ESSEX PONDERING CAPITAL SWITCH

Essex Pirates could leave Southend this summer and switch their base into London in a move that would return the British Basketball League sooner than expected to the capital.

MVP has learnt that the club is exploring possible new venues that could bring a re-location in time for the start of next season.

Transferring the Pirates base to London – which has been without a professional team since the Capital's exit last summer – could have major benefits, potentially unlocking a much greater spectator and sponsorship base. Their existing home is not TV-friendly with its geographical location constraining growth on and off the court.

And Essex coach and co-owner Tim Lewis admitted that a number of options are currently on the table.

“There are opportunities to play games in London,” he said. “It may be that we split a little bit. Maybe we stay in Southend and play more games in London. We’ve been asked to look at that.

“There’s a bigger picture: we want to be playing in Europe by 2014. That move would make a big difference.”

BBL chiefs have made no secret of their desire to capitalise on London 2012 by placing a franchise at one of the Olympic venues. There is also a potentially attractive facility to come on stream at nearby East London University which is being refurbished in preparation for Team USA’s pre-Games camp.

But one senior league figure warned: “We can’t afford to screw up London again when we go back there.” Which means there appears little appetite to steer the Pirates, who have finished in the bottom two in each of their two top-flight campaigns, towards Stratford.

“The league are fairly guarded on that East London site and franchise,” Lewis confirmed.

“But I think other options are available and we’ll look at them pretty hard over the next few weeks to have tangible information which we can make decisions on.”

The BBL’s franchise committee will meet on Wednesday to decide on an application from Durham Wildcats to join for next season.

It is also understood that initial dialogue has been held with interested parties in Birmingham, Belfast and Edinburgh which may bring firm franchise bids in future years.

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