“We’ve got to get basketball back on primetime TV” | Mike Tuck
Mike Tuck’s career may have started in Canada, but he made it in the UK After earning full-time sponsorship to play college basketball, trialling at the NBA’s Toronto Raptors and playing for Canada’s development squad, Tuck graduated and set off to Europe to play professional basketball.
Playing in France, Luxembourg and Cyprus, Tuck eventually settled in Sheffield, and is now in his 10th season with the club. Holding a British passport, courtesy of his mother, Tuck not only captains the Sharks but led the England team at this year’s Commonwealth Games.
Basketball in the UK is a very different animal to the sport in the States. Having experienced both, Tuck reveals in our Inside Track interview series the multiple ways in which the sport can improve domestically.
caytoo: What is your current playing status?
Mike: I’m the captain of the Sheffield Sharks and about to head into my 10th season with the club. I also work in the Sharks front office as their marketing and commercial manager. I recently returned from the Gold Coast where I captained England at the Commonwealth Games.
caytoo: What brought you specifically to England?
Mike: When I was a kid my mom used to bring me over to England. I have family over here and there was always British culture in the house, she was always watching British movies and British TV! So coming back here was an easy decision. For a guy who is from North America coming over to Europe, it can be daunting, but England is the closest thing to back home. The language makes it very easy to play and live here.
caytoo: Is playing in Europe common practice for American and Canadian players?
Mike: If you graduate from university and want to keep playing, but you’re not good enough to make the NBA, you look to get an agent that will take you overseas. I know guys who played all over the world; China, Uruguay, Australia, but most guys will end up in Europe because it has the most leagues and the money is decent.
caytoo: Would British basketball benefit from education pathways into sport like they have in the US?
Mike: The Sharks have an agreement with the universities in Sheffield where we can offer partial scholarships and they’ll play for the university club and the Sharks. That seems to be a common theme in England, but the model that the Americans have is one that every country should be striving towards.
In the UK, because of football, it’s more academy-based instead of going through school. All the football academies have created pathways into their clubs from a very young age. Basketball, in most cases, doesn’t have the resources or the funds to do that. So, most kids will be looking towards university or the better kids are getting poached to go to universities in the US.
Far too often I meet guys that got caught up in the football academy system when they were 15-16. From then on it was strictly football, they didn’t really focus on school at all. In contrast the guys that I played with at university had their degrees to fall back on, only two or three guys went on to play after college.
caytoo: Are the current pathways into pro basketball in the UK adequate?
Mike: Teams in the British Basketball League (BBL) Championship have made great strides since I’ve been in the country. Certain clubs in our league now have a pathway for kids all the way from 11-12 years old up to their professional team. However, it’s only a couple of clubs, that’s why kids are still looking for alternative pathways. Some will go to America or academies in different countries.
caytoo: How has British basketball changed since you arrived?
Mike: A lot of clubs are trying to build their own venues now which is a massive boost. The Leicester Riders have completed their own venue and there are three others that are still in the process, so it’s heading in the right direction.
“Once you have four or five teams with their own
venues you’ll see a big shift with basketball here”
The Riders are a club that have made giant strides. They’ve been top of the league for the last two to three years. Their budget has increased as they own their own ground and this year they’ve made the jump into the Champions League, the European tournament for basketball. It’s the first British team in a European competition in over 10 years so it’s really a big step for British basketball. Once you have four or five teams with their own venues you’ll see a big shift with basketball here.
caytoo: What do you think British basketball needs to get to that next level?
Mike: In about five to ten years, once you have half the league in their own venues, you’re going to see a big shift in the way the academies are set up and a positive impact on the local communities.
This will lead to a big shift in funding and, through getting more money into basketball, you should get more kids playing for longer periods of time. Basketball is the second most played team sport in the country but it drops off at around 16-years-old because a lot of the pathways end. We need to better our pathways and keep kids playing.
Also, if the pro league gets more than one team in an international competition that would be great. There’s the Euro Cup as well as the Champions League, so if we can get a few teams playing on the continent it will start making noise and raise the profile of English basketball.
caytoo: How did the opportunity come about to work as the Sharks marketing and commercial manager?
Mike: I started having conversations with the club as I’m heading towards the end of my career and I wanted some work experience. They had a conversation with one of our sponsors, which at the time was a law firm in Sheffield called Wosskow Brown Solicitors, so I spent three years working there as a marketing manager.
The club saw what I was doing so then asked me to work in their front office. I’ve just completed my first year with the Sharks as their marketing manager whilst playing. It’s a great segue for me as I get to keep playing as well as getting valuable experience. I enjoy sports marketing and, as it’s working within basketball, it’s a perfect fit.
“If we can get a few teams playing on the continent it
will raise the profile of English basketball”
caytoo: How much experience do you have working with sponsors directly?
Mike: Loads – even in addition to the Wosskow Brown work. I’m constantly going to networking events in Sheffield, trying to make new connections and drum up new sponsorship. After every game all our sponsors and our season ticket holders congregate in the players lounge. I go in there and shake hands and kiss babies, keeping up appearances. I’m a people person so it’s something I enjoy doing.
caytoo: What challenges do you face in trying to attract sponsorship, both for the Sharks and individually?
Mike: Basketball in itself is something that holds it back. Not a lot of people in this country know about basketball. Not a lot of people even know that there’s a professional league in England. Getting the word out and letting people know that we’re here is something that needs to happen.
I’ve had some personal sponsorship, but it’s all been word of mouth or somebody making a phone call for me. It’s not easy to get sponsorship for the club let alone an individual player. England is a very traditional country in terms of being football, football, football. We’ve got to get basketball back on primetime TV. We need more eyes on basketball and more kids watching it from a young age.
On a personal level, some of the sponsorship challenge is account management, where I’m just constantly in touch with certain sponsors to make sure that we’re keeping up our end of the deal. Also, it is making new connections and trying to bring people in. A lot of it is meeting someone who’s never heard of me or the Sharks and has never been to a basketball game, but offering them some free tickets and getting them down to a game so they can actually experience it first hand. It’s a numbers game and you’ve got to get a lot of people in the door. Sometimes people get hooked, sometimes they don’t, but for the most part everyone who comes to a basketball game leaves absolutely buzzing and can’t wait to come to the next one.
“I’m constantly going to networking events, trying to make new connections and drum up new sponsorship“
caytoo: Tell us about the work you did with Forever Living?
Mike: I had a three-year deal with them – they’re the world’s largest producer of aloe vera products. The owner approached me and asked if I would be interested in an ambassadorship role. He got me some of the products to try and and I really liked them. From there we slowly started to have conversations, I went down and met the president/chairman of the company and they offered me a contract to be an ambassador. It was me, along with Kristina Rihanoff from Strictly Come Dancing and a boxer. They were looking to get ambassadors that weren’t your typical footballer, they wanted something outside the box. I really enjoyed it, it involved photoshoots, YouTube videos and attending their big events. They would have about 5,000 people attending and I would go onstage and do interviews about motivation and how I use the products.
So, after I finished my deal they signed on with the Sharks as a main sponsor. They’ve done a commercial deal with the Sharks now involving payments and products, so more of the Sharks are using their products, but that isn’t a deal I’m tied in with personally anymore.
caytoo: Are you currently searching for sponsors, both for the Sharks and yourself personally?
Mike: I’d love to pick up a couple of personal sponsorships but, on a larger scale, the Sharks are open to more sponsorship. I run the Sharks website, so for national brands, we could do ads on the website as well as a host of other things.
caytoo: What would be your perfect sponsor for you personally?
Mike: I would love to have a supplement sponsor and a clothing sponsor. In an ideal situation it would be Nike or Under Armour. Ambassador roles interest me, using or talking about a company’s products, I’m more than comfortable doing that. Also, talks on motivation, teamwork and my experiences as a captain for a professional club and England. A meal prep company would be good, but honestly I’m open to anything.
caytoo: And for the Sharks?
Mike: The Sharks typically would love to get involved with companies that are in Yorkshire or around Sheffield but we’re open to being involved with anybody. We also do branded Corporate Social Responsibility projects. We go into schools and talk about healthy eating and exercise. We also do basketball clinics, then we’ll tie that with a company. So we’ll run your branded CSR projects and you pay us sponsorship for that.
“Getting the word out and letting people know
that we’re here is something that needs to happen.”
caytoo: Are there any sponsors working within British Basketball doing a good job?
Mike: Certainly our headline sponsor – B Braun. They’re a medical supply company based in Sheffield and we have an amazing relationship with them. They have without a doubt been the biggest backer of the Sharks since I have been involved with the club. They are constantly going above and beyond their sponsorship role. Support from their media team, lending us equipment, they even let us host our Sharks Press Launch at their UK headquarters every year. The list could go on and on.
caytoo: You did some work in broadcasting, how did that opportunity arise?
Mike: The General Manager of the BBL contacted me as they needed a guy to commentate on a game last minute down at the Copper Box in London. After that they needed a sideline reporter for a number of games throughout the season, which was a little tricky because I was playing games as well.
I did three or four games this year as a sideline pundit. I’m doing the cup draw on Facebook Live for the league and the GM of the league is there to talk about next season and how we can grow that role a little bit.
Our league has signed a contract with Free Sport, a new free TV channel, so I’ve been doing some work for them. I’ve been a pundit for three or four games this season.
caytoo: Is that something you are looking to explore after your playing career? What else?
Mike: Definitely. I don’t know whether work as a sideline pundit within basketball is a full time gig, but there’s potential with league growing. As well as that, motivational speaking is something that interests me and, while I’m still playing, an ambassadorship role would be great. I would be happy to do modelling or commercials. I’m just trying to keep my doors open. Working within the front office of the club is giving me some good experience for my post-playing career as well.
“Everyone who comes to a basketball game leaves
absolutely buzzing and can’t wait to come to the next one.”
caytoo: How important is social media for your personal brand?
Mike: Very important. I always make sure that I’m updating it as much as I can, promoting not only myself but the Sharks and anything I’m involved with.
For Forever Living I was doing social media posts for them, so I’ve been paid to post before. I’m more than happy to represent a brand or a company that I feel comfortable with through my social media.
caytoo: What advice would you give to any young basketball players around attracting sponsorship as well as preparing for life after sport?
Mike: Keep yourself open to as many opportunities as you can. Sometimes you need to make a phone call or send an email and put yourself out there.
Also, you need to watch how you handle yourself on and off the court and how you portray your image on social media. These are things that the sponsors and companies are going to look at. You need to keep an eye on your image and then be open to new opportunities. Be willing to shake people’s hands and be a networker.
If you’re interested in sponsoring Mike, contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org
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