Saturday, 5 May 2012


Upon Preston North End’s relegation to League One last season, the club announced a reduction on both season ticket and matchday prices - an effort to keep fans coming through the turnstiles despite the drop to a lower division. Manager Phil Brown declared it would be a ‘one-season stay’ before promotion back to the Championship. The prospect of entertaining, attacking football saw the club sell almost 5,000 of these reduced tickets by the start of June.

Fast forward one year later - a year which saw Brown sacked, star players sold on the eve of the season, Peter Risdale appointed as chairman, reports of player unhappiness over the ‘bizarre’ behaviour' of new manager Graham Westley - and you have a club seeminly in turmoil with an unpopular manager, unattractive football, and a solid flirt with relegation to League Two. 

Sounds like the perfect time to keep the fans happy, bring in some new players, lower/freeze ticket prices, and re-float the leaky ship, no? Apparently not.

North End recently announced a heavy increase in ticket prices for next season, including a whopping 67% hike on the price of season tickets for students in the Allan Kelly Town End. While student tickets have been given the largest bump, including a 40% increase on the price of single game tickets, prices in all areas have gone up.

In the words of one North End fan: “it just doesn’t make logical sense.”

Danny Garratt is a life-long PNE supporter, and student season ticket holder in the Town End. He is one of many who will be rewarded for their loyalty with an increase in prices for 2012/13.

“We have only just escaped relegation and now they are increasing it by 67%, it’s not something I agree with,” said Garratt.

I paid £120 last year for an early bird price, this season they wanted £200,” he added.

Confusion is certainly one emotion felt by those who are being asked to pay higher fees to watch a football team who have hardly delivered the goods this season. Westley’s reign to this point hasn't exactly been a success, with fans booing him off after many drab performances - including back-to-back 0-0 draws at home

The club have placed an element of spin on the announcement, in an attempt to hide the price hike by promoting various discounts for those who renew their season tickets for multiple seasons.

“The fans need to see something positive ‘cause I think most people were just like, what the heck, how is he justifying the prices going up,” commented Garratt, of the new ambassador’s scheme.

Does the 21-year-old think the club announcing the ambassador’s scheme will be enough for fans to overlook the prices and sign up to another season of League One football at Deepdale?

I don’t think there will be anywhere near as many people buying season tickets.”

Tom Hurley is a sports journalism student at the University of Central Lancashire. You can follow him on twitter @TomHurley.

Friday, 18 March 2011


March is rapidly becoming a very expensive month for British basketball fans. Toronto & New Jersey playing two games in London, ticket sales opening up for the London 2012 Olympics, and now the revealing of WNBA Manchester 2011.

In an announcement on today (Thursday), the league revealed to the world that the Atlanta Dream will travel to these shores this summer to take on the Great Britain Women’s National team in an exhibition game at Manchester’s M.E.N. Arena on May 29th 2011. 

Tucked away in today’s press release was also the news that 2013 will signal further expansion of the NBA’s British invasion, when NBA Europe Live will roll into Manchester for the first non-London based pre-season game on these shores in league history; This is in addition to both the men’s and women’s versions of Team USA playing games in the city as part of their warm up to the 2012 Olympics.

Although I am thrilled that top level basketball is coming back to the UK, even more so that it’s coming to my door step in Manchester, I am slightly puzzled by the manner in which the WNBA/NBA has announced these games. 

There have been mumblings of ‘WNBA Europe Live 2011’ going ahead for some time, but leaving the announcement until today is a bizarre move by the league; especially as they are giving themselves only two months to fill an arena with a basketball capacity of 20,500. Just three weeks ago, the NBA held fan events and coaching clinics in multiple cities across the UK (including Manchester) as part of ‘Basketball Week’, to coincide with the Raptors/Nets regular season games in London - Fan events and coaching clinics where, at the very least, the upcoming WNBA game could have been publicised. Adults and kids alike visiting the road shows could have been educated about women’s basketball and potentially even been sold tickets to the game. The same could have been done at The o2 Arena, during NBA Games 2011 between the Raptors and Nets, heck it wasn’t like the NBA wasn’t putting on much else in terms of publicity at the arena that weekend.

This nation loves basketball, and avid lovers of the sport, like myself, are jacked that the WNBA is coming to town, but why is the league coming here in the first place? For me, the WNBA are sending the Dream over to play Team GB to garner interest in women’s basketball prior to the Olympics next summer. But, why is the game taking place AFTER ticket sales for London 2012 have already closed? Surely that misses the point of both Team GB and women’s basketball enjoying some time in the spotlight to increase ticket sales for the women’s Olympic tournament?

 This country won’t have a problem pledging their wages for tickets to the men’s tournament, such is interest in the sport here - but the WNBA is hardly known, and an earlier announcement of the Dream’s visit, with increased opportunity to publicise the women’s form of the game, would have been great to boost sales.
Ticket prices for the Manchester based WNBA pre-season game range from £20-£70 ($32-$113 US). The general consensus from those I’ve spoken to are that those prices are far too high. Factor in that the announcement of the game has hardly made a ripple in mainstream UK media, and that it comes at a time when British basketball fans are trying to fund their applications for tickets for London Olympics, there must be a worry that there will be thousands, rather than hundreds, of empty seats at The M.E.N. on May 29th.

I hope that the league have a plan to distribute any unsold tickets to school children and local sports clubs, as I would hate to have these great players come to my city and play in front of banks of fabric and plastic rather than excited fans. 

Never the less, I will be there, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing the best female basketball players in the world playing in my back yard. In the meantime, let’s hope my job start date on Monday goes ahead and I’ll be able to afford all this basketball when the money needs to come out of my account in a months’ time.

Below are some of my photos from game two of NBA London Games 2011, where New Jersey ousted Toronto in three overtimes. You can read my recap of the weekend on here,  and you can also read my Q&A on the NBA London experience with here. Be sure to visit Tom Hurley Sports again soon for further posts, including more on WNBA Manchester 2011, and don’t forget you can follow me on twitter @TomHurley

Saturday, 5 March 2011


You know those nights where you lay in bed at 2:30am and can’t sleep? The ones where your body is aching, you’ve been awake for approaching eighteen hours, but instead of switching off for some much needed shut eye, you simply just can’t? You just lay there in bed, wired, thoughts hurtling through your head faster than one of Allen Iverson’s crossovers.

KRS-One once said; ‘Vroom, vroom, vroom, my mind is racing’ –that line pretty much nails, head on, how I felt two hours after getting into bed following an evening at The o2 arena, watching the Toronto Raptors and New Jersey Nets play the first European based regular season game in NBA history.

I hope those of you who attend games at the ACC regularly realise just how lucky you are. Several times a month, you get to meet up with friends at a bar or diner, enjoy some laughs and talk basketball with fellow fans over food and drink pre-game. You then get to enter a grand arena, where the voices of vendors inviting you to part with cash for merchandise, or a program, infiltrate your ear drums. The smells of hot dogs, pizza, and popcorn whiff through the air, drifting up inside your nasal passage - All adding to the excitement mounting up inside and creating a sort of ‘buzz’, indicating that something is awry. You get to walk into a spectacular theatre, find your seat, take a sip of your over-priced soda or beer, then sit back and enjoy having some of the greatest basketball players on the planet entertain you for two hours. 

Last night, instead of following the game on twitter while watching on some pixelated stream with Arabic commentary, I got to experience what you experience on a frequent basis. And I LOVED it.

Upon arriving at The o2, a little around four hours before game time, there were only a few people around, but you could still sense the anticipation on walking out of the tube station. That special 'big event' tingling sensation began lingering as soon as you looked up and saw the cloud-piercing arena complex towering over you. Being further roused by getting up close to the over-sized posters of various NBA players which plastered the approach path from North Greenwich station to The o2’s front doors.

 As I walked past the video screens (showing an out-dated episode of NBA Action, if you were wondering) and entered into the canopy covered area, I began to sense something wasn’t quite right. On I ploughed, wandering through the various restaurants and bars on Entertainment Avenue, through the vast complex, before doubling back on myself and ending up back in the main lobby, where a giant cut-out of Derrick Rose sat next to the merchandise stand. That’s when it struck me. 

Where was the fan park, video games stations and basketball hoops of ‘NBA Fan Jam’ which were present outside the building when I attended NBA Europe Live at the same venue three seasons previous? How comes there were plenty of Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, New Orleans Hornets and Orlando Magic jerseys available at the official merchandise stand, but no Raptors or Nets ones? And why were there not any NBA themed exhibitions or basketball courts set up in the two, hockey-rink-sized, areas in The o2 complex which were ultimately large redundant spaces of nothingness? 

When High School Musical on Ice came to town (bear with me, it’s relevant), the entire building, inside and out, was HSM themed. Cheerleaders, video pods, an even a HSM themed ice rink were all present, with merchandise stands dotted all over the place before passing through the ticket holder’s entrance. If the people behind Zac Effron and Vanessa Hudgens could manage this, why couldn’t the world’s biggest basketball league’s marketing people do the same? There were big empty spaces which could have built revenue, or enabled young fan participation, but instead were left idle. Many of the fans I spoke with pre-game had mentioned an interested in going to the fan zone, but not to travelling to an upmarket shopping centre miles from the arena to attend it. Could the NBA have moved it to The o2? Could they have set up information booths so fans could learn a little more about the rules of the game, learn when to cheer and when to get excited? And wouldn’t it have been cool for the three national anthems of USA, Canada & Great Britain to of rung out prior to this ‘historic event’ tipping off?

The NBA definitely missed a trick or two this week, and I hope in the future (if they come back) that things are planned a little differently.

 It was nice to see many Raptors fans from the continent travel across via ferries, planes, trains and automobiles to see their heroes Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani in action. Both received the loudest receptions during pre-game introductions, and there were several Italian and Spanish flags being waved in the stands. 

During the game, aside from the few attempts by myself and a few others to get some ‘Let’s Go Raptors’ chants going which didn’t result in a total failure (most did), the building was pretty quiet. Unless, of course, you include when the dreaded wave rippled through the bowl or when fans got excited at the time out entertainment. The Raptor was quite a success with fans in the lower regions, getting a bit of co-ordinated claps going, but for the most part; even from my position two rows from the back of the upper tier, you could hear the ball bouncing on hardwood and plays being called by point guards for most of the night.

A few video board graphics of ‘Let’s Go Net’s’ or ‘Let’s Go Raptors’ would of helped raise the decibel level in the building, as would of having the chimes which promote chants of ‘DEE-FENSE’ when a team was on the attack. But no, aside from exploding during DeMar DeRozan’s show-stopping dunks, and politely clapping after drained buckets, the building was generally quieter than your local public library.

Ok, that may be slightly unfair, but when you have better atmospheres at British Basketball League games played in front of eight hundred people, you do wonder If the ‘real fans’ were kept away by the staggering ticket prices, or if too little people in attendance simply didn’t care about the fortunes of the two teams on display.
Whatever, that’s for the league executives to worry about. The Raps and Nets fans (5:1 ratio in favour of Toronto, I’d say) in attendance got behind their team, and enjoyed the game experience thoroughly. Even if the choice of half time entertainers (British violinist quartet, Escala) was bizarre at best, and nobody had a clue of the player's stat lines due to them missing from the arena's video wall during breaks in play. The game was a joy to watch, and I am envious of all of you reading this who get the chance to attend forty one regular season games, in your home city, each year.

 Tonight, for one more night, we get to do it all over again. One more night of meeting up with fellow fans, one more night of vendor’s voices, one more night of concession stand aromas; one more night of sitting in a spectacular arena being entertained by a collection of the most talented basketball players in the solar system.  

Tomorrow morning the NBA road show packs up and flies back to New Jersey and Toronto, but for now, it’s basketball night in London, and I, for one, cannot wait. 

You can follow my experiences of the game on twitter @TomHurley and I’ll be heading to the arena early this afternoon to meet with those of you who are also heading to game two of NBA London 2011. You can catch those of us tweeters heading to the arena on the #RTZ and #rtzUK hash tags, where @Nat77 , @RaptorJones , @Euro4Raps and myself will be posting photos and tweets throughout (signal permitting). Hopefully we can encourage some more pro-raps chants and send the Dino’s back to T-dot with a W under their belt.

 Altogether, now…. LET’S GO RAPTORS.

Friday, 4 March 2011


Jessie J’s latest track is playing on the radio, the DJ is wishing me a good morning in a thick cockney accent and my alarm clock this morning came in the shape of my aunt’s family dog leaping atop of me as I lay in my makeshift bed in the front room. My cousin has just left for school and I’m about to bite into a couple slices of the finest toast I’ve ever cooked in my life (here’s hoping it tastes that good, anyway). All in all, a pretty standard Friday morning whilst staying with family in the nation’s capital. Only, today, there’s one big difference. This evening, instead of joining them for dinner and a movie, I’ll be heading to The o2 Arena to watch my favourite basketball team, the Toronto Raptors, take on the New Jersey Nets. Live. In person. In London. Nuts.

The venue for tonight's game is a truly world class venue. Any major league franchise in North America would be thrilled play all forty-one home games in such a beautiful building and many players who have visited (2 NHL games & 4 NBA pre-season games) have commented as such.

At the turn of the new century, a fifty-two metre high, fibre glass, canopy sprung up on the banks of the River Thames. The ‘Millennium Dome’ opened on January 1st 2000 with a wide array of exhibitions, restaurants, activities, exhibits and shows taking place underneath the huge shell, a government initiative to celebrate the new millennia. As was intended, the dome closed its doors on December 31st 2000 and its content’s was stripped bare. For some years it lay mostly dormant, give or take the odd New Year’s party, charity event or winter exhibition. Politicians squabbled over the future of the 365m diameter building, whilst potential bidders campaigned to turn it into everything from a theme park to a casino. Eventually, the building was bought by Philip Anschutz and his Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) and re-opened in 2007 as a mammoth sized entertainment district, the like of which London had never seen before.

Featuring; a movie theatre, night clubs, restaurants, bars, indoor and outdoor events areas, a 2,410 capacity live music club along with countless other businesses - The o2 complex would be a fine entertainment venue even without the 23,000 capacity arena plumped in the middle of it. The arena is a free standing structure; in effect a building within a building, with its own walls and roof, sitting underneath the giant canopy which is a landmark on London’s skyline. It has been said the arena shares a lot of resemblances with another AEG building - Staple's Centre, in downtown Los Angeles, California.

The o2 Arena, during NBA Live 2008

When the Raptors and Nets step on the court tonight, the capacity will be just under 19,000. To give you some idea of how imposing the arena is, the ‘stage end’ of the building doesn’t even have an upper tier, as without a permanent sports tenant, the area is mostly used for video walls during concerts. – if there were second level of seating at that end, the arena would boast one of the highest capacity’s for sports in the world. The lower and upper bowls are separated by two levels of luxury suites (with ribbon boards), and a giant eight sided video board will be hanging over centre court at tip off. All seats in the building sport arm rests, cup holders and padding, with concourses being amongst the spacious of any arena I’ve been to (including the ACC). To put it bluntly, if The o2 Arena sat in Seattle, Washington instead of London, England, there is no way that Kevin Durant would be playing his basketball in Oklahoma City right now.

As nice as the arena is, and as much good food, drink and music fans will be able to enjoy pre/post/during the game, tonight is about two points. Two points which the winning team might regret possessing by the time the draft lottery balls fall this summer, but never the less, the players will be determined to block out the distractions of playing in an unfamiliar environment and produce the goods on the court.

Both teams’ personnel will enjoy playing in the building and using its world class facilities, and I anticipate the crowd loudly cheering them on. The British basketball fan is just as passionate as the American/Canadian basketball fan - the barn should be rocking at its foundations with some tenacity tonight.

Don’t forget, tip-off is 8pm London time, which translates into a 3pm start for those of you on the East coast. You can follow my experiences of the day (signal permitting) on twitter @TomHurley and also in my next blog post. For British fans unable to attend, you can watch the game with a free preview on NBA League Pass on the league website. For those of you that are able to make it, I’ll see you at The o2 tonight. LET’S GO RAPTORS.

Thursday, 3 March 2011


It’s not every day you can walk into an upmarket shopping mall in West London and have the opportunity to be coached by a seven time NBA champion, but for some inner city school children, that’s exactly what happened today. The NBA have been running events at different cities across England this week as part of ‘Basketball Week’ where veterans including Dikembe Mutombo and Robert Horry have been on hand to coach basic basketball skills to British youngsters. At each fan zone event there has also been giveaways, competitions and 3on3 tournaments encouraging local players to get involved in playing organized basketball. Today, I made the journey from my weekend base, in the south east of the city, to the Westfield shopping centre in Shepard’s Bush to check out London’s version of 'NBA Fan Zone'.

After travelling across London via the tube (managed to jump on the wrong train just the once), I arrived at Westfield shopping centre at around 12:30 and followed the sound of shoes squeaking and basketballs bouncing that were coming from the centre’s main atrium. When I arrived I was greeted by the sight of a full size basketball court, featuring as many NBA logos and sponsors billboards as you could possibly fit into such a space. On the court, the Nets’ ‘Team Hype’ were acrobatically throwing down monster dunks after jumping from a trampoline, a routine which I’m sure they’ve performed during many a halftime show at the Prudential Centre on game nights. The Nets' dance squad were also on hand to add some glamour to the occasion, along with team mascot Sly. Toronto’s very own #95 ‘The Raptor’ was there for Raps fans in attendance (….that would be just me then) to high five and take photos with. Toronto’s mascot was also getting involved with the dunking show and trying to win over a few of the locals to support T-dot tomorrow night.

It was good to talk to some of the guys from the NBA who were helping to run the fan zone or were there to oversee the event. Everyone who has flew over for the games had said pretty much the same thing, that so far their routine had consisted of hotel to arena to hotel to arena to fan event to hotel…. Basically everything except the opportunity to see the sights and enjoy being in the city! I’m sure their sacrifice will pay off once Sunday rolls around and everybody attending the games/fan zones has had a whale of a time.

 That’s exactly what I had this afternoon, in addition to the game night entertainment crew putting on shows for the crowd there were lots of other basketball activities going on to enjoy. One of the NBA sponsor’s, Foot Locker, had an arcade style three point shootout machine which fans could  play for free for the chance to win a small prize. They also held hourly All Star Game style three point shootouts on the main court, with the winner of each competition receiving two tickets for tomorrow night’s game at The o2.  Although I failed miserably at that contest (I’ll wear my participants vest around the house and gym with pride) I also took part in a two v two shooting competition which my team won. No doubt if Jay Triano was in attendance he would have been scampering to sign me and my team mate up to ten day contracts so we could drain some buckets during the games this weekend (as long as I didn’t have to pass a physical). Well, my prize for winning the contest was a lovely new Raptors t shirt which will go nicely into my collection of Raps merchandise. A collection which was also added to when a member of the Raptors game operations staff, who upon seeing me in my black Raptors t-shirt, was kind enough to give me a Raps scarf which I’ll be encouraging my Miami Heat loving friend to wave around at the game tomorrow night. 

Several professional basketball coaches were on hand to provide coaching sessions to local kids as part of the ‘NBA Cares’ programme. The star of the show was special guest and seven time NBA champion Robert Horry, who in addition to running a couple of coaching sessions also took up a young fan’s challenge of a game on the three point shootout machine. Horry did better than former Nets star Devin Harris (if you don’t know about that story, check the video on youtube) and won the contest at a canter. The Larry O’Brien trophy was on show for London fans to meet and greet (maybe we’ll see the young onez place it in the ACC trophy case in the next few years?)  and there was the chance to play the always popular NBA Jam video game on arcade machines. If you would have taken a wander over to the NBA League Pass section you would have been offered a 50% off subscription for the rest of the season too.

Everybody seemed to be having a great time, and I’m sure the NBA picked up a few new fans at the event. However the cynic in me couldn’t help but wonder how much more of a success the whole thing would have been if it was held last week, when London schools were closed for half term break. One Lakers fan told me that at one point during yesterday’s event, Dikembe Mutombo and Robert Horry were on the court with only a handful of people in attendance.

 Was this a missed opportunity to really grab kids in the UK and charm them into a lifelong love-affair with basketball? Should the NBA have scheduled these games for last week, when the Raptors and Nets would be fresh off the all-star break and kids were out of schools? Or is there simply not the love for the NBA here that the league hopes there is? Whatever the answer to those questions, I’m sure the league didn’t plan on the only kids attending being those who were carted-in out of classes for photo ops. with Horry while wearing ‘NBA Cares’ t-shirts. Sure, the few kids and ardent basketball fans who were there had a brilliant time, but the crowd was sparse and mostly made up of passers-by and retail store employees on their lunch breaks rather than an influx of kids being there to play basketball for the first time.

The league could also have done a better job with marketing the event. Most of those who I was talking to at the fan zone had no idea it was going to be there until they showed up for a day at the mall. One guy, a London resident and a casual fan of the Raptors since seeing them whilst on vacation, didn’t even know that NBA games were taking place in the city this weekend. It’s all well telling those who already love the sport that the NBA is coming to town, but preaching to the converted won’t bring generations of new players or fans to the league – which ultimately must be their goal. The more people in the UK who play/watch basketball, the higher the merchandise and league pass revenues on will be. Although many families are already priced out of the London games, if the league can increase their fan base, then going forward it will find selling out high priced events in this country a much easier thing to do, without bringing in the so called ‘superstar teams’.

Back to this weekend’s games, I managed to get a little scoop on some of the league’s plans for the game night experience. Although the Nets are the designated home team this weekend and it will be mainly their game night entertainment on show, the Raptors will be getting a 50/50 split of promotional activity and video board content. Both teams’ entrance videos will be played before player introductions and Toronto’s mascot ‘The Raptor’ will again be on hand to drum up support for the red and black.

I’ll post a selection of photos from today’s event at the end of this blog and will be back later tonight telling you all about the gorgeous o2 Arena, where less than 24 hours from now the Raptors and Nets will be battling hard for two points in the standings. Don’t forget you can follow me on twitter @TomHurley