With the NBA recently acquiring control of the New Orleans Hornets franchise, a lot of chatter has naturally started about the uncertain future of pro basketball in the Big Easy. David Stern has repeatedly emphasized that the NBA is committed to keeping the Hornets in New Orleans, but let's be real - after the abrupt Sonics/Thunder move from Seattle to Oklahoma City a few years ago, anything is clearly possible.
Contraction has been mentioned as one solution to attendance woes and financial struggles for teams in some cities, including New Orleans. Through the end of December, the Hornets were averaging the 3rd lowest home attendance average in the league. Not good.
But, I seriously doubt the league would really make a push to eliminate any teams, especially when the NBA is already criticized for playing favorites with its teams in larger TV markets.
Thus, relocation is always an option that remains on the table. While moving a franchise is a painful process, as witnessed in Seattle with its beloved Sonics, it is equally thrilling move for some cities that have no NBA team.
Essentially, one man's sorrow ends up as another guy's joy.
But, if an existing NBA team were to pack up its bags and leave town, where would the team plant its new roots?
Below, I analyze some of the cities that have been mentioned in recently to become potential homes for an NBA franchise. Perhaps the Hornets or Kings could have a new address in the coming years?
Source: Louisville Counseling
Metro Population: 1,258,577
Arena: KFC Yum! Center (opened 2010)
TV Market Size: 49
Other Professional Teams: None
Why Louisville might work: As much as North Carolina is synonymous with basketball, the state of Kentucky is wild about it's hoops, too. Both UofL and UK have rich basketball histories with an intense following of fans throughout the state. Louisville is currently starved for a professional sports franchise, and the brand-new KFC Yum! Center downtown would be a great venue for an NBA franchise. Also, the city is relatively far from nearby existing NBA teams, with the Pacers being the closest franchise in Indianapolis, so it is unlikely that a new team in Louisville would cannibalize the fan base of another team. Also, Louisville could build up its fan base by drawing fans from larger cities nearby like Cincinnati.
Why Louisville might not work: While Louisvillans have shown they love college basketball, will the passion carry over to professional basketball? It's tough to tell. Also, the all important TV market rating is quite small in northern Kentucky, ranking 49th in the country. For reference, Orlando, a metro that many already consider a small-market, ranks 19th overall.
Is Louisville a Real Possibility? Yes, I actually think so.
Source: Kansas City City Info
Metro Population: 2,067,585
Arena: Sprint Center (opened 2007)
TV Market Size: 32
Other Professional Teams: Chiefs (NFL), Royals (MLB)
Why Kansas City might work: With a new arena in Kansas City, the town has made clear its desire to host a NBA or NHL team. As Magic fans can remember in the not-so-distant-past, Kansas City came on strong in courting the Devos family to consider moving the Magic to Missouri. While the Magic ownership was tangled up with local government in Orlando and Orange County about building a new arena, Kansas City was putting the finishing touches on its new downtown arena in 2007. Obviously, the Magic will be in Orlando for a long time to come now, but since the Kansas City arena lacks a permanent tenant, you have to assume that the city is jones'in for some pro sports after such a major financial investment. Also, since the NBA has only a minimal presence in the lower Midwest, there are a lot of potential fans.
Why Kansas City might not work: To be honest, I cannot really think of too many reasons why a team would not be successful in KC. Judging from the town's following of the Chiefs and Royals, Kansas City appears to be very loyal to their teams no matter the record, a factor that is something very important to consider. After all, there is nothing worse than flaky fans. The population is large, the venue is brand new, and the citizens want to have a hometown basketball team. Sounds good to me. The only knock against KC could be the town's lack of support for the Kansas City Kings in the 1980s, even though many of the Kings' problems were actually rooted in bad team management. The Kings moved to Sacramento in 1985.
Is Kansas City a Real Possibility? Definitely yes.
Metro Population: 2,828,990
Arena: Scottrade Center (opened 1994)
TV Market Size: 21
Other Professional Teams: Rams (NFL), Cardinals (MLB), Blues (NHL)
Why St. Louis might work: The St. Louis area has nearly 3 million residents and is one of the largest TV markets in America without an NBA franchise, both strong selling points to draw a team away from another city. Also, the city's Scottrade Center arena is well-experienced in hosting major sporting events, playing home to the NHL's Blues and multiple college athletic events including the Missouri Valley Conference basketball tournament, the NCAA Women's Final Four, and the NCAA Frozen Four hockey tournament. Plus, the arena has a capacity of over 20,000, definitely enough to suit an NBA audience. Getting an NBA franchise would be a clean sweep for the city, hosting a team in each of the 4 major sports leagues.
Why St. Louis might not work: Ironically, however, while St. Louis has a facility that has successfully hosted multiple athletic events, one hurdle for St. Louis may in fact be that arena. Even though a facility built in 1994 does not seem very old, 22 of the 30 current NBA teams play in an arena newer than St. Louis' Scottrade Center. In a league where demand for the latest-and-greatest in facilities is paramount, a team like the Hornets may think twice before relocating to another town play in an "old" building. This is where Kansas City has a major advantage, owning a brand new sports venue that has no current tenants.
Is St. Louis a Real Possibility? Yes, but Kansas City would likely be considered first due to their newer facility.
Metro Population: 9,580,567
Arena: United Center (opened 1994, renovated 2009)
TV Market Size: 3
Other Professional Teams: Bears (NFL), Cubs & White Sox (MLB), Blackhawks (NHL), Bulls (NBA)
Why Chicago might work: The town is huge with millions of people, and Chicagoans definitely love their sports. Every major sports team in Chicago has a storied past and tons of appeal to fans not only in Chicago, but nationwide. Just think: you can find Cubs merchandise almost anywhere in America. Chicago is arguably the epicenter of sports in America, so another professional team could have the potential to be successful in the Windy City.
Why Chicago might not work: But, while the population is obviously big enough to support two pro basketball teams, is there really a demand for another team? Even if Chicago were to get a relocated NBA team, the second team would always be just that: second. When the existing team is remembered as being one of the most successful basketball teams of all time, it would be mighty difficult for a new team to stand out. This situation reminds me of the current Lakers/Clippers relationship in LA. The teams share the same arena, but the Lakers are clearly seen as the 'true' team of Los Angeles, decorated with 16 NBA titles. The Clippers relocated to LA from San Diego in the mid-80's and have always, unfortunately, been a punch-line and an after-thought. Should a team like the Hornets move to Chicago, the Bulls, no matter what happens, will always be the team in town.
Is Chicago a Real Possibility? It definitely could happen, but why bother...does the NBA really need another Lakers/Clippers thing?
Metro Population: 1,705,075
Arena: Cedar Park Center (opened 2009)
TV Market Size: 48
Other Professional Teams: None
Why Austin might work: San Antonio, a comparably sized Texas city, has done very well supporting its NBA team. The Spurs are the only professional game in town and have a very loyal backing, so it is reasonable to assume that Austiners would similarly rally behind their own NBA squad.
Why Austin might not work: Two major reasons: 1) Three NBA teams already play in Texas, and 2) Austin doesn't have a NBA-suitable arena. With the Spurs, Mavs, and Rockets already playing in the state with a strong following of fans, I can't imagine a 4th team would really gather much support. There just isn't much demand for an NBA team in Austin. Plus, even if enough people did push for a team, the new arena in Austin that opened in 2009 can only hold about 7,000 for sporting events. That's perfect for minor league hockey - not the NBA.
Also, while professional sports are a major element of many American cities, Austin is a different breed of town. Home to the University of Texas, everything Longhorn takes priority in Austin. Furthermore, those that aren't bleeding burnt orange and going to every UTexas game are most likely jamming out with a guitar in a coffee shop somewhere in town, far removed from the world of pro sports anyway.
Is Austin a Real Possibility? Absolutely not.
If you were an owner of a struggling franchise and thinking about relocating, where do you think would be the best place to set up shop for a new home?