Over the last several years one of the most questions I get asked the most often is why doesn't the USA have a professional wheelchair basketball league? In my opinion there are three reasons why:
There hasn't been anyone who has come up with a way to make it financially viable, the stigma associated with adaptive sports in general, and the fact it's only played by a small sub-population.
Ever the optimist, I think it's possible for wheelchair basketball to exist at a professional level with proper exposure. While the league will no doubt struggle to gain footing in the competitive professional sports landscape, I do feel it's possible. The US has the most complete junior level program that boosters collegiate programs. This has consistently fostered elite talent! However, for an athlete who wants to play professionally, they have to go overseas, and embrace the challenges that come with leaving their own country. The idea of playing abroad isn't uncommon; US athletes have been doing this for years in sports such as basketball, soccer, and volleyball.
After college wheelchair basketball athletes a can continue to play in the USA as an amateur athlete in the NWBA. The level of talent and commitment from these athletes, coaches, organizers, and volunteers is second to none. They are involved in the sport for the love of the game.
If there was money to be made, whether it's via ticket sales, sponsorships, or other revenue streams, the sport could exist. Professional sports in the USA are a business, with TV deals, our sports consumption is directly influenced by demand.
Wheelchair basketball is a sport that has a cult like following of supporters, but doesn't do very well in regards to mainstream consumption. Would people tune in to watch a wheelchair basketball game on a random Tuesday night? We are an oversaturated sports market due to a 24/7 sports news cycle. The struggle to standout and carve a slot isn't just reserved for adaptive sports. Women's sports fight this battle constantly, trying to thrive nationally, like their male counterparts.
The stigma of adaptive sports, currently, I feel, creates difficulty as well. All too often adaptive sports are viewed as inferior when the average fan isn't exposed to the sport at a level where they can grow to appreciate it. When someone gets to see the sport at its higher levels, they can quickly see the complexities of the sport, and begin to value it more. As we near the start of the Olympics and Paralympics, NBC will be covering the events more now that ever.
Will this change peoples' opinion? Will this be something that people watch briefly but doesn't gain enough fan fare to launch a movement? Perhaps the stigma surrounding wheelchair sports is too far ingrained that it's difficult to change.
We have seen what the Women's World Cup has done for Women's soccer in the USA. Could the unprecedented scheduled coverage of the 2016 Rio Paralympics springboard the birth of professional wheelchair basketball in the US?
Ryan Martin Foundation Update:
When I last wrote, the RMF 2016 Summer camp season had just begun and we were getting ready for our 4th Annual RMF Hall of Fame game! Since my last blog our Hall of Fame game made more money to support our program than ever before & we just finished our largest RMF Connecticut wheelchair basketball camp (8th annual). Thanks to all our sponsors who consistently support our vision of keeping our programs free of change to the athletes! We will round out the summers with camps in Philadelphia and NY/NJ! Below are some pictures from the Hall of Fame event and Connecticut Basketball Camp!