Butch Carter says Canadian Basketball League to start small, grow sustainably

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Butch Carter has lived in Toronto since his tenure as Raptors coach (Toronto Star image)
Butch Carter has lived in Toronto since his tenure as Raptors coach (Toronto Star image)

Butch Carter believes he has workarounds for two of the main hurdles posed for minor pro basketball in Canada.

One, it is a challenge to find suitable venues in a country that often only seems to have the resources for games played on ice; second of all, there is the matter of cohesion at the league level (as the National Basketball League of Canada's forfeit fiasco three weeks ago illustrated, indirectly). The former Toronto Raptors coach has spent more than a year pitching a business plan for the Canadian Basketball League. Carter says the CBL will begin holding tryout camps within the next 30 days ahead of Year 1, which is slated to tip off in December. So far, franchises are planned for Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Scarborough and Ottawa.

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"The challenge is making sure we can find enough grassroots people in the communities where we're going to play to organize a community's team," Carter said on Thursday."I met with over 24 mayors and city commissioners. It's going to get done because we're putting in a model that's financially viable. We just to have to work through other people's processes so that we have a chance. This is going to be a Canadian league. It's going to be a Canadian league, viable for young Canadians to play at home. Rome wasn't built in a day."

"The reality is that we're trying to make sure that the communities have ownership in the teams, at least three of the first four [franchises]," Carter added. "I should have the first four leases done by June 15. The way the business model works is the lease is the backbone of financial stability.

"I'd like to do four teams the first year, maybe five, then maybe four more. Then get to the point where we're eventually in 16 teams across the country.

Carter's plan calls for a single-entity structure similar to the early days of Major League Soccer, where teams would be leased from the league in order to assauge the high cost of running a franchise and foster trust between partners. The CBL plans to start out in college and university basketball gyms, rather than in arenas where a basketball floor has to be placed down over ice. The Toronto Star reported in January that the CBL has a long-term broadcast agreement in place with Hamilton-based CHCH-TV. It also plans to increase advertising inventory by having team benches on the same side of the court as TV cameras.

"If you look at Major League Soccer, the two guys who started it were very experienced in professional sports with the NFL and NBA. They made sure the owners didn't do things that would hurt everyone. The whole thing for me is if you're dealing with nine or 10 different entities, you find out really quickly what's good and what's bad.

"The NBA didn't realize the cost of ice coverage until [Detroit Pistons owner] Bill Davidson built the Palace of Auburn Hills in 1988," added Carter, who has made his home in Toronto since coaching the Raptors from 1998 to 2000. The success of The Palace really drove the value of all the franchises."

Selling the league to sponsors is in hockey-first, hockey-second Canada is no fait accompli. 

Contrary to what one might presume, Carter doesn't view the NBLC's disastrous default on April 30, where the Windsor Express were declared champions when the Halifax Rainmen refused to play Game 7 of the final due to safety concerns, as a boost to his startup league. Basketball is basketball to a potential sponsor or fan.

"I would like to say that it didn't affect us at all, but that would not be true. They left a large black mark within the sponsor community with what they did."

The NBLC's nine teams, including expansion Niagara, are independently owned. Most play in arenas where the main draw is a Canadian Hockey League team. The thrust of the CBL's plan, not to say there's one hard-and-fast way to build a brand, is to start small and build sustainably.

"I think the people that I'm working with appreciate that we're trying to do it right," he said. "We're not trying to play in buildings that are too big where we have a lot of empty seats."

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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