Seattle is considered a lock whenever the NBA decides to expand, and Kansas City and Las Vegas could be fighting for the other new franchise, according to Jabari Young of CNBC. Young breaks down the assets that each city could offer and notes that finding billionaires to finance the bids will be crucial.
Commissioner Adam Silver discussed the possibility of expansion at a press conference in December, but said it’s “not on the front burner.” The NBA isn’t expected to consider adding teams until after the 2021/22 season at the earliest.
Former Grizzlies president Andy Dolich, who helped move the team from Vancouver to Memphis, believes the league will try to create a “horse race” among cities leading up to expansion. He says the components the NBA is looking for can be described as A-B-C-D.
“The A is avidity: the market you’re picking has to be an avid sports market,” Dolich said. “The B is simple: Who is your billionaire? If you don’t have your billionaire, you don’t have anything. The C is the community: the elected officials, the leading businesses who are going to support you and the fan base. The D (destination) is where are you playing? The NBA is not playing in yesterday’s arena. Those are the four key parts.”
As the former home of the Kings, Kansas City already has an NBA history, Young notes, and Mayor Quinton Lucas gained the league’s attention when he offered to serve as a temporary location for the Raptors. The 19,000-seat T-Mobile Center is already in place to house an expansion franchise, but there’s no obvious person to bid for the team.
“I just don’t know who would be the owner, at least locally,” said Kathy Nelson, CEO of the Kansas City Sports Commission. “Financially, what does that ownership team look like? That’s the billionaire-dollar question. It’s not a million dollar. It’s a billion dollars.”
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is a minority owner of baseball’s Kansas City Royals and may be willing to get involved with an NBA team. Nelson’s committee has identified other potential investors, but no one has been pegged as a majority stakeholder.
That’s also a concern with Las Vegas, Young adds. The city already has a WNBA franchise and an established relationship with the NBA as host of the Summer League. There’s a 20,000-seat arena that serves as the home of the NHL’s Golden Knights.
However, there are concerns about Las Vegas because so much of the city’s economy depends on tourism. That has taken a hit due to COVID-19, and the NBA isn’t sure if a franchise can survive there if the tourism decline drags on.
“It just reinforces the importance of the ownership,” said Patrick Rishe, sports business director at Washington University in St. Louis. “You’re going to need a very strong ownership group. The market that has the most financially viable ownership group, that will trump any other consideration.”