The British Basketball League (BBL) received seven million pounds of funding from Miami-based firm 777 last month as the tournament aims to become increasingly attractive to British players.
Underscoring the provision of pathways from the grassroots into the professional game and community projects, Kevin Routledge, the League’s Director, described the new investment as a ‘catalyst’ for growth, aiming to keep players in the country that may have been previously drawn abroad with higher rewards.
Insider Sport: Using this funding, do you have any plans for marketing initiatives to boost British basketball’s domestic audience?
Kevin Routledge: Additional marketing is one of the main focus areas of the investment. To achieve this, the investment will prioritise a Digital Transformation Project which is aimed at making the BBL one of the most digitally advanced sports leagues in the world. This will transform the way the BBL interfaces with existing stakeholders, fans and potential fans, and will also upgrade the digital interfaces of all the clubs.
It is also the intention that the benefits of the digital transformation will be offered to the basketball NGBs, in order that there is a consistency of interface across the whole of the sport, for anyone who wants to engage with basketball.
In the meantime, a number of targeted marketing interventions will be undertaken in the short term, in conjunction with partner agencies, highlighting the players, competitions and events, and the progress of the investment.
IS: Are there any cities in particular where you are targeting as hosts for new BBL teams?
KR: Basketball is a sport of the inner cities – in the UK and globally. In the UK there are cities like Birmingham that have a great pedigree for producing talented young players and have excellent community clubs and, historically, have had a top professional club. We will want BBL basketball to be played in all the major UK conurbations in due course.
But developing a great BBL franchise requires the coming together of many elements – a good, well established local community basketball programme, the potential elements for a player pathway, in conjunction with local colleges/ universities, and a suitable venue that is capable of hosting a successful BBL franchise.
We have already had a number of initial expressions of interest and will be following up with our required processes for the consideration of new franchises.
IS: Basketball is less popular in the UK than in other countries, how can this funding help attract new players who might otherwise go to other leagues?
KR: Basketball participation in the UK is second only to football amongst young people, per Government data. The drop-off comes post education for a variety of reasons, which include the lack of affordable facilities to play the game.
The challenge is therefore to retain their involvement in the sport, whether as player, coach, volunteer or spectator – by addressing the issues around that drop-off. Many European countries, as an example, do this much more successfully.
The global success of basketball means there are professional leagues throughout Europe, in the Americas and Africa, the Middle East and throughout Asia, creating huge opportunities for young players, turbocharged by their potential development within the multi-billion-dollar US college system.
The investment will be made primarily to drive the commercial success of the league and the clubs. That will make the BBL increasingly attractive to British players, who have been drawn to overseas leagues by the higher rewards there.
The BBL Supports initiative will also help make the BBL an increasingly attractive proposition, both for British players, but also increasingly as well for overseas players from clubs and leagues around the world, by providing support mechanisms that help with their long-term career prospects and ambitions.
IS: How will this funding be used to support training and community initiatives to boost British participation in professional basketball?
KR: BBL has launched in the last nine months two new initiatives – BBL Supports and BBL Inspires.
BBL Supports is an initiative to support players, coaches and officials with their training and development. We are keen that the players welfare support improves as well as their skills and experiences for life after playing the game. There are already a number of specific support mechanisms provided by individual clubs, but the new investment will allow us to provide that support in a more systematic and coordinated way.
It is well known that the charitable Foundations of many of the clubs already undertake projects that are of huge value to their local communities, and, in particular, those most in need.
BBL Inspires will ensure those Foundations are supported in their work, and good local initiatives are scaled up to allow delivery at a more regional and national level.
Already the BBL, under the BBL Inspires programme, has launched an on-line health and well-being platform, which provides support to anyone involved in our basketball family from videos from BBL players, coaches and administrators illustrating their approach to life’s biggest challenges.
IS: A record crowd attended the last BBL final – will this funding be directed in any way towards venue development to address and attract increasing crowd numbers?
KR: Obviously, we were delighted with the record crowd and gate receipts at the 2022 BBL Cup Final. We have had very positive feedback from all our stakeholders. We made some enhancements at that final to improve the customer experience, but those were the tip of the iceberg.
The BBL HQ team has a large number of initiatives planned in the remaining BBL finals later this year and, in the future, to give existing and new fans the best indoor sporting experience in the country. We see our finals as our ultimate national showpieces, and as real demonstrators of returns on the 777 investment.
We will also be looking to expand the number of events and look for increased capacity by engaging with the new state-of-the-art large arenas due to become operational in the UK over the next few years.
IS: Is the funding just the beginning of a BBL expansion, and what other areas of the league would further investments look to focus on?
KR: Our belief is that this investment by 777 will act as a catalyst for further investments. Evidently, the lack of suitable playing facilities is holding back both the commercial development of the sport, and the commerciality and sustainability of existing and new franchises.
Thus, this will be an area of focus, and how to secure funding and build those arenas, and how to operate the venues, will benefit from the feedback from the build and operational experiences being developed at Leicester and Newcastle, who have built (in 2016 and 2019 respectively) and operated their own venues and now have years of operating experience. Both clubs also have enviable community and player pathway programmes.
The other area that we anticipate very significant new investments will be encouraged is at the franchise level – both in existing and new franchises. A number of the existing franchises are open to third party investment to address their known areas for development.
We anticipate that, as the benefits from the 777’s investment become evident, it will also encourage new investors in the BBL, including from overseas, in new franchises. The BBL will adopt innovative approaches to facilitate that investment, including, potentially, establishing new franchises itself and putting the essential building blocks in place in advance of the third-party investment.
IS: What was it about the BBL that 777 identified as having significant investment potential?
KR: There were a combination of factors that led to the investment by 777.
- The BBL was already in the market looking for the appropriate investment partner in order to help grow the league and realise the potential that all BBL Clubs believed there was in professional men’s basketball in the UK – so there was an open door to the principle of investment into the central organisation by the shareholders
- There were already a number of leading indicators that suggested that, with the right, targeted investment, the potential for growth In British basketball was significant – such as the transformative impact of franchises securing their own venues at 2 existing Clubs; and the evident success already being achieved at BBL finals
- The success that had been achieved with targeted investment overseas in professional basketball, such as in the Australian NBL and the German Bundesliga.
- The assets 777 already held in related sectors, which could be leveraged to address the areas that 777 had identified in their due diligence of BBL as having substantial scope for growth.
It is noteworthy that the Clubs, BBL HQ and 777 were able to agree the core elements of the 120 Day Plan and the long-term Business Plan for the investment within a very short order, because of that alignment.