Canadian Elite Basketball League thinking big after successful 1st season

A league with close to 12 teams operating within an East-West divisional model and the go-to entertainment event in the spring and summer months.

This is the vision for the Canadian Elite Basketball League entering the 2022 season following a successful inaugural campaign in 2019, according to the league CEO and commissioner Mike Morreale.

"I really believe we are on to something," Morreale said Tuesday. "Now we have to get through another season and not rest on our laurels because we still have a ton of work to do. We're still in our growth and planning development phase."

To that end, the seven-team CEBL has extended its partnership with CBC Sports through 2022, making the public broadcaster the premier media partner of Canada's only First Division professional basketball league. The final 39 games of the 2019 season and championship weekend in Saskatoon were live streamed at CBCSports.ca.

Next season, 70 regular-season and five playoff games will be live streamed at CBCSports.ca, CBC Gem and via the CBC Sports app for iOS and Android devices. Eight games, including the championship, will be broadcast on CBC-TV.

CEBL games on CBC

  • Sat., May 30, 4 p.m. ET: Ottawa at Hamilton
  • Sat., June 6, 4 p.m.: Edmonton at Guelph
  • Sat., June 13, 4 p.m.: Fraser Valley at Edmonton
  • Sat., June 20, 4 p.m.: Saskatchewan at Fraser Valley
  • Sat., June 27, 4 p.m.: Hamilton at Guelph
  • Sat., July 4, 2 p.m.: Hamilton at Niagara
  • Sat., July 18, 4 p.m.: Niagara at Saskatchewan
  • Sun., Aug. 16, 4 p.m.: CEBL championship

In partnering with CBC Sports, Morreale said the CEBL will be "more than just a game they slap" on the air each week.

'It's a good fit for us'

"There's the [digital] component, connections to the local communities through the CBC offices across the country and the fact it's accessible," he said. "That, for me, was almost priority No. 1. It's free and will always be free.

"I want this to be not just a Canadian league but recognized internationally and that's why the partnership with the CBC is so important."

A three-year deal allows the CBC to choose what it wishes to cover about the CEBL, how much it wants to invest in telling stories and in the communities where the teams live, and take some risks along the way.

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"We picked up the product midway through the [2019] season and saw it as a good fit," said Chris Wilson, executive director of CBC Sports and Olympics. "It was low-risk to give it a try and it started to build an audience. It's not a huge audience, yet, but there was definitely enough [of a following] to believe it was worthwhile investing the next few years.

"We both want to grow the game, grow the league and make it a great community event when the games happen.

"We do believe basketball has proven that it's a global sport that tends to grab the interest of a diversity of Canadians," Wilson added. "The fact it's an Olympic sport is important and makes it a good fit for us."

Rattlers win 1st league title

A week ago, the Ottawa BlackJacks were unveiled as the CEBL's seventh franchise. Morreale expects an interim team president to be named by Friday, with a head coach and general manager likely following by the end of December.

The league began play in May in Hamilton, Edmonton, Saskatchewan, Guelph, Ont., Fraser Valley (Abbotsford, B.C.) and St. Catharines, Ont. (Niagara River Lions). In August, the Saskatchewan Rattlers won the first league title, defeating the Hamilton Honey Badgers 94-83.

Submitted by CEBL

"Seeing the look on the guys' faces when they held that [championship] trophy, it meant something," Morreale said. "We're not a league that's just here to fill four months of the season. We're a league that represents Canada, Canadian players and it means something for them to play at home."

2020 season opens May 7

Each club boasts a 10-player roster requiring at least 70 per cent Canadians and adheres to FIBA rules, including 10-minute quarters and regulations, while serving as a First Division league in a partnership with Canada Basketball.

The CEBL, which operates from a single office in the Niagara Region, foots the bill for everything from ticketing platforms to national sponsorships to marketing.

The 2020 schedule was also announced Tuesday. The regular season will begin May 7 when the BlackJacks visit Niagara and conclude Aug. 6. Six of the seven squads qualify for the playoffs, up from four this season.

Morreale, a former Canadian Football League receiver, has spoken to 14 groups interested in joining the CEBL in some capacity and is confident up to four expansion teams could be added for the 2021 season.

"What they have admired about us is the centralized ownership and the way we govern," Morreale said. "The way we administratively handle a lot of the stuff for our teams that we will continue to do. We have centralized contracts, marketing and sponsorship. We pay all the [game] officials and manage travel. It's almost a bit of a turnkey situation."

Submitted by CEBL

Myles Charvis, a six-foot-three point guard with the Guelph Nighthawks, is excited by the CEBL's commitment to push Canadian basketball forward.

"Expanding after the first season is amazing," said Charvis, 25, who played university basketball for Ryerson in Toronto. "Guys took it seriously and didn't just treat it like a summer thing. We want this to be around for years to come and be an avenue for players rather than going overseas or to [the United] States.

"Kids can look up to these players and say, 'I can stay home, make good money and play basketball in a league that's in my backyard.' It's competitive basketball and the calibre of players is top-notch."

Niagara shooting guard Nem Mitrovic returned home to play for Niagara after six years in Europe and another in Mexico.

"There was a lot of talk over the years of different leagues trying to start up [in Canada] and none of them really got off the ground," said the 29-year-old Toronto native, "so when this one was actually happening, you could tell it was going to be legit in the way they put everything together professionally."

Added Morreale: "We were kind of bang-on in how we anticipated the year would roll out, in terms of financial commitment, ticket sales and sponsorship. I don't think there were any surprises other than for me the level of play. We had tremendous basketball."