I have been sitting on this topic for a while, hoping to blog about it when and the idea came back up. Since it hasn’t as of yet, I am going to blog about it anyway. The National Basketball League of Canada has (in the past) considered moving its season from the wintertime to the summer. Summertime pro basketball has been tried in Canada before. The World Basketball League had teams coast to coast in the late 1980s to early 1990s, that played during the summer months. After the WBL folded, the Canadian teams got together and formed the National Basketball League (sound familiar?). The original NBL operated for only 1 1/2 seasons (1993 and partial 1994). It featured teams in both Halifax (Windjammers) and Sydney (Cape Breton Breakers).
In March of last year, many NBL Canada teams (including the Halifax Rainmen) sent out surveys to season ticket holders to get their opinions on the operations of the league. One of the questions was about a switch from the traditional (for basketball) winter schedule to a summer schedule. The league owner’s had discussed this change among themselves and wanted the opinion of the paying public in regards to this change. The concern over a winter schedule is that NBL Canada teams are second to hockey teams in their respective markets. Of the current eight teams in the NBL, all but one share their arena with a major junior hockey team. That one exception is the Brampton A’s, who share the arena with the Central Hockey League’s (minor pro) Brampton Beast). To put the hockey/hoops divide into perspective, the Mooseheads’ lowest crowd of the 2012-13 season was about 1300 more than the Rainmen’s highest crowd of the same season.
The proposed summer schedule would (will?) have run from May until September, which is the same time frame used by the previous NBL. Andre Livingston, the owner of the Rainmen, is one owner who was (and may still be) in favor of switching to the summer season. Advantages to the switch to the summer are not going head to head with hockey and hence getting more fan friendly (read weekend and holiday) dates at home. Also, weather is less likely to postpone a game or at least effect fans abilities to attend games. The summer schedule could also attract players playing in overseas leagues during their off seasons.
Affect on the actual attendance is debatable however. During the winter, people like to stay inside so an indoor game like basketball is an attractive option for a night out. Teams may not be competing with hockey for their entertainment dollar, but will be competing with the lure of being outside on a summer’s night. The May to September window is often the only time in Canada when the weather is all but guaranteed to be warm and sunny (unless you live in Calgary, but’s that’s another story). Nobody wants to be outside on a nice summer’s evening when they could be enjoying the nice weather outside that vacates Canada for much of the year. This is one reason why some teams (such as the London Lightning are/were against the switch). Also, the Windjammers attendance was good for the first year of two, but once the novelty of professional basketball wore off their attendance wasn’t far off of where the Rainmen’s attendance currently is.
Outside enjoying a summer’s evening/afternoon is one thing people like to do as the season is so short in this country. This is why if a summertime franchise is to survive in the Maritime market I feel being an outdoor sport is a must. This in an advantage one would have if they were to operate a baseball team here (as would a soccer team). Soccer was tried in 1991 (see Nova Scotia Clippers), but professional baseball hasn’t been tried on these shores since before the Second World War (see Cape Breton Colliery League). I truly believe a properly marketed team in either sport could succeed in the Maritime market. As could the CFL, but that would take a lot more capital investment (stadium & franchise fees) than the minor league ball club would entail.