(Toronto, On) It is an exciting time to be a fan of Canadian basketball.
The Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) will return to play this summer for its third season and with the hope of continuing the rapid growth the league has experienced over the last few years.
The league recently released its 14-game schedule for each of the seven teams that will begin June 5th and run through the beginning of August. The goal is for teams to play games in their home markets with fans in attendance.
Plans for a new franchise in Montreal for the 2022 season have also been announced with the possibility of expanding to more Canadian cities over the next five years.
The pandemic has created the difficult task for sports leagues of trying to resume operations while trying to protect players and welcome fans in some capacity. At this point in time, the CEBL is incredibly excited just to have released its schedule for the season.
“I couldn’t be more proud,” said CEBL Commissioner and CEO Mike Morreale about the immense amount of work that his team has put in over the last year. “There’s a lot of people that do a lot of work, certainly out of our league office, but across the league as well. We have such dedicated people… they should be really commended for all the work they’ve done. Amazing.”
In light of COVID-19, the league pushed back its normal season start time from May to June and shortened the schedule from the normal 20 games, to 14 games. The extra time increases the possibility that fans will be able to attend games in person.
In 2020, the CEBL was the first Canadian league to return to play after the pandemic hit, playing all games in a St. Catharines, ON, bubble. If health restrictions remain strict by June, the league already has contingency plans in place to ensure the CEBL plays basketball in some form this summer- including another bubble.
“The biggest mountain is the pandemic and trying to kind of get through that,” said Morreale. “Our decision to return last year in a bubble really, really helped us in many ways, and it prepared us for our return to our markets this year. Now, there’s a lot of work to be done, and there’s certainly a lot of decisions to be made for public health, but we feel like we’re really on track.”
Montreal will be the newest addition to the CEBL in 2022 and second expansion franchise after the Ottawa Blackjacks began play in 2020. Montreal will be the eighth team to join the league and Quebec marks the fifth province with a club participating in the top Canadian basketball league outside of the NBA.
“First of all, it’s a terrific basketball market,” commented Morreale on why Montreal was on his radar for an expansion team. “It’s a market that is very significant to us in terms of the national landscape, both from national partnerships, from broadcast, from just wanting to be in a major market in this country. And it opens the gateway to perhaps another team in Quebec City.”
Morreale knows Montreal is hungry for basketball, and with no NBA plans to bring a franchise to the city, fans can still enjoy elite basketball through the CEBL.
But Morreale doesn’t want to stop growing with Montreal. He is constantly looking for the right partners to back more Canadian teams in the league.
“The key markets for us as we look to expand is the Vancouver area, Calgary, Winnipeg, the Toronto area, GTA and then into Quebec City and into the East Coast with a couple teams. So that’s, generally speaking, where we’d like to go.”
The original plan when the CEBL began in 2019 was to expand to 12 teams with possible East and West divisions. Morreale still wants to reach that number, but can also envision a scenario that exceeds 12 participating teams.
“I think we can easily be in 16 cities. And we can easily be in a West, Central and East Division without even blinking an eye. Now that’s going to take time, but the vision has changed for the better for us.”
Down the road, the CEBL also intends to increase its reach and establish relationships with global federations through friendlies and international matches.
Morreale doesn’t plan to only grow his league, but also advance the diversity of his staff and clubs. The CEBL wants to hire the best people possible no matter their sex, gender or racial background.
“We pay attention to make sure that we are being diverse, and we’re not overlooking people,” he said. “That’s incredibly important. And if you look at our league office, and you look across our teams, you look across the players and the coaches, we have a vast, you know, very racially different groups. And it’s great, it helps us. It helps our perspective.”
Most recently, Annie Larouche, who formerly worked for the Montreal Alouettes, was named the Director of Operations for the new Montreal basketball team. The Montreal native has a strong background in community relations and marketing from her 30 years in the sports world. Larouche is an excellent example of the opportunities for Canadians to excel in the CEBL.
The CEBL recognizes that the popularity of basketball in Canada has grown significantly over the past few decades. Morreale wants to build on the success of the Toronto Raptors and reach communities across the country who may not be able to access Raptors games. Basketball fans and aspiring players can witness Canadian players in a Canadian league through the CEBL and experience high quality content at the same time.
Of the 49 regular season games, seven will be broadcast by CBC every Saturday starting on June 5th with a matchup between the Edmonton Stingers and Fraser Valley Bandits. Edmonton defeated Fraser Valley in the finals last year to win the championship.
Canadian, American and international fans will also be able to consume CEBL content, such as games and highlights, through their new digital platform set to be released prior to the season in June.
Basketball is flourishing in Canada, and the CEBL leads the charge in growing basketball nationwide for fans and athletes.
Written by Connor Lamont
Photos courtesy of the CEBL & Edmonton Stingers