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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Ever since the Grizzlies were up and relocated to Memphis there seems to have been a longing for another NBA franchise in Canada. And up to recently there was that talk of the troubled Sacramento Kings team possibly relocating back to Vancouver. And we have a few Canucks trying to make it happen. A guy by the name of Garret Fergusson has started this online petition to bring the NBA back to Vancouver to help the cause a little.
Yet Aquilini was quick to add that an NBA future for Vancouver isn’t far-fetched, as long as key questions regarding the ability of the market to support a franchise could be answered. “I think if there was enough support, enough of a fan base, definitely the arena is ready to go,” Aquilini said. “There was a basketball team here before, the building is really plug-and-play. We could start tomorrow if we wanted to. But the question is always about market size. That really is the issue. The (Grizzlies) did leave Vancouver for a reason, because there just wasn’t enough market support. If there was, they wouldn’t have left in the first place. We’re continually doing work on that, to assess whether there is enough of a market for an NBA team in Vancouver.”
Responding to questions that have arisen following comments Friday on ESPN Seattle radio that Vancouver is the “most viable” destination should the ownership group of the Kings exhaust their attempts to remain in Sacramento following a failed deal to construct a new arena, Vancouver Canucks and Rogers Arena owner Francesco Aquilini said he is not actively in pursuit of bringing the league back to the city the Grizzlies called home from 1995-96 through 2000-01. While preferring not to address the Sacramento situation directly, Aquilini told The Province on Monday: “I can tell you we don’t have any plans to bring an NBA team to Vancouver.”
“We know that David Stern has always wanted to make this as global as possible. And everything that I’m hearing is that the China experiment failed, that the current owners are not interested in expanding into Europe anytime soon,” Bucher said. “This is a way to expand back globally a little bit without it being too risky.”
With investor Chris Hansen working to build an arena in Seattle, Vancouver wouldn’t seem to be first in line for a relocated franchise, but Bucher said the city has a few things working in its favor. “They have the corporate infrastructure, they have a building that they can readily move into … they also have a very hot hockey team there currently,” he said, referring to the Canucks, who are in first place in the Northwest Division. “It’s a place that [the NBA] doesn’t want to give up on.”
The Sacramento Kings might be on the move after all now that their arena deal has fallen apart. But now it seems Seattle has a new, unexpected competitor in its attempt to land an NBA team. Ric Bucher, an NBA reporter for ESPN, told “The Kevin Calabro Show” on Friday that if the Kings were to leave Sacramento, Vancouver, British Columbia would be a “very viable spot.” “Maybe, quite honestly, the most viable spot right now among places that gets the next NBA franchise that is on the move,” Bucher said.
For more than five years, Canucks Sports and Entertainment chairman Francesco Aquilini has eyed the NBA, looking for a portable franchise that could be bought for a bargain and moved to Vancouver. Those sights are now set on the New Orleans Hornets. Sources say Aquilini, whose family owns the NHL’s Canucks but was never involved with basketball’s Vancouver Grizzlies, is inspecting the Hornets, who are being sold by the NBA and could be relocated in the next few years. During an interview this week, commissioner David Stern said Vancouver is one of several markets interested in a relocated NBA franchise, and went out of his way to praise the strong business performance of the Canucks.
Aquilini did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday. One source familiar with his NBA flirtations said Aquilini would require partners to finance a purchase, but that the NBA is impressed with the family’s stewardship of the Canucks. “We’ve had visits from, believe it or not, Vancouver, where the Canucks are absolutely doing a spectacular job,” Stern told ESPN.
The following is a list of cities that are either most likely or most deserving locations for a relocated team, either now or down the road. Expansion is not only unlikely but improbable, so were any of these teams to earn a team it would have to be because they failed in their current market. That could be the case with the Hornets soon, which is where all the KC talk is coming from. In any event, here they are—the Top 5 most likely team relocaton destinations: #5 – Vancouver, BC – While things didn’t work out for the Grizzlies there, Vancouver actually wasn’t a horrible NBA town. Bad management is what caused the downfall of the franchise in British Columbia, not the city’s lack of interest in hoops. It could be perfectly fine again, if given the opportunity, though I’m not sure the stigma left by the Grizzlies will be easily overcome, especially with so many other reasonable options out there.