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BBL eyes FTA broadcast partner after securing Sky Sports extension

Basketball league keen to avoid getting tied up in long-term commercial deals while investment is ongoing.

18 May 2022 Sam Carp

PA Images

  • BBL received UK£7m investment from 777 at end of last year
  • League secured “improved terms” in new deal with Sky
  • Focus during offseason will include digital transformation and CEO search

The British Basketball League (BBL) is in the market for a free-to-air (FTA) broadcast partner in the UK after securing an extension of its domestic rights deal with Sky Sports.

The pay-TV network has broadcast the last two seasons of the UK’s top-tier basketball competition and this week announced it will continue showing the men’s and women’s BBL for the 2022/23 campaign.

Games have also previously been aired domestically on FreeSports and via the BBC’s digital platforms, but the UK’s public service broadcaster has not shown the competition since the 2019/20 BBL Cup Finals.

Lenz Balan, a vice president at private investment firm 777 Partners who sits on the BBL management board, told SportsPro that the league secured “improved terms” in its new deal with Sky, which will show games on the Sky Sports Arena channel and on its YouTube channel.

The BBL will be working with Sky to grow its audience but Balan also revealed that the organisation is looking to secure FTA coverage to further grow its reach.

“We need to find a free-to-air partner and we’re in constant conversations with folks about that,” he said. “It’s really about convincing them that this is different, that there’s something that is unique here.

“Our goal is to make Sky Sports happier and happier, and continue to attract other broadcasters that are interested in growing our sport.”

Miami-based 777, which also owns the London Lions BBL team, now holds a 45 per cent stake in the BBL after making a UK£7 million (US$8.7 million) investment in the league at the end of last year.

At the time, the BBL said it planned to use the funding to improve several areas of the business, with a particular focus on a digital transformation to enhance the product and drive further investment in its clubs.

Balan added that the BBL is reluctant to tie itself down to long-term commercial deals while that investment is ongoing, given that any improvements are likely to increase the value of the league to partners moving forward.

“In general, what we want to avoid is catching ourselves up in really long-term deals while we’re making investments,” he said. “I think from Sky’s perspective, they have to make sure it makes sense for them too.

“We just have to get out and execute, grow the audience, and grow that fanbase. And if we can do that on a continuous basis we feel confident that we’ll get renewed again or other broadcasters will show interest.”

Balan was speaking after the BBL playoff finals at London’s O2 Arena, where 15,824 fans watched the Lions secure the women’s title before the Leicester Riders edged the men’s champion-crowning fixture.

He said that the BBL will spend the offseason implementing a “three-phase process” that will include research and audience analysis which will ultimately be used to inform a league rebrand. Fans can also expect to see a centralised website rolled out before the end of the year, and another priority for the league is the appointment of a chief executive.

While admitting that “things aren’t moving as quickly as I’d like them to”, Balan said significant progress has been made and reiterated his belief that 777’s investment can help the BBL become the second biggest basketball league in the world.

He said: “It’s going to be a really busy summer in terms of going out and executing on that digital transformation plan. That is probably the most important thing we do.

“So I think we’re a little bit behind, but overall we’ve made a ton of progress. Whatever has slowed us down will actually be to our benefit, because [initially] it was really about getting to know each other, really understanding how 777’s internal capabilities should be deployed in an asset like this.

“I think that should mean that in the next six months we’re going to build a really robust infrastructure for the success of the league.”

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