Potential market

Can Kingston support professional basketball?

Kingston’s not known as a basketball city, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

On May 31, the National Basketball League of Canada announced that it received applications from five Ontario cities for potential expansion franchises: Kitchener, Mississauga, Ottawa, St. Catherine’s and Windsor. The NBL is looking to expand following its debut season, featuring seven teams in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.

Conspicuously absent from the list of interested cities was Kingston. The city was slated to field an expansion team for the 2011-12 NBL season, but was unable to reach an agreement with the proposed ownership group. With the application deadline passed, there’ll be no NBL team in Kingston for at least another year.

By Nick Faris
Assistant Sports Editor

Poised to expand into an untapped Ontario market, the NBL should look no further than Kingston.

The four-year-old K-Rock Centre would be the primary attraction for any prospective franchise. With just one other tenant — the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs — occupying the arena, there should be no trouble accommodating another sports team.

The NBL team’s 18 regular-season home dates would have to be scheduled around the Frontenacs, but the logistics shouldn’t hinder any negotiations. Five of the NBL’s seven franchises split arena time with their respective local junior hockey teams.

While the Frontenacs’ struggles to attract university students to their games have been well documented, the club has done little to mobilize the Queen’s community. A new NBL franchise could partner with the Gaels’ basketball teams and hold exhibitions at the ARC, a move that could spur interest in both the pro franchise and the Queen’s basketball program.

To have long-term success, the NBL and its teams must be committed to fostering basketball development at all levels. It would be wise for the new NBL team to form a relationship with the Kingston Impact, the largest youth basketball organization between Ottawa and Toronto.

With over 600 players and 17 competitive teams, the Impact’s success demonstrates that there is a flourishing market for basketball in Kingston, one rivaled by few Ontario cities. By offering ticket deals to local recreational and competitive clubs, the NBL team would engage players and their families, turning young athletes into dedicated and potentially long-term fans.

The presence of other professional sports teams, most notably, Kingston FC, shouldn’t deter the NBL from expanding to Kingston. While the Canadian Soccer League season ends in early October, the NBL doesn’t tip off until November. An NBL franchise wouldn’t be faced with the same challenges as Kingston FC — particularly, the difficulty of surviving as a summer team in a town largely sustained by its university population.

By mandating that each team carry at least two Canadian players on its roster, the NBL has committed to promoting the development and success of homegrown basketball players. At the same time, it’s essential that the league strive to develop the game of basketball within Canadian cities.

With a lively student population, burgeoning youth programs and a beautiful new arena, Kingston is ready to accommodate a professional basketball team.

By Clark Armstrong

In May 2011, seven basketball teams joined together to establish Canada’s NBL. If the development of the league was unknown to you, don’t worry — the league has largely failed to garner widespread media attention or fan interest.

Spanning a geographic area from Southern Ontario’s London Lightning to Halifax’s Rainmen — including the likes of PEI’s Summerside Storm and New Brunswick’s Moncton Miracles — the NBL seeks to become no less than “one of the leading basketball leagues in the world.”

Kingston may be amongst the next crop of cities to join the NBL as it looks to fulfill its ambitious mandate. There are still several reasons why it should refrain from joining at this time.

The NBL hasn’t proven itself to be a commercially viable or sustainable league, and there’ve been many failed sports leagues in North America that have expanded too quickly for their own good. The original National Basketball League, for instance, was founded in 1993. Despite the anticipation surrounding its inception, the league folded midway through its second season.

Professional basketball itself is far from a proven commodity in a country where hockey rules. A city as big as Vancouver couldn’t even sustain a team in the NBA, the world’s most prolific basketball league.

A local basketball team risks oversaturating Kingston’s sports community, which includes the newly-established Kingston FC pro soccer franchise. Kingston FC needs ample time to develop a distinct fan base before other professional teams move into the city’s limited sports market.

Given that most NBL teams play in larger venues, Kingston’s team would presumably play its 18 home games at the K-Rock Centre with its 5,700 seating capacity. With no alternative venue, sharing the arena with the Frontenacs could pose a problem, because their seasons would coincide.

The NBL has largely been concentrated in the sparsely populated Maritimes, where professional sports options are few and far between. In larger markets like Quebec and Ontario, better-established and higher-quality sports leagues dominate the competition for fan support.

This isn’t to say that the NBL is an unfeasible undertaking. Rather, its expansion into new markets must be undertaken with considerable caution. For as long as basketball is a shadow in the Canadian sports community, Kingston isn’t the place for an NBL team.

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