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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Canadian Basketball League... Could another survive?

Back in 2011, I wrote extensively about the prospects of a National Basketball League in Canada when the NBL attempted to make inroads into a sports market tough to crack.

My thoughts are here:

Fast forward to 2015. 

The NBL continues to stand, but its lurching, a little punch drunk and would not take too much to topple the entire league.    London and Halifax draw well, but other teams have had spotty success to say the least. The NBL has defied the odds of many by the plain fact that it is still standing today. It really should be considered a success story. That said if you peel back the layers you can certainly see some exploitable holes.   Franchises in Ottawa, Oshawa as well as a couple in Quebec have either folded or been booted from the league. The TV/Radio presence has been inconsistent and caters locally rather than league wide.  One franchise took the unusual stance of banning London Free Press Reporter Morris Dallacosta, citing that he had been highly critical of one of the teams and the league.  Talk about a blow to freedom of the press, and to Dallacosta, one of the few who consistently wrote about the league.  Dallacosta continues to be a strong yet honest voice for the league and  wrote an article in late December about the fragile financials of the league. In the interest of fairness he then followed up with a somewhat more positive piece : 

Both articles appear here:

It is very interesting to note that there will be two new basketball franchises in play next year as Hamilton and St Catharines, two very good basketball cities are set to join the NBL.  That should raise a curious eyebrow or two, but I'll let that suspense build for a second as you read this article:

Enter a new face into the fray.  Former Raptors coach Butch Carter has his eyes on forming a basketball league in Canada, but one with a radically different approach.  Right now in the NBL a lot of teams use hockey arenas as their home arena and convert them.  Mississauga, Brampton, Windsor, London, Halifax all do that, which makes for a pleasing venue but not much of a visual when it comes to looking at fans in the stands.   Carter prefers smaller venues that would be cost friendly when it comes to rental prices.  The other eyebrow raising part of the Toronto Star article is the promise of a 20 year deal signed with CHCH Television.   Thats huge, a game changer, however you want to put it!  I've long espoused the view point that the OUA lost a lot of consistent exposure when it lost its OUA Game of the Week on CHCH. They did a good job of broadcasting and showcasing Canadian University Sports.  The Score,  Sportsnet, and TSN, while broadcasting university sport , have not touched CHCH when it came to consistent exposure.   Having a large TV presence is great for a league that has yet to start.  This makes the choice of St Catharines and Hamilton to go to the NBL, all the more curious as both are right in the heart of CHCH's viewing community. 

As I reflect back on my own article in 2011, Butch Carter's model acknowledges my own approach in some ways, but goes in other directions in other ways.  I suggested that Jack Armstrong and Leo Rautins get involved as they are high profile basketball figures, and its rumoured that Rautins could be part of an Ottawa re-boot.  I still think you need to get Canada Basketball on board and have a good relationship with the national program, and I also think that you need the best college and university players from Canada in the league as well.  Carter left the Toronto Raptors back in 2000 under acrimonious circumstances, but hopefully fences can be mended and the Raps can get involved on some level.   

Overall, TV is the game changer for me.   As someone who has been involved in broadcasting university basketball and college basketball on radio and TV, I see the link that media can create with fans.  Add in some of the new and social media, and you could have something here.  I would not eschew the traditional models of media like radio and TV wholly in favour of social media as, in my opinion, retweets, Twitter, and Instagram followers are but numbers that don't necessarily translate into meaningful dollars in the way that TV/Radio numbers can. 

Ultimately, a Darwinian survivial of the fittest model would work best.  Take the best markets from the NBL, merge it with the CBL and cast aside the weaker markets.     As the CBL wants to be all Ontario next year, a model with the following franchises ,work, as long as you tailor the schedule to keep travel costs down. Taking out of the mix the NBL for now, as it seems from the Star article, they are not willing to play nice or share the sandbox, I'd start with these cities and expand from there: 

Kitchener-Waterloo (lots of interest already in that market) , Hamilton, St Catharines (if they have not fully committed to the NBL) , Ottawa (Leo Rautins/Dave Smart factor), Kingston (kicked the tires with the NBL), Guerlph/Sarnia, two cities with good basketball grassroots, I suggest would also make good markets as they have a very solid grass roots presence.   No need for plane rides with these markets and teams can be paired off for travel weekends (Kingston/Ottawa, Hamilton/St Catharines).

Honestly, I would love to see minor league basketball thrive not only in Canada, but also in the rest of Canada.  That is a long, long way off.   As it stands right now, there is no way both incarnations of a Canadian Basketball League survive, but I'd bet on the new guy and his potential TV deal over the league that appears solid on some days but staggers on other days.

Steve Clark
Steve called McMaster basketball on the radio or on TV most years from 1993-2013, and also called York Lions basketball from 2006-2011.  He currently is the TV voice of the Niagara IceDogs of the OHL and Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL. 


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