The Saskatchewan Rattlers have waited a long time to return to their home court, but that wait may soon be coming to an end.
The Canadian Elite Basketball League is planning for teams to play in their own markets for the 2021 season after adopting a bubble format for its 2020 Summer Series.
“The bubble was great in 2020 but honestly there’s nothing like playing in front of your own home fans and at your own home,” said Rattlers vice-president Brad Kraft.
While nothing is guaranteed just yet, there’s a lot of optimism that a return to a more traditional campaign is possible this year.
“We feel rather confident and our discussions so far have not raised any red flags that we shouldn’t feel that way,” CEBL commissioner Mike Morreale said.
In addition to seeing teams return to their home markets, the league is also hoping that fans will be able to attend games in some capacity. To increase the likelihood of that happening, it pushed back the start of the season by roughly a month to June 5.
The Rattlers are planning for a variety of scenarios depending on when they get the green light for fan attendance. They’re also prepared to open the season with no fans in the building.
“We’re locked in. This is the goal. We’ll be here no matter what it looks like, whether it’s broadcast mode or fan mode,” Kraft said.
However, because the timeline for allowing fans to return remains uncertain, the Rattlers are also reassuring their supporters that any season tickets or voucher packs purchased for the 2021 season will also be valid in 2022 should they go unused this year.
Despite not having played a game in Saskatoon since they captured the inaugural CEBL championship in August 2019, the Rattlers say fan support hasn’t wavered.
“We didn’t see a lot of refunds, which has been fantastic. People’s livelihoods were put on hold for an entire year so it’s great to see people stick with us through that,” Kraft said.
The CEBL is eyeing the possibility of another bubble — or two regional bubbles — as a last resort, but Morreale maintains that the focus is on playing games in all seven of its markets.
“Just the awareness factor that there’s a team in town, there’s some sense of a return to normalcy, they’re on a basketball court, they’re playing, turn on your TV or flip on your phone and you can watch them — I think there’s an overall sense that that’s a big benefit,” he said.
A continued decline in coronavirus case counts and a successful vaccine rollout will be key for the league to make its plans a reality.
“We’re on a good trajectory downward, in the right direction. Only time will tell and we hope, as we all do regardless of our situations, that things get back to normal,” Morreale said.
And whenever the Rattlers get the green light, they’ll be ready.
“We’ve already got seating maps and distanced manifests from Ticketmaster all built out so the moment we find out if we can open those doors then we’re all set,” Kraft said.
The Rattlers are scheduled to play their first game June 7 at home against the Edmonton Stingers.