Now twenty-five years later, Furman says he is still working on getting the NBA to the Bluegrass State but with a group of organizers in Louisville instead. The group hopes to bring a team there which has the NBA-ready KFC Yum! Center that seats over 22,000. “The NBA TV contract runs out 2015-16, and it looks like the NBA is going to expand to two more teams. They’re talking about Seattle and one other team and I figure that other team may be Louisville,” Furman said.
His name is J. Bruce Miller. He is said to be a longtime personal friend of David Stern’s and has been trying for years to bring a revival of the ABA’s Kentucky Colonels to the City of Louisville. (…) Miller: “As I’ve repeatedly said, ONCE the League gets control of the Sterling situation either by Sterling losing and the sale carrying forth OR by Sterling winning and the League (itself) moving forward as per Silver “…with our own proceedings.” — then the time will come to focus on the television rights negotiation which will also involve the potential expansion to Seattle and another city (most likely to be Louisville).”
Following the construction of the $450 million, 22,500-seat KFC Yum! Center complex, the Louisville Metro Government expended a significant amount of taxpayer funds, in an attempt to lure an NBA franchise to the arena; all to no avail. The KFC Yum! Center was completed, after a bitter controversy in which University of Louisville athletics director Tom Jurich, along with University of Louisville president James Ramsey, local pizza magnate John Schnatter, and Humana co-founder David Jones, expressed serious concerns and reservations about the project. Current estimates indicate that the total debt on the bonds used to finance the arena will amount to at least $573 million, over 30 years.
Louisville’s chamber of commerce, hired the accounting firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP to conduct a feasibility study on the prospects of attracting an NBA professional basketball franchise to the city. In a report released today, it appears that these prospects are dim, to say the least.
Finally, the report indicates that local support for college basketball would militate against support for a professional team: “Louisville has a well-established basketball fan base, but the unique dynamic that exists between the community and college basketball could serve as a potential constraint should a local NBA team be improperly positioned as a competitive versus complementary or differentiated offering.”
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One concern briefly discussed is that the addition of an NBA team in Louisville could negatively impact the university. After meeting with a group of community leaders in September, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer noted, “There was a lot of excitement in the room about what an NBA team could mean for Louisville’s global recognition and as a job attractor and economic engine. There are many elements involved in a journey such as this. This must be a win for the University of Louisville, as well as other stakeholders. I’m excited to be part of the dialogue and I continue to believe we should be ready if an opportunity presents itself.”
“J. Bruce Miller is still carrying the water for a dream of a NBA team in Louisville,” said a BoxcarPR representative in response to Miller’s public accusations. ”His dream would leave taxpayers paying the tab to the tune of millions of dollars that could be better spent on tourism, the arts and visitor attractions that could result in tens of thousands of convention and tourism visitors each year. This NBA dream could endanger the best college sports town in America.” However, Forbes.com has gained access to a communication from Dr. Rascher that says, “The two items [from the Cambridge Economic Research feasibility study] that I read are both incorrect in multiple ways. It makes me question the validity of the entire study.”
While Seattle would be an excellent choice for an expansion NBA franchise or an existing team’s relocation (the city plans to build a new $490 million arena) and Virginia Beach has shown plenty of interest in moving the Kings to its shore, they are not the only cities worthy of an NBA team within their borders. There are many reasons to place Louisville, Kentucky at the top of that list. And whereas Seattle and Virginia Beach are not immediately available as destinations for an NBA team, Louisville is in a position to accept a franchise as early as today. Although not everyone agrees. Preliminary talks about a Louisville NBA team have been met with some skepticism. A recent Cambridge Economic Research feasibility study revealed that the city may not benefit economically to the extent that proponents postulate. Additionally, a White Paper Analysis prepared by an agency called BoxcarPR stated: “With the region’s fervent support of its local collegiate teams coupled with poor personal income numbers, it is far fetched to think that a Louisville citizen’s dollar can be stretched even further to support NBA tickets.”
The results of PWC’s investigation are not yet available, but there already exist clear signs that Louisville is ripe for an NBA team. Louisville contains an arena fit to host an NBA franchise. The KFC Yum! Center was completed in late 2010 and has been the home of the University of Louisville basketball team ever since. Many suggest that the arena is as nice (if not more pleasant) as many NBA facilities. It is also complimented by many 5-star hotels and highly rated restaurants in its vicinity. An arena needs to be filled with fans so that it is sufficiently utilized the maximum number of days throughout the year, and Louisville has proven itself as a basketball city. A professional basketball team would fill the numerous open dates in the KFC Yum! Center’s annual calendar of events.
A group of community leaders convened by restaurant franchisee and former professional basketball player Ulysses “Junior” Bridgeman met with Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer on Friday to discuss the possibility of a National Basketball Association team coming to Louisville, Fischer’s office said. In a statement, Fischer said the meeting gauged the “level of interest” and the “conditions necessary to attract a team.” “There was a lot of excitement in the room about what an NBA team could mean for Louisville’s global recognition and as a job attractor and economic engine. There are many elements involved in a journey such as this,” the mayor said. “This must be a win for the University of Louisville, as well as other stakeholders. I’m excited to be part of the dialogue and I continue to believe we should be ready if an opportunity presents itself.”
Less than two years since it opened, the KFC Yum! Center still carries its showroom shine. It is a gleaming, gawk-worthy reality and, at least from a structural standpoint, what the real estate types like to refer to as “move-in ready.” What it needs is another tenant, a professional team or some other entity that can fill up a calendar currently overcrowded by open dates. What it needs, Mayor Greg Fischer believes, is a city prepared to pounce should an opportunity arise. “If an NBA team comes knocking, we want to be able to open the door,” said Chris Poynter, the mayor’s communications czar. The Yum! Center’s doorman, however, reports to the University of Louisville.
Twenty-two U.S. and Canadian markets have the financial wherewithal to support new teams in the National Basketball Association , according to an On Numbers study. But there’s a catch. Two catches, actually. The NBA is not committed to expansion at this time — it’s considering contracting the league. And the league, which locked out its players last month, would need to fashion a new labor agreement before any teams could be added. If those hurdles were cleared, the NBA could choose from a wide array of expansion possibilities, including such prominent candidates as Las Vegas, Louisville, Seattle and Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif.
If Louisville wants to lure an NBA franchise to the city, it will hear no complaints from University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari. Asked about the possibility of an NBA team someday making its home in Louisville, Calipari said on Friday that he can’t see a downside. “This state is driven by the city of Louisville,” Calipari said. “It is. Anything that’s good for the city of Louisville is good for our state. I believe (the NBA) is good for the city of Louisville, which makes our state even better. That’s just my opinion. That’s one of four million.”
The Louisville Metro Council voted to pay an additional $29,000 to attorney J. Bruce Miller to support his quest to bring to town a National Basketball Association team that would play at Freedom Hall. The expenditure will be on top of $60,000 previously appropriated — and apparently already spent — to Miller in the current city budget. Council member Dan Johnson, D-21st District, who has crusaded for Louisville to have an NBA team since at least the mid-1990s, said he initially tried to get the city to budget $200,000 to support Miller’s pursuit.
A Memorandum of Understanding obtained Tuesday by The Courier-Journal through Kentucky’s Open Records law, shows the fair board agreed to the booking arrangement so it wouldn’t interfere with attorney J. Bruce Miller’s pursuit of an NBA team that would play at Freedom Hall. —–The agreement, signed Nov. 19 by Fair Board President Harold Workman and Miller, says the fair board “will not contract with any other entity for any event … making reasonable efforts to avoid the potentiality of a scheduling conflict that will endanger the viability of an NBA franchise’s operation in Freedom Hall.”
In an interview Wednesday Miller said he has a majority investor interested in buying a franchise and moving the team here. He said 15 to 25 potential minority investors are also interested, but he wouldn’t name any of them. “There’s only two ways to get this done: acquire an existing franchise or get an expansion franchise,” Miller said. “You don’t get either one if you don’t have a behemoth investor. What’s different this time is we have our own billionaire — who is among the richest people in the world.” Miller wouldn’t say where the potential investor is from, or even if he resides outside of the country.
Louisville Metro Council members have been funding a behind-the-scenes push to lure a National Basketball Association team to the city, spending $60,000 to contract with attorney J. Bruce Miller to approach teams and potential investors. Council members are considering spending an additional $22,000 toward the effort, taking the money from their own discretionary to funds to pay for it.
For his part, Louisville Mayor-elect Greg Fischer is non-commital about the NBA. “He would certainly be interested in hearing about it and hearing people’s thoughts,” said Chris Poynter, a Fischer spokesman. “It could be an exciting prospect for the city, but it’s a little too early to tell right now.”
A Courier-Journal sports columnist from 2004 to 2006, Brewer also knows Louisville’s sports culture, and he’s confident the region could come to love and support pro basketball. “If you do everything the right way, downtown Louisville would be a true downtown — it would be booming with the NBA,” he said. “The potential for that area around the arena is tremendous. Then, nationally and internationally, the NBA gives you a worldwide brand; you’re one of 30 cities to have a team. And, then, just for your people to have something else to cheer for …” Dufrene agreed. “An NBA franchise would give people another reason to come to Louisville,” he said. “So from the standpoint of attracting outside dollars, it would aid the local economy.”
Though GLI is not currently involved in pursuing an NBA franchise, the organization maintains that a pro team is viable in Louisville, a spokeswoman said. That’s crucial, because professional sports franchises are dependent on support from the corporate community, said Uric Dufrene, an Indiana University Southeast business professor who studies the local economy and is bullish on the idea of an NBA team here. Although Louisville would be one of the smaller cities in the league, Dufrene is confident the business community is strong enough to support a team. “Any franchise would likely require so many corporate suites to be sold in advance, as well as season ticket sales,” said Dufrene, who, it should be noted, has signed onto the “Bring the Sacramento Kings to Louisville” Facebook fan page. “So I do think Louisville could support such a team. But it would depend on the amount of corporate support primarily.”
And while the University of Louisville’s “primary tenant” status might scare off NBA owners looking for a fresh start, NBA advocates in Louisville differ on whether it’s a dealbreaker. Besides, there’s always Freedom Hall. (That’s not a joke.) For Doyle and his crew, all other hurdles are irrelevent. “I don’t think there’s a shortage of people in Louisville who want to go to basketball games,” said Neal Turpin, one of the instigators behind “Bring the Sacramento Kings to Louisville.” “I have nothing official to go on, I just think this city loves basketball.”
With pro teams in other nearby cities, they wondered why Louisville couldn’t have one. They got to talking about rumors and reports that some NBA franchises are unhappy with their current homes. These teams might soon seek a fresh start someplace else. Why not Louisville? As issues-oriented 20somethings are wont to do, one of the guys took a seat at the computer and created a Facebook fan page titled, “Bring the Sacramento Kings to Louisville,” complete with a rendering of a Louisville Kings logo. Within a day, 1,000 signed on; it had more than 6,000 a month later. “College sports are all we have, so that’s why we’re a college town,” said Doyle, a high school music teacher. “But what if we just brought an NBA team here? That’s all it would take. If we just had a team here we’d be more than a college town. It’s not just an NBA team, but all the stuff that comes with it. The restaurants, the hotels — it would be a boon for our economy and a boost to our reputation.”“Bring the Sacramento Kings to Louisville” caught the attention of the media here and in California, where it spawned a handful of rival Facebook efforts dedicated to keeping the team there. Collectively, fewer than 1,000 people have signed on.
The excitement over the new KFC Yum! Center has some on the Internet calling for Louisville to once again try to get an NBA team to move to the city. But at this point it seems like a long shot. U of L hasn’t even played its first official game at the center. Yet, on the Internet, there are calls to try and attract an existing NBA team to Louisville. There is a Facebook page called “Bring the Sacramento Kings to Louisville.” The Fox TV affiliate in that California city has also reported on the Facebook effort.