Pro basketball league expects to approve St. John's bid next week, commissioner says

A deal to bring professional basketball to Mile One Centre appears to be a slam dunk, says the commissioner of the National Basketball League of Canada.

Approval of new franchise could come on Tuesday

After a deal fell through earlier this month, another pair of ownership groups have stepped up efforts to bring professional basketball to St. John's. (Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images, CBC)

Despite mixed signals from St. John's city council, hoop dreams are not dead for two groups trying to bring professional basketball to Mile One Centre.

David Magley, commissioner of the National Basketball League of Canada, expects to approve an offer from one of the groups by early next week.

The deal would include an agreement between the ownership group and St. John's Sports and Entertainment for the use of Mile One Centre. The arena is operated by SJSE, which is funded by the City of St. John's.

"We're really close," Magley said. "These are two top elite ownership groups we would take in any market."

It will come down to which owner can secure a deal for Mile One Centre first, he said.

Will they or won't they?

This news comes three days after Coun. Sandy Hickman told CBC News a deal for a professional basketball franchise had fallen through.

Talks broke down between the city and a group led by former St. John's IceCaps executive Glenn Stanford earlier this month.

Hickman said the projections presented to the city in a business plan were not realistic. Stanford, meanwhile, said talks ended when the city came back to them with a counter plan.

Former St. John's IceCaps chief operating officer Glenn Stanford was considered the front-runner to bring a professional basketball franchise to the city. That deal has fallen through. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

"Based on what they presented to us, we went back to our investors and it just didn't make any financial sense," Stanford said, declining to comment on specifics.

The team would have to win over sports fans in a city not traditionally in love with the game of basketball, Hickman said on Tuesday.

"The first year somebody tries basketball and works hard at it and promotes it, it's still going to be anybody's guess how it works out financially and spectator-wise," he said.

Talks progressed quick this week

But Magley said deals with the other two groups ramped up since Hickman spoke to CBC on Tuesday.

"This week has been very fruitful, from what I'm gathering," Magley said. "I've talked to all three parties and they're all feeling good about things."

David Magley is commissioner of the National Basketball League of Canada. (Submitted/The NBL of Canada)

When contacted Friday, Hickman would not comment on the negotiations.

Your province is going to have a team they can be really proud of.- David Magley

St. John's could be the sixth franchise in the Atlantic region, with other teams in Cape Breton, Halifax, Charlottetown, Moncton and Saint John.

Magley said he hopes the franchise will challenge London, Ont., for the best-attended team. The London Lightning, last year's champions, draw an average of 6,000 fans per night.

Attendance will need to be around 2,000 per game to be considered successful, he said.

Last season, the St. John's IceCaps averaged 4,103 fans per night in the American Hockey League.

"Your province is going to have a team they can be really proud of," said Magley. 

About the Author

Ryan Cooke

Ryan Cooke works for CBC out of its bureau in St. John's.