November 19, 2006

The NBA's Struggle With Mid-Market Franchises

Cross-posted at Sactown Royalty...

With David Stern's recent announcement that the Maloofs had reached out for help to keep the Kings in Sacramento, it signalled a realization by the league that the city is a real boon for the NBA, that the Kings' fan base is one best preserved. This moment of clarity comes years after seeing the Hornets leave Charlotte, comes amid the SuperSonics' talk of leaving Seattle, and with examples throughout professional sports of mid-market teams struggling to stay alive.

In one of the more prescient pieces on Stern's intervention I read, by Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, it was clear that Sacramento was a beacon of hope for cities not named New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. The Kings have proven that a team can both survive and thrive in a city that doesn't yet sport a 7-figure population. And while Arco Arena isn't centrally located, and doesn't have all the amenities of some of the most modern arenas, Kings fans put butts and cowbells in seats game after game, and have turned the facility into one of the most hostile in all of professional sports.

He writes:

Make no mistake: The biggest issue in the NBA isn't about toy store basketballs and bad behavior technical fouls, but the stability of its most successful franchises. Sacramento has a league-best streak of 317 sellouts at Arco Arena, which has been the loudest arena in the league and the most anchored to its franchise. Pound for pound, cowbell for cowbell, there's a good case to be made for Sacramento as the best market in the NBA.

David Stern and the NBA want to squash any talk of the Kings leaving Sacramento right now. Aside from Las Vegas, and potentially San Jose (not really), there are no great markets for the NBA to move to now. The league has expanded to 30 teams, and as baseball has been so roundly criticized for in years past, you've seen a dilution of talent across the board, somewhat masked over by the influx of foreign players.

Those who have been anchored to the NBA as their major league of choice should take a look over the sports page and see what has happened in Major League Baseball to gain an idea of how complete mismanagement of mid-market franchises can drive a wedge between rich and poor. The Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Brewers, Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Pittsburgh Pirates start every season off knowing they won't be printing playoff tickets. The Florida Marlins have snaked two championships, only to have the owner gut the team the next year following major losses. The Oakland A's, moneyball aside, are now leaving Oakland and getting as close to the San Jose border as they can without having the Giants file a lawsuit over territorial rights.

As Sacramento Kings fans, we are very lucky to have the league, and the Maloofs, understand what a disaster it would be for the team to leave the city, and despite having recently completed one of the worst-managed campaigns ever, having them signal they want to stay. The NBA needs Sacramento. Don't you think Sacramento needs the NBA?

Listening to ''Sincere (Pulser Mix)'', by Firewall (Play Count: 3)

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