As OHL receives provincial funding, CEBL's months-long wait for assistance continues

The Saskatchewan Rattlers and expansion Ottawa Blackjacks are seen above in action at the CEBL Summer Series in St. Catharines, Ont., where the league played out its second season in a bubble without fans. (CEBL - image credit)
The Saskatchewan Rattlers and expansion Ottawa Blackjacks are seen above in action at the CEBL Summer Series in St. Catharines, Ont., where the league played out its second season in a bubble without fans. (CEBL - image credit)

As CEBL commissioner Mike Morreale saw Wednesday that the OHL was receiving $2.35 million in government funding, he wondered why.

Lisa MacLeod, Ontario's Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries, announced that money would be targeted toward the OHL's post-secondary education scholarships for its athletes.

Meanwhile, Morreale, 49, says he has spent nine months working with the provincial government on funding to help the fledgling Canadian Elite Basketball League to no avail.

"We're just trying to understand who qualifies and why — and why not, is the better question for us," Morreale, the former CFL player from Hamilton, Ont., told CBC Sports.

"We are the top domestic league in this country and people look up to us and if we get support, I think that shines a very favourable light on the government. And if we don't, it may not."

In April, the CEBL requested a $5 million loan from the federal government to help with its two-week return to play in the summer. That request was ultimately denied.

Now, Morreale says the league and its four Ontario-based teams are asking the province for "a percentage … not even remotely close" to what the OHL received.

"We haven't received any sort of financial contribution from the province whatsoever. So it does cause us some alarm. But at the same time, I want to remain positive and use today's announcement as potentially a door opener for them to consider other sports besides hockey," he said.

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In October, Quebec pledged $12 million to the QMJHL. In January, Saskatchewan levied $4 million total to assist the WHL and SJHL, prompting B.C.-based WHL teams and the BCHL to ask for $9.5 million from their province. As of early March, they had not heard back.

Nova Scotia denied funding for its QMJHL teams.

Last May, the federal government announced $72 million in funding for Canada's sports sector — but that specifically excluded professional leagues such as the CEBL, CFL and CPL.

"We're not done asking [for funding] and we've never looked for handouts. This has always been about the continuation of what we're building and access to capital so we can actually live out exactly what the plans are and show the incredible rise of basketball across the country," Morreale said.

Plans for 2021 season remain in place

The CEBL is a seven-team basketball league featuring clubs from coast to coast. Rosters must be 70 per cent Canadian.

After a successful inaugural season in 2019, the CEBL became the first pro league in Canada to return during the pandemic with its Summer Series played out of a bubble in St. Catharines, Ont.

The league recently released its 2021 schedule, with games beginning in June and teams playing out of their home markets. The hope is for fans to be allowed in the building at some capacity.

Seven games will be broadcast nationally on CBC TV, and games will also be streamed on CBC Gem, CBCSports.ca, and the CBC Sports app for iOS and Android devices.

Morreale said the league hasn't generated any "significant income" in the past year without gate revenue. He said all employees continued to be employed and paid by the league.

"We're proud of the fact that we're game planning in a positive way to return again this year. … But it comes at an expense and it comes at a tremendous expense, given the fact that our business essentially has been restricted from conducting it in the way that would be the most beneficial, which is in front of fans," he said.

The league and its Ontario-based teams will continue to engage MacLeod and the provincial government as the season draws near.

But regardless of whether financial help arrives, Morreale won't sacrifice the product — entertaining Canadian basketball.

"We believe in the future of this league. So we hope that the government also believes the same as we do. And we'll find out."