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New pro basketball league targets Victoria

Having earned his MBA from the University of Victoria in 2010, Anthony Vella is aware of Victoria’s history in basketball, which includes the Vikes’ national championship dynasty of the 1980s and numerous Olympians produced.

Having earned his MBA from the University of Victoria in 2010, Anthony Vella is aware of Victoria’s history in basketball, which includes the Vikes’ national championship dynasty of the 1980s and numerous Olympians produced.

That’s why he included the city in the fledgling Canadian Basketball League’s recent notification call to potential markets.

The league is proposed to start for the 2014-15 season.

“At this point, we’re looking for right ownership groups and not in terms of specific markets,” said Vella, business operations co-ordinator for Cosmos Sports, a Mississauga, Ont.-based sports marketing company working with CBL investor/founders Thomas and Robert Smeenk and Greg Nelson.

“This league would be to develop Canadian talent,” said Vella, by phone from Mississauga.

“There would be [a mandatory number of] six to nine Canadian players per team. It would be for guys not making top dollar in Europe.”

Break-even per-game attendance would be in the range of 4,000, said Vella.

The league would be pro, but only modestly so, with a salary cap of $150,000 per team per season.

A meeting is planned for mid-July in Edmonton to meet with prospective ownership groups.

Vella said he has not contacted RG Properties, which operates Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria and Prospera Place in Kelowna, the latter another potential western market that has been loosely mentioned in connection with the CBL along with Vancouver, Kamloops, Cranbrook, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Regina and Winnipeg.

“Victoria is a good basketball town . . . we looked [in the past] at the D-League [the NBA’s development league],” said Dave Dakers, president of sports and entertainment for RG Properties.

“It [CBL] is something we would look at, if contacted. We’re not against it. Neither of our buildings [Victoria or Kelowna] owns a basketball floor.”

Dakers said it’s hard to comment further “without seeing a business model.”

Sports owners are not easy to come by, however. At least in Edmonton and Calgary, they have speculation that new CBL franchises could be owned by the NHL Oilers and Flames.

In doing his viability research, Vella contacted Victoria basketball legend Ken Shields.

Shields says the dream of the CBL is “not impossible” but is cautious.

“It’s workable under the right business plan,” said Shields, who coached the UVic Vikes to seven consecutive national titles in the 1980s, before coaching the Canadian national team.

But proponents need to be realistic about the fan base for hoops in Canada, he warned.

“No CIS basketball team sells out its games, not even [current national championship dynasty team] Carleton,” noted Shields.

“Tickets are moderately priced yet CIS gyms are half full at best, and they aren’t like large downtown arenas needing 4,000 fans. We worked our butts off to fill McKinnon Gym with 2,300 fans [in the 1980s] and we had a [national-championship dynasty] product.”

Vella said the CBL would ideally like to start with “eight-to-12 franchises” across the country. He said he would like to hear from interested parties and can be reached through Cosmos Sports at 905-564-4660 or avella@cosmossports.com.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com