Towers tipped to claim title with no name

The Championship tips off today without carrying a sponsor's name for the first time in its 14-year history, but the Basketball League's commercial director, Tim Rudge, insists: "This was our decision and was not forced upon us in any way. We turned down sponsors during the summer to take this route.

The Championship tips off today without carrying a sponsor's name for the first time in its 14-year history, but the Basketball League's commercial director, Tim Rudge, insists: "This was our decision and was not forced upon us in any way. We turned down sponsors during the summer to take this route.

"We have six key partners and the income from them exceeds the revenue we would have had from pure sponsorship, plus we have total control over our own television, endorsement and licensing rights."

The competition will simply be known as the BBL Championship, after last year's backing from Dairylea Dunkers which followed six years of sponsorship from Budweiser.

Dairylea ended its planned three-year deal because thec company could not capitalise on the sport's marketing opportunities. Had the League sold rights to this season's championship, the competition would have had its third sponsor in three seasons.

Rudge said: "I felt that would have lacked credibility, but now in negotiations we have the power of owning our own name and showing we believe in ourselves."

The League also owns the rights to the National Cup and yesterday revealed a new sponsor in the UK's leading broadband telephone, telephone and internet company, ntl.

In all championship games this season players' shirts will carry the logos for ntl and uni-ball, who sponsor the League Trophy. Rudge added: "We could not have offered them that package if the championship had been owned by another sponsor."

The championship is again split into north and south conferences. London Towers are the favourites to win the outright championship, which will be settled by play-offs, although they face a daunting schedule of around 70 games as they are also playing in the Euroleague and the North European Basketball League.

The Towers kick off with an away game against Derby Storm tonight, while Leicester Riders' trip to Manchester Giants is the live televised fixture on Sky Sports.

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