The Canadian Elite Basketball League may give Kelowna basketball fans the slam dunk they’ve been looking for.
While most professional leagues are struggling to create revenue during the pandemic, the CEBL is looking to expand, taking a serious look at placing a team in Kelowna for the 2022 or 2023 season.
In just its second season of existence, the CEBL completed its 2020 season in a bubble format, being the first Canadian professional sports league to return and do it successfully amid COVID-19.
Now, with teams in Abbotsford, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Guelph, Hamilton, Ottawa, and St. Catharines, Ont., commissioner and CEO Mike Morreale said the league is eyeing Kelowna as the next city to join CEBL basketball.
“As far as the size of the actual city, it’s a little bit smaller than some of ours, but it does swell in the spring and summer months,” said Morreale.
“Because we’re a spring and summer league it affords us an opportunity to attract a larger customer base there.”
Morreale said Prospera Place would serve as Kelowna’s arena, noting the capacity is similar to the Abbotsford Centre, home of the Fraser Valley Bandits. Having both Kelowna and Fraser Valley in the same division would also make for a strong rivalry, according to Morreale.
In terms of a possible buyer for a Kelowna franchise, the league has had some interest, although it currently operates as single-entity ownership, controlling all the eight teams. According to Morreale, the league’s structure was done purposely to create a sustainable, successful business model.
“It would still be our preference to find a local ownership group, but it doesn’t preclude us from going out there first and then operating it and selling it later,” said Morreale.
The CEBL is considered tier 1 basketball by Basketball Canada and draws nearly 2,000 fans (when playing in front of fans) a night. The league serves as a developmental league for the NBA, paying its players anywhere from $500 to $1500 a game over a 20 game schedule.
Staying true to the country that encompasses the league, the CEBL ensures at least 70 per cent of its teams rosters are Canadian, a decision that helps showcase the country’s best talent.
“Some teams will play with all Canadian players,” said Morreale.
“The Saskatchewan Rattlers won in year one with all Canadians and Ottawa played an all Canadian roster this year. Our talent level, outside the NBA, this is the best basketball league in the country without a doubt.”
The Edmonton Stingers captured the 2020 CEBL Championship. You can catch Kelowna’s Grant Shepphard, alumni of Kelowna Secondary School, play for the Fraser Valley Bandits when the CEBL returns to play in the spring of 2021.