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British Basketball League has ‘a lot of’ private equity interest, says CEO

Aaron Radin wants investment to be channeled into improving league infrastructure.

23 January 2023 Ed Dixon

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  • BBL secured UK£7m investment from 777 Partners in December 2021
  • League to prioritise FTA exposure for next domestic rights deal
  • Radin believes there is “enormous headroom” for basketball in UK

The British Basketball League (BBL) is fielding major interest from private equity firms looking to take a stake in the UK competition and its teams.

The BBL received its first chunk of institutional investment in December 2021 when Miami-based alternative investment firm 777 Partners paid UK£7 million (US$8.7 million) for a 45 per cent stake in the organisation. Now, UK basketball’s top tier is open to further backing to boost growth.

“Given the level of interest in the sport, if we can help facilitate a much greater level of awareness, a higher level of presentation of the product, the commercial aspects should follow,” Aaron Radin, chief executive of the BBL, told SportsPro.

“We’re really focused on attempting to set up that infrastructure. The league, I expect, will require other investment partners. There’s already been a lot of inbound interest looking at participating either at a league or a club level.

“For us, it’s about attracting the right partners, those that are willing to invest in a couple of different ways.”

According to Radin, any external capital needs to be funneled into the development of clubs to support fund player acquisitions and purpose-built facilities, the latter of which he believes will help define “the future of the league”. Currently, two of the BBL’s ten teams play in tailored venues, with a further three set to follow.

Established infrastructure should also speed up expansion efforts, though any additions are not imminent.

“Expansion at this moment is probably a bit premature without getting a lot of the infrastructure pieces that I mentioned before in place,” continued Radin.

Speaking to SportsPro last February, 777 vice president Lenz Balan told SportsPro that the aim is to make the BBL “the second biggest basketball league behind the NBA”. Teams are seeing an increase in engagement, with table toppers the London Lions enjoying a spike for their EuroCup game on 18th January, which was broadcast on UK pay-TV network BT Sport and gained a 181 per cent increase in peak viewership from the last record. The latest ratings were also 1,445 per cent higher than the first Lions game broadcast on the BT Sport 1 channel in October. 

That uptick highlights the relatively modest interest in the BBL up to this point. Radin, who joined the league in December from Meta, wants to prioritise monetisation of the BBL, including via an overhauled content strategy. New commercial growth targets and grassroots initiatives, as well as the aforementioned broad infrastructure investment, are also on the agenda.

“If you asked me today, are we in an ideal position from a packaging standpoint? I’d say probably not,” Radin said. “We have some work to do in that respect. But we’ve made progress.

“One [of the priorities] is the back office. It’s really critical for us, setting up an infrastructure from a data capture standpoint, how to capture data and how to leverage that for marketing opportunities.”

The BBL, which launched in 1987, faces competition from other European leagues also trying to make themselves the continent’s pre-eminent basketball competition. Notably, this has seen France’s LNB recently deepen its ties with the National Basketball Association (NBA). Even so, Radin believes his organisation offers great potential for commercial partners.

“If you look at the overall basketball economy in the UK today, there’s enormous headroom,” he said.

“We are in discussions with numerous partners that identify with us the ability to build that marketplace and make it bigger, have an entry-level position and then the ability to exploit that growth as it occurs.

“If I walk around any city and go into sports retailers, there’s very little, if any, presence or shelf space for basketball. Some might look at that as ‘gee, there’s no interest in the market or the retailers have determined that [basketball] is not a beneficial business’. To me that screams opportunity. Every inch of shelf space we get is upside.”

On the broadcast front, the league has a domestic rights deal with Sky Sports, another pay-TV network, covering the 2022/23 season. Beyond that, Radin states that he sees free-to-air (FTA) as integral to drumming up broader interest.

“I expect to be principally free-to-air, it is critically important for us,” he said. “Before we start talking about paid options, subscription-based options, we’re going to need to generate a much larger audience footprint.

“The decline of linear television viewing has, of course, led to the advancement of streamers. In parallel with that, the value of live properties has increased dramatically.

“The confluence of these events has led to an environment that I think is actually really attractive for us. We produce a lot of live programming, we’ve got 20-plus live hours of programming a week. We have a very attractive [demographic] for any type of programmer looking to get a younger [audience]. Seventy per cent of our viewership today is between the ages of 13 to 34.

“Perhaps, amongst the most attractive features is that on a relative cost per hour basis our programming is inexpensive. That’s not me negotiating against myself, it’s a reality of what the marketplace looks like to put an hour of a drama, comedy or reality show on air.

“With all of those streaming hubs, those companies need to build shelf space. And they need to fill shelf space with economically attractive programming and attractive from a demographic perspective.

“As a result of all of those factors, we’re getting a lot of interest.”

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