PAUL Blake has set his sights on turning Newcastle Eagles into a European basketball force and the region into a centre of excellence for the sport after confirming a move to Northumbria University's new Sport Central venue.
The Eagles have signed a four-year agreement with the University for use of the 3,000-seater £30m arena, with the new facility also becoming the club’s training and administrative base until 2014.
They will play their first game at their new home on September 14, and Eagles managing director Blake said the club are “champing at the bit” to move in to their new surroundings. As well as a venue switch, it also heralds an even closer working relationship with Northumbria which should reap major benefits for the club’s youth development schemes.
Moving to Sport Central should also allow them to attract enough sponsors, new fans and revenue streams to make their dream of playing in Europe a reality.
“We are moving into what is definitely going to be the best venue in the BBL,” Blake said.
“I think we have been in the best venue while we’ve been at the Arena but this is different because it is sports-focused and I always said that was what we needed. We will train here, we will play here and our offices will move here.
“The goal of this basketball club is to be playing European basketball on a regular basis and a project like this brings with it major opportunities to do that. I am extremely optimistic about the future, it’s definitely true to say that.”
The Eagles have taken some criticism for not making an announcement on the venue earlier, but Blake points out that the move had to be ‘totally right’ before they committed to leaving their former home at the Metro Arena.
And the club’s cagey approach should not be taken as a sign of inaction on their part. As well as confirming the venue change, the Eagles have taken big strides towards finalising their roster for next season.
The Journal understands they are likely to add three new faces for next season, with skipper Andrew Bridge – present for the announcement yesterday – set to be the first to put pen to paper on a one-year deal by the weekend.
Blake remains confident that Fab Flournoy’s remodelled side will be able to excite fans – although he knows some of them will be more concerned with prosaic issues surrounding the move.
“We took time on this and we’re still working on things. People may have said that we were overly cautious but we have done the same thing for 14 years and it worked.
“The biggest issues fans seem to be asking about are car parking facilities and bar facilities, and we’re still ironing those out. But if you see the bigger picture, it is just a terrific move for us.”
An emotional Fab Flournoy said that the Eagles move had the potential to transform basketball in the UK.
The club’s player-coach has only just left hospital after treatment for an infection that struck after his recent hernia operation, and admitted it had given him time to analyse the importance of the venue change for the sport he loves.
“This will set out the path that our young players have to go through to progress to the BBL and even to the national side,” he said.
“That is something that this country has been missing for years and years. I had it when I was in America – I knew how I was going to get to my goals and now hopefully a new generation has it.
“It’s a momentous day for the Eagles.”