Sunday, August 24, 2008

NBA Blogger Roundtable: The Role Of Small Markets In The League, Part I




The NBA is economically diverse while still holding a strong emphasis on larger markets. One concept that's being discussed is replacing Seattle's larget market team with a small market team, like Memphis. I wanted to know what other people thought of whether there is a market inequality that exists in the NBA. After all, the Lakers and Celtics aren't just the winningest franchises in the league, it's not even close. Combined, the small market teams whose bloggers I questioned have 6 NBA championships. One of those was the Kings' championship as the Rochester Royals. Four were the Spurs. Combined, they have 14 Finals appearances. The Knicks and Sixers together have 17.

So I did a roundtable with some of the best bloggers out there, and these are their answers. Here are the questions I asked.

1. Do you actively consider your team a small market when you discuss it, and how does that affect your outlook on the league?

2. Do you feel like there is an inherent bias by any force (media, fans, the league) against small market teams? If so, how has that affected your team?

3. Should a large market team like Seattle have its team replaced by a small market team?

4. Do you feel like the NBA can be successful with many of its teams in smaller markets?

5. Do you actively worry about your team getting poached for a larger market? If so, why, and if not, why not?

6. Are small market teams good for the league? If so, why, and if not, why not?

7. Is a dominance by large market teams good for the league outside of pure profitability? If so, why, and if not, why not?

8. Any other thoughts on the subject? Think the whole discussion is silly? Think that "hick town" should never have gotten the Sonics?
Our panel:

Josh Coleman and Chip Crain from Three Shades of Blue
Brett Hainline from Queen City Hoops
Frank from BrewHoop
Ben Q. Rock from Third Quarter Collapse
Tom Ziller from Sactown Royalty
Graydon Gordian from 48 Minutes of Hell
Rock King from Waiting For Next Year

1. Do you actively consider your team a small market when you discuss it, and how does that affect your outlook on the league?

Chip Crain, Three Shades of Blue: And as a small market team you have to accept facts that you aren't going to get a red carpet treatment from the league. We aren't going to get all the network broadcasts that other teams get and not just now that the team is bad either. Memphis didn't get network coverage when they were a playoff team. The last two seasons Memphis has had more back to back games with travel than any other team in the league. If Memphis had been more successful early on (maybe one a playoff game or two) then we could have moved up the ladder of respect so the team has to share a large part of the burden. Bigger cities are given respect. Small markets have to earn it and so far Memphis hasn't earned it.

Josh Coleman, Three Shades of Blue: Absolutely, Memphis is a small market. Last time I checked, only post-Katrina New Orleans is truly smaller than the home of the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. It does force me to keep my head out of the clouds when assessing the realities of the correlation between market size and appeal to free agents. However, at the same time, I believe that if an organization is consistently well-run (San Antonio, Utah, Indiana), then it has just as much opportunity to be successful long-term as those in the big cities. After all, the Clippers, Knicks and post-Jordan Bulls haven’t exactly been the favored destination of many high profile stars on the open market, despite their advantage in market size and all that comes with it, such as additional television coverage and endorsement opportunities. Even Boston with its storied history had difficulty finding suitable help for Paul Pierce until Seattle held a fire sale and Celtic legend Kevin McHale decided to lend his former team a helping hand. It is more difficult for smaller markets to compete consistently, but not impossible by any stretch.

Brett Hainline, Queen City Hoops: I'm too busy thinking of my team as poorly run due to incompetent ownership and management to also consider the ramifications of being from a smaller market. In all seriousness, I just think of them as any other team when talking about them - a team with less history than any other, from a city that already chased off one team.

Frank, BrewHoop: Absolutely. In fact, the Bucks face the dual problems of playing in a small market AND taking a backseat to the Packers, Brewers, and UW teams among Wisconsin sports fans. Herb Kohl has generally been willing to spend the money to keep the team competitive, so that masks their revenue-generating problems a bit. But there's no question that the combination of playing in one of the NBA's smallest television markets and having one of the league's more obsolete arenas creates serious long-term hurdles.

Still, I think at the end of the day well-run teams with decent arena situations can be competitive regardless of market size. It's still a superstar league, so you don't need to stockpile overpriced free agents and spend well over the luxury tax threshold to win games, and I think that's the most important thing from a small market team's perspective. I think most of the problems associated with being a small market team can be cured by building a quality organization that wins games, something the Bucks haven't been able to do for most of the last two decades. Selling tickets and getting an arena built are a lot easier when you're putting a quality product on the court.

Ben Q. Rock, Third Quarter Collapse: It's funny what winning can do for a fan's perception of a city. I couldn't care less about Orlando's "small-market"ness now that it fields a contending team.

Tom Ziller, Sactown Royalty: That Sacramento is an outpost of the NBA and not a market is always in the back of your mind during the season. It matters less due to the billionaire playboy owners and the salary cap, but it's still there. With regards to the outlook of a small market fan, well ... we get stuff like the Game 6 conspiracy spewed at us constantly. With all the noise about David Stern's favoritism for large markets, it makes you sometimes wish you were a Dallas or Chicago, just to see if the grass is any greener. But overall, concerns about being a small market measure only a fraction of the concern about Mikki Moore being our starting power forward.

Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: I do consider my team (San Antonio) a small market team. We are the third smallest city with a NBA franchise, behind Memphis and New Orleans, although the Spurs are the only professional sports franchise in South Texas, giving them a broader fan base than just San Antonio proper. This does actively affect my outlook on the league. I have a tendency to feel solidarity with other small market teams, as well as harbor resentment for major market teams, in particular Boston and LA.

Rock King, Waiting For Next Year:
To be honest, no, I don’t see the Cavaliers as a small market team right now. Their visibility is as high as any other team right now, thanks largely to LeBron. But nobody is on national TV more than the Cavs right now. The Cavs have the 4th highest payroll in the league. The Cavs were 8th in the Association in jersey sales last year, despite not adding a single marquee name. LeBron was 4th in individual jersey sales despite not having changed teams or jersey numbers in the past 5 years. The Cavaliers exposure in China is huge thanks to LeBron’s marketing blitz there, Damon Jones’ shoe deal there, and the fact that the NBA sent the Cavs to China last summer for an exhibition tour. I’m not an idiot, I know why Cleveland is called a small market. The city of Cleveland’s demographics are suffering, and they’re only getting worse. In just the past 7 years Cleveland has seen an 8% decrease in population. It has a poor national image as this city that’s dark, dirty, and always cloudy and cold. My point, though, is that in the NBA, thanks to the beautiful CBA and soft salary cap designed to help teams keep their most prized assets, the playing field is significantly leveled. Furthermore, if you have a mega star of LeBron’s caliber, the Cavaliers have proven that exposure isn’t hurt by the small size of the city. If you are smart about it and know how to market your stars nationally, you can survive just fine and operate on close to, if not the same, level as the supposed “large market” teams.



2. Do you feel like there is an inherent bias by any force (media, fans, the league) against small market teams? If so, how has that affected your team?

Chip Crain, Three Shades of Blue: Yes I do but that is human nature. Consider this. Memphis’ rookie team plays their 5 Las Vegas league games over 6 days. The only televised game was last night (the 3rd game in 3 nights) and the Grizzlies looked bad. The Lakers had the previous day off and were much fresher. The only teams in the Vegas league that have played 3 games so far are the Grizzlies and the Clippers. Does that seem fair? Some teams have only played one game so far. Our rookies will get fewer days to play together with the coaches and that means less time to work on things before training camp. Is it bias against a small market or just bias against bad teams however is the question. I tend to lean on the bias against bad teams over all.

Josh Coleman, Three Shades of Blue: I think a bias does exist, although I don’t believe that is a bias borne of malevolent intentions. After all, that’s why the trades that made the Celtics and Lakers "great" once again were seen as "donations" by fans and media alike – because it was compared to minor league teams sending prospects up to "the big club". It was reminiscent to the way that the Yankees of the 90's would snag players from the haphazard Kansas City Royals, who simply couldn’t afford to pay the prospects who were nearing a new contract after fulfilling their promise and potential. In the same way, the Grizzlies and Timberwolves couldn’t afford to carry a max player who wasn’t a true #1 option while rebuilding around youth after years of the dreaded state of "being stuck in the middle". There is nothing worse for a franchise than being just good enough to make the playoffs, but not good enough to make it beyond the first round. This is especially true for small market teams that aren’t likely to be able to draw in the higher profile free agents that could put them over the top, while still being outside of the high lottery, where the majority of true difference makers are drafted.

Brett Hainline, Queen City Hoops: I would not say there is a bias by the media - it makes business sense to devote more coverage to teams with larger fan bases. By the league? I don't think the Bobcats are the subject of biased officiating or anything like that - teams that suck tend to get (earn) fewer calls. Fans? I'd say the bias I have noticed towards the Cats tends to be more based around the idea that Bobcats fans must be ignorant rednecks, because we're in the south. But that is no different from every day life, is it?

Frank, BrewHoop: I don't think there's any question that fans, media, and the league itself have less interest in places like Milwaukee, Indiana, and Sacramento. Part of that is simply not having the star power of the higher profile teams, which is understandable. Obviously if you have LeBron then you'll be covered no matter where you play. And it's also justifiable to some extent because big markets mean bigger ratings. While I'd love to think the NBA wants to equally promote all their teams, I'm not naive enough to think every team is treated equally.

But that also means the Bucks have to work harder for the same attention as the Knicks and Lakers. On some level it's not always a bad thing that the team isn't constantly under the microscope, but it can also be frustrating given national media is often fairly ignorant of what's happening in smaller markets. I know the "experts" don't have the same incentives to watch Bucks games as Knicks games, but it's frustrating when the national media doesn't seem very knowledgable about your team in the rare instances that they do talk about it.

Ben Q. Rock, Third Quarter Collapse: I don't think the media are biased against Orlando, but some fans might be. Based on what I've culled from blog comments and message boards, Orlando is nothing but a Mickey Mouse town with idiotic fans and soft players. That ignorance used to bother me, but I'm over it now. Let them be stupid.

Tom Ziller, Sactown Royalty: That Sacramento is an outpost of the NBA and not a market is always in the back of your mind during the season. It matters less due to the billionaire playboy owners and the salary cap, but it's still there. With regards to the outlook of a small market fan, well ... we get stuff like the Game 6 conspiracy spewed at us constantly. With all the noise about David Stern's favoritism for large markets, it makes you sometimes wish you were a Dallas or Chicago, just to see if the grass is any greener. But overall, concerns about being a small market measure only a fraction of the concern about Mikki Moore being our starting power forward.

Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: I strongly feel that the media, the league, and in some sense “the fans” all have a bias against small market teams. The question for me is how active or passive is that bias, and from where does that bias originate.

Let’s begin with the league: when asked what would be his ideal finals, Stern replied “Lakers vs. Lakers,” a comment that for me clearly betrays his major market bias. I am not surprised to hear Stern make such a remark. The NBA is a business and from a dollars and cents perspective, having two major market teams meet in the Finals is more profitable for the league and its sponsors (for incontrovertible evidence compare the ratings for Spurs-Cavs to Lakers-Celtics). That being said, I am unconvinced the league aggressively favors major market teams, i.e. fixes games, rigs the draft, etc…clearly if that were the case the Spurs would not have had the success they have over the last decade.

I do believe the NBA (in concert with the media) encourages fans to root for major market teams. It crafts narratives that speak to the importance of major franchises and creates myths around them that could just as easily be fashioned around other teams. The media is complicit in this. Earlier this year I wrote a piece questioning why the Spurs are so often characterized as “boring” for playing low-scoring, defense-centric ball, while the Celtics, who have a similar style, were lauded for their defensive tenacity and “right-way” play. To me the primary difference seemed to be the economic interest that ESPN and the NBA share regarding the success of Boston franchises.

I don’t want to wholeheartedly say the fans are bias because small market teams oftentimes have loyal fan bases, and to overlook those fans by referring to some “general NBA fan” strikes to the root of the problem. Either way, if “general NBA fans” do dislike small market teams (I know the average fan despises my Spurs), I place the blame with the NBA and ESPN specifically. I would like to note that this dynamic is not true of all major sports. In the NFL, teams like Green Bay and Pittsburgh are lionized by both the media and the league. In the MLB, the situation is much worse than in the NBA. No matter anyone’s record, baseball coverage begins and ends in the AL East.

Rock King, Waiting For Next Year: Absolutely. I feel very strongly about this, particularly because it hits so close to home. There’s nothing more disheartening than having to read ESPN, the NY Times, the Boston Herald, CBS SportsLine, etc write story after story about how it’s a done deal that LeBron is leaving Cleveland. It’s blatantly obvious that the major media desperately wants LeBron out of Cleveland and in New York. It’s funny, because LeBron goes on a radio show in Cleveland and says, “I'm dedicated to bringing a championship to this city. I'm bringing a parade to this city. I love this city. I love Northeast Ohio. . . . Right now I can't see myself going anywhere else,” and it’s only reported in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. But when asked a very pointed question about which is his favorite city or his favorite borough, and LeBron gives an honest answer (I’m sure NYC is a lot of players’ favorite city who don’t actually play there), and it’s on the cover of ESPN.com and it’s reported in 84 different newspapers and websites across the country. How isn’t that just a little biased? We have to deal with people printing stereotypes about the city of Cleveland that frankly, just aren’t true, time and time again, and there’s really nothing we can do about it.



3. Should a large market team like Seattle have its team replaced by a
small market team?

Chip Crain, Three Shades of Blue: Should it? No. Will it? I would have to say probably so. Honestly it’s a business not a civic non-profit organization and owners of business have every right to conduct their business in a way that is most profitable. Where owners cross the line is when they force communities to build them palaces for their teams and then abruptly pull out and move the team away leaving the community holding the bag. Memphis spent $250 on the FedEx Forum. If the Grizzlies move too quickly then the city would lose a tremendous amount of money. That is why the Grizzlies contract with the city states that the franchise can not be relocated for 14 years once they moved into FedEx Forum, not once they moved to the city. The community had to protect itself from the major occupant abandoning the building. The thing to remember here is also that Seattle wouldn’t have lost their team if they had been willing to make a similar investment that Memphis did. By refusing to spend the money to build an arena that was state of the art the community left themselves exposed to this happening. I doubt anyone will move a team to Seattle until the city shows it is willing to make the financial commitment to the team that cities such as Oklahoma City and Memphis have.

Josh Coleman, Three Shades of Blue: It is my opinion that Seattle had ample opportunity to keep their own team, but their politicians decided that after financing new facilities for the Mariners and Seahawks, that they didn’t want to take the necessary measures to keep the NBA in town. This was unfortunate for the loyal Sonics fans who desperately tried to fight against the nefarious plot set into motion by the evil overlord Clay Bennett. However, just because they lost their team to a snake oil salesman, that doesn’t mean that another fanbase should have to suffer the same fate just to ease their pain. I think that the obvious solution is for Seattle to be the recipient of an expansion franchise, much in the same way that the fans of Charlotte got the Bobcats after George Shinn (another owner with a less than sterling reputation) moved the Hornets to New Orleans. It also worked for Cleveland after the Browns became the Ravens. Someone buy the city of Seattle a copy of Field of Dreams and tell them to pay attention to the part that says: "If you build it, they will come."

Brett Hainline, Queen City Hoops: As a fan? No. As someone who has an interest in making money (like say, NBA owners)? Yes.

Frank, BrewHoop: I don't feel I'm in a position to pass judgment on Seattle or any other city that's lost its team. Still, as a fan of a team that could move in the next decade or so, I understand that in the long run you need either favorable economics or an owner willing to lose money to compensate for a lack of those economics. For the time being the Bucks have the latter.

If the fan/arena dynamics mean that a team can't make money in a large market but can in a small market, then you can only fight that for so long. As a Bucks fan I'll at least take some solace in the fact that the NBA isn't relocating its teams to only the 30 largest TV markets in the US.

Ben Q. Rock, Third Quarter Collapse: If you're asking if I think its fair that the SuperSonics moved to a smaller city, my answer is an unequivocal "no." I don't know how, exactly, the league figures the team in Oklahoma City will generate more revenue than the one in Seattle did. But I'm hardly an economist.

Tom Ziller, Sactown Royalty: Each relocation situation is different, and the size of markets was but a small consideration in the overall proceedings in Seattle (obviously). Couching the loss of the Seattle SuperSonics as any sort of victory for small market basketball is disingenuous. It was a victory for Clay Bennett and publicly financed arenas.

Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: In general, my answer to this question would be no. I understand franchises are for-profit entities, but they seem to inhabit a societal grey area where they are partially within the public trust (this has no legal basis, FYI). I find it unethical to rob a loyal fan-base of its franchise merely because a larger market with no tradition of pro-ball doesn’t have a team. That being said, Seattle, with a tradition of pro-ball that stems back 40 years, deserves an NBA franchise. If it takes a small market team with little-to-no consistent fan support to do it, I won’t kick and scream. I think my point is that my distaste for franchise relocation waxes and wanes with the passion of the fans in each locale, not with the economic interests involved.

Rock King, Waiting For Next Year: In no way can I defend the moving of the Sonics. Having gone through the pain of losing a major franchise once in my life already (I’m referring to the Browns, not the Cleveland Rockers), I know what that feels like, and so I have total and complete sympathize with their fans, right down to them keeping their team name and colors. But to address this issue specifically, as long as a city shows that they have the demographics and enthusiasm for sports to support a professional franchise (which I feel Oklahoma City has), then I don’t see a problem with a large market team moving to a small market city. Again, this couldn’t be done in baseball, but thanks to the way the CBA works, it makes it possible for teams to compete in an even market place.





4. Do you feel like the NBA can be succesful with many of its teams in smaller
markets?

Chip Crain, Three Shades of Blue: Sure but the responsibility is on the franchises to be run correctly. The management of the Grizzlies has been a case in point of how not to run a franchise. San Antonio has been the model on how to run a franchise. When the team makes good decisions then the fans will come to the game because it is enjoyable to watch. When the team constantly makes bad decisions, be it the owner, the GM or the business operations side, then the team will struggle in the community. The Grizzlies alienated the largest employers in the city when they first arrived. The team made bad personnel decisions in drafting, free agent signings and trades. The overpaid for average talent and allowed players to leave for under market value. The team has not endeared itself to the community and now is feeling the backlash of those decisions. That doesn’t mean Memphis can’t support the team or that they won’t support the team in the future. It does mean the Grizzlies have to be smarter in the future to be successful.

Josh Coleman, Three Shades of Blue: Absolutely. As I stated earlier, when small market franchises are run by intelligent men and benefit from the slightest bit of luck, they can be just as successful when competing with bigger market clubs. The Spurs and Jazz have been model franchises the last 2 decades, despite being in the bottom 5 of market size.

Brett Hainline, Queen City Hoops: Yes - but not as financially successful as it could be. There is something to be said for the model of the Green Bay Packers - the only show in town and literally invested fans.

Frank, BrewHoop: I think it hurts if you don't have teams in the biggest markets, but we're not really in that position. Teams will go where they can make money, and sometimes that might even favor a smaller market. But we all know that the economics will tend to favor the bigger markets, so the location of franchises will be closely tied those dollars.

Ben Q. Rock, Third Quarter Collapse: Yes, as long are there are enough big-market teams to balance it out, I suppose. Perhaps the large market/small market disparity is why the league chooses to promote individual players rather than teams.

Tom Ziller, Sactown Royalty: I think the NBA has been successful with its smaller markets. San Antonio has a few rings, yes? The NFL can work in any city. With MLB and the NBA, certain cities will work and others won't. Sacramento works. San Antonio works. Vancouver didn't, Memphis might not. Miami doesn't work for MLB, but Portland could. Size of market is really only one part of the equation here. Demographics, corporate presence, disposable income -- those are all as important.

Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell:The NBA can absolutely be successful with many of its teams in smaller markets. In fact, many of the more successful NBA franchises specifically took advantage of their small market status. Teams like the Spurs, Jazz, Suns, and Blazers capitalized on the fact that were either the only or the first pro-franchise in the city, and as such successfully became the town’s defining franchise.
But all 4 of those franchises also had another characteristic: a high quality product. Look at the transformation that occurred with the Hornets this season. No city in this country is struggling economically more than the New Orleans. No city seems less ripe for the rise of a successful pro franchise. But the Hornets played with ferocity and skill, and earned a sizeable and loyal fan following. Sports culture in New Orleans will not be the same after this past season.

Rock King, Waiting For Next Year: I think it can, but it’s probably not the preference of the league. I’m sure they’re quite happy with NYC getting another team in 2010 (not that New Jersey is a small market by any means), and I’m sure they’ll do anything they can to service their large markets first. At the end of the day, it’s all a business, and so it only makes sense for them to be naturally drawn to where they can find the strongest demographics. With that being said, though, I think the NBA is going through a bit of a renaissance right now where stars are finding they can thrive in smaller markets. Tim Duncan does ok for himself in San Antonio. KG never had trouble being elected to start All Star games in Minnesota. Dwight Howard is blossoming in Orlando. Chris Paul is thriving in New Orleans. The league is being driven by young stars right now, and it seems that fan interest is higher than ever thanks to the explosion of quality blogs and easily accessible local coverage of every team on the internet and affordable TV packages that allow you to watch every game. Fans are finding it easier than ever to support the best players in the league no matter what remote corner of the country they might be playing in, and as a writer for a small market blog, I find this to be an exciting time in the NBA.




5. Do you actively worry about your team getting poached for a larger market? If so, why, and if not, why not?

Chip Crain, Three Shades of Blue: Yes and no. Right now I am not concerned the city will lose the team to Seattle, Las Vegas or Kansas City. The contract is solid for the 1st 14 years in the Forum and extremely punitive for some years after that. As I said owners of NBA teams usually make smart business decisions and the Grizzlies being moved wouldn’t make financial sense right now. However I do worry about the franchise after the lease is up. The team needs to not only reach a level of success that the fans can believe in but they need to do it in a city that is small by NBA standards and has one of the best college basketball teams in the country playing in the same arena. The Tigers success has in no part escalated the Grizzlies attendance woes. Not many people want to see 60+ basketball games a year. If you have to choose would you rather watch a Top ranked college team or a lottery bound NBA team playing their 4th game in 5 nights? So Memphis is safe for now but the future doesn’t look bright.

Josh Coleman, Three Shades of Blue: I’m not concerned about the Grizzlies being moved any time soon due to the 17-year lease that they have with the city of Memphis, which would make it very, very expensive for a new owner to relocate the team. Also, there is the fact that David Stern and the league have consistently said that they are committed to seeing the Memphis market succeed. I realize that this is the same group that screwed the fans of Seattle, but you’ve got to take what assurances you can get when your team is the first one to jump to everyone’s lips when the discussion of a future team on the move is broached.

Brett Hainline, Queen City Hoops: I am not a worrier by nature, so I definitely don't worry about something like losing the Bobcats to another city. I've already lost the Hornets, so it will be even less of an issue were it to happen again.

Frank, BrewHoop: Sen. Kohl is committed to keeping the team in Milwaukee and he's made it clear that will always be a condition of selling the team. But he's also 73 years old and it's not entirely clear how he would guarantee that in the event that he passed away. He has said in the past that he loses money every year but is willing to do so to field a competitive team. We don't know for sure what the team's bottom line looks like, but the Bucks will be spending close to the luxury tax threshold this year and next, so you can't call them cheap. What will happen if/when Kohl or the next owner doesn't feel like running the team so charitably?

Overall, Milwaukee still faces major long-term hurdles to keeping the NBA in Wisconsin, and my concern is that the city is using Kohl's ownership as an excuse not to address it. The biggest issue is probably the Bradley Center, which was designed for hockey and is one of the league's oldest arenas. It has a relatively small lower bowl, and while the Bucks have tried to add in-arena restauarnts and entertainment, there's only so much they can do with the space. It was donated to the city in 1987 and superficially seems OK, which means the average Milwaukee resident doesn't see much problem with it. And people know that Kohl a) won't allow the team to move while he's alive and b) really can't ask for his political constituents to build him a new arena. So essentially there's no dialogue. David Stern recently said the BC would be OK for now, but I'm concerned that those statements might only encourage the kind of civic complacency that doomed Seattle.

So what happens next? People in Milwaukee tend to be somewhat conservative fiscally and I don't see them wanting to finance a new Bucks arena, especially given the team's problems on the court. Many people are also still annoyed with having to pay for a large chunk of the Brewers' stadium and don't want to pay for another arena. Yet Miller Park has been a huge factor in the Brewers becoming a relevant organization again, so overall I think it's been a very worthwhile investment for the state. For the Bucks, there's been vague talk of building an arena as part of a multi-purpose sports and entertainment complex downtown, which could go a long way towards revitalizing the area around the Bradley Center. That would be a lot more than simply a handout for the Bucks, but it seems like a political non-starter for now. Given the current economic climate, I'm not sure if anyone is willing to step up from Milwaukee's corporate community to invest money in that sort of project, and the city might have already missed the chance to do something similar when Milwaukee's largest Indian gaming casino expanded a couple years ago.

Ben Q. Rock, Third Quarter Collapse: I did up until last summer, when the Magic received approval to build a new events center just blocks from their current venue, 19-year-old Amway Arena (which is not shaped like a pyramid). The arena will be certified green, the first of its kind in the NBA. The team's owners have shown they're committed to staying in Orlando for the long haul.

If I were a Bobcats or Grizzlies fan, I might be worried, though. The Oklahoma City move sure set an awful precedent. It's a good thing those teams play in fairly new arenas, I guess…

Tom Ziller, Sactown Royalty: Of course Sacramentans worry about losing the Kings, though it has nothing to do with market size -- we'd be afraid of Oklahoma City if Bennett didn't steal the Sonics. Certainly, most big market teams have nothing to be afraid of in terms of relocation threats (with Seattle as the exception). But the Maloofs are among the most wealthy NBA owners. They could build an arena if they wanted to. All the relocation noise has come because they do not want to, and has less to do with market size (though the drying up of corporate sponsors is connected to the market).

Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell:

I do not actively worry about the Spurs being poached by a larger market, and for four reasons: We have a loyal fan base. We have a legacy of high-quality play. We have a savvy front office. We have a stable arena deal.

Rock King, Waiting For Next Year: I worry about LeBron getting poached for a larger market more than I worry about the Cavs. Of course, should LeBron leave Cleveland, maybe a large market like Seattle will ask Dan Gilbert if he’s looking to sell. I think the price Gilbert paid for the Cavs will make it difficult for him to sell the team, but it is entirely possible that he could eventually move the team. When you consider the amount of money Dan Gilbert has poured into Quicken Loans Arena, though, combined with the team friendly lease, I think the Cavs will survive. But sure, it’s an issue that’s on my mind a lot these days, and I am sometimes a little nervous about what the future has in store for the Cavaliers.



6. Are small market teams good for the league? If so, why, and if not, why not?

Chip Crain, Three Shades of Blue: I don’t know if there is a good answer to this question. A poorly run franchise is not good in any market. A well run organization is positive for any market regardless of size. The size of the market isn’t the issue. The issue is the quality of the organization. The LA Clipper and New Jersey Nets have been historically poorly run organizations. Are they bad for the league? Yes but that doesn’t hurt their communities. Atlanta is a large market but it looked bad for the league to show the near empty arena on TV. These franchises were bad for the league despite their market size. What you need to avoid is the double whammy of a small market that doesn’t support the team. New Orleans was that way until this past season. Memphis became that way this past season. Milwaukee has had their issues in the past but generally has more corporate support than Memphis. A successful small market team can be a boon for the league but not because they come from a small market. Right now the big markets dominate the championships with the Spurs being the lone exception. The past Champions have not been well spread out among the league. That isn’t good for the league. The NBA needs greater diversity among the best teams.

Josh Coleman, Three Shades of Blue: I believe that they are good for the long-term success of the league. While I understand that the ratings for Boston-L.A. were much, much higher than that for San Antonio-Detroit or even Dallas-Miami, I believe that this had as much to do with the well-publicized history between those two franchises and their overwhelming success throughout the years as the fact that they were "big market" clubs. If the Finals were between the (Brooklyn) Nets and Clippers in a few years, the ratings would be good, but not amazingly high because those two franchises simply don’t have the same cache as the Lakers and Celtics. Small market teams bring new fans to the game. Here in Memphis, you had plenty of casual NBA fans prior to the Grizzlies’ arrival, but not a lot of truly hardcore supporters of professional basketball. The same is likely true in Charlotte (another college town) prior to the Hornets and the entire state of Florida prior to the Magic and Heat being introduced into the heart of big-time football country. That is the goal of David Stern’s expansion over the years, after all – creating a bigger fanbase.

Brett Hainline, Queen City Hoops: Yes - you can only have so many teams in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago. If there is a team from outside the major cities in a game, I tend to root for them. Why? Well, the Celtics and Lakers already have enough fans, and I feel more in common with the Spurs and Bucks.

Frank, BrewHoop: I'm not sure small markets are inherently good for the league, but there are certainly examples of small markets that have succeeded with the NBA being their only "major" sport. To the extent that cities might be more attached to a team because it's the only game in town, that could be a good thing. Sacramento's attendance records speak for themselves, and the people in Oklahoma City really embraced the Hornets in a way few could have expected.

Ben Q. Rock, Third Quarter Collapse: I don't see how they can hurt. Everything in moderation, though; if the Knicks break their MSG lease to move to Wichita, we'll know the small-market thing has gotten out of hand.

Tom Ziller, Sactown Royalty: Markets are almost incidental. Fans are good for the league. If those fans are white kids from Milwaukee or black kids from Queens, it's all OK. There will be higher concentrations of potential fans in some areas, like Sacramento (a really sports-starved city). You'll always find a fanbase in a larger market because the pool is bigger.

Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell:Yes, small market teams are good for the league, mostly because it gives the NBA an ability to cultivate fans that other professional sports leagues ignore entirely. Similarly, several “small markets” are growing into bigger markets, and by moving in early the NBA can solidify its status as the premiere franchise in the city (see my answer to question 4 for successful evidence of such).

Rock King, Waiting For Next Year: There’s no doubt in my mind that small market teams are good for the league. Look, despite popular sentiment, people actually do live and thrive in cities other than New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, and Boston. And people in these other cities are just as deserving of having a team to support and take pride in. I don’t see how that can be bad for the league? It stretches their product across the country and gets people in the “fly-over states” excited about their product. Take away small market teams, and see how many Midwest fans keep supporting the NBA. Individually, the markets may be small, but when you add up all the small markets that are in the NBA, you end up with a huge sum of fans who are going to games, buying TV packages, buying jerseys and other merchandise, etc. When dealing with small market teams, you may have to look a bit more big picture, but the picture is still there none the less.



7. Is a dominance by large market teams good for the league outside of pure profitability? If so, why, and if not, why not?

Chip Crain, Three Shades of Blue: This is the same question dressed up differently. Dynasties are great because people like to associate with winners but the dynasties also have to end because this is the USA and we don’t have monarchies. You have to have the belief that any team can raise the trophy over their heads to keep everyone interested but it is also good to have some teams that routinely place near the top. Dominance by few franchises is celebrated as long as they eventually cycle back down to the masses. What is bad is when teams like the Grizzlies, Clippers, Bucks, etc. begin to feel that no matter what they can never reach the pinnacle. That is never good. Baseball has seen the Royals be bad for a long time but they also won world championships. The Buccaneers were a joke in the NFL for a long time but they won the Super Bowl. Likewise in the NBA you need greater dispersion of champions to elevate the league to the elite level. Right now Baseball and Football are bigger major league sports because the fans believe that this year could be the year. I don’t know if that is true in the NBA. I think the problem is the soft salary cap with little revenue sharing. If there is an institutional bias against smaller market teams then you have a problem. A ‘soft’ salary cap enables bigger markets to spend more money and still remain profitable because they can make more money in their markets. Smaller markets can’t compete financially and so they have to be smarter and there isn’t enough smarts for every small market team to have all the smart guys.

Josh Coleman, Three Shades of Blue: I don’t think so. While the statistics might show that the league was most popular when it was the Lakers, Celtics, Bulls and Pistons leading the way year after year, I firmly believe that this was a result of them being talented, entertaining teams to watch moreso than the fact that they represented large markets. After all, the recent resurgence in interest in the NBA was fueled by the entertaining style of play employed by the Phoenix Suns, who are anything but a large market team. The epic battles that captured everyone’s attention in the late 90's were between the small market, but extremely entertaining Sacramento Kings and the big, bad, seemingly omnipresent Lakers. A boring style of play (thanks Pat Riley!!!) and a perception of overwhelming arrogance among players is what led to a downturn in popularity in the 90's. Entertainment is what drives popularity, which is why it doesn’t matter who is in the Super Bowl each and every year – it will still draw millions and millions of viewers...even when it is a matchup of epically awful proportions, such as the Giants and Ravens. The NBA should make a note of that.

Brett Hainline, Queen City Hoops: If the title rotated between New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago every year, would fans be as interested, outside those cities? I don't see how they could be (unless MJ is playing - and I think he is really done this time). I would not be. Part of following sports is the irrational hope that every teams' fans have (outside of the Clippers) that this could be their year. If the competition was dominated by fewer teams (like the AL East was for several years by the Yankees and Red Sox - and no one is looking to baseball for growth strategies), fewer fans would have a vested interest.

Frank, BrewHoop: Large market teams always seem to bring more of a "relevancy" to the game in a national context, so I think there's some value in that sense. Big cities create more talk and can thus raise the profile of the league. That probably helped boost the ratings for this year's finals. But I think that was also largely a story about the franchises, given the historical rivalry between the teams.

Ben Q. Rock, Third Quarter Collapse: I don't think dominance by any particular type of team is good for the league. We all hate that the West is the deeper conference, and has been for some time; why, then, wouldn't we tire of economic dominance? If New York, Chicago, and L.A. had the best teams in the league, there'd be plenty of happy bandwagoners people in those cities, but there wouldn't be an underdog factor to draw casual fans' interest. The league needs more young, upstart teams with room to grow (the Magic and Hornets come immediately to mind) to at least give outsiders a reason to care about the playoffs.

Tom Ziller, Sactown Royalty: I think parity has its merits, and large market dynasties have their merits. Small market dynasties (the Spurs) probably aren't the best thing for the league, dynasties are so rare it's hardly a real concern.

Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell:Outside of pure profitability, absolutely not. Competitiveness and quality of play are what drive the success of the league. And the attention of ESPN, whose monopoly status, however detestable, makes it a crucial component in directing attention towards the league. Given the manner in which sports news is disseminated, the size of the city is only crucial to economic success if the NBA encourages people to believe that it is. It’s also worth noting that arenas in large cities can oftentimes be found empty, and arenas in smaller cities can oftentimes be found sold out. Building a loyal fan following is about the level of play.

Rock King, Waiting For Next Year: If you look at baseball and see the large market teams that keep winning the World Series (Boston, New York, Chicago, Anaheim, Miami, etc), and you see that attendance and fan interest are at all time highs, you could make that argument. When you see the dismal ratings when Detroit and San Antonio face off in the finals, you have to question it. But is it because of the size of the cities, or is it because of the perceived “boring” style of play of those teams? I’m not smart enough to give a definitive answer on that, but I think it’s a valid question worth looking into. I think having large market juggernauts that the rest of country can unite in hating is inherently good for the sport. As much as I hate to admit it, I know that the Yankees and Red Sox being so good is great for the sport of baseball, and not just in those cities. So, too, does the NBA benefit from having fans being united in hating New York, LA, and Boston. It’s a fact of life.



8. Any other thoughts on the subject? Think the whole discussion is silly? Think that "hick town" should never have gotten the Sonics?


Chip Crain, Three Shades of Blue: What people are forgetting in the discussion about Seattle is that the city could have kept the team. All they needed to do was build a facility that would enable the owners to make money on their investment. There aren’t a lot of Paul Allen/Mark Cuban types of owners who don’t care if their team makes money or not. Most NBA owners expect to receive a return on their investment be it from season to season profitability or lump sum payments when they sell the franchise. The risk for the communities comes in when the only way an owner can make a profit is to sell the team and hope market forces have worked in their favor and the price tag has gone up. The continued losses without a chance of recouping some of their investment is illogical and most billionaires aren’t illogical. So they sell the team and then the city is at risk that an out of town owner will move the franchise to a more profitable arena or favorite city. The concept that communities own franchises and owners have to accept the terms of the deal is dead.

Josh Coleman, Three Shades of Blue: I think that the discussion is anything but silly. After all, this is a subject that has ramifications for the entire league in some form or fashion.

Brett Hainline, Queen City Hoops: Not really. No - but it is a discussion that I don't feel qualified for - though that doesn't stop me from running a blog... The Sonics should still be Seattle - if Stern wanted a team in OKC, I guess it is time for further expansion.

Frank, BrewHoop: The saddest part about the Seattle/OKC situation is that many diehard NBA fans are losing their franchise in Seattle. But I also think it's unfortunate that all the perceived shenanigans by Clay Bennett and David Stern have obscured the fact that Oklahomans did an amazing job supporting the Hornets and appear eager to offer similarly great support for the team formerly know as the Sonics.

Ben Q. Rock, Third Quarter Collapse: I'm sure Oklahoma City is a wonderful town full of intelligent people. I'm also sure that the league's approving the SuperSonics' move was absolutely wrong.

Tom Ziller, Sactown Royalty: I embrace our new friends in OKC. But Seattle shouldn't have lost its team.



Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: I think this is a very important topic. To ignore the economic reality of the Association, which is inseparably linked to the geography of the Association, is to misread the evolution of the Association. In my opinion, small market fans are oftentimes treated as a secondary concern by the media and the league. If anything, I am blessed to love a team that has been able to so successfully cast of the yoke of small market status and craft a legacy of championships. I only wish more small market fans felt a sense of solidarity with the Spurs’ achievements. And as an ex-pat Texan, I hate Oklahoma. So yeah, that hick town should have never gotten the Sonics.

Rock King, Waiting For Next Year: I think the NBA feels it’s important to keep relevance in their large markets. But I think it’s also important that they continue to foster a system which allows smaller market teams to hang onto their best players at a competitive advantage over other teams. It may not create true parity, but it allows all of its fans to keep having hope and to keep believing that there is light at the end of the tunnel for their teams. And that’s something that is truly unique to the NBA and its something that makes it so dear to me.

 
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