THE long-term future of Bendigo's WNBL team has been assured following a licence sale agreement between Bendigo Stadium Limited (BSL) and new owners Sports Entertainment Network (SEN).
From this month, SEN will take ownership of the Bendigo Spirit for an initial period of 10 years.
Under the agreement, BSL will also have the first right of refusal to re-acquire the Spirit licence if SEN wishes to dispose of it in future.
The move, announced on Tuesday morning, guarantees the Spirit financial stability and long-term certainty in the WNBL.
Despite winning a pair of championships during its time in the WNBL in 2012-13 and 2013-14, the Spirit have long been challenged over the journey both on and off the court.
Its survival has largely hinged on the efforts of a number of dedicated supporters both financially and emotionally.
BSL chief executive officer Dennis Bice hailed SEN's acquisition as an undoubted positive and turning point in the club's history and future.
"From the Stadium's point of view it has been a real challenge to elevate the Spirit to the next level financially and just trying to take it to the next level, which you need to do in an elite sport," he said.
"Negotiations have been ongoing for six months and this means ownership of the licence moves to SEN, but they (the team) will still be known as the Bendigo Spirit and they will still play all of their home games at Bendigo Stadium.
"Effectively it's just a change of ownership, everything stays here and remains the same."
Spirit players and staff were briefed on the licence sale on Monday.
SEN's newest acquisition adds to a growing basketball portfolio that includes 100 per cent ownership of the NBL's Perth Wildcats and part-ownership of Melbourne United.
Last November, the company acquired the licence for New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) team Otago Nuggets and added women's national league team Otago Gold Rush to its stable in January this year.
(The team) will still be known as the Bendigo Spirit and they will still play all of their home games at Bendigo Stadium.- Dennis Bice
BSL has held the Spirit licence for the past four years.
The club, which first took to the court in the 2007-08 season, was previously administered separately by a board independent of the BSL and Bendigo Basketball Association.
Bice said SEN's track record of success in basketball and other interests augured well for the future viability of the Spirit.
"You only have to look at what they've done to the Wildcats and the investment they have put into that program and the success of the Wildcats," he said.
"It just shows you that when you have got a major organisation behind you that has both financial and operational support, when you put that behind a team, it's quite amazing in what they have been able to do.
"(SEN) is a company that is borne out of regions and is very supportive of regions and there is a lot of upside for Bendigo Stadium having SEN own the Bendigo Spirit and us working with them.
"From our perspective, we are still really focused around the development of women in sport to elite sport and pathways. None of that changes for us."
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Tuesday's announcement comes hot on the heels of an exciting climax to the 2021-22 season for the Spirit, who won six of their last eight games, delivering them their best finish since 2015.
Adding to the momentum was star forward Anneli Maley being crowned the league's MVP.
The 23-year-old, who is bound for the United States and training camp with reigning WNBA champions Chicago Sky, is committed to the Spirit for a further season after signing a two-year deal before last season.
SEN chief executive officer Richard Simkiss said the company could not be more excited by the agreement.
"We look forward to enhancing our already strong connection to the local Bendigo community," he said.
"We are committed to growing opportunities on and off the court via the SEN network, while supporting the team to deliver a third WNBL championship."
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