The National Basketball League has just come off its 40th season and there is a fresh and vibrant feeling surrounding the league which has been built from an internal entrepreneurial spirit, especially one that is eyeing off being one of the most important basketball league’s in the world.
The league’s footprint is expanding into key markets of China and the United States with representative and NBL teams playing games in both countries.
Guy Neville, the NBL’s General Manager – Digital Content and Delivery spoke about how his team has used content and technology to break new ground in telling the league’s growth story.
He spoke to us just before the NBL announced an expansion franchise will enter the league in the 2019-20 season.
Bullpen: In short, what’s your brief at the NBL?
Guy Neville: “I oversee a team of four people internally and between all of us we basically manage anything that you’ll ever see on one of the NBL’s digital channels – social media, website, app, streaming. My brief is to make the most compelling, engaging content for those platforms and deliver that to our fans in the best possible manner.”
BP: Do you feel you have an advantage in your role, given the type of sport, to be experimental with your voice and content delivery?
GN: “Most definitely. It comes from the top down. Larry (Kestelman) has always positioned us and drilled home that we’re a challenger brand, and always will be. He loves that mindset and always wants us to differentiate how we do things. The phrase, ‘just do it and apologise later,’ is thrown around pretty often. In our minds it is better to subvert the norm than to fail by being conservative.
“We’re in a pretty unique position where we’ve got very limited red tape, we’re one of the few leagues that owns full rights to our broadcasts which encourages us to try new things.”
BP: You’re describing an innovation culture at the NBL. The transformation in the management and ownership of the league has empowered yourself and the team to think creatively.
GN: “I’m actually the only employee left over from the days when we were run independently.
“I’ve seen the whole thing from the day Larry took over, to Jeremy (Loeliger) and Andy (Crook), the NBL’s CEO and COO, coming onboard they’ve all driven home the idea of ‘think differently.’ We’re past the time of where we thought of ourselves as just a national sporting league, we’re a startup business, a media company and an events operator. I think the entrepreneurial nature of the business means there’s something new each week that forces us to think, change and adapt.”
BP: Describe the NBL’s partnerships with WSC, Genius Sports and YinzCam. What has the league learnt from these technological, fan focused partnerships?
GN: “Those three partners in particular came about because every time we have a defined goal we go out there and say, ‘who is doing it best out there, who is the market leader and can we work with them and if not how can we mimic what they’re doing.’
“We formed a relationship with YinzCam through our NBA connections because it was always very clear to us how much they excel in the fan engagement space.
“When it comes to Genius Sports, we saw them as an innovator as they allowed their data to be manipulated in different ways and we saw that as an opportunity that we could essentially become guinea pigs and a partner in this market where we could try different things and put their product to the test.
“As for WSC, it was probably the one piece of technology that I was most blown away by. There’s no partnership that’s made a greater difference to my area of the business. It’s allowed us to completely open up the way we serve up content to fans across all of our products through the creation of highlights using their products.”
BP: You’re a proponent of openness of data and statistics to boost content and fan engagement. Tell me about what motivates that and the benefits?
GN: “As much as we think we can do the best job creating products out there, there’s fantastic creative individuals who are passionate about the NBL and basketball and where possible we try and empower them to enhance what we’re doing in their own unique way because ultimately that’s only going to better serve our fans and league.
“Be empowered with some of our data to spread the message far and wide and that’s all we ever want to do, to tell the story of basketball.”
BP: In 2017 and into 2018, your social media audiences grew by 33% on Facebook, Twitter was up by over 13% and Instagram doubled in size. There’s also been big lifts for each NBL franchise too. Can you put any reasons on why the NBL has had such strong audience growth on each platform?
GN: “We’re lucky to have the NBL’s one true historian in our team (Mark Slocombe, aka…Statman), he’s taken on digitising everything and armed our team with content for broadcast, social and our OTT platform (NBLTV). It’s all an opportunity for us to engage with die-hard fans of that era and bring them back into the fold. I also think it’s a great opportunity to provide a bit of value to our fans when they sign up to NBLTV.
“We’ve also got one of the most creative minds in sport in Mike Corbett, he manages our day to day socials, he’s done an incredible job of clearly defining the NBL voice and our tone on social and digital. Add to that a great production team that works with our broadcast and digital stuff.
“I drill to my team ‘we’re never switched off.’ Testament to that we’ve got a team in the United States covering the NBA Summer League. It’s the second year we’ve done it, but we’ve really stepped it up this year because we know fans really engage with that content. We make a concerted effort to bring every step of the journey from player signings to players being picked up in the NBA, overall we just want to own that Australian basketball story.”
What an absolute blast these two weeks have been. Shoutout to everyone who followed plus the ballers and coaches that gave up their time. 🙌
— NBL (@NBL) July 20, 2018
BP: How important is it to delegate and put trust in a dedicated production and social media team?
GN: “It’s just massive. Our whole team understands what we’re trying to do and that is bring Australian basketball to the forefront again, bring it back into the mainstream.
“We’re a very young team and I pride myself on that because I think we’re able to connect with a younger fan but then we’ve got a person like ‘Statman’ who allows us to get that cross-section of fans who are in the older demographic. We can speak to so many different people. I empower everyone in my team to take hold of that and I think it’s a challenge that everyone loves.”
BP: And finally, how good is it cracking open the NBL archives?
GN: “It’s been incredible, finding embarrassing videos of Dave Simmons, finding Ben Simmons first dunk on a minihoop playing with his dad. Finding a clip of a first ‘Simmons to Bolden’ commentary. Those are the names people always connect with.
“Our Andrew Gaze gif library is incredible, not only from his playing days but recently, and making those available to our fans through our giphy channel has been really unique where we’ve tried to empower fans to celebrate that stuff.”
Images courtesy from Getty Images via the NBL.