The “last frontier” of Australian sport scheduling will be broken down this year with a professional contest to be played on 25 December for the first time in more than 50 years.
In a move that will delight those who believe there can never be enough sport to consume all year round, the NBL has scheduled a basketball clash between fierce rivals the Sydney Kings and Melbourne United for Christmas Day.
The match will tip off at 7.30pm AEDT at Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena in what has been labelled as a “gamechanger” for Australian sport, with Sydney co-owner and chairman Paul Smith saying the innovation better reflected a diverse Australian society.
“It’s the last scheduling frontier in sport in Australia,” Smith said. “We are a changing society. Christmas isn’t a holy event for all of us, and it can be a lonely day for a lot of people. So to be able to come out to a world-class venue for a world-class game of hoops, or just watching the Sydney Kings at home on TV, it’s a gamechanger.”
While NBA games on 25 December have been played in the US for many years, in Australia, the day has remained sport-free since the late 1960s when Sheffield Shield cricket matches and a Test match against India were played in Adelaide.
The Big Bash League considered re-instituting a Christmas Day cricket match in 2019 but ultimately opted against the idea after an unfavourable reception from players.
Major sporting contests are held either side of 25 December; the traditional Boxing Day Test match at the MCG is one of the country’s most celebrated sporting events, and this year the NBL will put on a Christmas Eve game between the Adelaide 36ers and South East Melbourne Phoenix.
NBL commissioner, Jeremy Loeliger, said emulating the success of the NBA’s Christmas Day games – which have been an annual tradition since the league’s second season in 1947 – was a major factor when weighing up the idea.
“We are thrilled to be bringing such a massive encounter to Christmas Day, particularly given we will be the first professional sport in this country to do so,” Loeliger said.
“Sports fans across Australia and New Zealand have been asking for live sport on Christmas and we are excited to bring them world-class basketball and entertainment on what is a very special day for so many.
“Christmas Day has become a marquee day on the NBA calendar and we’re confident it will have a similar impact for us and our clubs. The Kings have been very proactive in wanting to host the first Christmas Day game and we’re confident they’ll do a great job.”
The game will available to watch live on 10 Peach and ESPN for fans unable to get to Sydney – or unwilling to get off the couch post-Christmas Day festivities.