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A League of Our Own

Taking a cue from the real life ladies the A League of Their Own was based on, could Canada start up it's own domestic basketball league?  (Columbia Pictures)
Taking a cue from the real life ladies the A League of Their Own was based on, could Canada start up it's own domestic basketball league? (Columbia Pictures)

In a moment of fatique while thinking of the recent PBL situation, the start of another Edmonton Energy season and the news of another forray by the ABA into Canada, Can Ball Ray outlines how he thinks a domestic basketball league may survive in Canada ...


On Tuesday I came across an interesting article in my search for links to post in our regular Canadian Content section and it got me thinking …

Could Canada really have a domestic league succeed? 

Now basketball fans, take a minute to think about that statement.  No, take a few minutes to mull what was just said over in your minds. 

Can a Canadian domestic league really succeed in this country?

Now before I answer that question with my answer, let me first jump into a brief history of professional and semi professional basketball in The True North.  For all you young bucks who might not remember a time without our beloved (c)Raptors (yeah I said it!) and those if you who may have forgotten about them, Canada has had its share of basketball leagues come through.  Toronto was a member of the Basketball Association of America that was one of the precursor to the machine we now call the NBA in the early 40s.  Since then we have seen teams show up throughout Canada that played in the International Basketball League, World Basketball League and Continental Basketball Association taking one teams from both sides of the border through the last half century.  Hell, up until about two weeks ago we had three active teams in the Premier Basketball League and still have one active team in the new International Basketball League in Edmonton.  Canada has had a strong history in this sense, having teams playing in various basketball leagues that is, and you can check out C.J. Phillips’ exhaustive list of those teams here at his site to count the ones that did not pay an NBA entrance fee and there are lots. 

So the question remains:  Could Canada support a domestic basketball league?

My initial response answer is a resounding no and this is what I rationalized was why. 

As you all should know, I’m an avid college basketball fan.  You could even say obsessive.  I’ve watched many NCAA college basketball games since before DeMar DeRozan was born (I’ll let you readers figure that length out quietly) and I’ve always noticed that no matter how bad a small town college team is playing, they will always have fans in the stands because they are probably the only serious sports team in five counties during the fall and winter.  Ponder that for a second.  The only serious sports team for miles around.  Could you imagine a pro football team in Olean, New York where St. Bonaventure is?  Or an NHL hockey team in a Cullowhee, North Carolina where Western Carolina is?  Or even something like a NLL lacrosse team in a place like Ruston, Louisiana where Louisiana Tech is?  Your likely answer to all three questions may have been (or should have been) no and you may be 99.9% right.  My point to all that is that these teams are the only game town and will usually said town’s support when it comes to love thy team.  Living in the hockey obsessed landscape of the Great White North, basketball is like the adopted child of distant relatives and get the attention it gets if any is paid to it.  The fall/winter sports in Canada in order of popularity for the majority of the population would probably be hockey, hockey, NFL football, CFL football (the latter two may flip depending on what city you live in) and then basketball after you’ve thrown in some Junior A hockey. Now I’m obviously generalizing but I’m pretty sure that would be about as accurate as a guy with a drunk on fatigue opinion could be. 

That is a pretty slanted scale for success right there. 

A domestic basketball league would need to compete with not only the NBA and it’s tentacles that are being beamed into any home with a cable package but with the local and regional sports teams of more popular sports.  And this will be particularly true in major market cities, and by that I mean major cities, like Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.  These types of urban centers have so many distractions by themselves let alone competing sports franchises that will take away potential gate receipts and fans. 

Looking at that, the growth for a league would need to be pushed by some serious popularity gains from the offset and would need to be sustained by success on the court buoyed by a local connection for it to be truly possible.  In short:  Impossible. 

Now the optimistic side of me, after putting some thought into this question, says yes that it may be possible.

Now I’m not an economist and I haven’t done any really research (I’m both lazy and well lazy) but in my humble opinion, any domestic basketball league in this country would need to be outside of the major Canadian markets like Toronto or Vancouver.  Taking the former PBL contingents of the Halifax Rainmen, the Saint John's Millrats and the Quebec Kebs as positive examples, it is obviously possible to sustain it long term.  The three aforementioned cities with franchises have large populations ranging in between 190,000 to just fewer than 500,000 but the key thing about them is that they are the only pro teams in the towns (not including the Junior Hockey teams where both could be viewed as minor league teams but I digress).  They enjoy the support of a population that not only love the game but may even view them on the same level as an NBA team.   And without another basketball team to take away their shine, they become the headliners and this breed a pro atmosphere.  On top of that, the team is accessible on a very personal almost touch-and-feel level creating a connection with the fan and the community which goes to further enhance the experience of with team.  If you need to get a visual to truly understand this, think of a college town coming out to support its college team.  And with the game at an all time high participation rate around the country as well ever growing heights, this is a winning situation. 

Now as a side note, you can take the path of the Edmonton Energy franchise that plays in the IBL but plays opposite to the other pro franchises’ season.  While the CFL Eskimos and the NHL Oilers are playing all fall and winter, the Energy play in the late spring and early summer.  Even though there are major pro teams in the city, the Energy capitalize on the dormant season making it their time to take the entire spotlight for themselves. 

So the bottom line, in my opinion after battling this in my head, is that a domestic league has a chance to survive and thrive in Canada but it would need to be outside of our current major market cities.  The attention being taken away from these fledgling franchises, coupled with a seemingly overpowering amount of options, in large urban areas where a team may be perceived to be able to grow may be too much to actually thrive.  The examples of the former PBL teams now show that it can be done and it’s possible to maintain successful franchises.  

Now all we need to do is start one.