The WNBL could be in for a major ownership overhaul, with NBL boss Larry Kestelman circling. Image by Rob Prezioso/AAP PHOTOS
  • basketball

Ball in BA’s court as NBL owner looks to buy into WNBL

Jasper Bruce March 11, 2024

The ball is in Basketball Australia’s court as NBL owner Larry Kestelman formally explores the possibility of purchasing the WNBL in a landmark play to unite the sport in Australia.

Basketball is unique among major sports in this country as the elite women’s and men’s domestic leagues, the WNBL and NBL, are owned and operated by separate bodies.

While telco entrepreneur Kestelman bought the NBL in 2015, Basketball Australia (BA) maintains ownership of the WNBL.

Larry Kestelman
 NBL owner Larry Kestelman is interested in getting much more involved with the WNBL. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS 

The NBL has thrived under Kestelman’s watch, welcoming more than one million fans to games this season for the first time since 1996.

But despite the surging popularity of basketball in Australia, seven of eight WNBL sides operate at a loss.

AAP understands BA is open to a change in the way the WNBL is run.

The WNBL players’ collective bargaining agreement is up for renewal in April and it is unlikely the league would be sold before then.

The NBL has indicated its interest in purchasing the league to BA and is open to the acquisition being a long-term play.

NBL chief executive David Stevenson declined to comment about any specific ongoing discussions.

But ex-AFL operations manager Stevenson, in his first season as NBL boss, said it made sense for the leagues to be integrated.

“It’s been one of my top priorities since starting in the role to bring the ecosystem of basketball together,” he told AAP.

“There are such obvious growth opportunities when we work together. We’ve done a number of things already, Indigenous Round, collectively and that launch.

“We’re working on some new concepts with them that’ll come to fruition in the coming weeks in months.”

Discussions of the sale come as Geelong’s basketball association, Geelong United Basketball, joins forces with a private consortium of investors to purchase the Melbourne Boomers’ WNBL licence, subject to approval from BA.

Under the proposed sale, the franchise would relocate and rebrand as the Geelong United Boomers.

AAP understands the major sticking point is that from a broadcast standpoint, BA would prefer there to be two teams running out of Melbourne, rather than only the Southside Flyers.

But with no other buyers interested in the Boomers’ licence, the only other options appear to be BA running the team themselves, or the franchise collapsing.

The process to formally grant that approval has been delayed by discussions of the league’s potential sale to Kestelman.

Despite the financial challenges that have gone along with the WNBL, the Geelong buyers are confident they can turn profit from the get-go by following the Townsville Fire’s successful model.

Like the Fire, the Geelong United Boomers would dodge the major costs associated with renting a private stadium by initally playing out of The Arena, a smaller-scale and cheaper venue.

Further down the track, the plan is for the Geelong United Boomers to base themselves at a proposed new venue at Waurn Ponds on the city’s southern outskirts.

That proposed stadium was part of the plan for the 2026 Commonwealth Games in regional Victoria, before the state government pulled the pin last year, citing soaring costs.