River Lions to salute fans Thursday
The Niagara River Lions will conclude the wildly successful portion of their home schedule Thursday night with a game against Charles Kissi and the visiting Guelph Nighthawks.
Niagara sits atop the standings in the inaugural season of the Canadian Elite Basketball League with a 13-4 record, thanks to an impressive 8-1 mark at home.
With the championship weekend scheduled for Saskatoon in mid-August, it’s a chance for the River Lions to thank their fans with a fan appreciation night.
“It’s a whole big celebration of the season and our fans,” Niagara director of operations Michelle Biskup said. “We have an awesome record at home and the guys give credit to the fans for helping them.
“They love playing at home and this is our opportunity to give back to the fans.”
Among the activities planned for Thursday night are: team captain Ryan Anderson giving a pre-game thank you to the fans; a half-time exhibition by professional dunker Justin Darlington (Darlington has a 53-inch vertical): the entire team available for autographs courtside after the game; and, plenty of giveaways.
“We have a lot of giveaways at our games usually, but we are amping it up even more so that everyone that comes feels like they left with something,” Biskup said. “We are going to make the fans feel appreciated and have them walk away with a lot of excitement and looking forward already to the 2020 season.”
Biskup described Niagara’s first season in the CEBL as awesome.
“I think we had a little bit of a slow start in terms of attendance with us not playing for a year and a half,” she said. “Fans were a little bit hesitant at first about what the product was and what was different.”
Attendance in June was also hurt by the Toronto Raptors run to an NBA championship.
“It hurt us short term, but long term it is great because every kid now has a basketball in their hand,” Biskup said.
Attendance picked up as summer wore on.
“Through July and for this game here, we have seen a huge spike in interest level,” she said. “People started to realize there was only a couple of games left and they should check it out.
“We haven’t heard too much in the way of comments about it being in the summer and that hasn’t affected us as much as some people might think.”
In its last home game, Niagara drew more than 2,000 fans and Biskup expects an even bigger crowd Thursday.
“We have ended the season on a high and it’s going to be big crowd,” she said. “Our numbers this week have been awesome each day.”
Things have gone pretty much according to script for Niagara this season.
“For us, as much as it was the first season in the CEBL, we have experience under our belt so there weren’t any major hiccups or anything,” Biskup said. “There’s always room to improve so, starting next week, we will sit down as a big team in our front office while everything is fresh in our minds.
“We will start working on next year to make it bigger and better.”
Niagara is hoping to run a fan bus for the season-ending road game in Hamilton on Aug. 14 and plans are in the works for viewing parties in Niagara for the CEBL championship weekend.