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Walling: NBL commissioner speaks frankly about league issues

Alex J. Walling
12/20/2011 8:07:05 PM
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John Kennedy is a straight shooter and he shoots from the lip.

Kennedy is the new commissioner of the NBL, the National Basketball League of Canada. He assumed the role in November.

In a conference call on Tuesday he opened up about the fledgling minor pro basketball league that has franchises in London, Oshawa, Quebec City, Saint John, Moncton, Halifax and Summerside. What surprised me was his honesty and candidness about the league.

Kennedy spoke about more problems and concerns than I imagined.

The league is concerned about several franchises, especially the ones in Quebec City and Oshawa.

Both of them have been averaging low crowds of less than 1,000.

"We will over the holidays get together with these franchises in order to offer them support," he tells TSN.ca.

He considers Oshawa, home of the Power, to be a solid market and wants to know why the NBL has not taken off there.

As for Quebec they have had minor pro ball over the last few years, being in the ABA (American Basketball Association) and PBL (Premier Basketball League).

He is adamant that all teams will last the season and no teams will fold.

"We intend to be there with all the teams at the end of the year," were Kennedy's remarks.

London, home of the Lightning, has been a pleasant surprise with an average attendance of over 3,000 people.

"London is a good story, they have done well, says Kennedy.

Also Summerside, PEI, the league's smallest market, is averaging over 2,000 a game.

Kennedy is already looking for more teams and plans to expand next season and most of that expansion could take place in Ontario.

"Our immediate plans are to expand from Ontario towards the east. It could be nice to have another team in the province of Quebec," Kennedy told TSN.ca.

Centres that will be looked at in Ontario include Windsor and Kingston.

"We are trying to minimize travel cost and keeping cost under control is paramount," Kennedy commented.

Another factor in the works is landing a television contract and he has talked to several networks about this.

It was pointed out that every market in the NBL with the exception of Summerside has a major junior hockey team and that competing with Canada's top sport may be an obstacle.

"I acknowledge Canada's love for hockey but I believe we can develop an audience for basketball," Kennedy told us.

Corporate sponsorships are being sought and work is underway in that domain. Major sponsors have been talked to in the clothing line, shoe (Nike), soft drink and a bank sponsor.

"You're looking at 1,000 calls to get 10 prospects to close one deal," said the NBL Commissioner.

"The league starting up is a challenge and we are working on that."

One of the things this commissioner wants to do is build a star system.

Right now teams bring in players and some don't last a week or two. The Halifax Rainmen must have brought in 50 players in the PBL last year. It's hard to build player loyalty in this fashion.

"We want to halt that. Fans need to associate with the better players and consistency is paramount," is what he told me. "A revolving door is not what we want or need."

But, keeping players that are nearly at the bottom of the pay scale in so far as pro sports are concerned might be easier said than done.

Kennedy would like to see teams average between four and five thousand fans per game average and thinks that is possible over the next few years.

In five years the league hopes to be in at least 12 cities across Canada.

The league will hold an all-star game at the end of March. Halifax looks like the location at this time, which is one of the problems of the league. All-star games in all other sports are set before the season starts. Not having a location, or close to naming a location, is a mark of uncertainty.

No teams have folded as yet. In minor pro basketball, as witnessed by the ABA and PBL, that happens often.

So, so far so good.

For TSN.ca I'm Alex J. Walling.

Alex J. can be reached via email at:  ajw@eastlink.ca

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