ILLAWARRA could take as many as four games away from Wollongong next season as the NBL looks to expand the club's footprint as part of new ownership discussions.
The league is considering multiple ownership bids since taking back the Hawks license after former owner Simon Stratford placed the club into voluntary administration a fortnight ago.
A consortium including departed star LaMelo Ball and Illawarra business figure Tory Lavalle is considered the front-runner, but the league has fielded inquiries from multiple parties.
League owner Larry Kestelman is on record stating the club needs to expand its fan and economic base beyond its small market, strongly supporting its forays into Canberra the past two seasons.
NBL Commissioner Jeremy Loeliger made no secret of the fact a willingness to take the Hawks show on the road will be a big factor in the league's final decision.
"I think the business model of the club requires some rethinking and we've been reasonably vocal about suggesting the club should consider expanding it's footprint," Loeliger told The Mercury
"We were very encouraging of the fact that Simon and Mat Campbell took some games to Canberra over the last couple of years. We think that's an excellent initiative.
"Playing in the second-smallest market in the competition is challenging. As all of the other teams continue to accelerate their growth, it's going to be difficult for the smaller clubs in smaller markets to keep up unless they start thinking outside of the box.
"I think potentially four games to begin with would be a reasonable outcome. It's a discussion point, but it's certainly something we want [new owners] to take into consideration.
"Within the current parameters, we'd strongly encourage them to take some games on the road."
Both NRL and AFL franchises have taken the approach in recent seasons, with AFL giant Hawthorn having played four games a year in Tasmania since 2007.
Loeliger said such a move would not only grow the club's fan-base, but ease the financial burden on its corporate partners and members.
"It's partly about expanding the supporter base, but it's also about making the ask of the local population a little bit more reasonable," Loeliger said.
"The reality is, it doesn't matter how big the market is, it's very hard for people to find the time to go to 14 home games. That's compounded when you're in a much smaller market.
"Similarly, to ask local businesses to buy corporate packages for 14 home games at the kind of price the Hawks need to charge in order to be competitive into the future is a big ask for smaller businesses.
"If you have critical mass of games - say four games - you can take on the road, it's more than just a token gesture. You're actually catering to a second fan-base and unifying the Illawarra and, for example, the ACT behind a common team."
Loeliger said the Ball-Lavalle bid has an obvious appeal through the former's prominence in the US and the latter's ties to the Illawarra, but they're not the only horse in the race.
"We want to find the right ownership structure that will be there for the long term to take the club into the future and build a viable and sustainable business," Loeliger said.
"Obviously LaMelo Ball and his camp, along with Tory Lavalle, have shown some interest for quite some time. Certainly one of the appealing elements of their bid is the balance between international and local interests.
"We are an Australian sporting league first and foremost but we play what is principally considered and American game. Those connections into local business interests and American basketball interests can be very influential.
"We're continuing those discussions, but more recently we've had a number of individuals and organisations, express interest which is very pleasing.
"There's some very credible parties who are very experienced in the sporting administration space that come with some experience that I think could add value to the league also."
Discussions are expected to continue for the next month or more but Loeliger said the re-appointment of club legend Mat Campbell as interim general manager ensures the league won't rush to a decision.
"It was only after the club was put into voluntary administration that we took back the license," Loeliger said.
"Rather than it be in the hands of an administrator, we wanted to be in control of the fate of the basketball club. We've started the process of finding the next owners and I wouldn't want to put a definitive time-frame on it.
"There's no immediate rush, the license isn't going anywhere. We're really pleased Mat Campbell is in situ as GM and can start putting to together his roster for next season.
"We don't want to rush the process, we want to get it right."