In the sporting hub of London, basketball is a niche game that garners very little attention outside its small, but enthusiastic fanbase.
However, since relocating to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park four years ago, London Lions owner Vince Macaulay believes the future is bright for his club and the sport in general.
With an incredible facility such as the Copper Box Arena, the Lions have the potential to grow as a franchise. The arena boasts a capacity of 7,000, standing as the one of largest in the BBL Championship. So it’s to no surprise that the Lions have one the most passionate and quickly developing fan bases in the league.
For Vince, building a connection with the fans is imperative:
“For us it’s important to continue to build a fanbase that recognises what playing for London means. From a player perspective, it is really hard to play for London as it’s in the spotlight.
“Basketball is at the bend of a knee right now in the country, which means to me it’s about to explode and we are at the forefront of that just because we are London. We’ve got a fantastic venue and these fans are really stepping up to the plate; they understand that and they’re trying to force us to do the right thing, to accelerate what we’re currently doing.”
It’s still early days in relation to the Lions building a dynasty in their new home at the Copper Box Arena. The club had previously been located in Milton Keynes and Watford, but now it seems the franchise has an optimal platform to grow on:
“People do forget that we’re four years old, we’ve come a long way in four years. We’re delighted with the progress we’re making and I’m sure as we continue with the kind of players we’ve been bringing in over the years – getting better each time – we’ll actually reach the potential that I believe we have. When we start to get a full house in here, it’s going to be awesome!”
At the start of this current exhilarating BBL season, the league announced that they had struck a deal with the BBC to broadcast multiple fixtures live for the first time on BBC online. For the Lions and the rest of the league, the deal provides a major step towards the development of the sports audience. Macaulay was thrilled with the deal and believes it could be just the start:
“The BBC deal is fantastic, not only the fact that it further legitimatises what we’re doing, but also, this is being seen worldwide. It’s not just in the UK, they’re watching it in America, in Australia and it’s fantastic. So a lot of people are looking at basketball in England and thinking actually this maybe is an option.
“That’s a big step and as numbers continue to grow, the live basketball continues to grow, then our numbers will be strong enough to attract the sponsorship and funding that we require.”
On the rise
The BBL has suffered from a lack of funding and exposure in the past, but in late 2016 the BBC and the British Basketball Federation announced they will receive £1million of funding from Sport England this year; the game is clearly on the rise.
However, basketball year in year out proves how popular the sport could be and its growing audiences in the rest of the world. This January saw the return of the annual NBA Global Games, where two teams from the world’s biggest basketball league in the world play at the O2 Arena.
Macaulay, however, believes the league offers something quite different from the BBL:
“I think the NBA Global Games is a bit of a red herring in some way, as I think some 70% of the people who come to watch that game could be from Europe. The level of what’s on display is the same as a West End theatre show; it’s really high level – that’s not really what we’re about.
“What we’re about is showing that British players have an opportunity to showcase their talent with a British club, showing that we can bring in star-quality players. And the community know that it’s for them, something the NBA do very well is to acknowledge the community.”
For the London Lions, the development has been evident in the bustling sporting hub that is the Olympic Park. It is boldly clear that the club and game is finally beginning to grow a significant fan base that is both passionate and invested in their clubs. As well as recent exposure and financial investments at a grass root level, things will only improve.
As for the Lions on the court, their fans will be hoping they can cheer them on to a vital playoff run to cap off another exciting season:
“The playoffs are absolutely vital, it’s really vital for us to get to the O2 again like we did in 2015. It’s critical to our development, for us it has to be our number one priority,” added a spirited Vince