As Surrey Sports Park take complete control of their local BBL franchise, what next?

The Guildford venue has had success with its two sports franchises, the Surrey Smashers (Badminton) and Surrey Strom (Netball), and now it hopes to make basketball another mainstay in the Surrey area.

The Sports Park has been the home of Surrey basketball for over five years, the first three as Guildford Heat and recently over the past two as Surrey United. And now, after buying out former coach and part owner Jack Majewski, the SSP are looking to raise the bar.

MVP’s Jack McNally spoke to franchise director Gavin Baker about the switch.

Why the ownership change? 

“After 2 years of working with London United we decided that the franchise wasn’t delivering against its original plan of being competitive, whilst relying on a majority squad of young British talent who balance studying alongside their training commitments. We therefore decided that a change was needed or alternatively step away from the current partnership. When the Surrey-based operating license was then removed from that partnership by the British Basketball League we then started our own conversations with the BBL regarding the feasibility of Surrey Sports Park taking on the vacant license.

We had done a lot of research, and obviously had a lot of learnings from being a facility provider to Surrey Heat for 3 years and then a 50% owner with Surrey United for the past 2 years. I was also very fortunate to have been able to have some really open and honest conversations with some of the other franchises, especially Paul Blake (Newcastle Eagles) and Russell Levenston (Leicester Riders) who not only passed on some priceless information on their own franchises, but were also able to look at the culture that they have created amongst the club both within the playing side and also the community work.

The sole ownership now allows us to align the club alongside the great work we have done with our netball franchise (Surrey Storm) and in the last year our badminton franchise (Surrey Smashers) and have a real sustainable plan for the next 5 – 10 years.

Another key difference will be that the players will be based in Surrey rather than up in High Wycombe as previously with Surrey United. This means that the players will be able to take advantage of the great facilities and support services we have here at Surrey Sports Park as well as actually being able to be a part of the Guilford and Surrey community. Just having players in and around the local area on a day-to-day basis will be a key element of raising the profile and exposure of the franchise, something that has been missing over the last 2 years. We very much want to be a club that the people of Surrey are proud of and want to get behind.”

Will there be a change to the teams name and logo?

“Yes, the name and identity will be completely new and we hope to have this confirmed in the next couple of weeks. Obviously we’ll be drawing inspiration from the rich history of basketball in Surrey, but we see this as a fresh start and a new direction for BBL basketball in the county.”

Will there be a change in coaching staff?

“In terms of what was Surrey United yes, because Jack Majewski was the other 50% owner and is now obviously not involved. Again I’ve been in contact with a couple of coaches and once everything has been confirmed we will hopefully be in a position to announce an appointment very soon.”

If so, what kind of changes would you like to have done with the roster?

“It will be a completely new look roster and we are looking at players that can come in and work hard both on and off court. We’ve already been looking at potential targets with some positive conversations, and we obviously have to be a lot more competitive in the forthcoming BBL season. It’s also vital this year that we increase our exposure to the local community so players can visit schools, community groups and take part in the various media opportunities to promote the club and the sport of basketball. In terms of on the court I’m a basketball fan myself, so players who bring some excitement to the fans on match nights is always a must.”

What are your hopes for the new team in 2015/16?

“This is a long term project we have now started, so we have some realistic goals over the next 5 years, but for next season a playoff spot is our primary target.

As a new franchise it’s not easy to do this, but seeing how well Bristol Flyers performed last year, both on and off court, shows that with a well-run back office, a talented coach and group of players, and the backing of the local community, this can be achieved. There is huge potential here and we’re confident our plans can deliver a new dawn for BBL basketball in Surrey.”

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