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For Seattle, the only realistic choice is expansion. The reasons for not expanding now are varied, and logical. There’s no reason for owners to split an exploding financial pie further. The NBA is in a boom period, with market size not nearly as important as it used to be. The league does not need to have a team in Seattle, the country’s 14th largest TV market. (The success of the Thunder in Oklahoma City, ironically -- and, sadly for Seattle -- only magnifies the point.)
Seattle was a strong NBA market for many years, going crazy for the Sonics of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, which reached The Finals in 1996. From 1995-99, the Sonics basically sold out Key Arena, and they never averaged less than 14,300 fans from 1991-2007, their next-to-last season in town. The city and surrounding area has a rich tradition of producing NBA talent, including current players Isaiah Thomas, Jamal Crawford, Jason Terry, Marvin Williams, Spencer Hawes, Rodney Stuckey and Aaron Brooks. “Seattle is a far better market than at least 10 NBA cities,” said a very high ranking executive of one of the league’s 29 teams last week.
The other night I reached out to a lot of media and league people in my contact list and simply asked, "Is expansion on the table?" I had 57 people respond, 14 of those either did not comment or said they didn’t know. That leaves 43 other responses. Some that really jumped out were: "With no arena, you’d get 14, maybe 16, votes toward expansion." "I’ve heard there are 14 definitely for it." "It [expansion] is definitely on the table and being discussed." "There are two who are fully no, everyone else can have their mind changed."
Those would be the four most pessimistic responses that I got. The rest were definitely a lot more, well I got goosebumps and it made me giddy. A couple of my favorites: "If Seattle had a new building, they would pass expansion." "An hour after Seattle approves their arena, they’d have an offer in hand."
I’ve heard that once the CBA is finished, the expansion bidding could be announced as soon as December or as late as the All-Star Game in February. There are going to be numerous other cities competing with Seattle to get the expansion franchises as well. I do not know if there is just going to be one slot or two. Other cities I’ve heard that are going to be making a play for expansion are Louisville (they have all their affairs in order and ready to go), Pittsburgh, Omaha, Las Vegas, Vancouver, BC, and Mexico City. Kansas City and St. Louis have been brought up as well, but I can’t confirm the validity of their interest.
The topic of expansion was brought up by a questioner, who was wondering about the viability of a team ever returning to Seattle, which was the home of the Supersonics from 1967 until 2008 before moving to Oklahoma City and changing the name to the Thunder. Silver was quite candid in his response, quickly shutting down the thought of expansion due to financial reasons for the league's owners as well as from a business standpoint concerning the NBA as a whole. "The issue with the NBA right now, is every team in essence, can have a global following," Silver said. "The need to expand the footprint by physically putting another team in a market becomes less important from a league standpoint. And therefore, the way the owners see expansion at the moment is really the equivalent of selling equity in the (league).
"We are 30 partners right now. Thirty teams. Each of those teams own 1/30th of all the global opportunities of the NBA. So the issue becomes, if you expand, do you want to sell one of those interests off to a new group of partners? One reason to do it of course, is that if its additive. And no doubt, Seattle is a great market. At the moment, like for me as successful as the league is right now, we (are) not in the position, putting even aside profitability, where all 30 teams are must-see experiences. That's not a secret."
There had been speculation that when Silver took over in February 2014, his primary goal was to expand the NBA into Europe, likely London or Paris. “We are not actively taking steps to bring a franchise to Europe or to expand to Europe. It’s something that we’ve looked at over the years,” Silver said. “It just doesn’t feel like the time is ripe right now, especially given what’s going on . . . with the Euroleague and FIBA. We think the best place for the NBA right now is to showcase an NBA game here in London, to play our preseason games here, and to work on a grass-roots level to develop the game. But at the current time, we are not looking at franchises in Europe.”
Q: It’s no secret that the NBA want a franchise in Europe, how do the players feel about that? Nikola Vucevic: Obviously it would be nice for us European players if you had a franchise in Europe but I think it would be hard to do because of the travel. It takes a long time to get from Europe to the US and also the time difference would really affect the players as well so I don’t know if it’s doable. Obviously it would be great for the NBA to have a European franchise but I don’t know how it would work out but I don’t know if it’s doable for geography reasons.
Nobody is throwing around the E word yet. “We don’t have specific plans to expand to Mexico City in the near future,” says NBA commissioner Adam Silver. Security is a concern. In 1997, the Houston Rockets traveled to Mexico City for a regular season game. When they arrived, they were warned: Be wary of traveling to certain areas because kidnappings were rampant. In a briefing, Rockets players were told that the U.S. had recently set up an office in Mexico to deal with the kidnapping of U.S. citizens. That day the top official from that office was kidnapped. Things haven’t improved much. There were more than 100,000 kidnappings in 2012, according to the U.S. State Department, and a recent survey found that total crimes in 2014 (33.1) were up nearly 50% from 2011.
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