CEBL pro hoops franchise in Saskatoon 'a pretty easy decision'

LES LAZARUK - SASKATOON STARPHOENIX - JULY 3, 2018

More than 15 years after professional basketball was last played in Saskatoon, the Saskatchewan Rattlers are picking up where the Saskatchewan Storm, the Saskatoon Slam and the Saskatchewan Hawks left off. Here are five things to know about the city’s newest pro sports team and one of six squads comprising the Canadian Elite Basketball League …

1. Though there has been a spotty history of pro hoops in Saskatoon — three teams played in four leagues between 1990 and 2002 (and two of those leagues folded mid-season) — the Bridge City was targeted by league officials.

“Coming to Saskatoon was a pretty easy decision,” said CEBL chief executive officer, and former Canadian Football League star, Mike Morreale, at a press conference Tuesday during which the team name was announced. “We have very high hopes for the Saskatoon market.”

Lee Genier, president and chief operating officer of the Canadian Elite Basketball League, speaks at the Sheraton Cavalier in Saskatoon, Sask. on Tuesday, July 3, 2018. The team nickname for the Saskatoon squad — Saskatchewan Rattlers — was announced. (MORGAN MODJESKI/THE SASKATOON STARPHOENIX) / SASKATOON

2. CEBL officials looked closely at previous leagues that came and went, and also pro leagues that have lasted, learning what works and what doesn’t.

The CEBL is following a structure in which it owns and operates each squad, covering sponsorships, marketing, tickets and teams. The inaugural season will run in 2019 from May through August, with each team playing 10 home and 10 road games, followed by single-elimination playoffs. In addition to Saskatoon, other squads will be based in Edmonton, B.C.’s Fraser Valley, Hamilton, Guelph, Ont., and the Niagara region. The league is targeting “very selectively” growing to as many as 12 teams in future years, Morreale said.

“We’re building a great foundation from the start,” said CEBL president and chief operating officer of western operations Lee Genier. “That’s the way you build a great league.”

The corporate entity, Morreale said, will help “to make sure basketball is here to stay for a long time.”

3. Each team will have a 12-player roster, more than half of which must be home-country players.

“This is a league created by Canadians, for Canadians,” said Tourism Saskatoon vice-president and director of destination innovation Stephanie Clovechok on Tuesday.

4. The level of basketball in Canada has never been higher, league officials say, making this the perfect time to launch a Canadian-centric product.

There are around a dozen Canadians expected to play in the NBA next season. Around 100 are suiting up for NCAA programs and around 200 are currently playing professionally overseas.

“We have to take advantage of this and seize the moment in Canadian basketball,” Morreale said. “We would like to keep them here.”

5. The league will attempt to take advantage of the May-to-August window. Canadian and international players will be looking for opportunities. SaskTel Centre is a strong venue with dates to fill. The spring and summer weather will allow for promotional tie-ins that are difficult to pull off in Saskatchewan winters.

(The last time Morreale was in Saskatoon, the weather was drastically different than on Tuesday. “It was a little bit on the cold side,” he said with a grin.)

Genier helped build the National Lacrosse League’s Saskatchewan Rush into the NLL’s top-drawing franchise, combining championship action with an electric atmosphere. He’s planning on using the same playbook with the CEBL.

Said Genier: “I think everyone knows I like to throw a good party.”

ddeibert@thestarphoenix.com

Twitter.com/davedeibert

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Darrin Conway