The league announced on its Twitter site late Friday that its board of governors has approved an expansion franchise for St. John’s for the 2017-18 season, with further details on the ownership group to follow.
Other than a subsequent tweet with a picture of Mile One taken from Signal Hill overlaid with “Welcome, St. John’s Newfoundland!” and the NBL Canada logo, there was nothing more.
However, by process of elimination, the ownership group in question would seem to be one spearheaded by Toronto promoter John Graham.
St. John’s businessman Tony Kenny, who already has a tentative lease agreement with the management of Mile One Centre for operation of a basketball team, told The Telegram Friday his group is not the one referred to in the NBL Canada announcement.
And Sheena McCrate, the CEO of St. John’s Sports and Entertainment, which operates Mile One, says SJSE had no announcement to make regarding a basketball team to begin play at the facility this year.
While Kenny does have a lease agreement, he did not have an official expansion application before the league, but rather a less formal expression of interest seeking clarification about the league’s policy for payment of the $400,000 franchise fee as well as requirements for travel costs to be covered by a team in St. John’s.
How the league viewed Kenny’s interest and the fact he was in possession of a lease agreement is not known. A message left with NBL Canada president Vito Frijia by The Telegram on Thursday was not returned.
Frijia, who is also owner of the reigning league champion London (Ont.) Lightning, has been acting as league spokesman ever since the recent departure of David Magley, who had been the NBL Canada commissioner the past two years.
A group headed by former St. John’s IceCaps chief operating officer Glenn Stanford was the first to be identified as having interest in bringing an NBL Canada team to St. John’s, but withdrew from the process weeks ago saying it believed it could not reach a satisfactory lease arrangement with Mile One.
The Telegram has also learned there has been another locally-based potential ownership group — besides Kenny’s and Stanford’s — which had looking at the feasibility of an NBL Canada franchise, but it is also not the one referred to by NBL Canada on Friday.
That leaves Graham, who according to Magley last month, has a franchise bid financially backed by “one of the wealthiest men from Atlantic Canada … ever.”
But Graham does not have a lease agreement with Mile One Centre, something NBL Canada’s own expansion guidelines, as posted on the league website, says eventually must be in place before the league board can “vote to ratify the expansion club’s inclusion into the league.”
Graham has claimed he has been left waiting in his attempts to negotiate a lease as Mile One focused on reaching a deal with Kenny, but McCrate insists communications have been continually maintained with interested parties.
Meanwhile the league’s published expansion deadlines have long since passed. While the NBL Canada guidelines allow for 45 days for a franchise applicant to obtain a lease deal, June 15 was listed as the last date for board ratification of any new franchise.
What’s more, that was based on the 2016-17 season, when the league began play on Boxing Day. NBL Canada recently announced it was moving its regular-season start to mid-November, further shortening the preparation time for any new team in St. John’s … and that only if that would-be team can obtain both league approval and a lease deal for use of Mile One.
Right now, nobody has both.