Nighthawks pack it in, head for Calgary’s larger market
GUELPH – Make the Guelph Nighthawks the third team to fail at trying to establish a pro basketball presence in Guelph.
They join the Wellington Basketball Club and the Guelph squad with the long-forgotten name that was a member of the Ontario pro basketball league that had a radical scoring system – points were awarded for dunks – about two decades ago.
All couldn’t make a go of pro basketball in the Royal City, although the Nighthawks lasted longer than the other two combined. While the Nighthawks used the Sleeman Centre as their home, the previous two played home games at the University of Guelph.
The Nighthawks and the Canadian Elite Basketball League officially announced Wednesday that the team would be leaving Guelph to settle in Calgary.
“The City of Guelph, Mayor Cam Guthrie, Sleeman Centre staff, and the community in general have been strong supporters of the Nighthawks and we are grateful for all they’ve done to make the franchise a success in that market under the outstanding leadership of team president Cam Kusch and his staff,” CEBL commissioner and co-founder Mike Morreale said in a news release. “But the reality is that there is a ceiling in a market of Guelph’s size that will prevent the franchise from being able to compete on a sustained basis. When we launched the CEBL in 2018, it made sense for Guelph to be among our founding franchises. However, we are moving into the country’s largest markets at a pace much faster than we originally anticipated and the economic realities of pro sports forces us to have to make this difficult decision.”
According to the last Canadian census data available, from 2016, Guelph’s population was 131,794 while St. John’s, NL, home of the Newfoundland Growlers, had 108,860 and Calgary’s population was 1,239,220.
“The time, commitment, and support of this organization by the community of Guelph is something that I personally will never forget,” Kusch said in a note on the Nighthawks website. “I know many of you poured your hearts into supporting Nighthawks basketball, and for that I am eternally grateful. We created lasting memories around the game of basketball in Guelph and lasting relationships with many of you. From the standing ovation following our inaugural home game in 2019, to seeing Cat Barber and A.J. Lawson sign NBA contracts, to celebrating with 3,100 fans at our home opener in 2022.
“But what I’ll take from our time in Guelph more than anything else is the personal relationships that were forged. You accepted us into Guelph with open arms. Many of you I would connect with on game days, finding respite in spending 2 hours at the Sleeman Centre cheering on our Nighthawks.”
Guelph was the first city announced as a home for a CEBL squad in 2018.
Attendance for the Nighthawks’ season opener May 26 at the Sleeman Centre against the Scarborough Shooting Stars was listed as 2,992 on the box score on the CEBL website. The Shooting Stars had rapper J. Cole in their lineup and many younger spectators came to see him play – so did media from Toronto.
Attendance that night was the team’s single-game high for their stay in the Royal City and they had an unofficial average of 1,482 per home game this season. Attendance for one of the games was not available while their second-highest single-game total this year was 2,187 July 27 for their final home game of the regular season. Attendance was 1,408 for the playoff game between Niagara and the Nighthawks at the Sleeman Centre.
Single-game low this season was 780 May 31 against Niagara for their second home game of the season.
The Nighthawks played eight of their first 11 games at home this season including five in a 13-day stretch in June. They had two regular-season home games in July.
Attendance was rarely reported for their home games of 2019, the only other season without fan attendance restrictions for the entire season.
The global pandemic affected the team and the league. While the inaugural 2019 season was a normal one, the 2020 season was a 16-day affair in a bubble in St. Catharines while the 2021 campaign was limited to 14 games per team with many of the games being played with no spectators in attendance. By the end of that season, teams were allowed a limited number of spectators.
There were no spectator limitations this year.
The Nighthawks lasted longer than the two previous attempts at establishing pro basketball in the city as both saw their leagues fold – the first one partway through its first season and the second one at the end of its first season.
While the Nighthawks struggled at the gate during their four years of existence, they also struggled on the floor as they never posted a winning record in any of their four seasons. They finished fifth in each of their first three seasons and were seventh this year. They went 6-14 in 2019, 3-3 in 2020, 5-9 in 2021 and 10-10 in 2022.
They didn’t qualify for the playoffs in 2019 and lost to the Ottawa BlackJacks in the first round of the postseason the following year. Last year they were defeated by the Fraser Valley Bandits in the opening round of the playoffs, but avenged that loss with a victory in Langley, B.C., in the first round of this year’s playoffs before they fell to the Niagara River Lions in the quarter-finals in what would be their only playoff game ever held in Guelph.
However, they were considered the visiting team in the season-ending loss to Niagara as it was played at the Sleeman Centre as Niagara’s home arena was being used for the opening ceremony for the Canada Summer Games that night.
In what can now be seen as a vision of the future, the Nighthawks logo was not on the court for that game, their final game in the Royal City.
- Guelph Sports Journal