NBA shows biz side

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Recently, I was at the Vegas Golden Knights’ practice and team owner Bill Foley was in attendance, watching from a perch high above the practice rink alongside team president George McPhee and general manager Kelly McCrimmon.

Access to Foley was not possible. But if it were, I would have made my way over to him and asked him if he was interested in getting into the pro basketball business.

The NBA is exploring expansion in the hopes of recouping some of its lost revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic. The league would go from its current 30 teams to 32. When, where and if that will take place, only commissioner Adam Silver knows. It will likely take a couple of years, but the number being bandied about to join the Association is $2.5 billion. 

When Foley joined the NHL in 2016, it was for a then-record $500 million. According to Forbes, the Knights are worth $570 million. I’d say that’s a pretty good investment. The NHL will play next October with 32 teams. The Seattle Kraken paid $650 million to be that 32nd team and they’re already sold out for their inaugural season in 2021-22.

That’s the NHL. The NBA is at a higher plateau. The $2.5 billion number for expansion is more than any previous sale price for a team. In 2019, the Brooklyn Nets went for $2.35 billion. When Steve Ballmer bought the Clippers in 2014, the cost was $2 billion. Last year, the Utah Jazz sold for $1.6 billion.

Currently, the Minnesota Timberwolves are on the market and could fetch somewhere in that $1.5 billion neighborhood. Glen Taylor, who has owned the franchise since its inception, paid $32.5 million in 1989 to join the NBA.

So, where will the NBA expand to? Seattle should be at the top of the list. It has a great history with the SuperSonics, a new arena being build for the Kraken and ever since Clay Bennett purchased the team and moved it to Oklahoma City, Seattle has been bereft of NBA basketball. It is also the home to the WNBA champion Seattle Storm so that probably doesn’t hurt.

Las Vegas has been a strong supporter of the NBA. It has hosted preseason and playoff games along with an All-Star Game. It has been the home for the NBA Summer League for nearly two decades. It has a state-of-the-art facility in T-Mobile Arena and Vegas, as a destination, would be popular with fans.

Also, it’s a basketball town. Long before the Knights and Raiders called Las Vegas home, it was famous for UNLV and the Runnin’ Rebels’ success. If UNLV ever gets good again, the Thomas & Mack will be full.

The other thing Vegas has going for it is, like Seattle, it already has a WNBA team. When MGM decided to get into the game and moved the San Antonio team to Vegas in 2018, it was undoubtedly with the intent of showing the NBA it wanted to join that league.

Back then, Jim Murren was in charge and the company was doing well financially. Today, Bill Hornbuckle calls the shots and business has been in a freefall since last March when the coronavirus caused casinos across the country to close, including all of MGM’s interests.

Is MGM in a position to pony up $2.5 billion to put another anchor tenant into T-Mobile Arena? Would it partner with Foley and split the costs to join the NBA? Would Foley even want to own a basketball team? Or would a different party come into the picture as an ownership group?

Could that party include Mark Davis? The Las Vegas Raiders owner purchased the WNBA’s Aces from MGM last week. Maybe that’s the first step in Davis being part of a consortium to obtain an NBA expansion franchise for Las Vegas.

All that said, there are other markets the NBA would want to look at. It might make sense to expand into Canada and have a second team join the Raptors. Could Vancouver, which had a team before relocating to Memphis, get a second chance? Would Montreal be a viable option?

What about Mexico? The NBA has played numerous games in Mexico City over the years. Having the only major pro sports league franchise in that country would no doubt be a financial coup.

Back in the U.S., there are numerous markets ready to have an NBA team. Louisville has shown interest. The NBA once had teams in Kansas City and St. Louis. Both cities would love to be back in. Pittsburgh is a possibility where a rivalry with the Philadelphia 76ers would quickly emerge. Tampa is hosting the Toronto Raptors the season as they currently can’t play in Canada. A third team in Florida to go with Miami and Orlando? Perhaps.

There are no lack of options. Some of the aforementioned potential cities could also be in play as landing spots for relocation. Taylor is insisting that whoever purchases the T-Wolves keep the team in Minneapolis. The Benson family, which owns the New Orleans Pelicans and may be interested in selling, would likely ask for a similar provision and demand that any purchaser keep the team in the Big Easy.

But whatever happens, it’s going to take some folks with some very deep pockets to join this exclusive club called the NBA. For the 30 existing members, that $5 billion in expansion fees they’ll divvy up will help ease the financial pain of the past pandemic-plagued year. Sure, the product will be diluted even further. But look at it this way, you’ll have two more teams to bet on — or against.

About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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