Speaking to Chief Operations Officer, Andy Webb, I get the feeling he is very aware of the issues that have dogged the British Basketball League in the past and the challenges the league faces in the future. But despite being well versed in the problems the BBL has overcome and the inevitable stresses managing large parts of the number one league for British basketball brings, he still speaks in a calm and controlled manner.
The BBL first formed in 1987 and since it’s inception, it’s seen the biggest cities in England with London, Birmingham and Manchester all being home teams – the Towers, Bullets and Giants respectively. Unfortunately for the BBL and it’s loyal fans, those cities weren’t able to hold on to their teams back in the 90’s and it makes you wonder: If those big cities weren’t able to financially support teams in the British Basketball League, what’s changed since then to give smaller clubs more hope of survival, especially with teams like the Guildford Heat and Worthing Thunder both needing to raise money during the 2010 season just to stay afloat?
“During the previous regime in the 1990’s teams were losing significant amounts of money and that’s not healthy for anyone” explained Webb before continuing “It’s not the set-up the BBL were looking for and it was a situation where owners were having enough of the situation and were walking away and unless you can find another rich benefactor, then the clubs were in trouble”.
“Guildford have worked through their problems and come out the other side and Worthing are doing likewise. It’s all about getting the right business model and clearly, that business model has changed from the 90’s”.
With the 90’s very much in the past and the business model that those teams followed also in the BBL’s rear view mirror, will the league look to add teams to the league in order to continue it’s growth?
“The first thing to say is that just as a matter of course, we wouldn’t turn away any potential new franchise that doesn’t have the business model teams use now. We look at them on an individual basis. We’re looking for a sustainable franchise which is very different to what’s gone before”.
What’s gone before in the BBL was a very successful period in British Basketball where the much loved capital city London Towers team participated in European competition and fan interest appeared to be at an all-time high. As that was the case, why would the league no longer want to experience such success and exposure? But no sooner had I made my thoughts known than the experienced Webb had corrected me, advising me that not only is the BBL looking to secure an extension to the existing SKYsports deal but that seeing a BBL team playing in Europe is in the sights of the league.
“It’s very much an aspiration of ours to have a team playing in Europe again. The Guildford Heat were the last to participate back in 2007 and we feel it’s time to explore those avenues again. And as far as having a team in one of the big cities, it’s something we’re working very hard towards. The main issue is venues and it’s something we need to work around.”
“Most teams have leisure centre facilities these days whereas back in the 1990’s teams in the big cities played in larger venues such as Wembley, the M.E.N arena and the N.I.A. It’s very difficult to start a franchise with a venue of that size without a substantial business plan in place.”
Again the phrase ‘substantial business plan’ comes to light and it’s something that Webb is clearly very keen on making sure teams in the BBL have in order to cement their place within the league for a number of years to come. It’s a smart man who understands that and strives to implement it within a league which has previously seen a high turnover of teams.
The turnover of teams has not only impacted negatively on the sport of basketball in this country but it harms the fan’s confidence and makes it almost impossible for fans to commit to a team when there is a possibility that the team they have been paying money to see and investing time in, could be defunct within a few years.
As talk moves onto the dedicated following the BBL has, the deal with SKYsports which was signed prior to the 2010/11 season, is brought up to which Webb says SKY are ‘very pleased with the product’ and confides that the BBL will be looking to extend the deal to cover next season as well.
Success for the BBL on SKY can’t be looked at on the same scale as success for the English Premier League but simply having games televised live is a major bonus and with team GB participating at the Olympics in 2012, these are important times for basketball in the UK.
“The impact that the Olympics can have on basketball in this country will be significant full stop.” You only need to look at other sports and see the impact that they have benefited from – cycling for one – but it’s going to about making the most of opportunities that the increased profile in the sport will present to us.”
“The plan as part of the Olympic legacy will be to get a team into London which will be a major building block for the BBL”.
And as talk once again turns to London being home to a BBL team, the conversation comes full circle. Maybe having a team in the capital city isn’t vitally important to the success of the BBL but for one of the most vibrant and diverse cities in the world to be without a team seems almost unfair.
And in a sport which prides itself on fair play, you can only see a positive ending for the city of London.