Zulich adds a basketball team to the stable
by Randy Pascal
As of yesterday, it was highly unlikely that anyone but a rare Sudburian would have even been aware that a National Basketball League of Canada
existed in our country.
Between now and the end of 2017, Dario Zulich and company hope to shift those numbers dramatically.
Tuesday morning, with NBL commissioner David Magley at his side, Zulich was confirmed as the owner of the 11th franchise in the league that
currently boasts five teams playing out of Ontario, and another five playing out of Atlantic Canada.
The Central Division currently features the Windsor Express, London Lightning, Kitchener-Waterloo Titans, Orangeville A's, Niagara River Lions,
and as of now, a yet unnamed Sudbury franchise.
With a regular season schedule that runs from Boxing Day through until April, followed by another 6-8 weeks of playoff action, Zulich's group is looking
to get the wheels turning on this new venture as quickly as possible.
"Of course, there's steps to get through," noted Andrew Dale, Vice-President of Marketing and Development for the Sudbury Wolves. "Whether
we start at Christmas (of 2017) or start the following Christmas, that has yet to be determined."
"There are some realities from a business case, in terms of working out the leases and the details on that. That's an important partnership with the City
of Sudbury arena management. It's about getting those details squared away."
Either way, Dale was adament that there is no reason the new basketball team could not be up and runing prior to the construction of a new arena,
wherever that may be. "We see this as an opportunity that can improved what's offered and increase the volume of energy and activity here at the Sudbury
Community Arena, prior to any new event centre being initiated," Dale stated.
While there are still several questions to be answered, Zulich did provide a general framework regarding the type of support that would be required to
make the initiative viable in the long-run.
"Ticket prices, I believe, would be comparable to hockey, and in terms of number of fans, I believe we can get up to 1500 to 2000 fans a game pretty
quickly," he said. Though basketball may not hold the same allure as hockey does in the Nickel City, residents might be quick to forget that the area was
a hotbed for the sport in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, at a time when the likes of John McKibbon, John Barton, Eli Pasquale and David Turcotte
were among the very best in the country.
"Basketball wasn't that strong ten to fifteen years ago, but I think it was really strong a while back," Zulich suggested. "It took a lull, it took a
little bit of a break. But it's coming back, it's coming back strong."
"I'm projecting into the future and I see basketball as a sport that is available to almost everyone in the community." Joining in the initial sales
pitch was Magley, a native of Indiana, product of the Kansas Jayhawks program, and a one time second round pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"He's an engaging person who understands the level of basketball and what the entertainment value is all about," said Dale. A very charasmatic and
likeable public speaker, Magley took time to address the bottom-line financial structure of the league, one that is critical in allowing this venture to
survive in the long run.
"Our salary cap is $150,000 for a four month season," he noted. "Teams provide housing, they provide much of the meals, and it's an opportunity for
these players. Each entity operates their franchise independently, but they are collectively on the dime for the costs of the league."
And while the Sudbury franchise would incur the largest travel budget of the Ontario based teams, Magley noted that along with some factors that help to
offset those costs, the reality is the standard distance between games for the local franchise would be very comparable to any of the maritime division
"And you're also a primary tenant, which we don't have anywhere else," he said. "Because he (Zulich) owns enough things that fit together, I think the
economies of scale will offset any potential additional costs of travel."
On the court, teams are generally comprised of eight Americans and four Canadians as part of their 12-man roster, with the bulk of players having
enjoyed experienced in the NCAA or CIS.