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Is The NBA Ready For 32 Teams?

In light of recent franchise expansion talks
by Kirby Garlitos | Mar 5, 2018
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The NBA is flourishing. Interest in the league has never been a high as it is today. Franchises are soaring in value, ratings are going through the roof, and there’s no shortage of recognizable stars and superstars scattered throughout the league. The NBA’s prosperity has also given rise to something that hasn’t happened in 16 years: franchise expansion.

For the record, the NBA has denied any consideration of expanding the league. Off the record, the league’s position isn’t as cut-and-dry. With the NBA booming as it is, franchise values have skyrocketed to ridiculous heights. According to Forbes, The New York Knicks are now worth $3.6 billion, making it the sixth most valuable sports franchise in the {world}. The Los Angeles Lakers aren’t far behind with a value of $3.3 billion, while the Golden State Warriors not ranked third at $3.1 billion. For those who don’t remember, the Warriors’ current ownership group bought the franchise in 2010 for $450 million.

So, the question on everyone’s mind is this: what do these franchise valuations have anything to do with expanding the league? There are multiple ways to answer that question, but the common reason boils down to money. A lot more of it. All 30 NBA teams are now worth at least $1 billion. That means that expanding the league could add at least $2 billion in franchise fees alone. Keep in mind that those fees get divvied up to the 30 existing franchises. That means that you’re looking at $66 million in revenue for each of the 30 teams. That doesn’t include other potential revenue streams of having two more franchises in two new cities. In light of this, we’re running down a list of five cities that could—if the league warms up to the idea—make for viable cities that can score their own expansion franchises.

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The obvious answer. Seattle is one of the biggest markets in the U.S. It’s ranked by Forbes as the 4th best place for business and careers. It already had a franchise in the Seattle Supersonics that left town for Oklahoma City when its owners reneged on a promise to keep the franchise in the city. It’s been 10 years since the Oklahoma City Thunder was created, which means that it’s also been a decade since Seattle has had an NBA franchise. To be fair, the city came close to landing its own team in 2013 as part of the relocation of the Sacramento Kings. NBA owners ultimately voted against relocating the Kings after intense negotiations on both sides. So yeah, Seattle’s still without an NBA team a decade after the Sonics left. There are worse crimes in sports, but this ranks right up there as one of the most nefarious ones.

Mexico City

It doesn’t sound as strange to see an NBA franchise in Mexico City as it was in the past, does it? Not only is it home to some 21 million people, it also happens to be the 19th biggest city in the world. It’s also in close proximity to a lot of NBA teams and the NBA would be tapping into a basketball-starved market that’s probably bigger than any of the cities it has in the league today. There’s also a new arena—Mexico City Arena—that’s already hosted regular season games. The revenue stream of having a franchise in Mexico is incalculable. That said, there are a number of issues that can scuttle this idea, most notably being the somewhat frosty political relationship that exists between the two countries. As appealing as Mexico City is as a franchise, the NBA would have to do {a lot} of work to make it happen. I’m not quite sure it wants that kind of headache.


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The case for Louisville is also clear. It’s the biggest city in a state (Kentucky) where basketball is at the center of everyone’s universe. It’s also one of the biggest cities in the U.S. that doesn’t have a major sports franchise, not in the NBA, NFL, MLB, or NHL. There’s also an NBA-ready arena in the city—the KFC Yum! Center—that opened in 2010. The problem with Louisville is that it’s not one of the biggest markets the NBA can get if it expands and adds a franchise or two to the league. It’s roughly the same size as Oklahoma City and Memphis, and there are legitimate concerns on how much local money can afford a franchise fee approaching $1 billion. Still, a roadmap is there for Louisville to get an NBA franchise. All it has to do is show the league the money.

Las Vegas

In a span of three years, Las Vegas turned from a city with zero sports franchises to a city that has two. The Vegas Golden Knights are thriving in its first season in Sin City, and the Las Vegas Raiders are two seasons away from leaving Oakland for its new home. An NBA franchise has become more possible now than it has ever been. The question is whether the city can sustain having three professional sports franchises. It certainly has the economy to do it. It has businesses that can help sponsor or buy suites in the arena. You can even make a case that the city’s unique personality will help drive up interest in the league as a whole. But is the NBA as excited about the prospect of adding an expansion franchise in a city that pretty much hosts the Summer League every year?

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Those of you who are old enough to remember the Vancouver Grizzlies will know that the franchise probably didn’t get as fair a shake as it should have. The Grizzlies franchise lasted all of six seasons in the Canadian metropolis before moving to Memphis. With the league thriving as it is, there’s no doubt that a new Vancouver franchise would be infinitely more successful than the last one that played there. The city has a big and diverse population. It has an NBA-ready area, and it’s distance to Toronto is far enough that it wouldn’t impede on the Raptors’ own fan base. The only problem that Vancouver could have is a possible Seattle franchise. The two cities sit approximately 230-something kilometers from each other so it likely wouldn’t make sense for the NBA to add two expansion teams that are in close proximity from each other.


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