Notwithstanding any plans the league has to come back, Metro Vancouver is in a better position now to host an NBA basketball franchise and would be an increasingly attractive market over the next 20 years, according to a report from the Conference Board of Canada released Monday.
Hodgson and Lefebvre believe Vancouver could economically support an NBA team within the next 20 years, but not a Major League Baseball team. The city still wouldn’t be a big enough market for big-league baseball, they say, although the authors believe Montreal could witness a return of big-league baseball by 2035. Hodgson and Lefebvre’s 188-page report, Power Play: The Business Economics of Pro Sports, examines the economic conditions the cities that host major pro-sports leagues, the operating conditions of leagues and addresses the hot topic of who should pay for new pro sports facilities.
There have been rumblings, mostly wishful thinking perhaps, that the NBA does want to give Vancouver another shot. “That would be great,” said Nash, who owns a piece of the MLS Vancouver Whitecaps. “I think it could work. It would be tough, but I think it could work. And I think the lessons learned the first time and lack of, let’s say, certainty, would really benefit it’s cause. “Toronto is one of the bigger cities in North America (and) Vancouver isn’t quite on that level. But I think it’s still a great sports community and it’s very viable, especially considering some of the failing cities we’ve got right now.”
Now according to a recent report by the Conference Board of Canada, economic and demographic trends suggest Vancouver could support another NBA franchise. Vancouver, like Montréal, is projected to see a population increase of over 1 million over the next 25 years, and it should attract more corporate headquarters. Most of the population increase will be due to immigration, much of which will come from Asia, where the popularity of basketball has grown rapidly. Vancouver demonstrated its appetite for basketball with the Grizzlies, and that appetite should continue to grow. Although the Grizzlies left Vancouver following the 2000–01 season, the population of the Vancouver CMA at that time was barely 2 million and the Canadian dollar was sinking. Those conditions have now changed. The NBA could return to Vancouver one day and be successful there, especially if the Canadian dollar remains strong. With a population of 3.5 million in 2035, the Vancouver market will be large enough to sustain franchises in the NHL, Canadian Football League (CFL), Major League Soccer, and the NBA—but not MLB.
The city already has a NBA ready sports complex in the Rogers Arena, which has a sitting capacity of 19,700 for basketball games. The building housed the Grizzlies prior to their move to Memphis. However, many still question whether the Vancouver market could support the NBA. Attendance was not much of an issue during the franchises first four years in Vancouver, but it significantly declined after the shortened lockout season and the sale to Michael Heisley. Francesco Aquilini, owner of the Vancouver Canucks, are among those that are not entirely sold on the city’s support for the NBA.