The elite level of UK basketball is the British Basketball League (BBL), a fully professional level of the sport which is constructed of 12 teams who play in a league structure and also compete in two cup competitions.
The teams are franchises who represent geographical areas in England and Scotland, the owners of whom form the governing body and elect their president.
In England, the English Basketball League (EBL) governs the game at the level below that of the BBL. Within its remit, it runs several national leagues and cup competitions as well as the English national team. A similar body north of the border is basketballscotland.
The British Basketball Union (BBU) was formed when the BBL came together with the English Basketball League and basketballscotland in 2012, in order to unify the development and marketing activities for the sport as a whole.
Teams and League Structures
The BBL currently consist of teams from eleven English and one Scottish franchise, and the structure of the leagues means that there is no promotion or relegation in and out of the BBL.
However, from the 2014/15 season, the BBL will increase as two new English teams join the league, to be followed by a Scottish team for 2015/16.
Other franchises are planned to join the league in future years, but this will depend upon them being able to reach a high enough standard of play, along with satisfying financial criteria to ensure their continuance.
The teams are spread more or less evenly around the country, although as a franchise is bought and sold, the teams may move to a different city or region.
At the end of the season, the top eight teams compete in a play-off competition to decide the league champions.
Nationally, the English Basketball League (EBL) consists of over 100 teams who are split into four divisions, although the Third Division is sub-divided into two regional sections, and the Fourth division into four.
As with the BBL, the top eight teams in each division enter a playoff competition to decide championship winners at each level.
In Scotland, the National League consists of ten teams who play in the equivalent standard league to the EBL, as second tier competition below the BBL.
There are many cup competitions in UK Basketball. Two of these are operated by the BBL – these are the BBL Cup and the BBL trophy.
The BBL Cup is a straight knockout competition with ties drawn randomly from the pool of teams with no seeding. However, when the BBL has an odd number of franchises, then certain teams can be preselected to get a bye into the next round.
The BBL Trophy is currently also a knockout competition in the same format as the BBL Cup; however a major difference is that it includes entries by invited clubs from the EBL and sometimes from basketballscotland as well.
No British teams currently compete at a European cup level as the only teams which meet the necessary qualification for venue seating capacity have failed to qualify.
The EBL has a number of cup competitions, the premier event being the National Cup, which is available to all EBL members and is played in a knockout, random draw format.
The National Trophy is only open to Division 1 teams and is in a round robin format where all the teams play each other followed by the top four teams playing knockout matches to decide a winner.
The Patron’s cup is a competition which follows the same format as the National Trophy, and is for the Division 2 teams.
The National Shield competition is open for teams in Divisions Three and Four, and is a straight knockout tournament with the ties being randomly.
Basketball on TV
Basketball has always struggled alongside ice hockey and speedway racing to break through into the sporting consciousness of the country as a go-to sport. Instead, it retains a small, dedicated but passionate following of team supporters and fans of the sport.
Basketball has been more of a fashion sport, with popularity building and waning as it has managed to find a regular spot on the television screens.
In the 1980’s, the new Channel 4 carried the sport on Monday nights and saw a rise in the viewership peaking at an audience of around 150,000 until the even newer Sky Sports bought the TV broadcast rights from 1995 to 2001.
Basketball wasn’t broadcast live again until Sky Sports returned in 2010, carrying matches until Eurosport picked up the option from the 2013/14 season, though the BBL now also has its own subscription TV channel.
However, it is hoped that the deal signed by BT Sport with the National Basketball Association in the USA, the biggest and most prestigious league in the world, will bring a knock-on effect by enticing more people to give basketball in the UK a try.
This is the biggest agreement ever between a UK television channel and the NBA and means that BT can screen up to seven live matches per week, as well as extensive highlights and magazine programmes, bringing all the feel and action of the NBA to a British audience, featuring the best teams and the greatest players in the world.
The hope is that basketball can grow in the same way as the NFL American football coverage has encouraged the growth of that game in the UK. There are plans for more NBA games to be staged in British venues to boost the awareness of the sport.
Although the game of basketball is well known in the UK, it does suffer as a niche event in comparison with football, cricket and the two codes of rugby.
However, the structure of the game means that everyone will have a team near them to be able to either watch or join as a player, and in the long term, basketball has the potential through the NBA coverage, to move forward and draw in a larger audience and become a much more important part of the British sporting calendar.