After winning their first ever Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) championship in August, the Hamilton Honey Badgers are now set to depart the city for good in light of a two-year renovation set for First Ontario Centre.
In a letter to members of the group in charge of the development, Mayor Andrea Horwath, Ward 2 Coun. Cameron Kroetsch, and the general manager for FirstOntario Centre, CEBL commissioner Mike Morreale said the move was due to the team’s inability to do business during the construction of the arena.
“Understanding that the closure will force the Honey Badgers to be displaced for at least two seasons and realizing the immediate impact that has on the team’s ability to engage with its community. … It is important that the team gets established into a new home as soon as possible,” Morreale said in his notice.
The Hamilton Urban Precinct Entertainment Group (HUPEG) revealed in mid-November that alterations to a rehabilitation plan for FirstOntario Centre would mean tenants would have to seek a new home for two seasons due to the scope of the project.
The news came as a surprise to some of those clients, including Morreale and Hamilton Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer, who were led to believe the renovations would occur in a manner that would allow sports to continue.
Work on the arena is expected to take about 20 months, according to HUPEG, which notified both the Bulldogs and Honey Badgers to seek alternative accommodations for the two seasons while the upgrades are completed.
Morreale said the permanent move was also precipitated by the fact the Honey Badgers went one stretch with no games at FirstOntario Centre for 23 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic only playing 14 home games with fans since their inception.
“Relaunching again in 2026, or later, isn’t conducive to running a successful business, especially when the team now has other available options to call home,” Morreale said.
The league boss is not ruling out the possibility of once again expanding to Hamilton once the FirstOntario renovations are completed.
“Once they have been completed and knowing that our league … will continue to expand, we would certainly entertain the possibility of placing an expansion franchise into Hamilton should the appropriate factors be in place,” Morreale wrote.
The CEBL announced an expansion to Hamilton in May 2018, with the Honey Badgers kicking off their first season a year later.
The league currently operates a 10-team league in six provinces.