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Three years on

Still mapping those courts. Still hanging those nets.

This month marks three years since the launch of Nothing But Net - a community hoops team dedicated to bringing basketball back to the neighbourhood, one chain net at a time. This is a LONG-ish read (5-8min) so for those of you who want the Twitter version, here it is ;)

  • Nothing But Net will partner with the National Basketball League for the 2017/18 season. 
  • We're working together to map 1,000 outdoor courts in Australia by 2020.
  • We're laser focused on helping kids 16-24 years old who fall out of organised sport when they leave school, find great outdoor courts to play on.
  • We're advancing our 'Connected Courts' pilot (a way to measure increased recreation on courts) to work directly with councils and hoops provider, Ring Leader.  
A little more info on the highlights (and some lowlights) of our journey are below. As always, thank you for your support, guidance and hustle - Alex. 
One of my favourite early pics of our journey. Crew getting down for a BBQ at Pirate Park.
Back in 2014, I spent the whole month hustling to reach our Kickstarter goal. I remember how nervous I was when we went live – I accidentally hit the launch button in the back of a cab in Sydney – and the feeling I got when the first backer (Adam Schilling) came through. Eighteen of the first twenty $100 donations were from people I worked with. Tells you the kind of culture we have at DT (now AKQA). I was overwhelmed with the generosity and felt a profound responsibility to make this happen. 

The end of the Kickstarter was only the beginning. It was exciting imagining the future so I set ambitious goals. I thought at worst we'd have the Nothing But Net app up by Christmas, with the courts across Victoria mapped within a year and enough momentum to launch new campaigns in at least two other cities. It didn’t quite work out that way... 

It has been a humbling adventure. We've had a lot of success but the challenges are what’s shaped who we are today. I wanted to share a couple of the BIG lessons we’ve learned along the way and what's next for your favourite hardcourt hustlers. 
1. Net quality is everything
The 500 nets we bought were cheap, easy to attach and useful in the first few months. The usage on courts was skyrocketing (woo!) but their increased usage put extra wear and tear on the steel. Unfortunately, the steel nets deteriorated quickly and despite an extraordinary effort to net more than 100 hoops across Vic, we realised we'd need to change the entire structure of the hoop to have a viable long term impact. 
The hoops supplied by Perth company, Ring Leader that set the bar for hoops in the country.
Safe. Durable. Fun.
How are we responding? We've partnered with Ring Leader (above), a Perth company that has manufactured a hoop that lasts 12+ years. They are small but committed to improving court infrastructure across Aus. More on this later...
2. Councils are... tough
Most councils will go out of their way to avoid changing what already exists. If I thought I could convince 80 councils in Victoria to rebuild their parks with a passionate email and successful Kickstarter campaign, I was mistaken. I'm proud to say my own council (Kingston) was the first to pledge their support and now regularly replace hoops with NBA quality anti-whip nets. Victoria Parks recently followed and now update the courts in Pitt La and Albert Park but we’re still way off reaching the tipping point to convince councils to change policies.   
My local hoop 'Jungle Juice' in Mentone (City of Kingston). I still head here most weeks in the Summer.
How are we responding? Although I still hang hoops I find in my travels, we have a more strategic approach now working with a few select councils to measure the impact of nets court usage. By the end of Summer 17/18 we'll have the data to share with both state and local government to install better facilities at courts across the country. Improving recreation whilst existing infrastructure remains our top conversation with local government authorities (LGAs). 
3. Playing with new technology is a learning process
This year we partnered Basketball WA, Bluecats (beacons) and Google’s Eddystone technology to measure the frequency and engagement of ballers in Perth. The trial of the technology worked in closed environments (like stadiums) but not enough of the community had downloaded the app for this to become powerful. We also were confronted with challenges collecting all the data due to privacy, which made it tough to measure the impact of our activities without manual observation. 
The Bluecats Beacons (left) on our courts in Perth (right)
How are we responding? We've figured out a way to track visits using GPS on each of the pins now and we'll soon be releasing an update to both versions of the app that will tell you when courts are active all across the country. Anywhere, anytime, you'll be able to pick up a game with someone, or go find a solo hoop. BANG
4. Partnerships have to be the right fit
I'm proud to say that despite several offers, we've never yielded to pressure from brands whom we didn't believe aligned with our values. This can be hard to resist when we've been desperate for development hours to improve the app, but somehow we’ve always made do with people we’ve met along the way. Pictured below (right) is River Haung, whom I met through Harley Ozcan, who put together the original Nothing But Net logo we still use today.  

When I met River, I was costing the Andriod version of the app, but couldn't afford the 20k to build a completely new code base, let alone merge them to one. River said he'd give it a shot and a few weeks later we had the Andriod version. He did this for free. On his own time. Because he believes in what we're building. 
Me with Alwyn (Bluecats) and River Haung (right), our developer that gives his time to build because he believes in what we're building.
We also have to acknowledge the faith of Rob Clement and Georgia Clarke from Basketball WA. They worked through the data frustrations experienced initially and kept looking ahead for a better solution.

How are we responding? Together with Ring Leader, we’ll soon present our ‘Connected Court’ system to LGAs in Perth to slowly begin connecting courts in their council to measure the increase in recreation across the Summer 17/18. Our research will become a study we'll document and share with governments across Australia.
Georgia Clarke (Basketball WA) and I installing beacons and tagging courts in Perth this year. 
5. We can be more than nets
Today, Nothing But Net has become laser focused on a particular audience: kids aged 16-24 whom fall out of organised sport when they leave school. We had an opportunity last year to support a local team with uniforms. A young kid, Pip from from Mornington, emailed me to ask if I'd help. I gave them singlets (their mums all tailored them to fit) and I met their coach, Chris who strangely enough used to referee me back in my playing days. Funny how things like that play out.
Hanging out with the 'Nothing But Nets' down in Mornington. Most of these kids are now playing rep ball.
Did I mention these kids are GOOD? Most were recently accepted to rep ball – some will go pretty far too – but the reality is that about 1 in 5 will leave school and won't be able to find anywhere to play. Why? Local stadiums are at capacity, turning thousands of kids like this away every week and local options aren’t good enough.

How are we responding? This is what Nothing But Net fights for; better outdoor facilities and an easy way to find the best quality courts in the neighbourhood. Today, our basic mission (nets on hoops) has become something far more meaningful - make basketball more accessible and enjoyable for everyone.  

 

Where to next?

Keep mapping those courts. Keep hanging those nets.

Basketball is the second highest participation sport in the country. The national league is enjoying a healthy resurgence; largely thanks to the revival of our national competition (NBL), our strong contingent of Aussies in the NBA and the disappointment of yet another 4th placing at the Olympics is still fresh in the minds of every baller in Australia. We. Need. That. Medal.
 
We believe the future of basketball in Australia rests in the ambitions of our youth. So the focus for Nothing But Net for the next two years will be: 

1. Map every public outdoor court in Australia.

We’ve mapped more than 200 courts across Australia, but we have many more to go and we need your help. We want to fill the Nothing But Net app with pins so every kid in Australia, no matter where they are, can find a great local court to play at with friends in an instant.

Some of you may have seen our cameo at the NBL launch this Monday (pic below with their CEO, Larry Kestelman). We have a BIG announcement coming that will help us achieve this goal in partnership with the NBL, but we're still finalising the details... We'll announce here soon  

By 2020, we hope to have 1000+ courts on the Nothing But Net app. If you find a court, use the app to let us know and if you're keen to dedicated some time to mapping courts in states across Aus for us - hit us up here.

Me with Glenn Bower from AMES and Larry Kestelman, CEO of the NBL at the season launch who are backing Nothing But Net on our mission to map Australia.
2. Improve the quality of outdoor courts across Australia
Stadiums are at capacity, so we’re working with councils across Australia to educate them on improving the facilities of outdoor courts. Why? From our work we can see that better courts motivate kids to play.

Every month we reach out to new councils and ask them to improve the quality of their courts. By the end of 2020, we hope all states across Australia commit to installing Ring Leader hoops in our parks. If you can help us in this mission - email us here
By committing to these two act, we believe Nothing But Net can move beyond nets and play a small but important role in the future of our game. 
 
We’ve learned a lot over the last three years, and we have much more ahead. We’re a little wiser, a little older, but I’m happy to say we still have that same quick jab-step and hustle. If you’re reading this and have an idea on how you can help, hit me up here and we can grab a coffee... or shoot a few hoops. 
 
As always, thank you to everyone who has been a part of the journey so far.
 
Keep hustlin’ 
 
Alex Wood
Founder and fellow Baller. 
Nothing But Net.
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