The Canberra Cannons
Herb McEachin scores for the Cannons during a win against the Adelaide 36ers in 1988.
The National Basketball League wants a Canberra team back in the competition by next year, with officials visiting the city on Tuesday to outline expansion plans and to prompt a franchise bid from the nation's capital.
It has been 11 years since the death of foundation NBL club the Canberra Cannons, but new NBL chief executive Fraser Neill said Canberra was now a primary target for expansion in the 2015-16 summer season.
The NBL is meeting stakeholders in five areas - Canberra, Tasmania, Brisbane, Melbourne and New Zealand - with plans to double its teams from eight to 16 in a two-step process in the next five years.
Phil Smyth playing for the Canberra Cannons, against the Gold Coast in April 1991. Photo: Richard Briggs
Although there has been no formal bid from the ACT, the NBL has pinpointed Canberra as a place into which it could expand and met with representatives of the ACT government and Basketball ACT on Tuesday.
The NBL will advertise for expressions of interest in the next three weeks and aims to announce four new expansion clubs by October, giving them a year to prepare for the 2015-16 season.
''The expansion is being driven by the NBL, we realise having eight teams is not a strong business model to have, so expansion is a key strategic objective of ours,'' Neill said.
''We've looked at the markets we believe can help the league and we believe Canberra is one of those.''
The Cannons were established in 1979. Their glory days were the 1980s, and they won championships in 1983, '84 and '89.
Players such as Phil ''the General'' Smyth and Herb ''the Snake'' McEachin drew sellout crowds to the AIS Arena, then called The Palace.
But, after bleeding financially for many years and having to put up black curtains to hide empty seats, the Cannons collapsed in 2003.
Basketball ACT acting president Greg Evans and chief executive Tony Jackson met representatives of the NBL, and Jackson said the NBL's interest was good for the sport.
''The community was hugely endeared to the Cannons, the average basketball fan still talks about them. The big question mark is whether there's corporate support,'' Jackson said.
It's understood the NBL is also attracted by Canberra's big student population and is exploring links with the universities.
Neill said the NBL had not set minimum start-up costs or fees, but a final decision on the new expansion clubs would depend on the strength of business plans presented to the NBL board this year.
The estimated cost of running an NBL club is up to $5 million a year.
The NBL has engaged former Test cricketer Graeme Watson as a specialist consultant during the expansion process.
Watson was involved in expansion bids for A-League club the Western Sydney Wanderers, AFL club the GWS Giants and worked with South Sydney when Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes a Court took majority ownership of the Rabbitohs.
Watson said the NBL would not provide start-up finance to expansion clubs, but would help them set up their business models. He admitted the NBL's structure made it ''vulnerable''.
''The product's right. The reality is, the way it's been set up leaves quite a bit to be desired, and it's more a question of finding the right structure and giving it a survival injection and ensuring the new clubs that come in are built on a model that is successful,'' Watson said.
The Sydney Kings collapsed in 2008 but relaunched the same brand in 2010 and have enjoyed strong crowd support.
The Cannons' coach during the club's 2003 collapse, Cal Bruton said he would like to see a similar revival of the Cannons brand.
''If I had a dollar for every person who asked me 'When are the Cannons coming back?' we could fund a team out of that,'' Bruton, an NBL Hall of Famer said.
''Ten years has been long enough.''