London Leopards have announced that they intend to apply for a British Basketball League franchise, bidding to return to the top flight as soon as next season.
Since supporters of the original Leopards reformed the club in 2004, the Essex-based outfit has played in the lower tier EBL, based in turn at the Brentwood Centre and Basildon Sporting Village. However they are now set to make a move to become a fully professional side.
“It gives me great pleasure to announce that we are actively looking to join the BBL for next season” said club chairman Fred Dicker.
“This is a very big step for our club but although it has taken time it has been our aim since our formation in 2004.
“The application process is not an easy one, but I believe we have quality personnel at the club to make a successful bid. We need to put in place a management team that will provide the skills required to run a BBL franchise with a desire to be competitive in our first season.
“I am also delighted to announce Gareth Roberts has accepted my invitation to be our club’s first Managing Director. Gareth has, in the past, held various roles within the club. He, along with Ian Mitchell, has set up our community programme. Gareth is a very bright young man with plenty of new ideas and fantastic energy which can only be an asset to the Leopards organisation.”
Following the demise of Essex Pirates due to financial problems on the eve of the current campaign, any application is likely to be scrutinised carefully by the BBL.
Birmingham are already confirmed as entrants for 2012-13, with Manchester ready to join them.
The league is also intent on placing a London franchise at the Olympic handball area which is earmarked to become a basketball centre of excellence. However it is due for a re-fit after the 2012 Games before being available for alternative uses in early 2013, forcing any bidders to either source a suitable temporary venue in the capital or wait until 2013-14 to enter.
With league chiefs actively looking for a high profile return to the city for the first time since the exit of London Capital two years ago, any Leopards bid would likely hinge on finding a larger venue while securing sponsorship backing to fund and promote the team.
The original Leopards began life at the now demolished London Docklands Arena and was owned by Harvey Goldsmith and Ed Simons, winning a number of trophies before dropping out of the BBL.
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