In a number of previous posts I have mentioned my love of sports. I grew up playing baseball, basketball, football, and curling competitively and a number of other sports recreationally. They have always been a part of my life, whether I was clipping newspaper articles about hockey as a kid, or reading 5 sports blogs everyday. With the changing economic situation in North America there has been a lot of talk about the fate of the big 4 team sports. It is pretty obvious that their revenues will suffer for a year or two thanks to fewer sponsorships and lower attendance. As more people choose to get their sports through TV, many will miss out on the experience of attending a live game. Already many people have been priced out of attending top caliber sports in their hometowns. There are also those who live in places without major sports teams.
I believe that regional leagues in a variety of sports and involving local athletes representing their hometowns has the potential to resurrect that live sports experience and to improve community cohesion. There are already leagues like the CHL, and senior hockey programs, several semi pro football leagues, and a number of other examples. So the concept has been tried and has succeeded with the right circumstances. My idea is inspired by the way lower tier soccer leagues are organized in Europe, and the types of teams that could be found in the past. These leagues don’t need to be large national organizations, even though there are advantages to that model. The point is to form a team that can play games to small crowds with a low ticket price, with players who receive some pay for their time, but not enough to live on. I would expect the players to have day jobs and for games to be played mostly on weekends. Teams would play other cities in towns within a small radius, much like the 100mile diet plan for promoting eat local. Although people are generally reluctant to pay large sums of money to watch second rate talent (just ask the AHL or D-League about that) it is likely that a small venue could be filled under the circumstances I am suggesting. To summarize I will use a fictional basketball league centred in the area around Hamilton, Ontario.
* Teams would be composed of amateur athletes from the designated city or town they represent (local citizenship is an important component of this idea)
*This particular league would have teams that could be reached within an hour of so by car, so Hamilton, Cambridge, Kitchener-Waterloo, Burlington, St. Catherines, Niagara Falls, Guelph, Milton, and Oakville would be obvious choices
*Players would be paid a small stipend on a per game played basis to cover expenses and as a means to let them make a little money on it, but they would likely have day jobs, or possibly be university students who had used up their eligibility
*Team ownership could be handled by thte community or an individual who understands that the model is intended to break even at best. It is an opportunity to give back to the community and to create programs surrounding the team (like a basketball academy)
*Venues would have to be small gymnasiums at a community centre, fairground, university or college.
*The schedule could be of various lengths depending on the expected need, but would likely start out as 2-4 games against each other team followed by a playoff
*Per game ticket prices would be cheap, say $5-10, with discounts for children
*A major emphasis of a regional league is building community and fostering participation in the sport. This would likely help the developmental activities of national organizations
*Local government may be interested in contributing because of the potential for infrastructure upgrades
*A regional league is intended to be a lean operation, so most of the organizational work would be done by a small committee made up of owners or their representatives
*The teams could affiliate with existing club programs. The benefits of affiliation include increased exposure to high level play for the young players (through league organized tournaments) and by providing a feeder system for the league team.
*Team names would emphasis the uniqueness of the community they represent. For example, off the top of my head, the Hamilton Boilermakers, Kitchener-Waterloo Fighting Mennos, Guelph Galts, St. Catherines Steamers, Burlington Braves, Niagara Barreljumpers, Milton Quarrymen, and Oakville Wasps.
I think this is a feasible idea, but it needs some dedicated people to make it happen. Obviously these types of league won’t replace the major sports, nor will they affect their bottom line. They will provide the opportunity for people who don’t have access to live professional sports to follow and support a team in their own community. I’d love any feedback you have on my thoughts.
Thanks to the tremendous resonse to this post I have launched a new sports only blog called The Unassisted Play. Hope to see you there.