Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Get your scorecards out because you are going to need them!  If you enjoy hoops of a professional nature, you might want to pay attention.    There will be three different semi professional basketball leagues operating partly or fully in Ontario for the 2015-2016 season. Add in the Toronto Raptors and it is a veritable hoops bonanza.     Lets try and keep them straight while I offer up an opinion or two on the entities.  I am going to stick with the three minor pro leagues in Ontario , rather than the Raptors, who are the clear and undefined kings of the mountain.   One wonders if people will meaningfully support semi pro basketball, or have they been spoiled by having an NBA team for 20 years in the region.  Plus, there is OUA and OCAA university and college basketball to deal with.  Is there enough hoops support to spread around?    In a general sense, there is.  While there are three different leagues and 10 teams with minor pro basketball, each of those teams is regional in nature, and there should not be a lot of crossover of fighting for fans.   one NBL team threw in the towel today in Brampton, as they moved their operation to Orangeville, home of the owners of the team.   One of the reasons they cited was the fact that they were too close to Mississauga, home of Raptors905, and felt that they could not compete against them in the market, given the two cities are separated by only ten minutes. 

The driving force behind the CBL is ex- Toronto Raptors coach Butch Carter.  Despite being long removed from the Raptors, Butch loves Ontario so much that he put down roots here by getting married and having a child.  It is very clear that he  is committed to starting a pro basketball league in Canada.    He's starting small, with four franchises in Ottawa/ Scarborough/ Waterloo and Hamilton, but hopes to expand to 12 teams cross country in the foreseeable future.   Utilizing a business model and approach used in European basketball leagues Carter hopes to capture the imagination of basketball fans in Ontario and Canada. His league is set to tip off December of 2015:


  • Butch himself.  He's  a commanding presence with a deep resonating voice who works the media rounds with ease.  He has also been successful as a basketball coach,  likely retaining some great basketball contacts. Other business ventures helmed by Butch have been a success, and his career as a guest speaker is very solid.   The franchise in Ottawa is rumoured to have both Leo Rautins and Dave Smart involved, and if he's smart, the first phone call in Hamilton should be to Ron Foxcroft.  He is smart, calculated and seems to, at least on paper, addressed the pitfalls of previous attempts at basketball leagues.  Whether it will translate to a financial success remains to be seen.  If it does not succeed, it will not be due to carelessness.
  • A TV deal with CHCH TV that would give the teams maximum exposure on a bigger stage than the other two rival leagues in Ontario. While the sports broadcasting market is saturated, having a station like CHCH which broadcasts all over the province is great.   The old OUA(A) Game of the Week in Football and Basketball was a long standing tradition on CHCH and always drew well, put athletes in the spotlight and gave the sport a much needed boost. 
  • High quality basketball.  There are a ton of CIS players, and small U.S. college NCAA D 1/2/3, etc players who would jump at the idea.  The on court product will be fantastic. 
  • The markets chosen and the venues will be catered to basketball, and won't be converted hockey arenas.  That will keep costs down and will avoid conflict with hockey in the area.  All the markets were specifically chosen for their commitment to amateur or semi pro sports. Population density, support of sport in the area were all carefully analyzed.  The travel budget and schedule should be reasonable, given the close proximity of three of the markets and the relative ease of transportation to Ottawa.  The research was thorough. 
  • A lousy track record of pro basketball success in the area.  Ghosts of leagues and franchises past that started with big ideas and flamed out in a hurry due to lack of interest and unforeseen costs.  I've been involved with a couple of them, and the outcome was not pretty. I really can't pull off this line, but survivial is indeed "all about the benjamins", and in the past the dollars were not flowing and butts were not put in the seat.  Many rental agreements and facilities were left unpaid. 
  • A late start.  The first franchise was announced this week and the league is expected to start playing in December.  That gives you just three months to find players, referees, coaches, off court officials, employees, and cement your corporate sponsorship, social media and marketing plan.  It is not a whole lot of  time.
  • Just four teams the 1st year might get stale as the teams will player each other 8 or 9 times a year.  Gearing up for that 6th Ottawa/Waterloo match up might be tough, though the fans will see the players a lot, so they should become familiar with them!

Hard to believe but now considered the old guard of semi pro basketball in Canada.  In Ontario teams operate in Windsor, London, Niagara and Orangeville, who just got a team thanks to Brampton pulling up stakes and leaving town.  There are also teams in Halifax (with new ownership), PEI ,  and Moncton.  It has been a tumultuous end and off-season for the NBL with a championship fiasco that saw Game 7 get cancelled when Halifax left the building and went home, citing safety concerns after a pre game shoot around dust up.  Franchises have been lost in Mississauga and Brampton, while the league will rely heavily on a new franchise in Niagara to join Windsor and London as pillars of strength. 

  • London, in many ways, has been the gold standard for minor pro basketball.  They draw good crowds, have solid ownership and good media coverage.  They wave the flag for the league and have been unflappable as there has been league turmoil the past few years. 

  • Good potential in Niagara and Windsor. Windsor is a step or two behind London , but is starting to make strides.  They are the defending champions and play out of the lovely WFCU Centre.  Niagara is a good market, isolated with a strong fan base.  It is asking a lot for a new franchise to be a cornerstone in its first year though. 

  • Commissioner David Magley, former Coach /GM of Brampton's franchise is the new commissioner.  After a turnstile approach to the most important job in the league, Magley brings credibility and respect to the office after a few years of rotating commissioners. 
  • League has seen a lot of franchise shuffling.  Ontario has lost teams in Oshawa, Mississauga and Brampton (gone to Orangeville), an attempt to put a footprint in Quebec failed miserably and the Atlantic teams have had assorted issues, from attendance to ownership. This league is far from stable 
  • Media coverage has been spotty, and live game coverage is restricted to streaming through YouTube.  YouTube might be a major player down the road in sports properties but little is being gleaned right now for the league outside of a small, dedicated fan base
  • They too are fighting the stigma of pro basketball in Canada.  The track record is ugly, and the fact that this league is still in business should be celebrated. 


Following the model of a lot of professional hockey teams, the Raptors sought to have their NBA D-LEAGUE team close to home.  After some fancy maneuvering ,  Mississauga was chosen to be the location of the franchise.   It shuffled the NBL franchise out of town and will be the only Canadian DLeague based team.     

  • The mighty marketing arm of MLSE will give it Raptors905 a decided advantage over the other two leagues.  Cross promotion/marketing should be easy across the MLSE platforms.  Calling the team Raptors905 is a stroke of genius that should gain traction from all 905'ers.  The name is slick and current and appeals to a younger fan base. 

  • Quality of play/name recognition of the players should be good as well, as many will be Raptor draft picks.   The quality of play should be high and the Hershey Centre in Mississauga is a nice sized venue.  Plus the team will get further exposure when they play two games at the Air Canada Centre. 
  • Few really, outside of having no natural rivals, as they are the only Canadian team right now.   It is going to be hard for fans to get up and get excited for the likes of Bakersfield, Grand Rapids, Sioux Falls and Westchester.  

This is great for basketball fans in the Ontario. Hopefully the leagues can tap into a young and enthusiastic fan base.  The grassroots growth of basketball is outstanding in this province and country.  Tons of players play the sport, but do they want to watch the sport if it is not the Raptors? That remains to be seen for all the markets.  Also, the success of Canada's national teams and the types of players on the team who are stars, or going to be NBA stars is light years ahead of what it used to be, when it was Steve Nash and a bunch of guys no one had heard of.  The betting here is that the NBL and CBL will eventually eat their young, keep the strong franchises and form one league, while the D League franchise will stand alone and draw better than the other leagues thanks to MLSE's marketing and reach.   

Fun times ahead though if you love basketball! 

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