British Basketball League hopeful clubs will return to Europe, with more money behind them
By Florence Lloyd-Hughes in Birmingham
The British Basketball League could be represented in a prominent European competition for the first time in 10 years next season, with the new Basketball Champions League backed by international federation FIBA the most likely destination, according to the commercial director of the UK's top flight.
Bob Hope said that the London Lions, presently fifth in the league, are the most viable option.
No British teams have been involved in top European competitions since the Guildford Heat lost all 10 games and encountered venue and financial difficulties when they took part in Euroleague Basketball's second-tier ULEB Cup, now the EuroCup, in 2007-08.
However, in an interview with Sportcal at the BBL Cup final in Birmingham last weekend, Hope claimed that conditions were now more favourable, with the UK league benefiting financially from a long-term agreement with the British Basketball Federation and seeking increased media exposure.
He said: "We think there will be a team there [in Europe] next year. Not necessarily in the EuroLeague [the elite European clubs competition], but in the Champions League.
"We are looking to put teams into the Champions League next season. They will need to be fairly high up in the BBL to be nominated and will need to meet a combination of criteria, including having the right facilities, enough money and the right players.”
The Champions League, which is in its inaugural season, was created by FIBA and a group of 10 national leagues as a merit-based alternative to the competitions run by the Euroleague.
Pressed on possible British entrants, Hope said: "One franchise that wants to do it [play in Europe] and could have the money is London.”
The Lions play their games at the Copper Box, a venue built for the London 2012 Olympic Games, and their shareholders include Peter Sprogis, formerly a leading figure in the European sports industry with (now-defunct) agencies including ISL, KirchSport and Prisma, and former player and coach and ex-BBL chairman Vince Macaulay.
However, the London team may not be the only candidate, with Kevin Routledge, the chairman of the BBL's Leicester Riders, having said in June that his team is planning to return to Europe in the 2017-18 season, having last been involved in European competition 26 years ago.
BBL teams have been deterred from entering European competitions as many do not have access to a permanent venue with a capacity of at least 2,000, the requirement for the EuroCup.
Asked about the possibility of BBL representation next season, the Champions League told Sportcal: "Our current official position is that we are open to welcome the best BBL club(s) in the Basketball Champions League next season, should the British league/federation deem it relevant and appropriate.”
While no British team would presently meet the standards required to enter the EuroLeague, it is thought that the new round-robin format for the top-tier European competition, which ensures 15 home games per season, makes it a more realistic prospect than in the past.
Speaking to Sportcal last month, Jordi Bertomeu, the president and chief executive of Euroleague Basketball, said: "All the pieces are moving in the right direction. We have always had the wish, but did not have the real opportunities for it to make sense for [UK] clubs to invest. Now it’s different, and we can go to the market with something different. It [a UK team] won’t be in the next one or two years, but earlier than expected.”
Hope is confident that the BBL's two-year rights deal with the BBC, the UK’s public-service broadcaster, to show 32 games from the competition on its red button service and online, and a six-year agreement with Perform, the international sports content and media group, ensuring international coverage, will provide the necessary commercial support and exposure to enable its teams to return to Europe.
He said: “This sport is about money. If you want to grow it then you need cash. Thanks to the new 10-year licence agreed with the British Basketball Federation, we can now sign multi-year deals.
"We have a five-year agreement with Molten for the ball, a three-year deal with Kappa for the kit and a two-year agreement with the BBC. Our aspiration is for the BBC to put these finals on [TV channel] BBC Two. We have only ever been on mainstream television once a year. We want to try and expand that to six.”
The BBF was formed in the wake of Great Britain’s participation in basketball at the London Olympic Games in 2012, as the federations of England and Scotland agreed to rescind their membership of FIBA and integrate into a new federation which came into being last September, and ensures Team GB's eligibility in future Olympics.
Transitional governance arrangements meant that the previous licence had lapsed and a series of one-year extensions were signed to ensure that professional basketball could continue in the UK. The last of these extensions covers the 2016-17 season.
The Newcastle Eagles beat the Glasgow Rocks 91-83 in the BBL Cup final, and are the present leaders of the domestic league, which continues on Friday.