© Stephen Brun/Journal Pioneer
The London Lightning beat the Summerside Storm 107-98 in NBL action Dec. 20 at EastLink Arena.
Back in August, when plans were announced to bring a professional basketball franchise to P.E.I., many may have thought it unlikely to succeed.
Now, nearly five months later, the team seems to be taking the Island by storm.
After tonight’s game against the Saint John Mill Rats, the Summerside Storm will be midway through the inaugural National Basketball League of Canada season.
Owners Duncan Shaw and Darren MacKay say the new business stands to lose money in its first year, but that was expected.
On the court, the Storm have won some games and they've lost some. Off the hardwood, all signs point to pro basketball being perhaps an unlikely Island success story.
While it’s true that the team may be struggling to draw a solid fan base from Charlottetown and other communities east of Prince County, local crowds certainly seem to have taken a shine to the product.
The Storm have been drawing a nightly average of just under 2,000 fans per game, which is among the top attendance figures in the seven-team league.
Of course, due to several factors, this figure isn’t quite enough to mean the franchise will turn a profit.
The announced attendance at each home game is often based on how many tickets are printed, not how many people are actually filling the seats at EastLink Arena.
Management and sponsors also hand out a number of free tickets for every game, so not everyone in the building has dropped money to see the action.
Even so, anyone who’s seen the number of occupied seats at each game knows those announced attendance totals are never off by very much.
Given the impressive quality of the play on the court, it’s likely that many of those free ticket holders will drop money on a future game, not to mention tell a friend or family member about their experience.
The fact is, the Storm have been drawing bigger crowds to every game than hockey’s Summerside Western Capitals and the P.E.I. Rocket in Charlottetown.
Judging basketball against hockey may seem like comparing apples to oranges.
But a sports fan is a sports fan, and the Storm’s owners, management and players have created an atmosphere that’s kept people in the seats, at least for now.
As with most sports franchises, a consistently winning basketball team will be key to keeping both the casual and hardcore basketball fans around in the years to come.
But a sports team that’s so quickly developed a base of fans both young and old, is certainly something to cheer about.