Skip to content

Sports This Week: Commissioner talks CEBL changes

For Saskatchewan Rattlers the addition of two franchises in Calgary and Winnipeg are natural rivals in the making.
CEBL - Mike Morreale - Trophy Presentation (6)
CEBL Commissioner Mike Morreale presents the league championship.

YORKTON - It’s off season for the Canadian Elite Basketball League, but the league has managed to stay in the sports spotlight in Canada with something of a roller coaster of franchise moves. 

The first big news saw the franchise in Guelph moved west to Calgary under new private ownership becoming the Surge. 

Next the league announced an expansion franchise for Winnipeg, although details of who will own the team, what it will be called, and other details are still unknown to the public. 

And finally the operations of the Newfoundland Growlers, the only CEBL franchise in the Maritimes had its operations suspended. 

“It’s been managing the business, really kind of strategically,” offered CEBL Commissioner Mike Morreale in a recent interview with Yorkton This Week

Morreale said as Commissioner of course he looks at the various moves differently than what fans might, adding he appreciate fans in Guelph and Newfoundland are obviously disappointed. 

But, the changes made sense for the greater good of the CEBL, players and fans alike, suggested Morreale. 

In Guelph it was “a small market for us,” he said, adding it was a market with what he termed “capped opportunities.” 

By contrast Morreale noted Calgary “is a huge city, a very diverse city,” that offers the CEBL greater opportunities. 

The move also helped solidify the league in the west. 

“It made sense to do it. . . From a Calgary perspective it was a home run,” said Morreale. 

In terms of Western Canada, the Winnipeg franchise really connects the country which Morreale is important. 

“We haven’t been shy in saying we wanted to get into Winnipeg,” he said. “. . . It’s a tremendous market.” 

The Winnipeg franchise will be known as the Sea Bears and will play home games at the Canada Life Centre. The franchise is owned by Winnipeg businessman and lawyer David Asper. 

It’s likely the nickname will not be liked by many, but at least there is an interesting background to it as explained in a recent CEBL release.

“The Sea Bears nickname was chosen in honour of the largest bear in the world, the polar bear whose Latin name, Ursus maritimus, means “Sea Bear”. The Arctic’s top predator is emblematic of Manitoba’s north and pays homage to the bear as a species under stress that shares the land in the north with the Dene people. Winnipeg is home to the world’s largest gallery of Inuit and Dene art, and the polar bear is a symbol of the north and its people. Winnipeg is also home to the world’s largest polar bear conservation organization. The Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg includes the world-renowned Journey to Churchill polar bear exhibit.”

It should also be noted in terms of change the Fraser Valley Bandits were purchased by local business leaders Kevin Dhaliwal and Bryan Slusarchuk and will be rebranded as the Vancouver Bandits.

The team will however continue to play at Langley Events Centre (LEC), where the Bandits played the 2022 season following three seasons in Abbotsford.  

While not everyone will be happy with how moves have transpired. Morreale said the CEBL is better for what has occurred. 

“It’s a much better league today that it was last year,” he said. “We’re much stronger geographically and financially.” 

Certainly from the point of view of the Saskatchewan Rattlers the addition of two franchises which are both natural rivals in the making is a good move by the CEBL. 

Adding two teams in the west does open the CEBL to move to more divisional play, building on rivalries, added Morreale. 

In the case of the Growlers Morreale said the building just wasn’t workable long term, and the home that made sense was not available do to other contracts. 

So could the Growlers return? 

Morreale said it’s not impossible, but added they would likely look to add at least one other east coast team at the same time (Moncton – Halifax) to make sense travel wise. 

“I would suggest that would be the preference,” he said. 

That would also fit with a general plan to still grow the league toward 15/16 teams. Morreale said, for example, Quebec City remains on the CEBL’s radar, as does a team in the Kelowna/Victoria area of B.C. 

Further expansion will build on a CEBL “in major markets all over the place,” said Morreale. 

It is disappointing that no rumblings of a team in Regina have ever surfaced with CEBL, or in Saskatchewan (to any extent past a rare social media post). The building exists and there is no reason the city couldn’t support a team. With a team in Saskatoon, Edmonton and now Winnipeg and Calgary it would be a great fit. 

And if Morreale thought the upheaval in the CEBL was over for the upcoming season, he was wrong. 

Since his interview for this edition of Sports This Week the league has announced another major franchise shift. 

The CEBL Champion Hamilton Honey Badgers announced that due to the closure of Hamilton’s FirstOntario Centre during the 2024 and 2025 CEBL seasons while arena renovations occur, the Honey Badgers are being permanently relocated to Brampton in time to begin play for the 2023 season. The league and team were informed in a letter on November 11, that FirstOntario Centre would not be available to accommodate basketball games. 

“We couldn’t be more excited than to be bringing world class professional basketball to Brampton, and to be able to relocate one of our most successful franchises to a city that has produced several NBA players and elite international stars is a big win for our league, for sports fans in Brampton, and for people across Canada who share our passion for basketball,” said Morreale in a CEBL release.

“We were recently informed that renovations to Hamilton’s FirstOntario Centre will displace the Honey Badgers for the 2024 and 2025 seasons. Rather than playing elsewhere on a temporary basis during that time and relaunching the team again in 2026, the City of Brampton made it an easy decision for us to establish a permanent new home in one of the best basketball markets in Canada. The opportunity to play in a basketball hotbed and near Mississauga, Toronto, and our Scarborough franchise is a welcomed solution that we’re very excited about.”

It’s an understandable shift as the Honey Badgers would have been something of a lame duck in Hamilton in 2023 with fans finding it hard to invest in a team they then wouldn’t see in two years, but it’s still another shift in the CEBL landscape.

That said, while it is literally years away Hamilton has to now be high on the list for an expansion franchise in 2026.