Basketball in Victoria – Soaring to New Heights

It is 8:00am on a Saturday morning, you enter any basketball stadium in suburban Melbourne or regional Victoria and the ‘sights and sounds’ are all too familiar.
Basketball venues are a hive of activity as carloads of kids stream through the front doors; the squeak of shoes and bounce of the ball on the courts is drowned out by the buzz of the scoreboard and the referees blowing their whistles to get the game underway. There are kids in every corner of the stadium and the steady flow of foot traffic continues throughout the morning, spreading across the afternoon and does not ease until well into the evening.
This is what a typical Saturday morning is like 41+ weeks of the year for the Victorian Basketball Community.
Long gone are the days when basketball was the sport that footballers or netballers played during the summer to stay active. Basketball has rapidly increased its market share in the past 15 years, so much so that it has become one of the largest, if not the largest, participation sports in Victoria’s sport and recreation sector. Participation numbers have boomed and continue to grow on a year on year basis.
The most recent data published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) highlights the boom and shows basketball’s growth in comparison to other Tier One ball sports. In 2013-14 the report shows that national participation numbers for basketball (ages 15 years and over) grew by almost 14.5% on the 2011-2012 figures.
The Casey Basketball Association is one of Basketball Victoria’s newest and most rapidly expanding Associations. The Association is located in one of the country’s largest population and development corridors. Basketball participation numbers have grown as quickly as new homes in the area with the Association reaching an all time high with a huge 36% increase in the number of teams entered in competitions over a four year period. This rapid growth creates a challenge for the Association’s resources and facilities as Casey juggles resources to meet the demand. It is an all too familiar challenge that other Victorian Basketball Associations are facing around the State.
The growth is not just limited to high-density suburbs. The Melbourne United Victorian Junior Basketball League caters for teams from under 12 through to under 20’s and runs for 42 weeks of the year. A total of 1218 teams have entered the MUVJBL for the 2015 season, which places approx. 11,000 kids on basketball courts, statewide, every Friday night. This competition is arguably the largest of its kind in the world and continues to grow each year. Just think about the scope of this competition…teams from Korumburra to Bendigo, Shepparton to Mornington as well as Associations in just about every municipality in between.
The Big V is Victorian Basketball’s Senior State League Competition, and as with the MUVJBL, has experienced rapid growth in participation and profile over recent years. The demand to play in the BIG V is higher than ever and over the past 3 years, the number of teams participating in the League has risen by 38%.
Victoria’s participation figures are equally as impressive when compared to the national data. Victoria’s basketball population makes up in excess of 50% of Australia’s basketball participation figures. An incredible statistic, given Victoria’s population is less than 25% of the nation’s total.
Data from the 2012 Victoria Basketball Census (published by Street Ryan and Associates) shows that whilst metropolitan participation outstrips county participation in total numbers, in percentage terms it is a different story. In 2012, 22.9% of Victoria’s population resided in regional areas, however, 30.2% of Victoria’s basketball participant base lives in regional Victoria.
A strategic point of difference that basketball in Victoria can rightly hang its hat on, is the investment in, and understanding of the need to deliver the sport to suit all participants. Participation numbers across Victoria for All Abilities and Inclusion Programs have grown significantly. It is through engagement with new communities, most of which are generally perceived as dormant or perhaps ‘too hard’, that generates some of the highest growth figures for the sport.
But what is it about basketball that is so appealing?
Is it because the sport is played in an indoor venue or that a game is over in 40 minutes? Is it because the sport is perceived as ‘safe’ with limited physical contact, or is it because basketball is inclusive with many possibilities for adaption? Perhaps it is because the Australian public is starting to see athletes like Patty Mills and Liz Cambage increase their profile and provide our young basketballers with role models to whom they can aspire?
Nick Honey, Basketball Victoria’s CEO, believes “it’s a combination of factors”. “Basketball’s numbers at community level are stronger than they have ever been and that is not a coincidence. It is the result of a clear vision and understanding of our target market and ensuring what we deliver ticks the participants’ boxes. The sport of basketball has been able to position itself so it is an appealing option for all Victorians.”
He went on to say, “In one respect, Basketball is a very different beast to our main competitors. Our strength comes from our base. You won’t necessarily turn the TV on during prime time and see a game broadcast live, the sport may not have athletes gracing the front covers of the newspapers or magazines, however, we do have an amazing and unique community and it is the strength and support of this community that ensures the sport continues to attract new participants as well as ensuring those engaged in the sport extend their involvement over many years.”
“As is the case with most sports in Australia, our strong volunteer base at community level provides the engine which allows the governing bodies to steer the bus.”
“The growth is fantastic but we are faced with a glass ceiling that is proving a huge barrier for the sport. Growth has resulted in a lack of courts for people to play on within pockets of Melbourne and regional Victoria. It is not an uncommon practice for Victorian Basketball Associations to place teams or players on waiting lists for competitions. Current infrastructure simply cannot keep up with the demand for the sport at local level.” Nick said.
Basketball Victoria recognises this as a critical issue and has developed strategic relationships with various other sports and government agencies to ensure basketball facilities will remain front of mind when infrastructure investment options are considered at Spring Street.
Wayne Bird, Basketball Victoria’s Manager – Facilities and Government Relations commented, “We are continuing to work with a range of stakeholders to ensure basketball has access to enough high quality venues to meet the demand. Basketball Victoria will continue advocacy for, and guide investment in, both new facilities and the expansion of existing ones so as a sport, we can meet the needs of the community. Currently 36 new courts across Victoria are in either planning or construction phases. Many municipalities have developments programmed, feasibility studies in place or, are in the initial stages of review for future indoors requirements.“
He went on to say, “As a sport, turning away potential participants is not an option and we are working closely with State and Local Government authorities to ensure Victoria has more and better places to play – we are working hard to ensure that we do not turn anyone away. Some may say, “A nice problem to have”, however, as a sport it is a catastrophic predicament.”
So there you have it, the most recent ABS data indicates basketball is a sport of choice for many Victorians and that number is growing each year. This comes as no surprise to the basketball community but often surprises those who are not involved or associated directly with the sport.
Nick Honey concluded, “Whilst we can continue to put a basketball in the hands of Victorians of all ages, we will be working hard to ensure opportunity exists for increased participation rates, access to more and higher quality facilities, increased awareness about all aspects of the sport in the broader community and giving notice to our competitors that basketball in Victoria is very much on the move.”
Article courtesy of Basketball Victoria.
Image: Courtesy of McDonald’s
For further comment, please contact:
Rebekah Lacy
Basketball Victoria Communications Manager
03) 9837 8000 | 0420 308 319