Examining potential targets for NBA expansion

Over the last couple of months rumors have swirled around the NBA’s expansion plans. Commissioner Adam Silver’s confirmation that it was on the table, with a sped up timeline due to the pandemic, came as little surprise. The conversation quickly turned to potential expansion cities and how large of a fee would the league’s fellow owners want for shrinking their share of the revenue from the TV contracts.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that the expansion fee would be around $2.5 billion for the franchises that could enter the league. Silver responded to that report in an interview, during an event with Sportico, in which he refused to comment on the number of teams that would be added — let alone their price; but he did feel confident enough to say this.

clearly [the] valuations [show] some of the reported numbers [for expansion fees] are very low in terms of the value at which we would expand

Johnwallstreet, Sportico

Incase you’re wondering, $2.5 billion would be the most expensive purchase of a team in the history of North American professional sports. And the league believes they can earn even more than that, it’s absolutely wild.

The league’s expectations towards the fees will definitely hamper which cities are going to be able to pony up for that expansion fee. As it is the discussion typically centers around the return of the Seattle SuperSonics and another city so that the league can stay at an even number as it balances out its divisions. Most of these rumors and theories typically center on cities that would allow Memphis to bounce to the Eastern Conference and shorten its (and its division rivals) travel schedule.

Seattle, Wash.

Bringing back the Sonics would be a good PR move for the league, but most importantly it makes financial sense. Seattle’s metro area is currently the 13th largest media market in the country with a bevy of companies and business that can sign sponsorship deals with the future franchise. This is on top of having a shiny new NHL arena that will be able to seat around 18,100 fans in it’s basketball configuration — the design also includes NBA specific locker rooms that are independent of its NHL and WNBA ones.

But the biggest advantage is going to be the preexisting fan base that has been fighting to get its team back in 2008. While said fan base is smaller than it was prior to the team’s departure, it is still a solid base for the franchise to build off of…especially if they’re able to have any success coming out of the gate. It’s also going to be an era of concern because there is still a bitterness around NBA basketball over what happened, especially since the league actually worked with Sacramento to keep the Kings in the city — which was the correct move in this author’s opinion.

There is no concern about the ownership group either, as the Kraken’s owners have state that their goal is to own both franchises in the future. They’ve already proven a willingness to shell out over a billion dollars to bring in a franchise — and nearly another billion on the arena renovation — so what’s a few billion dollars to guarantee more dates at a venue they’ll get nearly all of the revenue from?

Likely hood of expansion: The most likely destination for an expansion franchise.

Las Vegas, Nevada

Since the Golden Knights have found success in Sin City the pro sports leagues have been in a mad dash to get in; the Raiders hosted their first home game with fans at Allegiant Stadium on Monday night, and the Athletics have been exploring relocation to the city about potentially getting a stadium built there if things fall apart in Oakland. And there are also rumors surrounding the NBA expanding to the city.

Jay Bloom is rumored to be in the process of putting an ownership group together that could capitalize on the already existing T-Mobile Arena and the league’s need for an immediate cash dump. If Bloom’s group has the capital the potential to get into the gambling capitol of the United states while also playing in a NBA capable arena would be extremely tempting for the Association. In terms of conference alignment it would also help get Memphis out of the Western Conference.

The big concern is, can the 39th largest media market support three professional sports — with two of those sports competing for regional sport network money at the same time of on the sports calendar. Gate revenue is only a portion of a franchise’s revenue, RSN money is incredibly important for a team’s financial health.

Likely hood of expansion: Incredibly intriguing, probable if the money is there.

Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas City seems to pop randomly in NBA expansion/relocation rumors every couple of years. But there is a startling lack of investors, other than Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes who’d have a minority stake. Unless the city can find a local billionaire willing to pony up close to $3 billion, then it’s incredibly unlikely that they’ll land an NBA expansion franchise.

While the lack of billionaire is a problem, KC is an incredibly intriguing market for expansion. It’s got a rabid appetite for sports and doesn’t have a professional winter sport to grab its attention…but most importantly RSN money. In the country’s 32nd largest media market, being the only game in town from October to April would be a huge money maker with the local TV networks. The T-Mobile Center also makes a tempting home for any franchise to set up in.

Likely hood of expansion: Find me a whale, then we’ll talk.

Vancouver, British Columbia

There has been no real movement to give Vancouver another shot at the NBA. That being said they deserve to be in the discussion because of the facilities in place would work well for the basketball and the media market is big enough to support both the Canucks and a NBA franchise. Give the fans up there a watchable product with competent management and well funded ownership and the sky could be the limit.

Another reason it would make sense to expand to Vancouver would be then you’d be able to create a Northwest division that includes the I-5 corridor and Golden State. And keep the travel schedules of the northwest teams manageable.

Likely hood of expansion: A pipe dream at the moment