Rainmen and public funding

I am away from my computer so I can’t update this in full, but I have received some thinly veiled twitter wrath for pointing out that the Rainmen (a team I like, follow and buy tickets to watch) have received government funding from the municipality which I think makes little sense since they’re a for profit entity and because I am not convinced that they met the criteria for the level of funding they got.

Here’s the text of a column from the Herald that clarifies what I was talking about:

Special-event funding pours on Rainmen

By CHRIS COCHRANE Sports Columnist
Wed. Jun 2 – 4:53 AM

Why does Halifax city council so willingly spend taxpayers’ dollars to help the Halifax Rainmen whenever the team hosts a special event?

In early May, council authorized a $50,000 special events grant to help the Rainmen in hosting costs for the 2010 Premier Basketball League all-star weekend. The special events fund builds through a specific hotel tax.

There’s no denying Rainmen owner Andre Levingston is a big Halifax booster. He speaks glowingly about his adopted city. Also, the Rainmen do considerable work in the community and are generous with free tickets for kids to attend PBL games.

But, if council members checked, they might find that most of the high-profile amateur sports teams here do much the same work in the community as the professional Rainmen.

At the same meeting, council approved a $15,000 grant to help Dartmouth Moosehead Dry host the 2010 Canadian senior baseball championship, which will be played in Dartmouth and Halifax in August. Now this is amateur sport at its highest level. The players on the host Dartmouth team are local, they aren’t paid, they do much of their own fundraising and the team isn’t a business. They’ve represented their community well over the past two decades, medalling several times at the nationals across Canada.

Why did the Rainmen get $50,000 for an all-star weekend that drew two modest crowds when the 2010 baseball nationals group gets only $15,000 toward hosting an event that has a $180,000 budget, lasts for four or five days, will draw more fans overall and be a much greater windfall for local hotels?

Baseball tournament officials already know they’ll need hotel rooms for a minimum of 200 players and coaches. They expect many more hotel rooms to be filled with loyal fans who take summer vacations and follow their favourite teams.

The best reason I can find about why the team received $50,000 is that the event better met the city’s qualifying criteria for special event funding. Officials with the baseball nationals committee concede that they really haven’t done their homework on trying to meet the specifics necessary to get more funding help.

Maybe I could accept the much greater generosity shown the Rainmen if the team hadn’t already been feeding at the public trough in a much larger way in 2008. That December, council gave the team a $125,000 grant to host its four-day Holiday Classic tournament at Saint Mary’s University.

According to a Chronicle Herald story, “city staff recommended that the grant, originally pegged at $100,000, come from special events funding. But the special events advisory committee reviewed the application before it went to council and upped it to $125,000.”

Wow! Now that’s generous.

But did that event add so much to the local economy — apparently a major reason why the city helps with funding — that it was worth such a large investment? I can’t see how. The games involving the Rainmen and teams from Chicago and Georgia drew modest crowds, and I would guess those who did attend were mostly from Halifax. I doubt that the event significantly pumped up the holiday hotel market.

Decisions like these give weight to complaints that council doesn’t really appreciate what’s happening in local sports. And they add validity to the call for a focal point in the vast city bureaucracy where local sport matters are dealt with by people who have an understanding of local sports concerns.

Under the present system, maybe city council would be better off to simply buy a chunk of the Rainmen franchise. It might be cheaper for us taxpayers if we owned the team.

Levingston Working for the PBL to Expand League in Canada

The League sent out a press release today:

PBL Announces Halifax Rainmen Owner as Director of Business Development in Canada

July 29, 2009 – Premier Basketball League (PBL)

Chicago, IL…The Premier Basketball League announced today that President and CEO of the Halifax Rainmen, Andre Levingston has been appointed Director of Business Development for the league in Canada, effective immediately.
Levingston will head up the franchise expansion and team development north of the border. “Andre knows what it takes to get a team going in Canada, his experience and knowledge gained from the Rainmen’s success makes him a natural for this position,” said Tom Doyle CEO of the PBL. “Andre’s professionalism will lend well with growing our league through-out Canada.”

Plans to expand the league in Canada will become more active now that Levingston is heading up the effort.

“I’m extremely excited the league has appointed me to this position,” said Levingston. “This gives me the opportunity to assist in growing the PBL brand in Canada while giving other cities an opportunity to have professional basketball. This also gives our college athletes the opportunity to further develop their skills after college,” added Levingston.

I am curious about whether Andre or the Rainmen will receive any financial compensation for the owner’s time, but more to the point, I think it’s a good sign that the PBL is redoubling efforts to find new franchises in Canada.  Hopefully my long standing claim that an ownership group in Moncton needs to be found for the well being of the Rainmen has not fallen on deaf ears.

Levingston is a natural salesman and his experience putting a team together from scratch makes him the ideal candidate for this kind of position, but I have to wonder how many legitimate markets there really are for minor league hoops in Canada.

  • Moncton – ideal for travel reasons, an event city, but not even close to being a basketball hotbed.
  • Montreal – dead market.  Too many failures have just wrecked that market.
  • Ottawa/Hull – Big population, popular university programs but dates for sporting events are tough to get due to the use of those spaces for conferences and the like.  The city has been pursuing a second professional team for the last few years, but they may not view the PBL as big enough for them.
  • Toronto – not buying minor league anything.
  • Burlington? Mississauga? Hamilton?  Potential markets, I suppose.
  • Winnipeg? Flights only and well outside the footprint, but who knows what US teams will appear in the west in the coming years?  There’s already rumours of a team in Vegas.
  • Saskatoon?  Regina?  There have been minor league hoops teams in Sasketchewan before, but I just don’t know enough about the place to make a call on it.
  • Calgary?  Edmonton?  Edmonton have an IBL team, but they’ve drawn about 300 a game for the last two years despite getting an impressive amount of media attention.  Who knows if winter sports will do better?  I feel like you’d need both Calgary and Edmonton on board to make any of the traveling work.
  • Vancouver?  Victoria?  Burnaby/Richmond/Coquitlim?  I can’t see the math working on flying into Vancouver for anyone unless a few teams on the pacific are added.

So as it stands I’d have to say that a Toronto suburb, Moncton and Ottawa are probably the best targets, but even then I think we’re three or more years away from seeing any real movement on this.

Levingston Raiding the CBA, Strick Looking for Front Office Gig and a Reminder to Tryout for to Play at the Metro Centre

Lots to update, thanks for the most part to Mathew Wuest and the Halifax Metro.

First off:  Remember when the team was being announced last year and everyone on this blog was saying “this team needs role players”?  Yeah… well Levingston agrees now. He’s saying that he wants to go find three or four dominant guys and surround them with role players.

After the season, Levingston was talking about bringing back Jimmy Twyman, Eric Crookshank, Michael Anderson and Tony Bennett.  He mentions that he wants to bring back Eric and the Voice – Bennett is a question of money, and I think I would bet a limb on Eric’s return.  Twyman is mentioned as only being viable as a back up, which I think is a good call.  Anderson isn’t even mentioned and it’s implied that the team are looking for a new starting small forward.

I am not convinced you win the PBL championship of Eric Crookshank is your first or second offensive option.  His athleticism isn’t as dominant as it was in the ABA and his post up and mid-range games are just way too inconsistent to lean on down the stretch.  However, I do think you win the PBL championship if Eric is scoring off put backs, deflecting passes and rebounding.  I think he needs to look to re-invent himself as an energy guy who creates total chaos on defense and crashes for offensive boards.  I think Bennett is a fantastic starting shooting guard, but he needs to have a small forward and point guard who can actually shoot the ball to make up for his low percentage from deep.

Levingston drops some names on the new players he’s pursuing and for the most part they are former CBA guys.  With the collapse of the Continental Basketball League there are a lot quality minor league players out there.  Some of them certainly mid-level European talent (i.e. German League type guys) but have chosen to stay in North America for various reasons.  Unfortunately, some of the minor league talent out there choose to stay in the US due to passport issues and those players won’t be heading North to play for the Rainmen.  Some of the names mentioned in the article include:

  • PG Jason McLeish, a NYC native who had a strong D1 career at Eastern Kentucky.  Definitely a legit starting PG.
  • Trayvon Lathan, a 6’6″ shooting guard who played D3 ball and is currently playing for the Los Angeles Lightening in the IBL (a team that features a crazy assortment of washed up NBA guys).  I have a hard time seeing him as anything other than a back up wing player.
  • DeAndre Thomas, a 6″8 big man… who could be a massive coup if it is who I think it is.  The only detail we get on him is that he’s friends with Bennett and is 6’8″, but a 6’8″ DeAndre Thomas played for the Indiana Hoosiers for a year before leaving the team in 2008 as part of absolute clusterfuck that was Hoosiers basketball.  He then suited up for Robert Morris (College, not U) in the NAIA.  The guy is massive – he was 285 -300 lb when he left Indiana.  He didn’t exactly light the NCAA up, but “Big Dre” has the sort of size that the Rainmen were looking for all year, but fitness is obviously a major concern.
  • Galen Young, a 6’7″ minor league veteran.  Back in the late 90s he played for UNC-Charlotte and was a 2nd round pick by the Milwaukee Bucks.  He was cut before the season started and has played in various overseas leagues and the CBA ever since.  He was CBA player of the year in 2007 and would bring experience, leadership and versatility to the team.  In his prime he was a triple double machine but he’s exactly ten years older than me and will be 34 by the time training camp starts.

Of course, none of these guys are actually signed and there’s no indication that they’re interested in joining the Rainmen, but it’s nice to know that the team has already started looking seriously at players.

The second article in the Metro is about Strick.  Appearently he’s lost weight and is trying to get into shape for next season.  He’s another guy who age is catching up to him, but he plays a game that exploits his veteran experience and compensates for his lack of athleticism.  If he does return, Levingston says, it will be in a reserve role.  What’s more interesting is that he’s helping the Rainmen out by serving as an informal scout and helping the Rainmen staff find talent in NYC, and it sounds like he’s gunning for a spot in the front office of the Rainmen.  I am not convinced that the Rainmen need a dedicated GM, but I’d like to see them bring Strick in as an assistant coach and player for this season and give him some additional scouting responsibilities.  I think he could learn a lot from Berry and he’s respected by players.  Every Rainman I’ve talked to has said that he is the smartest player they’ve ever played with and if he was willing to accept an assistant/scouting role then I think you’ve got to give him a go on that.
Finally, just a reminder:  The Rainmen are playing host to a streetball tour called 94Inc in early August.  Basically, it’s a team of former And1 guys who figured they can do this themselves without a big company exploiting their labour.  Obviously I back this.  If anyone is interested in playing against them, there will be an open run on August 8th to try out for the local opposition.  Keep an eye on the Rainmen’s website for details.  Hopefully we’ll see Eric somehow be involved in this – I doubt we’ll see him play, but it would be cool to have him coach.

Rainmen Scouting Players, Hosting Streetball Game

Two bits of fairly minor news:

First, Les Berry and Andre Levingston are in San Francisco and NYC scouting pro-am leagues for talent.  The San Francisco pro-am league is one of the better summer leagues where you might find unsigned talent, and NYC is obviously home to a ton of very gifted basketball players.  Levingston identifies the need for a legit centre and a legit point guard as priorities.  It’s nice to know that the scouting is underway and that the organization sees the same flaws as most intelligent fans do.  Scoring wing players and athletic power forwards are a dime a dozen in the minors but guys who are true floor generals or physical beasts in the paint are not so easy to find.

Second, the Rainmen will be hosting an AND1 knock off tour on August 9th at the Metro centre.  There’s an open run the day of the game to determine who will play against the likes of “Baby Shaq” and “8th Wonder.”  Tickets for the event are pretty darn cheap: $17 on the floor, $11 in the lower bowl.  No word on if we’ll see any past or future Rainmen playing in the game.  I’m not sure if I will be buying tickets for this or not.

Levingston in Metro, Calls Halifax Home

Andre is on the front page of the online edition of the Metro (I haven’t seen the paper version).  It doesn’t have any juicey bits of info about new players or staff or future plans but in it Levingston re-iterates a lot of the things that make him so likeable.  It’s pretty much impossible to meet that guy and not genuinely like him.

Les Berry to Return as Head Coach

The Metro is reporting that Les Berry will be back as the head coach of the Rainmen next year.  Great move.  I’m happy.  If he has the freedom to build this team from the ground up on his own, go through a proper training camp, play some exhibition games and make all the personnel decisions then I see no reason why the Rainmen can’t be a contender next year.  He did great coming into an absolutely terrible situation this year and if he is allowed to do his job unhindered then I think we’re in for a great season.

On the PR front, it is great to have the coach return and even better that it’s a local guy who people are already familiar with.

I can’t find many details, but I don’t imagine there will be many more released.  I sort of feel like this was a bad time to announce it – the NBA finals are happening, we have a new government and tomorow’s sports coverage dominated by the Stanley Cup finals which are happening tonight.

Eric Appears at NDP Campaign Event

Under the category of “hey, what are they doing this summer?” Eric appeared at an NDP campaign event in Sackville yesterday.  Stories and pictures in The Herald and The Metro.

Darrell and his wife Kelly have season tickets in section 22 and Darrell plays both noon hoops and in the over 50 league when he has time.

My favourite part:  Eric making fun of Darrell’s free throw shooting.

Rainmen Have a Busy Summer

Looks like it’ll be a busy summer for the Rainmen:

RAINMEN RELEASE SUMMER PROGRAM SCHEDULE

(Halifax, N.S.) The Halifax Rainmen has released its summer programming schedule that includes three 5-day skills camps for kids and youth, and three, 3-on-3 tournaments. The schedule kicks off on June 29th with a skills camp in Truro.

“We wanted to take our camp outside Halifax this year to give kids in another part of the province a chance to train with the Rainmen,” said Team Owner Andre Levingston.

The camps are headed by Rainmen Head Coach Les Berry and the team’s 2 Assistants Coaches, Shannon Hanson and Jeff Paris. Rainmen Power Forward Eric Crookshank has also joined the coaching staff for the summer camps.

“Any excuse I can find to stay in Halifax, I am going to do. I love it here,” said Crookshank.

The camps will be held in Truro at the NSCC, in Eastern Passage at the Tallahassee Recreation Centre and at Citadel Community Centre in Halifax. All camps are slated for July. On the weekend following each camp, the Rainmen will host a 3-on-3 tournament open to the public.

“We are challenging every street team, every company, really anyone who likes a little friendly competition to come out and register for these tournaments. Come show us what you got Halifax,” says Levingston.

Winners of the 3-on-3 will receive season tickets to next year’s Rainmen games at the Halifax Metro Centre. All camp and 3-on-3 registration information is now on the Rainmen website www.rainmenbasketball.ca.

Since the NBA 3on3 tournament stops at Moncton I think the 3 on 3 tournaments are a fun idea, but I think the most interesting thing is that Les Berry is running the camps.  I don’t want to read too much into it, but you’d think he wouldn’t have time to be running summer camps if he was back at his regular job.

Season Will Be 20 Games Next Year

The spring PBL owners meeting happened this week and the Metro interviewed Andre to get some details.
The big thing to note is the season will be 20 games again next year.  Andre and the organization are looking at adding two MetroCentre home games.

Other things that I’ve heard are that Montreal, Mid-Michigan, Chicago and Augusta are out for next year.

Rainmen Back in PBL, Looking to Hire Out of Town Sales Manager

Two stories popped up this week after a long lull in Rainmen media coverage.

First, we have confirmation that the Rainmen will be back in the PBL next year but will be paying even more of their opponents travel.  I understand the logic of the Rainmen paying a bit more for travel but I just think it’s instituted unfairly and unevenly – did Augusta or Wilmington pay extra for travel for their home and away games?  If Battle Creek are isolated in the mid-West will they be out of the travel pool?  The fairer system in my mind would be for each team to recieve a set amount of money for travel, and teams in the outskirts of the footprint subsidize the remainder of the travel costs caused by their geographic location.  Oh well, at least we know Halifax are back in the league next year.

The second piece of news was in today’s Chronicle Herald.  Andre Levingston is recruiting a sales manager from Toronto who has worked with Maple Leaf Entertainment and the Argos, a man named Kevin Matchett.  I think this is a fantastic move, and one that is absolutely neccassary.  They need dedicated and experienced sales staff, both to make sales and to train additional sales staff.  Jad, Andre and Nancy can’t be doing group sales – they have other roles and other skills.  The Rainmen simply have sold as many group and season ticket packages as they can sell on word of mouth, now they need more a aggressive sales strategy.  My one concern is that it seems a bit odd that Matchett is mentioned by name since it’s still in negotiations.

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