Saturday night’s opening of the Leicester Community Sports Arena; a purpose built basketball facility was another step in the right direction for the often negatively critiqued British Basketball League and indeed the sport in a country dominated by football, cricket and rugby union.
But, with some hoop heads around Europe still asking aficionados and writers in the UK about the London Towers and Guildford Heat; the former, out of business and the latter re-branded the Surrey Scorchers, realistically there is still a long way to go before the league can be taken seriously.
But a slick professional look, ever improving crowds playing in reasonably sized facilities, which includes the season-ending Playoff final now at the O2 Arena and brilliant social media awareness which has been rewarded with verified accounts on both Facebook and Twitter, it is getting increasing traffic.
And Leicester Riders’ grand opening of their new sports arena exemplifies everything the BBL needs to be on a game night. London Lions, Plymouth Raiders, Worcester Wolves, Newcastle Eagles and Cheshire Phoenix join the Riders also having that professional experience with fantastic social media interaction with its followers.
“I think it’s a complete game changer for the Riders,” Leicester Riders club director Kevin Routledge, who spearheaded the £4.8million arena project, said to Hoopsfix.
“Suddenly all under one roof, we’ll be able to do our community programmes, develop both boys and girls talent, all the way through to our elite programme, all under one house. It’ll give us a great opportunity. And the most important thing is when people in Leicester and Leicestershire think basketball, they’ll think the Leicester Community Sports Arena, so it’s just massive for the club.”
The arena is owned by the local council, which has provided a 125-year lease to a new company – Leicester Community Sports Arena Ltd (LCSAL) – which is owned by the club’s charity, the Leicester Riders Foundation.
As well as being the home to the Leicester Riders, the arena will also house Leicester Cobras’ Wheelchair basketball team and serve as part of Leicester College’s sport teaching and learning facility.
“It’s been a long process, and you’re always going to have hurdles, when you’ve got a number of different funding partners – we had five – and you need to bring in some commercial support as well,” Routledge continued
“It’s going to take time and it’s taken a lot of paper (work). but it’s been worth it. People have worked together really well, we’ve had great support from the council and the college, LLEP stepped up to bat when we needed that extra funding, and Sport England have been very, very easy to work with throughout the whole process and so have our commercial partners. It’s been a long process, a bit of a bureaucratic process, but a great process and really enjoyable.”
With just a couple of teams in the league still needing to raise the bar a bit with their game-night presentation, including suitable venues and good marketing, Routledge hopes that his and the Riders model is replicable for the other BBL clubs, and expects to see others follow suit in the coming years.
“It’s part of the BBL strategy that we want to get all of the clubs owning or controlling their own venues in the next five years,” he said.
“We’ve already spoken to Sport England about that. This model is the pilot, the test, can we make it work. We’ve got to make the numbers and business plan work moving forward, but we can certainly prove that we can build a facility that everyone looks at and think ‘wow, that’s good’.”
The social media side of things works brilliantly, the live night experience is nearly there. The next step is to get the league regularly on the television. Having the BBL on Sky Sports online for free is a positive, constant TV appearances need to be the norm.
It’s taken a while, but they’re getting there.