Paul McNamee (centre) has moved his professional interest to Australian basketball.Paul McNamee sees what other people don’t.
When he took over the Australian Open in 1995 he saw Australia’s biggest sporting event even though its public profile wasmuch lower in the pecking order.
Under his stewardship the tournament became the “grand slam of the Asia-Pacific”and it is now a $200 million business.
McNamee sees similar unrealised potential in the Australian Boomers, the Opals and the WNBL, so he has taken on a new role with Basketball Australia where he has been contracted to drive “commercial growth”.
His main focuses will be to push up the commercial and supporter appeal of the national teams and the WNBL, which still produces the bulk of the Opals squad.
The Boomers are being driven into the public consciousness by Australia’s NBA stars led by Ben Simmons and the new international schedule thatsees them play FIBA World Cup qualifiers every three months.
But the Opals are spending too long out of the public eye, although 2018 promises to be a busy year with this month’s WNBL finals followed by the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast and the FIBA women’s World Cup in Spain in September.
Women’s basketball is popular in Australia. Photo: FIBA
McNamee wants to change the way everyone, both inside basketball and outside it, talks about the Opals, whom he believes are Australia’s No.1 women’s team.
“It starts with behaviour and if we are going to have a presence in the very cluttered Australian sporting landscape then we need to have a very good story which is credible and I think we have that,” McNamee said.
“Basketball is really Australia’s No.1women’s sport but I know the perception is not that, especially with the rhetoric around the Matildas and I love soccer so don’t get me wrong.
“They are hoping to compete for a world cup, we have won a world championship and we are looking for another one in Spain this year.
“So our behaviour in the messages and imagery we send out has to reflect this fact and I’ve been involved in some pretty big women’s sports in tennis and golf.”
McNamee has spent the past three years living in Istanbul where his company ran major tennis tournaments but he has decided to come back to Melbourne and was looking at his options.
Boomers team member Patty Mills. Photo: Pat Scala
BA chairman Ned Coten reached out to him to see if he could help out and McNamee said he immediately saw the potential in the sport, especially with the nation’s international stars, the resurgence of the NBL under Larry Kestelman’s leadership and coverage of both leagues on pay television.
“The Boomers are huge, physically and financially,” McNamee said.
“The top 10 sports earners just came out and six of them are in basketball, that is a complete domination of the brand equity and earning capacity of our best athletes.
“I don’t have to repeat the excitement around some of those guys in the NBA but we are now in a World Cup qualifying phase, there are two games next month in Melbourne and we have a World Cup in China in 2019 and an Olympics in Tokyo in 2020.
“All of the stars are aligning in that way –it means prime time matches with our best players on court and we need to exploit that.
“We need to get that right.”
McNamee’s big vision may be met with some scepticism, especially fromthose in basketball circles who have been let down by big visions in the past.
Paul McNamee at Melbourne Park in 2002. Photo: Gerry Angelos
While McNamee acknowledges there are obstacles,he is certain the sport is about to hit a growth spurt.
“We know what our story is, we know what is ahead the next couple of years but there are some obstacles we have to overcome and changing those perceptions is not a walk in the park,” McNamee said.
“Are the Opals playing again in Australia this year [aftertheCommonwealth Games]? They didn’t play here last year so we have to get that right.
“We need a couple of friendly games for the Opals here in their gear before the World Cup in Spain –that works –but we need to make that happen otherwise they are invisible.”
The Boomers received no favours from FIBA when they were drawn into two away games during the June window when the NBA players are in off-season and potentially available to play.
It looks unlikely they will be called up, although if the country gets the first game at home in the September window then it remains possible someone under contract like Matthew Dellavedova may choose to suit up, but that remains in doubt.
“Having two away games in June must not happen again,” McNamee said.
“Maybe we can make sure there is a home game in the September window and maybe convince one or two NBA guys with secured positions [contracts] to play. We need that access to execute our strategy,2019 is an easier sell as it’s a World Cup year but we need to make things happen this year.”