Storyline: NBA Expansion

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Dan Issel spent the end of this past week in Springfield, Mass. The Kentucky Wildcats basketball icon traveled north to see his former Denver Nuggets teammate, Bobby Jones, inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. While hobnobbing with fellow hoops Hall of Famers, Issel planned to do some lobbying designed to bring attention to the effort he heads to bring an NBA expansion franchise to the city of Louisville. “I plan to talk to everybody I can about NBA to Lou,” Issel said Friday. “I’ve really been encouraged in my two days in Springfield (by) how many people around professional basketball know about our efforts to bring a team (to Louisville).”

Issel, 70, said the uncertainty over when/if the NBA will add teams is “a little frustrating in the fact we don’t have a timetable. We think the NBA is going to expand. We think there are a couple of reasons why they will. But we don’t have a timetable to work with.” Exclusive access for NBA owners to a large pool of money is the primary factor that will eventually compel the league to add teams, Issel said. “The owners have to split all of the Basketball Related Income, the BRI, which is ticket sales, television (rights fees), all of that stuff, 50-50 with the players,” Issel said, referencing the league’s collective-bargaining agreement. “Expansion fees are not BRI, so the expansion fees the owners would collect would go directly to the owners’ pocketbooks.”

Chris Hansen’s bid for a new NBA arena in Seattle continued recently, after he bought up a pair of properties in the city’s SoDo neighborhood. His real estate adviser told the Puget Sound Business Journal that the entrepreneur has not given up on hopes of building an arena for a men’s pro basketball team. According to property records, Hansen bought two parcels of land in SoDo for almost $5 million. Any potential arena would still require Seattle’s City Council to sell him part of Occidental Avenue.

Las Vegas might eventually land an NBA team, but expansion or relocation aren’t in the current plans, commissioner Adam Silver said. He will be in Las Vegas for the NBA Summer League, which begins Friday at the Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion. Various league meetings also will take place, including one involving the Board of Governors in which significant decisions are made. The first two days of the Summer League are sold out. “While we, of course, don’t have an NBA team in Las Vegas, this seems like the next best thing,” Silver said Thursday. “For roughly two weeks of the calendar in July, enormous attention is on the NBA. I believe we account for roughly 30,000 room nights during that two-week period that we’re there.

Mason Plumlee: I realize Canada has different economic conditions than Mexico, but the Raptors have proven that an NBA franchise is a solid investment. The Raptors are the most valuable pro sports team in Canada (worth around $2B), more than the Maple Leafs and Blue Jays. My guess is that with the right partner, solid infrastructure and a long-term commitment, a Mexico City franchise could be a giant. Some logistics related to taxes, customs and immigration would need to be sorted out with the government, but maybe that could be part of Trump’s secret tariff deal.

Unlike David Stern, who said “I don’t think we can go back” to Vancouver 10 years ago, Silver provided hope for local hoops fans. “In retrospect, I wish we had a team in Vancouver right now. I think Canada could handle two NBA teams,” said Silver. “I share David’s sentiment that we do have regret. I think we were a bit ahead of our time. There was a moment in the league where prospects seemed down in terms of the team. Attendance was down, ratings were down. I understood from an economic standpoint why the then-team owner (Michael Heisley) wanted to move the team.”

As the league continues to extend its reach across the world going forward, Charlotte Hornets guard Tony Parker envisions a future in which the NBA has teams playing in Europe, whether as part of the current league structure or in a system that would allow successful overseas clubs to qualify for competition against their American counterparts. “Hopefully the discussion will go forward with the NBA. Maybe one day we will have an NBA Europe. Or something like that,” he said in a recent interview with Forbes. “Maybe not a European team playing in the NBA but maybe an NBA Europe where you’ll have an own division and then the winners can play in the U.S. I think that in the NBA they are very interested in the prospect of doing something in Europe. Basketball in Europe is growing every year and is getting better and better.”

In an interview with the St. Louis Business Journal last week, Chaifetz doubled down on a statement he made in September and a recent Twitter post regarding a possible NBA franchise in St. Louis. “I’d love to be involved with a team in St. Louis in the NBA. It’d be great for the city,” Chaifetz said. Ten years ago, Chaifetz’ dream of an NBA franchise in St. Louis would have brought forth laughter. But the Rams relocated to Los Angeles and the NBA is now being touted as the American sports league most in touch with younger fans, social media and minority television audiences.

Six months since his acrimonious exit from the NBA2LOU organization, Miller has not stopped working the phones or cultivating potential owners. Previously on record that the NBA2LOU effort cannot survive league scrutiny because of financial issues associated with Signature CEO Joe Steier, Miller is now operating independently and, again, optimistically. “It hasn’t been a lost cause in the sense that it was hopeless,” he said. “We darn near had it two or three times.”

“What I’m looking for is somebody who would do something for Louisville what Danny Thomas did for Memphis,” Miller said. “And I’m not talking, necessarily, about a movie star. What he did with (St. Jude Children’s) hospital changed Memphis, Tennessee. That place is just breathtaking. That’s exactly what I’m looking for: somebody coming in and doing something like what Danny Thomas did for Memphis’ reputation. I think that person is out there.”

If you’ve lived in Louisville for any amount of time, you know this city goes wild for its basketball: high school and, of course, college. “It’s just time for that next step,” NBA Hall of Famer Dan Issel said. He’s leading the charge to bring an NBA team to town. The former UK Wildcat, Denver Nugget and executive updated the public on his dream at a lunch for entrepreneurs Wednesday afternoon. “There have been discussions for years about bringing the NBA to Louisville, but we think the timing is right now,” Issel said.

He knows his plan isn’t a slam dunk. The price tag is hefty. It would take more than $1 billion to bring a team here and another $400 million to get the franchise up and running. “You’d be surprised by how many people, how many groups can write that kind of check,” he told the crowd. He knows his plan isn’t a slam dunk. The price tag is hefty. It would take more than $1 billion to bring a team here and another $400 million to get the franchise up and running. “You’d be surprised by how many people, how many groups can write that kind of check,” he told the crowd.

“It was just awful to me,” he continued. “I still remember granting the expansion franchise (and) I was so thrilled that we had a franchise in Vancouver. “It was never managed to great success.” Stern also believes there’s a chance the NBA might one day return to Canada’s west coast. “I would never say never about anything,” he said. “I’m an observer, so I’m watching from afar as they build a (US)$700-million building in Seattle. Vancouver still has a great building that it had when we were there.”

Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini is a rich man, but an NBA franchise looks like it might be out of his price range. At least for now. The billionaire, who grew up in East Vancouver and owns both the Canucks and Rogers Arena, spoke about the possibility of bringing an NBA team to Vancouver in an interview with Sportsnet 650 on Thursday. “There’s been some discussions on [bringing an NBA franchise to Vancouver],” Aquilini said. “It’s obvious because we’ve got a building, it’s plug and play. We still have the hoops. We still have the floor. Everything’s there. The locker room and everything is there. We’ve discussed it.”

The words unsurprisingly drew applause from the partisan crowd. At halftime, Las Vegas mayor Carolyn Goodman presented Lakers president of basketball operations and luminary Magic Johnson with the keys to the city on “Magic Johnson Day.” When Johnson spoke on the microphone, he shared a dream. “I hope one day Las Vegas gets an NBA team,” Johnson said to roaring applause. Will that happen? “They’re building the stadiums to get ready for it. With the hockey team and WNBA team that is here and Raiders coming in soon, they’re setting themselves up to have an NBA team,” James said. “But I don’t know if it’s now or 10 years from now.”
1 year ago via ESPN

However, Grizzlies owner Robert Pera would have to sell the team in order to move it under the terms of the lease, and Pera has given no indication he plans to do so. Quite the opposite, actually. Earlier this year, Pera agreed to buy out some of his minority owners at a price that valued the team at nearly $1.3 billion, league sources said. At the time, Pera told season-ticket holders in a statement that “I am committed to Memphis as an NBA market and as the home of the Grizzlies.”
1 year ago via ESPN

Oak View is planning an ambitious engineering feat, which Leiweke is quick to point out is not a renovation but a new structure. The issue is that the arena’s iconic roof has been designated a national historic landmark and can’t be altered. The arena is also built into the side of a hill in a neighborhood that has turned more residential in the past decade with more than 40 former parking and vacant lots turned into housing as it sits near Amazon’s world headquarters. So to expand the outdated arena, Oak View is planning to dig down and around the roof and several exterior glass walls to gut and expand the building’s footprint. First pegged as a $600 million project, Leiweke told ESPN the price tag is now projected at $750 million.

Dan Issel has followed the money far enough to believe there are buyers. What he doesn’t know, and won’t predict, is when there might be a pro basketball team to buy. The president of NBA2LOU expressed confidence Wednesday night in Louisville’s ability to fund an expansion team, but he conceded that his timetable has grown longer. “Not the least of my worries, but one of my lesser concerns is that when the time comes we’ll find somebody to write the check,” Issel said. “That person is out there. … The challenge we’re going to have is the NBA being ready for us.”

The Louisville Basketball Investment & Support Group is a collective of Louisville investors who are working to attract a majority investor and owner who could help generate at least $1.4 billion to start an NBA franchise in Louisville. The organization has pledges of at least $3 million for startup costs. This was the first official rally for the grassroots movement, but the group plans to host similar events in Lexington and other parts of the state in an effort to build a groundswell of fan support ahead of a possible NBA expansion.

Some around the league see expansion as inevitable, no matter how many times Silver says there are no looming plans for adding teams, since the expansion fee involved would almost certainly cross the $1 billion threshold given current franchise values and the way league revenue, TV ratings and various other metrics tied to general interest in the N.B.A. all continue to trend upward. But maintaining a 30-team league and moving a struggling franchise to Seattle within the next decade might prove to be the easier course.

The National Basketball Association may be returning to the state of Missouri for the first time in over three decades. An anonymous league executive spoke with Jarrett Sutton of SEC Network on Friday and discussed the possibility of the NBA expanding to Kansas City. “Going to be real honest with you, Kansas City will get an NBA team at some point,” he was quoted as saying. “It’s a real thing I’ve heard from multiple sources. Just a matter of time. Seattle and KC to me are [the] most valuable markets for league expansion when it makes sense.”

Speaking at a company analyst and investor day event Thursday, MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren said he expects the NBA to come to Las Vegas in a few years. Murren sees an NBA team relocating like the NFL’s Oakland Raiders’ pending 2020 move to Las Vegas, and not an expansion team being added, like in the case of the NHL’s Golden Knights. “I think it’s highly likely that a team, or multiple teams, will be looking to move over the next three years,” Murren said. “We know who they are, that’s why I think it’s highly likely. I would expect that Las Vegas will have an NBA team within the next five years, if not sooner. That team would likely play at T-Mobile (Arena).”
2 years ago via ESPN

Once upon a time, David Stern’s vision was to expand into Europe, Asia and Africa and make the game global. Now, the next horizon looks as clear and vibrant as a 4K screen: one of Silver’s missions is to bring the game to every fan’s fingertips via smartphones, consoles and computers and reach every corner of the planet as easily as Giannis Antetokounmpo reaches the rim in one stride from the free throw line. The NBA isn’t ready to start a franchise in Europe knowing how international travel would negatively impact players’ rest and health.

David Locke: Is Mexico City a viable NBA city? Adam Silver: Mexico City, I believe, can be a viable NBA city. We’ve played several regular-season games there mid-season. They have a beautiful arena there in Mexico City, obviously a huge, growing fan base—a city of 22 million. It would open up, arguably, a whole country to us in the way Toronto has done for Canada. So it’s something we continue to look at. It would need to be bargained with the players. It’s not about to happen in the next two to three years, but over time, I could see it as a great market to potentially expand to.

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 “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.”

Establishing a G League franchise on Mexican soil would be the latest serious step by the N.B.A. to gain a foothold in Mexico and gauge the viability of putting an N.B.A. team in the largest market in Latin America. While stressing that his league is not actively pursuing expansion or relocation for any of its 30 current franchises, Commissioner Adam Silver has described Mexico City as a natural contender for an eventual N.B.A. team on numerous occasions this year.
2 years ago via ESPN

At least one owner raised the idea of expansion in a recent Board of Governors session, citing the massive expansion fee the 30 current teams would split, sources say. The concept of an expansion fee of potentially more than $1 billion can be tempting because it is not subject to splitting 50/50 with the players. Adam Silver, the league’s commissioner, has repeatedly said the league has no short-term plans to expand, though he labeled expansion at some point “inevitable” during a recent interview in The Players Tribune.

Silver was reluctant to put a specific timeline on potential expansion for the NBA or Seattle, but said it was inevitable. Via The Players’ Tribune: I think it’s just a question of when the right time is to seriously start thinking about expansion. Think about the state we’re in the league right now where [it is] amazing to me that, coming off of these Finals, you have some fans saying, “There’s only one good team in the league” And I’m thinking, well, if people really believe that even though we have 450 of the best players in the world, and 450 players can only form one really good team, probably doesn’t make sense to expand in terms of dilution of talent. Now I don’t really believe that, and I think these things correct themselves. And I don’t want to put a precise timeline on it, but it’s inevitable at some point we’ll start looking at growth of franchises, that’s always been the case in this league, and Seattle will no doubt be on a short list of cities we’ll look at.

Adam Silver: “And I’m thinking, well, if people really believe that even though we have 450 of the best players in the world, and 450 players can only form one really good team, probably doesn’t make sense to expand in terms of dilution of talent. Now I don’t really believe that, and I think these things correct themselves. And I don’t want to put a precise timeline on it, but it’s inevitable at some point we’ll start looking at growth of franchises, that’s always been the case in this league, and Seattle will no doubt be on a short list of cities we’ll look at.”

Three separate groups of investors who are interested in financing a professional basketball franchise based in Louisville are reportedly expressing a willingness to help pay to bring Freedom Hall up to NBA standards. That cost may be around $150 million, said Jason Rittenberry, president and CEO of Kentucky Venues, the newly rebranded Kentucky State Fair Board. It oversees the state-owned, 60-year-old Freedom Hall situated in the center of the Kentucky Exposition Center.
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October 14, 2019 | 9:25 pm EDT Update