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NBL Canada remains on pause during pandemic but Aims to return stronger

The National Basketball League of Canada will remain on pause during the ongoing pandemic. NBL Canada is committed to resuming play when safe to do so.

NBL Canada Moncton Magic take on St John's Edge
The Moncton Magic are the NBL Canada defending champions, dating back to the 2018-19 season. (Photo credit: Jacinthe LeBlanc)

Deputy Commissioner Audley Stephenson makes a good point about the current status of the National Basketball League of Canada.

If it weren’t for a pandemic that has seen restrictions placed on pretty much everything, including mass gatherings, the league would have completed its ninth season last year and season 10 would now be well underway.

So as the NBL C is unlikely to meet their target of returning to the court on March 12, this should not be interpreted as a step towards throwing in the towel on the eight-team league.

“The notion of us not coming back isn’t even on the table,” said Stephenson. “If there is some belief or thoughts around that, I can unequivocally say that the league is coming back. For us, that’s a no-brainer right now.”

Audley Stephenson

Stephenson and other league executives have been consistent in saying the NBL C business model simply doesn’t afford the option of playing games in empty stadiums – fans are paramount to success.

The NBL C has also dropped hints of tinkering its position going forward as far as securing additional revenue streams and increasing its exposure to the sports and entertainment landscape.

“We’re always wanting to grow, so we’re not talking about contracting,” says Stephenson. “Certainly the number of games, playoff format, what should the salary cap look like, what’s manageable. If we were trying to make it more profitable for teams, there are some things that can be looked at or considered. But it would have to be a consensus across the board.”

Stephenson acknowledges that teams have mainly taken on the task of growing the business on a local level and sees an opportunity for the league to offer more support.

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Nbl Canada Kw Titans Moncton Magic 1
NBL Canada KW Titans in action against the Moncton Magic – Photo: Stephen R. Conrad

“It’s almost a grassroots approach, starting at the local level and local businesses and local sponsorship,” said Stephenson. ”But we also recognize that there is an opportunity for the league itself to step up a bit more in that area.”

Having been a part of the NBL C since it began in 2011, Stephenson offers his own insight on how the league can improve its reach to basketball fans.

“I think certainly the league itself needs to have a stronger presence from a brand recognition standpoint, increased marketing and overall exposure of the NBL Canada brand,” he said. “As we go into our 10th year, I can reflect back on different points where the presence of the league has been stronger in some parts of our history. There is a huge opportunity for the brand of NBL Canada to be front and centre. Right now, the teams are at the front and the brand of the league is sort of behind that. We have to flip that and have a stronger presence out front.”

Audley Stephenson

Further to providing assurance the NBL C will return when restrictions are lifted, Stephenson emphasizes that team owners remain committed to their investments.

“Teams are actively meeting and having very focused conversations about the direction of the league overall,” he said. “Everyone wants to see the growth of the league because that benefits all teams, not just in one particular market or another. If the league grows, then all teams benefit.”

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