After a year in New Zealand as General Manager of the Sal's NBL, Australian native Justin Nelson thinks the one big ingredient missing from Kiwi sports is season membership holders and he is determined to do something about it, urging basketball fans to "lead the way" and propel the NBL to the next level.
Having grown up in Melbourne surrounded by the AFL (Aussie Rules), where more than one million Australians were season members in 2019, the passionate Sydney Swans fan is adamant that sports across New Zealand, especially basketball, can take a huge leap forward if they can successfully implement attractive and engaging membership models.
"I've always referred to Melbourne as the sports capital of the world, but the genuine passion for sport in New Zealand is right up there. We have a sports-loving community here, there's a raw passion for it," said Nelson.
Melbourne-based Richmond Football Club led the AFL for members last season, attracting 103,358 season members and generating millions of dollars from fans who passionately took their support to the next level.
11 of the AFL's 18 teams recorded more than 50,000 members in 2019, and that number will likely balloon to 14 teams in 2020. Membership money helps teams to plan with confidence, to build infrastructure and set a path to sustainability and success.
AFL team memberships generally come with discounted entry to games, special offers and opportunities, reserved seating at home games and access to things like finals tickets should their team make it through to the biggest few weeks of the season.
The Australian National Rugby League (NRL) also has strong membership programmes in place, while the Australian NBL has gained huge traction over the last year or two with basketball fans snapping up an increasing number of season memberships.
"Lots of teams here in New Zealand have some sort of membership programme in place, which is great, but compared to sport in Australia we haven't quite cracked the code here just yet," said Nelson, adding "But I think it's coming, I really do. I can see memberships driving sport to new heights across New Zealand.
"I've been amazed how much sport is a part of the community here, but when it comes to memberships it just feels a bit light on. I think memberships can easily be the biggest area of growth and help self-generate more funding for sports."
However, encouraging fans to spend more money up front to become a member means teams must increase the value and exclusive benefits on offer, and that's the magic ingredient according to the NBL's GM.
"Memberships need to be packed with benefits and value, it's going the extra mile that counts when you are looking for fans to pay up front for a season membership.
"The best thing about season memberships is it's valuable revenue generated by the fans, and in return sports teams need to then think really carefully about how they look after their fans, attract new fans and nurture them into becoming members.
"Memberships make you value your fans more and once you have that mindset it's amazing how quickly you can build a passionate base of members. I think it's a great challenge for all big sporting teams across New Zealand and over the coming years I really think we can lead the way in the Sal's NBL," Nelson added.
With the League set to have all 112 of games in season 2020 broadcasted by Sky Sport, coupled with increasing popularity with casual fans, viewers and sponsors, Nelson believes basketball is the sport that can deliver the best benefits to fans and, hopefully, make becoming a member a natural progression.
Things like allowing the fans to step onto the court after NBL games and meet players for autographs and photos is just one initiative that is leading to a resurgence in the League's popularity. Nelson says the after-game engagement by NBL players is something other sports should be taking notice of.
"What our players do straight after games is fan-engagement at a whole other level. It's brilliant. The chance for fans to step into the spotlight for fifteen minutes, to be on the same floor as the game they just watched, and actually talk to the stars of the show .... you can't beat that," said Nelson.
"When fans experience that sort of connection they become rusted on, and hopefully they are more likely to become a member. That's our focus.
"There is absolutely no better or higher level of support for your team than being a member. That's the message I grew up with in Australia - don't just be a fan, be a member," Nelson added.
Sal's NBL Team Memberships Now On Sale
Canterbury Rams - click HERE.
Franklin Bulls - click HERE.
Hawkes Bay Hawks - click HERE.
Manawatu Jets - click HERE.
Nelson Giants - click HERE.
Southland Sharks - click HERE.
Taranaki Mountainairs - click HERE.
Wellington Saints - click HERE.