Basketball club Plymouth City Patriots are hoping to announce a new, larger capacity venue for next season in the next “two to three weeks”.
Head coach and general manager Paul James, told BusinessLive the fledgling British Basketball League (BBL) franchise has identified a preferred option for its new home and is approaching the end of “lengthy” talks.
The team has recently completed its debut season at the Plymouth Pavilions, confounding expectations by reaching the play-offs despite losing its first eight league matches.
The Patriots were formed from the ashes of Plymouth Raiders – one of the BBL’s founding franchises – which withdrew from the league as it was unable to pay increased rent at the Pavilions.
Since its formation by local businessman Carl Heslop, managing director of Obedair Construction, the club has been looking for a new facility in the city while continuing to play at the Pavilions on a one-year deal.
Mr James said he was hopeful the team would be able to secure a space with a larger crowd capacity, after it sold out the Pavilions more than five times last year, including its last two play-off games against Leicester Riders.
The former head coach of England’s national men’s side said capacity at the new venue was among the “minor details” to be straightened out in negotiations, with the Patriots hoping to increase spectator numbers from around 1,350 to 1,600.
Mr James added while there were other options open to the club there was one venue the club had really “done its homework” on.
He added: “The owner has done a lot of work on [the cost of converting the new venue to basketball operations]. There is a figure there and they are working through those figures and how that will get paid for. That’s above my station how that’s going to happen.
“There are certainly quite detailed plans about how much it’s going to cost for the seating that we need and other bits and bobs that we might need to convert to make it acceptable for the BBL. Work has been going on since we started, this isn’t something we’ve waited for until the end of the season.
“It’s really exciting what’s happening; once we’ve sorted a couple of minor details out I think people are going to be delighted with what we are doing.”
Reflecting on the Patriot’s debut season, Mr James said the club’s achievements would go down in BBL history as one of the “real success stories” of a franchise built from scratch.
After securing the temporary stay at the Pavilions, Mr James said the new franchise had three weeks to assemble a team and make arrangements for kit and training facilities.
He said: “We were really flying by the seat of our pants in the early days. We always knew it was going to be really difficult at the start. We weren’t allowed to bring in any import players at the time, we had to wait for our license to come through to do that, so we knew we had to have all British players.
“We knew it was going to be a painful experience initially but our goal was to get from one end of the season to the other without falling over. What we did in a very short space of time was phenomenal.”
Mr James said the success of the program was due to “grafters” within the club refusing to accept no for an answer.
“At the start of the year people were saying we shouldn’t have entered the league, it was too soon, that we weren’t going to win a single game. All of those things just drove us on to actually be a better version of ourselves,” he said.
“It’s very important you have the right people within the organization, not only on the court. We really focused on the type of player we were bringing into the club from the start.”
Mr James said they had to be “totally honest” with the players about what they thought the club could achieve.
“It was kind of a ‘warts and all’ programme, outlining the worst-case scenario but also what we were trying to build. So with the players we had from the start, they laid the foundations for us to have the success we had in the end, once we were able to bring the Americans in.”
He said the club was “totally honest” about its plans with its supporters, sponsors and community programs, too.
“We increased our capacity by 300% with the number of people we were coaching and reaching out to. If we were going to do this, there was a value to it, so we weren’t giving away a lot of complimentary tickets; we had to actually be worth paying money to watch. We ended up selling out six or seven games by the end of the season because of what we were doing.”
Mr Heslop, a former sponsor of the Plymouth Raiders, had originally planned to continue under the Raiders name but was unable to secure the transfer of the naming and branding rights from the previous owners.
Before their demise the Raiders had attracted investment from a global education provider run by Turkish businessman Enver Yücel, the owner of one of Turkey’s top Super League basketball teams, Bahcesehir College.
Mr James, who was coaching the Raiders at the time, said the group had intended to make the club “one of the powerhouses of British basketball” and help it qualify for European competition.
However, the former point guard revealed infighting among the club’s board had driven the Turkish investors out, describing the situation as a “missed opportunity”.
Mr James said: “The directors fell out and I think there was some jealousy about the direction the club was going. For that to happen [the investors] needed people to move aside to allow them to do that.
“Some of the directors put some hurdles up, and they decided to walk away. It’s disappointing because they did come in for the right reasons, they did want to take the club in another direction and make it one of the powerhouses of British basketball.
“That was a missed opportunity for the Raiders to actually grow. But it’s all done and dusted now and in the past. What we have now is a fresh start. We have done phenomenal work on and off the court this past season and set up a great foundation for us to move forward.”
Mr James said the Patriots success as a new franchise showed there was scope to expand the BBL, announced as part of transformative plans for the British game, after the top professional division secured a multi-million pound funding deal with Miami-based investment firm 777 Partners at the end of last year.
Mr James said it was possible that up to four established clubs in the second tier National Basketball League Division One could join the BBL and be competitive within the next few years.
He added that in order for basketball to grow as a professional sport in the UK clubs needed to be in a position to own their own venues in order to have a consistent schedule of matches.
Added to increased TV coverage of matches, Mr James said the BBL had the potential to be in a position to attract Team GB international players back to the country from more lucrative leagues abroad, as well as more high profile overseas players.
Mr James said: “You look at the European leagues and most of those teams have their own facilities for a start, that helps. A lot of BBL clubs are reliant on the availability of their facility, and if you are playing in a sports hall or the Pavilions where they do other things in there, you’re dependent on what’s available for you. So you can’t get a consistent programme.”
This year the club has played on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.
“What you want to get to is Friday night basketball night or Sunday is Basketball day. And for people to know that, it needs to be spoken about on radio, it needs to be shown on TV. Until clubs get to a stage where they own their facility, so they are allowed to get more money for beer or food, merchandise, it’s going to be a struggle.”
Mr James said organization of the league also needed to be “tied up”.
He added: “We’ve had months where we’ve played seven games and then we’ve had three weeks off in a row, which doesn’t make any sense. All of that needs to be tidied up for us to look like a proper professional league.”
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