- National Teams
Ameesh Manek, one of the men attempting to oversee a potential £36 million investment into basketball in the UK, believes their plan will be a “game changing” solution for the sport across the country.
Manek, one of the directors of Bball UK, has put together a plan that has raised a potential £36 million investment should they be able to become majority stakeholders in the professional league in this country.
The “very reputable” private equity firm in the US behind the money remains unnamed, but Manek did reveal that Chime PLC, one of the leading sports marketing agencies in the world that includes Lord Seb Coe amongst it’s Directors, are also investing capital and resource while working closely with Bball UK to provide a robust plan that benefits the sport from top to bottom.
“I think what our plan does is provide a game changing solution to that (basketball not reaching it’s full potential),” the former Independent Board Director of Basketball England said in a phone call with Hoopsfix on Wednesday morning.
“It’s designed to aligning all the interests to all the main stakeholders and parties involved. It’ll raise capital through this private entity, Bball Uk, not just this initial round but future rounds as well.
“It’ll use the Major League Soccer model to invest a significant amount of money into the franchises so that we can really improve the quality of the league, the franchises and the fan experience. That’ll create new income streams, so direct investment into the sport through brands, broadcasters, and we’ve already had some really positive conversations about that. ”
Since the money was verified, Basketball England has announced it’s reviewing the BBL’s operating license using an independent review panel. It will provide an opportunity for all sides to be heard, with the panel making recommendations to Basketball England on what is in the best interest of the sport moving forward.
Manek (pictured, right) is “very confident” their plan can stand any stress test, and emphasised they want to work with current BBL franchises not new ones, taking a majority stake in them to help grow their revenues while focusing on providing options for British players.
“A big part of what we want to do is bring British talent back to the UK and pay players and coaches market salaries,” Manek continued. “(We want to) invest heavily into a major live and digital experience as well as the initial interest we’ve had from broadcast partners to create a massive media profile.”
Bball UK claim there are 15 million people interested in basketball in the UK, with 1 million naming it as their primary sport, it is just they have not had the right product presented to them to engage with.
“There is a fan base and people interested in the sport that are waiting to engage with it in the right way with the right product across the country and we’re absolutely committed to delivering that,” he said.
Though he doesn’t deny that there were conflicts of interest which led to him and his colleagues stepping down from their Board positions at Basketball England, he believes that it is because they come from within the sport they have a far greater understanding of the landscape to put together a complete plan.
“I think what people need to appreciate is that actually the reason why this plan is so innovative, is the fact that it’s a whole sport plan, and the reason why this plan is so sensitive to the current great work that people have done within British basketball across the whole spectrum is because we’ve seen it from the inside.
“By the involvement we’ve had within basketball we’ve got a a far better appreciation and empathy with the challenges that British basketball faces, so we’re able to put together a plan that meets those challenges, or at least starts to help to address some of those challenges.”
Manek states that the return on investment for the investors will be the increased value of the assets they own through being a majority stakeholder.
“This is not about the investor getting a massive profit return on an annual basis,” he said.
“Our business plan wouldn’t be profitable until year 4, our investor knows that and understands that. It’s not looking to suddenly make profits of 100’s of millions a year in the short term, though that’s obviously the ambition.
“If you look at all the successful sports business models over the past 10 years they’re all based around investing into the infrastructure of the sport, so the grassroots, the national teams and the franchises, so at the end of it the investor who owns the majority stake in those franchises has assets that are worth far more than what it invested.
“That’s exactly what the MLS do, it’s what the new basketball leagues around the world are doing because it’s actually the assets that grow in value not just simply the profit that creates a massive return for the investor.
“I think that’s an important message to get across to people, this is not purely about generating annual profit, it’s really about creating value in the asset of basketball properties in this country.”
Bball UK have offered any relevant parties the opportunity to carry out their own due diligence by examining the plan, and though they haven’t engaged directly with all the BBL owners yet, they say they ready to when the owners are, while hoping for it to happen sooner rather than later.
Here is a full transcription of the conversation that includes a lot more details.
Ameesh: From a BBall Uk perspective, we’re really keen to engage in dialogue and share details and we have. We’ve already briefed the major stakeholders in the sport, we have reached out to the BBL and their owners and we’re really keen for them to come and get engaged and poke under the bonnet and have a look at the business plan and iron out any of the concerns that they may have so we can demonstrate this is a really good plan for the whole sport and we’re very confident it can stand up to any stress tests.
It’s already stood up to lots of stress tests already, we are very very confident in it but people need to engage with us so they can see that as well.
Hoopsfix: Are the BBL refusing to talk with you?
Ameesh: I don’t think that at all. I think we’re pretty confident that the BBL and it’s owners will see that the total investment opportunity is a really positive thing for the sport, for the leagues and the fans and the owners as well, we want the owners to be a part of this moving forward. We’re hoping we’ll get a positive reaction from them, but you know, they are private entity, they’re privately owned franchises and it’s right that they consider this in the way that they think is best.
Hoopsfix: If Bball UK is awarded the license, will you work with current franchises or set up new ones?
Ameesh: We hope all the clubs will come with us. We want all the existing owners to be involved with the project and benefit from it in the long term. We’re hopeful and confident that they’ll welcome the opportunity but any good business plan needs a contingency plan and the contingency plan for us will be to start new franchises. But our preferred option always has been and always will be to work with the existing franchise owners and we’ve tried very hard to communicate that with them.
Hoopsfix: Is it even possible to get new franchises set up and a league running by next season if they don’t come across?
Ameesh: As I said, the business plan has a contingency plan associated with it that is designed to do exactly that so if that’s a route we need to go down then that’s what we’ll present but I can’t reiterated enough our preference is absolutely to be respectful of the existing league, the existing owners and we want to work with them.
Hoopsfix: How will your offering differ from what the BBL offers right now?
Ameesh: If you look at the scenario for basketball in this country, it’s a massively big sport, there’s 15 million people interested in basketball in this country and over 1 million people that see it as their number 1 sport…
Hoopsfix: How do you know it’s 15 million?
Ameesh: That’s market research that is already out there and available. The source on that is actually the NFL. There is data that they released that outlines that.
So what we want to do, is take that million people that are really passionate about the sport and get more of them to come to basketball events in this country and ultimately start eating into that 15 million so we can create more and more fans. They’re the wannabe fans and it’s really about giving them the right proposition.
At the moment the sport is not unlocking it’s fully potential across all the levels from grassroots into the pro and elite because it hasn’t got scale. That’s the key. It’s very reliant on government funding and lottery funding and that’s the reason basketball in its entirety in this country doesn’t perform the same as it does in other countries.
I think what our plan does is provide a game changing solution to that. It’s design to aligning all the interests to all the main stakeholders and parties involved. It’ll raise capital through this private entity, Bball Uk, not just this initial round but future rounds as well and we’re in conversations about that.
It’ll use the MLS model to invest a significant amount of money into the franchises so that we can really improve the quality of the league, the franchises and the fan experience. That’ll create new income streams so direct investment into the sport through brands, broadcasters, and we’ve already had some really positive conversations about that.
A big part of what we want to do is bring British talent back to the UK and pay players and coaches market salaries and invest heavily into a major live and digital experience as well as the initial interest we’ve had from broadcast partners to create a massive media profile and to achieve all of that it’s not just the four guys that have been mentioned in all the press.
We’ve got a partnership with one of the largest sports marketing agencies in the world.
Hoopsfix: Is that Seb Coe’s one?
Ameesh: Yes, Seb Coe is a Director. They have revenues of over £250 million they’ve a massively experienced leadership team that have been involved in the MLS, the 2014 World Cup, the London 2012, the Invictus Games, in Formula 1, Indy Car, they’ve really stress tested the business plan.
They went through it in a huge amount of detail and they’re so excited about the project that they actually want to invest their own capital in it. They’ll be part of the massive infrastructure we’ll be able to bring to the whole sport in this country and they’ll provide us with sponsorship, media communication services, marketing,event services all those kinds of things, and because they have their own capital invested they’ll do whatever they can to make it succeed.
Hoopsfix: When do the investors see a return on their investment?
Ameesh: Good question because I saw on the social media chatter last night a little doubt about that. This is not about the investor getting a massive profit return on an annual basis. Our business plan wouldn’t be profitable until year 4, our investor knows that and understands that. It’s not looking to suddenly make profits of 100’s of millions a year in the short term, though that’s obviously the ambition. The strategy behind this is a massive (inaudible) model.
If you look at all the successful sports business models over the past 10 years they’re all based around investing into the infrastructure of the sport, so the grassroots, the national teams and the franchises, so at the end of it the investor who owns the majority stake in those franchises has assets that are worth far more than what it invested.
That’s exactly what the MLS do, it’s what the new basketball leagues around the world are doing because it’s actually the assets that grow in value not just simply the profit that creates a massive return for the investor.
I think that’s an important message to get across to people , this is not purely about generating annual profit, it’s really about creating value in the asset of basketball properties in this country.
Hoopsfix: There’s a lot of controversy around everything in large part because it involves former BE staff. How have you managed that to remove yourself from conflicts of interest and what would you say to people that say you’ve used your position to line your own pockets?
Ameesh: At the moment I’m not earning anything out of this, and neither is anybody else so there’s no lining of the pockets at this stage.
There are conflicts of interest in multiple different areas in corporate or public entities, we’ve always declared ours to the board and the Basketball England board have always managed it very effectively in my opinion and they continue to do so with Huw as well.
I think what people need to appreciate is that actually the reason why this plan is so innovative, the innovation about this is the fact that it’s a whole sport plan, and the reason why this plan is so sensitive to the current great work that people have done within British basketball across the whole spectrum is because we’ve seen it from the inside.
By the involvement we’ve had within basketball we’ve got a afar better appreciation and empathy with the challenges that British basketball faces, so we’re able to put together a plan that meets those challenges, or at least starts to help to address some of those challenges.
It’s a plan that is fundamentally about bringing investment to align the interests of all the different organisations within basketball. So we work closely with the franchises owners to grow the value of the franchises from which they would benefit in the long term. So that we work closely with the NGB’s to provide investment into the grassroots and the social community programmes so they can be more effective in the work that they want to do, and so that we can invest money into the BBF so we can secure the future of the Team GB programme, which has always been a challenge.
Conflicts of interest, yes, absolutely, and that’s why we resigned when it became clear that Basketball England was going to look at licensing opportunities. But fundamentally in this instance I would say that understanding, appreciation and empathy of the British basketball market has allowed us to create a plan that absolutely is in interests of the whole sport.
Hoopsfix; You don’t come from a basketball background, what is it that attracts you to this project?
Ameesh: You’re right, I don’t have a basketball background and I didn’t play much of the sport previously either. But basketball is an amazing sport, I’m a sports fan, but basketball is amazing sport with huge potential and a fantastic community in this country and it’s really hard to turn your back on that.
I think myself, Rick, Andrew, Huw, I think we bring a certain skill set that can really benefit basketball in this country. I think we’ve proved that already to a certain extend by creating a plan that has got serious money on the table, so we want to continue being involved and executing that.
Look at it from an investor’s perspective, an investor wants to be able to hold somebody accountable for the delivery of this plan, the people that have developed it and are closely associated with it and are passionate about making sure it works for the benefit of the whole sport – the investor wants to make sure that they’re involved as well so that’s where that desire is coming from.
Hoopsfix: Did the plan come first or the investment come first?
Ameesh: The plan.
Hoopsfix: So you put together a plan and pitched it to investors?
Ameesh: Yes. We had a three step process. We put together a plan, and that was all very transparent as far as the BE Board was concerned, we then brought it to Chime to really really stress test it. They spent months really going through it in detail to make sure it’s doable, and they’ve got experience in this stuff at the very senior levels as well, so they’ve really gone through it.
They believed in it so much that they wanted to invest money into it, at that point we took it to a number of reputable financial institutions and private individuals and very quickly we got an offer from a very very reputable private equity group based in the US.
It’s a British plan that is designed for the benefit of the whole sport in Great Britain, but what we’re using is American money to help us achieve that and actually the private equity group has great links with other very successful sporting entities and sports business people who’s experience they will give us as well which would be fantastic for the whole proposition.
Hoopsfix: Is it just one investment group plus Chime, or is there more investors?
Ameesh: This is just the start. We are talking to other investment groups but until anything is firmed up on that I can’t really comment on it.
Hoopsfix: In terms of other partners, brands, broadcasters, are you able to share who you’ve been talking to?
Ameesh: I can’t name people, but we’ve had a really really good warm response. I think that’s where Chime’s network and their relationships with some amazing brands and broadcasters has been really helping as well. We feel really really encouraged by the conversations we’ve been having, but we first need to set up a business befoer we can take those to the next steps.
Hoopsfix: How will it work with the governing body? Because if you have the money and are part funding the NGB for their grassroots stuff, who dictates how things are run?
Ameesh: The ambition would be to provide investment into the NGB and into the Team GB programmes to ensure that they create growth. We would have to sit down and discuss that with them, we are hoping to do that sooner rather than later. But what we don’t want to do is take over the roles of the NGB, this is not that at all, this is a commercial entity looking to set up a commercial proposition in this country, but a commercial entity that recognises for it to be successful it needs to create a strong base and strong elite and we want to work with and collaborate that with the NGB to achieve that.
Hoopsfix: In terms of the pro league, do you want the league to work more like a European model, signing young players to junior contracts to work their way into the pro team or is it just the pro league?
Ameesh: We absolutely want to create an aspiration for kids who really have the talent in this country to be able to play in this country, but also for those who have gone abroad to come back to. So it absolutely needs a development pathway, so we’d do two things; we’d look to the NGB to help us put that together and work in partnership with them, and secondly, Huw, Rick, Myself, we’re all corporate people, we’re here to run the corporate entity, we would absolutely want to recruit what we call ‘a really big basketball brain’, somebody who would be the development of the league talent and operations pathway, that’s a major skill set we want to bring on board as soon as have the first plant of cash released.
That person would work closely with the franchise owners, with the NGB’s, the grassroots programmes and create that effectively for the league.
Hoopsfix: How many staff do you think you need to run Bball UK?
Ameesh: That would grow over the time. We want to create an environment where the people that we recruit are available for the whole sport. So I’ve always been a big believer in creating scale, economies of scale, to provide shared resources that everybody can utilise for the benefit of the sport. We will create fantastic job opportunities for people who want to be involved int he sport moving forward, both in the front office type of work, the back office corporate type of work, and on the court, the coaches the club staff, all those things absolutely.
Hoopsfix: Do you know what you’re going to call your league should you be awarded the license?
Ameesh: We would do the market research with Chime to make sure that is done properly, we want to engage and consult with the fans to see what they think.
Hoopsfix: If the current BBL franchises move over to your league, do you give them the money directly?
Ameesh: A key component of our proposition is for Bball UK to own a majority share in each franchise, because that’s how the investor would get a return in the medium to long term.
Hoopsfix: So then you’ll be able to hire staff etc?
Ameesh: Yes, we will invest behind those existing franchises with what they’ve got currently but put more investment into them to then create really professional franchise organisations.
Hoopsfix: What would you do about facilities?
Ameesh: We all know that facilities is a big issue in basketball. There needs to be a two pronged approach from a BBall UK perspective. The first is to as best as possible move existing franchises into bigger arenas, bigger facilities, so we can cater for a better event, a better fan experience and also for more people.
The second element is to attract further investment into the sport to create more basketball facilities, and that would be a major second phase of the investment plan – £36 million wouldn’t cover that, that needs to be a separate business plan in its own right.
Hoopsfix: If all the current BBL franchises move over, surely there isn’t enough arenas or decent facilities to house them all?
Ameesh: There are. This country is pretty good as far as facilities availability is concerned. We have targeted facilities that we would want to put franchises into – over time – nobody is going to go big bang and suddenly change everything on Day 1, this would be an organic development and change when the time is right. Through our links with Chime and the relationships they have with the facilities providers and arenas we’re very confident in securing anchor tenancies in a number of those places.
Hoopsfix: All for this coming season?
Ameesh: No. Based on where we are currently to say that we would move franchise games to large arenas for next season is unrealistic.
This is a long term investment. It’s about growing sustainability in the sport, and the way to grow sustainability in the sport is to bring commercial money into the sport that really complements some of the excellent funding work that’s been done by the government up until this point. We see this as being a complementary investment to government funding and it needs to grow organically, it’s not going to suddenly change on Day 1.
But the fans will see start to see a major difference from the current experience hopefully from Day 1, it will just continually improve over time.
Hoopsfix: Where does the Euroleague fit into all this?
Ameesh: We have an ambition to create a Euroleague franchise. We’ve had initial discussions, but until those are firmed up I can’t comment on those but it’s definitely part of the plan and we’ve definitely start to have some conversation.
Hoopsfix: Did you find for investors and corporates that London is the biggest draw?
Hoopsfix: It seems like a lot of the NBA, the Euroleague or whoever, feel like London is an untapped market and they want to tap into the UK just for London not even necessarily the rest of the country.
Ameesh: I can’t comment on why the NBA or the Euroleague do that, or whether that’s their perspective or not. But we believe there’s opportunity for basketball across the whole country and the investment is designed toward achieving that.
I know from the work I was involved in with Basketball England and Sport England that in our urban centres basketball is a massive sport, it’s a huge sport. There is a fan base and people interested in the sport that are waiting to engage with it in the right way with the right product across the country and we’re absolutely committed to delivering that.
Hoopsfix: I assume the investment is for England, Wales and Scotland?
Ameesh: Yes. Absolutely right. We really want to engage with all three home nations to try and achieve the right outcome.
Hoopsfix: What have the conversations been like with the British Basketball Federation?
Ameesh: They’ve started. Until there’s an outcome to that I can’t comment – we’ve always wanted to do business in private because we thought that was the right way to do it, but you guys are pretty good and started to break some stories so felt we should come out and give you some information.
But those conversations that we have with the BBL, the BBF, the home nations, FIBA, etc etc, we will maintain confidentiality about right now.
Hoopsfix: What happens if you don’t win the pro license?
Ameesh: This business plan doesn’t work without a professional league element. If I can try and simplify the business plan, it’s basically an investor providing a huge amount of cash to create a very healthy basketball environment in this country across all levels, the whole sport, and in return the investor expects a controlling interest in all the professional franchises so that over a period of time those assets are worth a lot of money, it invests in creating that.
If it doesn’t have anything in return noone is ever going to put money into it.
Hoopsfix: If you don’t win the license does it mean that Bball UK will fold, or does it mean you go back to the drawing board, keep tweaking the plan and try to get the license again in the future?
Ameesh: I haven’t thought about that yet. We’re still confident that this is the right thing to do and the right way to approach it. What happens if it doesn’t work out? I haven’t really thought that through yet.
Hoopsfix: How confident are you that you’ll win the license?
Ameesh: As far as I know, I don’t think we’re in a competitive environment at the moment. As I said earlier, our preference is to work the BBL, it’s owners and the existing sporting infrastructure in this country and we’re confident that once people engage and understand the plan a little bit better they’ll want to be a part of it.
Hoopsfix: Have you had conversations with all the BBL owners?
Ameesh: We haven’t had direct conversations with all the BBL owners, no.
Hoopsfix: Just the BBL’s board or whatever?
Ameesh: We’ve had conversations with people from the BBL, yeah.
Hoopsfix: Do you have any indication about how interested the BBL would be in collaborating with Bball UK?
Ameesh: Not at this stage. We are ready to talk to the BBL franchise owners when they’re ready, the sooner the better, of course. But we’re really hoping they’ll give an opportunity to hear what we have to say.
Hoopsfix: And right now are they refusing to?
Ameesh: No, I don’t think they’re refusing to. You need to ask what the BBL what their thoughts are but I haven’t had any refusal to speak to us.
Hoopsfix: In terms of timelines, when do you go in front of the review panel?
Ameesh: We haven’t had any notification of what the panel doing or when it going to do what it is going to do, but we’ll be available as and when they want to engage with us and follow the process that they outline and present our best case.
Hoopsfix: And the plan is completely finished right now?
Ameesh: Yes. The plan is finished, we have offered any relevant parties the opportunity to carry out their own due diligence, we’re very happy for that to happen, and when they’re ready we hope that they will come and take that opportunity.
Hoopsfix: Any chance that I can look at that plan?
Ameesh: Not at this stage (laughing).
Hoopsfix: I had to ask!
Ameesh: You had to ask, I don’t blame you!
Hoopsfix: So you would look to have all of the GB guys currently playing abroad, bringing them back to the UK by paying their salaries to make the league a better product?
Ameesh: Absolutely, we want the Team GB players to be the face of the clubs.
Hoopsfix: Will you change any of the quotas in terms of British players being on the floor, number of Americans etc, does that change at all with your model?
Ameesh: We’ve got rules in place for that, suggested rules as part of the plan. Legally there’s only so much we can do, you’re aware of the EU rules around that, but absolutely the desire is to create a league that British players can really aspire to and be a proud of.
Thoughts? Let us know in the comments!