With attendance numbers fluctuating throughout, can the NBL consider the Cup a success? Photo: NBL

The NBL Cup provided some of the greatest highlights of the season yet, but were crowd numbers and fan engagement to the level the NBL hoped?

The NBL Cup was a brave new venture for Australian basketball.

Part solution to the growing need for a hub to see the competition run smoothly, part basketball festival, the Cup was hotly contested on court.

Each of the nine teams played each other once, with wins and losses counting towards the regular season tally.

For the Cup specifically, new rules for points won were put in place. In addition to three points for a win, teams could gain additional points for each quarter won, or half a point for a drawn quarter.

The Perth Wildcats stormed their way through the competition, going on streaks of four and three wins straight to pocket a cool $150,000.

While the quality of the games were high, there’s many conclusions to be made of the competition’s success off court.

$10 tickets and constant double-headers aimed to draw Victorian fans in to John Cain Arena, giving them more bang for their buck.

All that aside, the question remains: was the NBL Cup a success?

The NBL Cup in numbers

A total of 49,659 fans (as per austadiums.com) attended the 36 games at John Cain Arena, for an average of 2,758 per game.

While raw numbers aren’t the easiest to work with due to COVID restrictions on crowd numbers, attendance percentages can be calculated and compared to previous year’s statistics.

With half capacity taken into account, fans on average only filled 52 per cent of the available seats in the stadium.

This becomes 59 per cent when looking at just the attendances of Melbourne United and South East Melbourne Phoenix, the home state sides.

United sit on top of the NBL table, with 10 wins and 4 losses to their name. The Phoenix finished second in the NBL Cup, shooting up into play off contention with 9 wins and 7 losses.

The NBL is left to scratch its collective head as to how these two sides didn’t fill the stands.

In the 2019/20 season, United sold out John Cain Arena six times, a feat which they couldn’t even accomplish once throughout the Cup.

The highest attended game of the Cup saw United only manage to fill John Cain Arena to 80 per cent of its already halved capacity.

This barely touched attendance records of the 2019/20 season, where the Wildcats averaged 83 per cent attendance at their home base in RAC Arena.

Speaking to the The Inner Sanctum, NBL Commissioner Jeremy Loeliger wasn’t overly concerned about crowd numbers not reaching the heights they were capable of.

“COVID has obviously had a major impact on all sports,” Loeliger said.

“Victorians hardly got to watch any live sport in 2020 and then just before the NBL Cup the state was impacted by a snap five day lockdown.

“This had a huge impact on events like the Australian Open and also affected ticket sales for the NBL Cup. Nevertheless we were very pleased with crowds particularly under the circumstances.

“To have almost 50,000 fans attend was an excellent result given we had all nine teams playing.

“There was clearly interest in the Melbourne based teams as you’d expect but we were really pleased by the support the other games attracted.

“A lot of fans came along and watched games that didn’t feature the two Melbourne teams which is a strong sign of the league’s status as a truly national competition and that fans can appreciate great players like Bryce Cotton regardless of what team they play for.”

Points being awarded for individual quarters encouraged teams with money on the line to go as hard as possible.

While Perth had the Cup locked in with two games left to play, the Bullets and the Phoenix were not keen on letting the secondary rewards go without a fight.

The extra grunt didn’t go unnoticed by the Commissioner.

“We thought the awarding of points around individual quarters was a big talking point throughout the NBL Cup,” he said.

“It certainly didn’t go unnoticed by the teams, particularly as we got to the last few games where there was significant prizemoney at stake for teams like South East Melbourne and Brisbane.”

The Phoenix scored an average of three points higher than their regular season games throughout the Cup, while the Bullets scored 11 points higher than the regular season.

South East Melbourne took home $100,000 in prize money while Brisbane pocketed $50,000.

The verdict on the NBL Cup

As a spectacle, the NBL Cup was overall a success.

From Reuben Te Rangi’s overtime winner to the resurgence of the Wildcats to the unbreakable fighting spirit of the Breakers, Victorian fans were not left wanting.

Attendance numbers were the only knock on the competition, but a hopefully COVID unaffected 2022 rendition should see fans treated to an undeniably thrilling festival of basketball.

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