Basketball: Money makes the Nuggets go round

Basketball Otago general manager Markham Brown.
Basketball Otago general manager Markham Brown.
Money - no-one wants to talk about it but it is one of the key reasons the Otago Nuggets have transformed from no-hopers to championship contenders.

It is no coincidence the National Basketball League is usually won by the franchise with the greatest resources.

There is no talent equalisation scheme or salary cap in the NBL, so it is very much an uneven playing field. The cash-rich teams are able to employ the best players and basically buy the title.

For years, the Nuggets laboured at the bottom of the standings, unable to match the financial clout of the likes of the Wellington Saints or Nelson Giants.

In 2009, Basketball Otago pulled the Nuggets out of the league, citing financial concerns. The Nuggets returned to the NBL in 2010, albeit with a modest budget.

But if you have been to a Nuggets match recently, you will realise that has all changed. Just about every spare inch at the Edgar Centre has a corporate table plonked on it.

Sponsorship has grown by about ''50 to 60%'', gate-takings have risen substantially and the players out on court earn a lot more money, too.

Basketball Otago general manager Markham Brown cites commercial sensitivity when asked how much the Nuggets spend on player payments.

However, it is clear the wage bill has climbed dramatically, perhaps even tripled in the past four years.

''It does not take a rocket scientist to work out that you need to invest in talent to get them here,'' Brown said.

''But the organisation has looked to build carefully. I guess that was shown by the fact we didn't commit to Akeem [Wright] until it was shown we had the money.

''We have invested more as we have been able too.''

In 2010, the Nuggets would have been lucky to have spent a total of $50,000 - $40,000 of that on the two imports. Captain Sam To'omata drew a modest salary as well but the rest played for fun and perhaps the odd performance bonus.

This season there are at least six players on the payroll earning an estimated average of from $20,000 to $25,000. That puts the Nuggets' wage bill between $125,000 and $150,000.

It is an educated guess, of course. But the industry standard for imports ranges from $1000 to $1500 a week, or perhaps as much as $2000 for someone with a proven record in the league, such as Nuggets centre Antoine Tisby or Josh Pace from the Nelson Giants.

The best local players are in rare supply and can demand even more. And at the other end of the scale, you have a large portion of players who do not draw a salary.

While Brown was reluctant to go into exact figures, he said the total cost of running the Nuggets was ''not significantly more than $300,000.

''The goal was to make the team better and there has been a lot of hard work done by volunteers who had the vision to aim for the top and to do it carefully.

''There has been a lot of growth over the last three years. Gates rose 20% last year and that has jumped up again this year.

''[Sponsorship] has probably grown by 50 to 60% from about three years ago.''

The involvement of major naming sponsor Oceana Gold has been crucial. Without its support the Nuggets would have struggled to get back in the league in 2010. The return of Mark Dickel also had a big impact.

The former Tall Black brought credibility to the programme and helped lure Leon Henry and BJ Anthony to the franchise in 2012.

''The profile we got from having the likes of a Mark Dickel coming back and the team we've been able to build around him has helped [attract more sponsors]. Also the success has help.

"People like to be involved when a team is doing well. But I do think a lot of them are genuinely interested in helping us succeed.''

Oceana Gold is coming to the end of its fourth year as naming rights sponsor and Brown hopes it will continue to be involved.

''We've got a product now that is a result of what they've done. I guess they have helped lift us to where we are, so hopefully they will still be interested in carrying on.''


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