Ottawa & the NBA: Will the Capital See an Expansion Team?

When it comes to sports in Ottawa, all eyes are on the NHL’s Senators and the CFL’s Redblacks. The city is also home to the Frontier League’s Ottawa Titans and Atletico Ottawa of the Canadian Premier League, which are also staples.

In terms of basketball, the city doesn’t yet host an NBA team. In fact, the Toronto Raptors are the only representatives of the Great White North in the league. And while the local Ottawa Blackjacks of the CEBL has catered to locals since its founding in 2020, it hasn’t stopped some basketball sports fans from wondering when or if the NBA could expand into the capital.

Around North America, leagues like the NBA, WNBA, and CEBL see plenty of attention from fans who attend games and watch them remotely. Fantasy leagues are also popular, along with sportsbooks that offer picks for the regular season in the NBA and into the playoffs. With Ontario’s sports betting market expanding, this attention will only increase in the coming years.

Back in 2019, when the Raptors won the NBA Finals, almost 8 million Canadians tuned in live to watch the event. While the moment proved huge for basketball fans countrywide, local Ottawans would love the chance to cheer on their own NBA team—but is it an actual possibility for Bytown?

From the SkyHawks to the BlackJacks

Back in 2012, local basketball fans had high hopes for a new National Basketball League of Canada team. The team would be one of the expansion sides for the NBL, founded in 2011. However, early financial woes made it difficult for the SkyHawks to settle into the league at the Canadian Tire Centre alongside the Senators.

Unfortunately for the SkyHawks, a loan for their second 2013-14 season didn’t help the team stabilize. The following season, the SkyHawks folded after being unable to comply with the loan’s terms. However, there’s still hope on the horizon with the BLackJacks. The team, founded in 2019, competes in the CEBL rather than the NBL.

Though one of the youngest teams in the CEBL and yet to bring home a CEBL title, the BlackJacks advanced to the semi-finals in their inaugural 2020 season and against last year in 2021. Having lost to the Edmonton Stingers both seasons, locals don’t just have a home team, but a promising rivalry with the Albertan side.

Potential for Hosting a Team

Clearly, locals are interested in supporting basketball—but does the city hit the required indicators for an NBA expansion team? In general, a city must have an engaged sports population, appropriate infrastructure, and investment from interested groups to finance a team’s move or founding.

The city has an appropriate population of nearly one million residents. Orlando, home of the Orlando Magic, has only around 285,000 residents, for context. It also has quite a few sports fans, from Senators’ diehards to Titans followers. Maybe even more importantly, Ottawa would have a quality rivalry against the Raptors in Toronto, which would stoke immediate interest from locals.

And, as aforementioned, Ontario is now home to a growing sports betting market. Added attention from broadcasting groups, analysts, and fans will provide a foundation for growing sports interests throughout the province. And as demonstrated by Toronto, the Raptors have been a huge win for the city.

Waiting on the NBA

The biggest hurdle Ottawa faces in welcoming an NBA team is the NBA itself. Under commissioner Adam Silver, the league has made technological and retail strides. The league has a successful NFT marketplace in Top Shot, while it’s also looking to re-enter the Chinese market in terms of broadcasting rights and retail.

Expanding the league’s 30-team scheme doesn’t seem to be within Silver’s immediate agenda. And, even when the time comes for Silver to push for a 32-team format, cities like Seattle and Las Vegas are more likely candidates than Ottawa—at least, for now.

Instead of expanding, there are a few teams that would benefit from a new home city. These teams include the Sacramento Kings, currently languishing under Vivek Ranadive; the Charlotte Hornets, which hasn’t benefitted from Michael Jordan’s purview; and the Minnesota Timberwolves, who have won only one division title in over three decades.

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