Could the Plymouth Raiders become … the Birmingham Raiders?

MVP can reveal that an abrupt exit from Devon is a legitimate option on the table for the 2021-22 season, with Raiders officials confirming they have looked at “3-4 options” as a potential new home for the club.

It has been widely known for some time that Plymouth, under past and present regimes, have been frustrated by their hometown’s inability to help deliver a purpose-built arena to supplant the ageing Pavilions.

Ambitious plans have been drawn up, and major investment injected, since the Raiders’ purchase by Turkish education billionaire Enver Yucel in February 2020 – including an excursion into Europe within the next two years.

And the UK’s second largest city has emerged as a possible alternative destination with a significant increase in costs of using the Pavilions, in addition to its relatively small capacity, now tipping the scales away from staying put.

“The truth is we want to stay in Plymouth,” confirmed Raiders’ director Dr. Basek Akdemir, the principal representative of Yucel’s BAU Global organisation.

“We operate schools in several countries but the reason we chose to get involved with Raiders, rather than London City Royals, was because we own an educational facility in Plymouth.

“The issue is we cannot afford a 200 per cent increase for next season. The Pavilions are asking us to play more than the next highest rent in the BBL.

“We have looked for alternatives in Plymouth but the problem is that there is nothing suitable.

“So we might explore a move to a different city. We have looked at three or four others. Birmingham is also an option.

“We want to remain in Plymouth but it will come down to the next few weeks.”

The need – and demand – for a venue upgrade has become all the more urgent with Yucel going public with his frustration on social media on Tuesday.

On Twitter, he said: “Concerned and looking for a location for our games next season. Letting fellow basketball lovers know.”

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Birmingham’s Utilita Arena – still the regular venue for the BBL Cup final – could provide a large-scale home for professional basketball for the first time since the Bullets folded in 2006.

With smaller venues in the city available too, it is a market with huge potential and one long coveted by the league for expansion.

The numbers in Plymouth, Akdemir underlined, just do not stack up as they are currently laid out by their long-time landlords.

“They have given us a deadline,” she added. “We cannot meet their price. And we also do not want another year without any fans.

“If we are without fans next season, it will not be at the Pavilions.”

Whether the threat is a bargaining chip or a legitimate signal of the impending invocation of a nuclear option, it has not come out of the blue.

Plymouth Council are believed to have identified the need for a specialist basketball centre in the city as long ago as 2012. However a change in their business model saw the Pavilions effectively privatised, removing the leverage of the local authority on the venue.

“It’s no secret we had problems with the operator,” said former Raiders’ co-owner Ross Mackenzie.

“There have been challenging conversations because of the cap on the number of people we could get in, which is less than 1,500.

“The simple mathematics are that, with charging what the local economy will support for a ticket, you simply have to have a near-full arena to even make a small profit. Most games lose money.

“And when you need to run it as a commercial enterprise, that puts the club in a very awkward position.”

With the playoffs being staged at neutral venues, it raises the possibility that Sunday’s closed door game with Sheffield Sharks could represent the Raiders’ final farewell after 38 years in the city.

BBL sources affirmed that the idea of a rare franchise relocation – the first since Lions decamped from Milton Keynes to London a decade ago – has yet to be discussed at league level.

Although each of the eleven clubs has a specific geographic territory, it is understood that no formal approval would be needed to take flight to a city that is currently without a team.

In a statement, Sarah Phillips, CEO of the Pavilions, said: “The Plymouth Raiders remain very welcome to continue playing at the Pavilions. The discounted rate that we have offered them remains on the table.” 

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