Commissioner of NBL Canada talks about Game 7 situation during town hall meeting
By Justin Prince
The commissioner of the National Basketball League of Canada wasted no time answering the public’s questions about the league’s controversial Game 7 forfeit situation during a town hall meeting with the Windsor Express.
Almost immediately after the start of the event, fans asked about the severity of league’s penalties involving an early morning altercation and the Halifax Rainmen’s Game 7 forfeit in the league finals against the Express last April.
Some of the penalties included multiple suspensions and fines for members of the Rainmen, a one-year suspension for Express head coach Bill Jones and an indefinite suspension for guard Tony Bennett. The Rainmen had applied for bankruptcy last week. The commissioner referred to the punishments as being “swift, harsh and strong”, but also as a statement.
“It was a pretty devastating thing that happened,” said NBL Canada commissioner David Magley about the incident. “Dartis said he’d rather go out there and lose the game, than win the way they did. Not that we’re not proud of Windsor being champions, it’s just not a good look for this league … It’s significant and that can never happen again.”
Magley and Express president and CEO Dartis Willis answered questions about a wide range of topics at the WFCU Centre July 16 in an event broadcast live on TVCogeco. Some of the topics asked by the more than 50 Express fans, team personnel and media in attendance included the league’s future expansion plans, possible uniform and national media deals and the league’s referees. It was the second town hall meeting held out of the league’s eight markets so far. Magley had started his job as commissioner May 28 after being the general manager and coach of the Brampton A’s.
“He wanted to make sure that the markets around the league have an opportunity to hear directly what’s going on with the league and with the markets and communicate to them (the fans),” said Willis, referring to Magley after the meeting. “That allows them to understand our message, it allows them to understand what current events are going on and it just bridges a gap between the fan and the actual NBL Canada.”
One of Magley’s priorities for the Express is for the team to increase its attendance. Magley said that although there is a good amount of supporters for the team, he expects a franchise with back-to-back championships like the Express to have a higher attendance and wants to see their average attendance increase to 2,000 people per game in the near future.
Magley said the value of the Express to Windsor “is far beyond what they do on the basketball court. Last March, the Brampton Guardian’s Frank Juzenas reported the Express’s average attendance was more than 1,100 people for the 2014-15 regular season. Some of the ideas suggested by fans included promoting the games more in schools and giving more complimentary tickets, the latter of which the team has a restriction on how many they can give each season.
“When we have those larger numbers, it shows a complement to the organization and a complement to what the players have achieved and it really feels good. It speaks value when it comes to the league,” said Willis. “What we’re going to do is continue to expand our base. Knock on the doors, continue to ask people to come out, ask for partnerships with businesses and say, ‘look, this is one of our home teams and we want to expand and build on it.’”
The commissioner also explained his three-part strategy for the future of the league to the fans in attendance, which included improving its reputation, generating more revenue for its teams and making sure each franchise is successful. He plans to do this by making sure each ownership group doesn’t require help from the league while making sure they’re supporting their players, fans and communities. The league also wants to eventually generate enough revenue to pay its players higher salaries and to attract Canadian and international talent to its teams.
Magley also said the league and its teams need to become significant enough to be recognized by the national media as well as in local markets.
“There really are three things. You got your survivability, sustainability and profitability. If we could just survive the next couple years and try and break even and sustain that, then we could show some profitability,” said Magley, referring to the Express. “But we need some help to get there.”
The league has a lot of plans for its future. Magley said the Halifax Rainmen will have new local ownership for the franchise starting in August and a possible expansion team coming to Cape Breton, N.S. The team will also have a new franchise starting next season in the Niagara region at the Meridian Centre in St. Catherine’s, Ont. and may expand to more markets such as Kingston, Ont. and Montreal if the league can find any interested ownership groups. Magley also said the league may expand an additional four teams at once if it was to add more teams in Western Canada.
NBL Canada is also planning to hold more than 15 scouting combines to attract new talent and to expand the league’s presence both in Canada and internationally, some of which have already been held in cities such as Orlando, Fla., South Bend, Ind. and Los Angeles. Magley also plans to review the suspensions of Jones and Bennett in the coming months once the league is stabilized. He said most of the league’s markets have forgotten about what happened in Game 7.
The league also plans to adjust some of its rules and how fouls are called during games to reduce the amount of scuffles seen during games. Magley said if the rules were adjusted before this year’s finals, the Game 7 controversy may have never happened the way it did.
“Game 7 was not the end of our league. If anything, it was the beginning,” said Magley. “It was the first time in the history of our league our owners stopped looking at themselves as eight franchise owners that cared about their individual teams, but instead as eight owners of a league … Watching the owners over the past 45 days has been really remarkable because they’re all on the same page. It’s the first time in four years it’s been that way. It’s an exciting time and we’re getting some really good things happening.”
The league will be holding more town hall sessions over the next few months. Its regular season will start on Boxing Day.