It would be incredibly naive of the BBL to think the Millennium Slump is over. Franchises, such as the Essex Pirates last year, are still dropping out of the division and match attendances are nowhere close to the 14,251 that famously saw the Manchester Giants take on the London Leopards at the NYNEX Arena in 1995.
If British basketball is to expand, or even continue steadily, the BBL has to make an increased attempt to appeal to a wider audience.
For more people to get interested in the sport they need to know who their local team is. The problem is, as the league stands, there are several clubs whose name confuses and alienates potential fans.
British basketball needs to realise it isn’t in a position where teams can localise as much as they want. Unlike in English football, where Arsenal and Chelsea can each field a side though both are in London, the name of a club can turn people away. For instance, think of how many people from Leeds wouldn’t be interested in watching Sheffield Sharks, though both are in Yorkshire, because of huge role regional and football rivalries play in British life.
Additionally, to use the Glasgow Rocks as an example, name changes can affect where a club draws its fanbase from. Created in 1998, the franchise originally represented and played in Edinburgh. If you were a die-hard fan from the Celtic nation’s capital you wouldn’t have been too bothered when the club became the Scottish Rocks in 2002, at a push you wouldn’t have minded them playing their home games in Glasgow. But when, last year, the Rocks decided to exclusively embody Glasgow, you’d feel as if your local team had deserted you.
When the BBL brings in new franchises it must make sure they play under as vague a name as possible, and it is possible. In rugby league for example, there’s the South Wales Scorpions and in netball there’s the Bury-based Northern Thunder.
If, as speculated, the BBL is looking to add a Manchester franchise to the top-flight it would be wise for that club to operate under the banner of Greater Manchester as to welcome fans from Salford, Tameside and the rest of the area. To quickly pull a name out of the air, the club could call themselves the Manchester Greats and incorporate a gladiator/warrior gimmick into their image.
A smart move would be to ensure teams represent counties rather than towns and cities. This would see clubs actively welcoming extra supporters and find new corporate networking opportunities. As a result, it’s likely they would become stronger financially and the British game would increase in social stature, meaning more franchises could be added to division and the idea of another match attended by 14,251 spectators isn’t consigned to the history books as a one-off achievement.