Chris Larsen has been around the block.
Many community blocks, in fact.
As the president of Sports and Entertainment Atlantic – and its recognizable acronym S|E|A – Larsen did a double take when he first caught wind of what was then the fledgling Maritime Women’s Basketball Association back in 2021.
The MWBA was in its infancy at the time.
There were six teams, six general managers. The league had a commissioner in Tasia McKenna and a vice-commissioner in Lezlie States, but not a whole lot more.
Still, the league’s purpose resonated with Larsen and S|E|A which has been based in Halifax since 2007, delivering world-class sport tourism events and experiences to the East Coast.
In the small world category, Ellen Hatt, a member of the S|E|A team, had played in the Atlantic University Sport women’s basketball conference with Acadia University Axewomen (2016-2019) and University of New Brunswick Reds (2022-23).
Hatt wanted to play in the MWBA and was literally the first player to sign up for the league’s player portal, eventually joining the Halifax Thunder for the league’s inaugural season.
“S|E|A initially became aware of the emerging opportunity for a women’s basketball league in the Maritimes in the spring of 2021, a full year before the league’s first season. The first meeting involved a luncheon with Tasia McKenna, Lezlie States and Ellen Hatt” Larsen mentioned. “Our mission is to bring our communities together and make them stronger through the power of sport. We immediately understood the purpose and the power of the MWBA’s four pillars, beliefs S|E|A holds strongly ourselves.’
The MWBA launched with four pillars including Black Lives Matter, LGBTQIA+, No More Stolen Sisters and Stop Violence Against Women. Following a few meetings after the initial get together, the league was sold on bring S|E|A to the forefront.
S|E|A committed to supporting the MWBA, leveraging its experience as Atlantic Canada’s largest multi-dimensional, full-service event, sponsorship, and consulting enterprise. It provides regional, national, and international clients with a one-stop option for sponsorship sales, consulting, activation, and corporate hospitality.
And it turned its sights on the MWBA.
It wasn’t long after S|E|A dropped some partnership bombshells, announcing national corporate powers Medavie/Blue Cross and Royale Tissue were on board as league founding partners of the MWBA.
“Simply stated, we saw the opportunity to acquire corporate partners whose brands, core values and beliefs aligned with the league’s four pillars,” said Larsen. “Our initial, exploratory conversations were with Medavie and Royale (Irving). To their credit, leadership within both organizations quickly realized the power of the four pillars and the opportunity to ensure the early success of the MWBA through a financial partnership.”
All six teams wear Medavie/Blue Cross and Royale patches on their jerseys and the company’s signage is omni-present at all games across the league’s six centres and championship weekends for the Legacy Cup which has been held in Halifax at Saint Mary’s University and Saint John at TD Station.
That same year, S|E|A struck an agreement with Halifax-based Garrison Brewery Company to produce a signature beer, Court Side ISA, for the 2022 MWBA season. Other major partners included Cushman Wakefield, Dairy Farmers of New Brunswick and Support4Sport. The league’s launch party took place at Garrison Seaport, marking an exciting beginning for the MWBA filled with anticipation of what was to come.
What came has been two years of intense competition and growth of the MWBA.
The league has helped send three players to the professional level overseas, but more importantly has held steadfast in its commitment to its pillars and creating a safe, competitive environment for the women who play across the MWBA.
Whether its players, coaches, officials, off court officials or marketing and branding, the league is anticipating Season III in the spring of 2024 with excitement.
McKenna and States served three seasons for the MWBA from fruition through a second year and stepped aside, paving the way for new commissioner Jen McKenzie of Dartmouth and Anna Lee LeBlanc of Moncton as vice commissioner. Jeff White of Saint John remains as treasurer.
S|E|A has been there every step of the way with Larsen, Hatt and Chris Jamieson all being a part of the leagues off court power supply.
“The first two years featured an elite level of play on the court and seemingly unlimited quantities of perspiration and inspiration by the MWBA general mangers and volunteer league executives,” Larsen remarked. “As season three approaches, important adjustments have already been made to help ensure greater organizational strength and stability at the league level.”
Over the years, S|E|A has been actively involved with various organizations including USPORTS, Halifax Wanderers FC, Canada Basketball, Rugy Canada, Soccer NS, PGA TOUR Canada and the MWBA to name but a few.
Larsen and his team are eager to continue supporting the MWBA, emphasizing the importance of effective communication, potential expansion and establishing more corporate partnerships.
‘Important next steps include embracing the importance of vibrant communication between the league and teams, managing expansion and/or team relocation and building more corporate partnerships,’ Larsen said. ‘Fundamentally, all parties need to pull on one rope. S|E|A orchestrated the Tip Off Launch Event in Halifax prior to season one and has been deeply involved supporting the league’s vibrant social media activities.’
Larsen has been impressed with the MWBA’s ability to attract a national – and even international following – and does not expect that to change. Many who follow women’s basketball know Canada needs its own domestic professional league.
The MWBA powered a charge and it’s creating a ripple effect.
‘The MWBA is drawing attention nationally and within other regional jurisdictions,’ he said. ‘Although it’s a longer-range aspiration, there exists the possibility that the foundational roots of the MWBA can lead to semi-pro status, full pro status and a national footprint. Everyone now understands the product on the court is an outstanding calibre of basketball. Continued focus on evolving the product to even higher standards is important. The MWBA and the teams need to develop a better grasp of the difference between the sport of basketball and the business of basketball. That’s where we come in to help and will continue to do that moving forward. We have a great relationship and that will only continue.’
For further information on S|E|A visit https://www.seatlantic.ca/