy Ward is a Sports writer for The Age.