Season 1 of head-to-head jai-alai was considered a big success. Now, jai-alai is back for Season 2 of “Battle Court” at Magic City Casino in Miami.
Recently, Magic City boasted Florida’s last remaining jai-alai fronton (jai-alai court). However, after a strong first Battle Court season, other frontons began reopening thanks to a slight resurgence in popularity.
Since Florida sports betting is still in legal limbo, jai-alai is technically the only sport Floridians can bet on. Pari-mutuel wagering is available for traditional jai-alai matches. But Floridians aren’t permitted to wager on Battle Court since it contains a slight variation to the original version of the game.
Ironically, Battle Court betting is available to bettors in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia thanks to the league’s partnership with Rush Street Gaming, the parent company of the BetRivers sportsbook.
Season 2 of Battle Court, Magic City’s take on the classic Basque game, kicks off Sept. 23.
The most visible difference in Magic City’s version is the glass-walled court, which gives an unprecedented view into the fast-paced game. The league structure is also different. Singles and doubles teams are arranged into four squads made up of six singles players or four doubles teams. Teams collect points throughout the nine-week season. The squad with the most overall points will be this season’s champions.
Last season, the Cesta Cyclones took the inaugural Battle Court season title.
Magic City rejuvenates the declining jai-alai scene in South Florida
The heyday of Florida jai-alai was in the 1970s and ’80s, when the top players in the world dominated the frontons up and down the state’s coast. Players from the sport’s native Basque region of Spain and Mexican, Filipino and American players wowed audiences that sometimes exceeded 15,000.
A high-profile match was a celebrity gala, with fans arriving in gowns and tuxedos to venues with chandeliers hanging in the bathrooms. Pari-mutuel gambling on the games added an exciting boost.
Since then, other gambling options became abundant in the Sunshine State. As a result, jai-alai betting declined. But Magic City’s partnership with BetRivers rejuvenated jai-alai betting. It garnered genuine interest in the sport and some gambling interest, of course.
Along with the Rush Street partnership, the league gained popularity through social media exposure. Thus, the league gained fans from markets that weren’t previously exposed to the game.
Season 2 draft class unveiled
The Battle Court Season 2 draft took place on Aug. 5. The draft set the lineups for the four 6-person singles teams and the doubles matchups for the nine-week season. Scott Savin, Chief Operating Officer at Magic City Jai-alai, expects Season 2 to be even more exciting than last year’s season.
“We’re thrilled to kick off our second Battle Court season, a groundbreaking team jai-alai concept. Battle Court’s first season really caught on with its intense level of play and the enthusiasm showcased by our squad owners and fans. Battle Court Season 2 will be even more exciting! We can’t wait to see the new matchups face off on our glass-walled court and to see fans rooting for their favorite squad.”
Each of the four owners could lock in three players from their first season squad, and draft the remaining three players with teams drafting in the reverse order of the Season 1 standings.
Season 1 results and Season 2 expectations
Season 1 champs Cesta Cyclones, owned by Chris Cote, producer of the “Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz,” return five of the six members. The team locked in Carballo, the top singles player in the first season, along with Ikeda and Manny.
Carballo finished Season 1 undefeated at 6-0. One of the league’s most aggressive and frenetic players, Carballo brings a baseball background to the fronton. His run-and-gun style of play, high-velocity serves and high-risk shots put pressure on his opponents. “If I was going to play a volley-style game,” Carballo noted of his play in Season 1, “I’d rather just stay home.”
The Cyclones’ first draft pick, Manu, a French-born jai-alai and soccer athlete, might be the hottest player in the league. In summer head-to-head play, Manu has gone 7-0, looking as solid as anyone.
The only new member of the Cyclones is Javon “Cool Fitness” Williams. He replaces Saloney “Juice” Joseph, who is no longer in the league.
The second-place Wall Warriors chose to lock in Inaki, Nicolas and Bueno, two seasoned jai-alai vets and a baseball convert. They ultimately returned five of their six Season 1 players.
Their first overall pick of Basque native Julen kept the two brothers (Inaki and Julen) together. The brothers grew up playing jai-alai in Spain. Their 1-5 record in Season 1 reflected a lack of familiarity with the new court, not the game. They should contend strongly in Season 2 with four more months of play under their belts.
The only new player on the Wall Warriors for Season 2 is Kyle Kubala, formerly of the Rebote Renegades. He’s a solid back court doubles player with a strong arm. He replaced Michael Diaz, who is no longer in the league.
The Rebote Renegades finished third, just four points behind the Wall Warriors. They locked in Goixerri, Aratz and Ben from their first-season squad. After the draft, this squad looks to be one of the most versatile and exciting squads heading into Season 2.
Goixerri and his younger brother, Aratz, represent another dominant Basque sibling doubles team. They finished Season 1 at 5-1. Goixerri, in the front court, could also be paired with the Renegades’ first draft pick, Ronron, the Filipino standout. Ronron was dealing with an injury during the start of Season 1 and missed the draft. However, he started turning heads in both singles and doubles by midseason, where he played a hard hurling back-courter.
With a pairing of Goixerri and Ronron as a second team, the Renegades have two potentially dominant doubles teams going into Season 2.
The Chula Chargers struggled in Season 1 of Battle Court. Jairo was their only experienced jai-alai player, and this lack of experience cost them.
Heading into Season 2, the Chargers locked in Douglas, Jairo and Benny. They rebuilt their bottom half with new additions of Spinner, Robin and Roque. Douglas and Jairo are strong front-court players, and Benny provides a stable back-court option.
The new editions to the Chargers make them a much more exciting and versatile team for Season 2. Spinner, the team’s first draft pick, can play both front and back court, giving them multiple doubles options to pair with a top team of Douglas and Jairo.
The bottom two for the Chargers, Robin and Roque, combine both experience and raw talent, making this lineup much more competitive top to bottom.
Jai-alai returns to ESPN
ESPN will carry “the fastest ball sport in the world” for the first time in seven years. Battle Court matches will be streamed live on ESPN3.