Does last week’s Seattle City Council vote to approve renovation of Key Arena, or the NHL’s announcement Thursday that Seattle could apply for an expansion team for an expansion fee of $650 million, do anything to accelerate the return of the NBA to the Emerald City? Short answer: probably not. But it isn’t a step backward either.
The NHL confirmed what had been rumored for months at its Board of Governors meeting — Seattle is a definite target for hockey, which has 31 teams and needs a 32nd to balance out both its conferences and its schedules. The NHL will allow members of the Oak View Group, which successfully lobbied the Seattle City Council to approve its plan to spend $660 million to renovate both the Arena and the nearby Seattle Center, to begin a season ticket drive for the potential expansion team. Hockey’s timetable for expansion is thus clearly and substantially ahead of the NBA’s.
Though NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said earlier this year that he believes expansion is “inevitable,” there is no indication among league owners and other sources that there’s any current appetite among NBA owners to add one or two new teams. The obvious reason why is there is no appetite among them to further split the $24 billion from the new national TV deal, which runs through 2024. (As ever, in the interests of full disclosure: Turner Sports, one of the NBA’s national television partners along with ESPN/ABC, runs NBA.com.) “I don’t see expansion,” one owner said this weekend. “A move is the only way.”
However, longtime Seattle sport columnist Art Thiel wrote last week that a source “with knowledge of the league’s long-range thinking” believes the NBA could expand when the current TV deal expires, meaning 2025 at the absolute earliest. Several owners told me a few weeks ago: that while there is strong support for Seattle, there’s just no desire to expand. Thiel’s source said that Seattle and Mexico City were the two current favorites among owners, and the league has done nothing to dissuade the idea that it’s zeroed in on Mexico City as a potential expansion target.
But another said Sunday that talk of adding anyone to the current 30-team mix is premature. Owners remain unenthusiastic when there are still several teams who are losing money in their current markets, even with significant increases in revenues, a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that ensures labor peace through at least 2023 (2024 if neither the players nor owners opt out) and enhanced revenue sharing. “We haven’t discussed expansion,” the owner said. “However, Seattle is a market that I believe the majority of owners would want to be in.”