NBA Expansion Update: Commissioner Silver Puts Seattle On The Short List

The undeterred vision for those in Seattle that have pushed relentlessly for years for an NBA basketball franchise to return to the Emerald City received a huge boost last week. The NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, gave an interview when he was asked about the expansion of the league in the future.

The response to the question, I am paraphrasing here, that the expansion of the NBA due to the huge growth in revenue and popularity of the sport is inevitable. He added that when the league begins to the expansion process that Seattle is on the short list of cities that they will consider.

This should come as no surprise to many basketball fans because the Sonics had a deep history and still have a loyal fan base that long for a return of the franchise to the city. The NBA would be wise to expand to Seattle because the most difficult component for a new expansion team in a new market is to establish loyal fans.

The expansion to Seattle would put a franchise in a market that has very good demographics for television/new media, has a reputation for supporting their teams, and has the nostalgia factor from the first version of the Sonics.

The second most difficult task for a newly minted expansion team is to move merchandise and corporate sponsorships. The placement of an NBA expansion team in Seattle would clearly be a positive for the league because Seattle retained the rights to the name and colors of the Sonics and will sell a ton of merchandise based on the previous support those products enjoyed. The corporate business community will embrace the return of the wildly popular Sonics to the region.

The community and the government are supportive to bringing basketball back to Seattle. The NBA left because the arena was seen to be outdated and a new arena has remained the biggest hurdle to the city gaining a team to return. That hurdle, at times seemingly insurmountable due to a variety of factors, is moving closer to being cleared.

Seattle recently announced that they have reached agreement with a developer to begin a privately financed renovation of the old Key Arena at Seattle Center. The developer will keep the historic roof of the arena and other architectural elements that the public wanted to remain intact.

The renovation project will completely renovate the interior of the building by constructing a new concourse and other elements underground below street level. It will then reconstruct the entire interior of the existing facility as well. The newly renovated arena would be designed to meet all the specifications for the NBA as well as the National Hockey League (NHL) in the hopes of gaining an expansion hockey team for Seattle.

The city is about to enter negotiations on the actual MOU of the development project, so the city council retained the services of a firm that specializes in negotiating terms of these types of development and construction projects for major entertainment and sports venues.

It should come as no surprise that the NBA is interested in a return to Seattle because that city has a captive audience of fans that are nostalgic for the return of the Sonics. The NBA will gain new fans with younger people who have parents who told them about the Sonics, and they can attend games together as a family.

The NBA has a know entity in the Sonics and that is the key to both sides eventually getting this done. The arena renovation will be the last component in what has been a long saga, and then the path should be cleared for Seattle to finally get their basketball team back again.

The New Hierarchy of The New York Knicks

Many people have asked me over the past week or so what my thoughts are regarding the new regime in the Knicks front office. The team announced changes to their basketball operations leadership following the debacle that was the three-year run of Phil Jackson steering the ship.

My answer has been very honest: I really do not know, it is a mixture of emotions. I do not know much about Steve Mills, I know he is loyal to owner James Dolan and that he has been in the front office for a long time, both before Phil Jackson, and now in the “post-Phil era”.

It is my opinion that Mills overpaid to get Tim Hardaway Jr. back in an offer sheet to pry him from Atlanta. The Knicks paid him about four times more money than the next closest offer, this after initially drafting Hardaway Jr., then trading him away, only to pay him $71 million to come back. That is a player acquisition that is just so typical of the Knicks, what a total mess.

The appointment of Steve Perry as the new General Manager is a move I do find positive, if they give him some authority to make certain personnel related decisions. Perry is smart, politically savvy, and well respected around the NBA. He did great work in a short time with the Sacramento Kings, and the move to bring him in from California made a great deal of sense to me and others within the media that cover the team.

Mills and Perry in their introductory press conference towed the new company line that they want to rebuild the team around a young core, they want to reshape the team into a more athletic club. That sounds nice, but it disregards the fact that they have half the salary cap for the entire roster tied up in three veteran players: Carmelo Anthony, Courtney Lee, and Joakim Noah.
Then, they committed huge dollars to Hardaway Jr. and he is essentially the same type of player as Courtney Lee. I am not sure if they could trade Lee without taking back a “bad contract” in return. The issue with Noah is that he is coming off major offseason surgeries and has a prohibitive contract that Phil Jackson doled out to him. The move to trade Noah would be “selling low” because of the injuries, so the Knicks will most likely have to hold on to him for the time being.

Then, there is the Carmelo Anthony saga, with a contract that pays out a ton of money to a player that Jackson tried to make completely miserable. The Knicks had been attempting to move him to either Houston or Cleveland, according to reputable reports, and then paused that process when they named Perry to the GM post.

The Knicks new regime was said to have been looking to mend the relationship with Anthony to bring him back into the fold. Several sources around the league state that Anthony is done with the dysfunction of the Knicks and wants to be traded to Houston to play with Chris Paul and James Harden.

However, trading Carmelo will be complicated because he has a no trade clause (which he has lifted to move to either Houston or Cleveland) that the Knicks front office has reportedly asked him to expand that list so they have more viable options to trade him. He also has a 15% “trade kicker” in his contract that will increase his salary cap hit to the team that obtains him, and the right amount of money has to be sent back in order to meet the regulations of the NBA for trading players.

All of this when taken together means that the Knicks need a fourth team to be involved in a multi-layered deal that ultimately would get Anthony to Houston, would provide the Knicks with cap relief, and also would provide the other two teams in the deal some other assets or cap space to make the deal worthwhile for them. It seems unlikely that will happen at this point because the Rockets will probably wait until closer to training camp to leverage the Knicks into a deal that is better for Houston’s interests.

The Knicks have some talent on the roster and they do need to start the rebuild because they have been spinning their wheels for the past four or five years. The fan base is getting restless, and rightfully so, but as I wrote in the past, the Knicks will continue to sell tickets because tourists want to see games at the Garden. The Knicks will continue to be a money machine because of the allure of playing in New York, which makes the impetus for actually rebuilding the roster a difficult thing for their front office to actually accomplish.

The new hierarchy of the Knicks brings me mixed emotions, I am not sure how much Mills will interfere with Perry trying to make bold moves to revamp the roster. I am not sure how involved James Dolan will be, and if Perry will have his hands tied in trying to improve the team. I guess only time will tell, they have a great deal of work ahead of them.

In the meantime, Knicks fans will wait and see if this new front office will be able to make the moves necessary or if it will be business as usual in the Garden.

The Politics of Sports: The Seattle Arena

The politics of sports has been on display fully over the past week with the announced plans for the Seattle arena. The city decided that their best option at this point is to move forward with the proposal from Oak View Group (OVG) which involves a complete renovation of the old Key Arena at Seattle Center.

This option was chosen and recommended by the Mayor and other politicians involved over the proposal from Seattle Partners, which also had a plan to renovate “the Key”. However, their plan contained some elements that concerned some key people in the city government. They officially “withdrew” their proposal ahead of not being chosen just before the announcement was made late last week regarding the arena plan for Seattle to gain either an NBA or NHL franchise.

The other option on the table is the SoDo arena concept pushed by Chris Hansen and his group of investors, which he has spent huge sums of his own money obtaining land in that part of the downtown area with the goal of getting the Sonics NBA team back to the city. The plan involves the vacation of a roadway which is very unpopular with the politicians as well as a location that is close to the Port of Seattle and the major outdoor stadiums for their other professional sports teams.

This location coupled with the change to the roadway grid and the potential for traffic congestion near the Port, all are factors that are stacked against the SoDo arena concept. Those factors outweighed the amended proposal from that investment group that stated that they would develop the site and construct the arena completely with private funds.

The renovation of the Key Arena at Seattle Center will be a public/private partnership arrangement for the financing, which is admittedly unpopular with some Seattle residents. The OVG proposal involves keeping the iconic roof structure of the facility intact while essentially gutting and rebuilding the entire existing interior structure. It will reconstruct the entire seating bowl and their plan for the site involves digging below ground to expand the footprint of the building while maintaining structural integrity. It will also be an environmentally friendly building project, with LEED certification processes involved in the various aspects of the construction of the renovated facility.

NHL Response

The NHL was contacted almost immediately after the news that Seattle was moving forward with the OVG renovation project for an arena that would meet NHL standards. The NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, issued a statement that essentially stated that the NHL has had no contact with Seattle and has no plans to expand the league at this point.

The politics of sports on the professional stage was in full effect here as well. It is no secret that the NHL has interest in expanding to Seattle. The demographics of that market make so much sense for the league in several metrics, that they would be foolish not to explore the option. The OVG proposal added two partners that are keen on getting professional hockey to Seattle, which was noted in the press release of the announcement.

Bettman is playing his cards here because he does not want to discourage other markets interested in potential expansion from thinking that Seattle has any sort of inside track to what will probably be the last slot available in the NHL for a very long time. The NHL has a conference alignment issue with 16 teams in the East and 14 teams in the West. The league took one step toward correction of that imbalance with the addition of Las Vegas as an expansion franchise beginning next season.

The assumption is that they will add one more team in the West to balance the two conferences and the league for scheduling and other purposes in the somewhat near future. The OVG group stated that the proposal is still pending approval and they will need at least 2 years probably closer to 3 years to get the entire renovation at Key Arena completed.

Design Concerns

Some area residents are not happy because they did not want another major sports team or teams playing in that neighborhood. This is a very political issue and the design of the building and the mass transit plan for light rail access is part of the proposal from the city level to alleviate traffic concerns.

The design of the building was also a point of concern for residents of that neighborhood. Some concerned parties did not want a monstrous new arena going into that Seattle Center site. The trend in sports arenas is for larger footprint buildings packed with amenities for fans and concert attendees.

The OVG plan for Key Arena accomplished providing more amenities without dramatically increasing the overall footprint of the facility by proposing to dig below ground and implementing those amenities in areas below the current street level. The plan for the renovated facility also calls for improvements to the park area around the Seattle Center, which should be viewed favorably by the residents.

NBA: “Cutting the Pie”
The return of the NBA to Seattle is an entirely different situation. The topic of expansion for hockey has been an active one, with Las Vegas set to join the circuit and with the imbalance of teams alluded to earlier. The NBA is in a different stage in their life cycle as a league. The owners and the league office just agreed recently to a new TV and media rights deal that will reap them significant economic revenue which is divided up among each member franchise.

The NBA owners are currently not eager to “cut the pie” into more pieces by adding more franchises. The amount of the expansion fee would be offset by the amount that the new team gets as their portion of basketball related income. The NBA also has no franchises in a situation where relocation is being discussed.

These factors, when all are taken into account, amount to the fact that the Key Arena renovation, if approved, is going to take approximately three years to complete from the point that permission is given for renovation work to begin. The NBA is not planning to expand any time soon. The NHL has other interested cities in expansion, but they may never expand to Seattle for a variety of reasons.

The politics of sports in this situation leaves the SoDo arena proposal in serious jeopardy. The time, effort, and money spent by that group is going to upset some powerful people in that city if that proposal is rejected by the political groups involved.

Up In Flames

The politics involved in the Seattle arena decision also could become a leverage play for another team: the Calgary Flames. The president of that hockey team, Brian Burke, commented to a group of business leaders at a team function recently that the franchise could move out of Calgary if it does not get a new arena.

He continued his comments reportedly by stating that the Flames had relocation cities under consideration if they were to ultimately decide to move the team out of Calgary. In that scenario, once relocation is brought up, Seattle is not very far behind. It is no secret that Seattle wants an NHL team, and the opportunities for relocating an existing franchise are very unique and infrequent.

The Calgary Flames have presented their vision and plan for a new arena and entertainment district with other real estate development around the new facility that has been deemed “unsustainable” by the political powers that be in that city. This is where the friction between the city and the team began.

The Flames play in the SaddleDome which was built when Calgary hosted the Olympics in 1988. It is among the oldest arenas in the league, a fact that supports the team ownership and their contention that it needs to be replaced. The Mayor and other politicians have stated that they do not support using taxpayer money to fund a new arena. This could get very sticky, and the speculation over the future of the team in that city will follow suit.

It is doubtful that Calgary will leave a city that they have an established fan base within and have over 30 plus years of history. It could be that Seattle is a leverage play, as I mentioned before, or it could become seriously considered for their future. The primary issue is that Seattle lacks a suitable arena for at least three years.

Another option to watch is the Flames using Quebec City as either a chip to secure their own new arena deal, or for a real alternative should the political situation with Calgary become untenable. Quebec is a whole different scenario because they have an NHL ready arena built and fully operational, they just lack a team.

It is all part of the politics of sports and it has played out in two places, Seattle and Calgary, in a week. Those two situations are just a drop in the bucket, wait until next week, and the next potential issue with politics and sports will be right around the next bend.

Showtime: Can Magic Johnson Rebuild The LA Lakers?

The Los Angeles Lakers shocking move to reshuffle their front office to put Magic Johnson into the captain’s seat, so to speak, has come at a point where the franchise is truly at a crossroads. This type of shake up of the basketball operations of a team at this time in the season is unusual. The Lakers brought in Johnson as an “adviser” about three weeks ago, and now he is running the show.

The rationale for the decision is pretty clear: the Lakers, who are a storied NBA franchise, have been struggling for the past few seasons. The team has some young players that are talented on their roster, but they need a significant amount of work to get from the bottom of the standings back into a championship contender.

The Lakers are currently 19-39 and are spinning their wheels trying to find their identity in the post-Kobe Bryant period in their franchise history. The 2016-17 Lakers resemble a similar narrative to other teams in NBA history in the years immediately following the transition from a roster dominated by a megastar level player.

The challenging factor in the scenario is developing the right strategy to rebuild the roster and rejuvenate it back to contention. The Lakers are going to make some big, bold moves to improve this team, but they will also do it in a calculated manner.

The more pressing impetus for the move to shake up the front office on the basketball operations side of the house, is to get the core fans excited about the future of this franchise. The change to Magic Johnson certainly will create a sense of hope for the fans that the future in L.A. should improve in the near term.

This decision was a bold one from Jeannie Buss because she had to move her brother, Jim, out of the basketball operations role and back to being a co-owner. She had to separate her family ties to look at the situation as to how it relates to what the best path forward for the team would be at this point.

This decision to move forward with Magic Johnson, who won so many titles with the Lakers during the “Showtime” years, will most certainly be compared with the decision that the New York Knicks made to turn over their basketball operation to Phil Jackson. It is even more ironic that Jackson played a huge role in the success of the Lakers as their head coach and is the former fiancé of Jeannie Buss.

The fans in New York are largely dissatisfied with the tenure of Phil Jackson, and the relative lack of progress shown on reshaping the Knicks to be a successful basketball team. The Lakers fans have to hope that Magic does a lot more to shape the Lakers up than Phil Jackson has done so far with the Knicks in a similar role.

Magic Johnson obviously knows the essential elements in building a successful basketball team from the player personnel side, and he is also a successful business man, so his skill set seems very well suited to his new position within the Lakers organization. Nevertheless, it is a steep challenge taking this roster and reshaping it into a championship contender.

I think the cache that is the Lakers brand and reputation will certainly help Magic in this endeavor. The Lakers may even have some good fortune in attracting free agents because the Knicks have created so many issues for themselves between the Charles Oakley debacle and the Carmelo Anthony botched situation. The situation in New York is so bad that one current player remarked recently to the media that “nobody will go to the Knicks”.

The Lakers have been linked to current Indiana Pacers guard, Paul George, and although they could not get a deal done at the trade deadline, it is largely expected that George will join the Lakers as soon as he is able to within league guidelines.

The expectation throughout the league is that similar situations to those of Paul George will also transpire in the summer months of the offseason. The name of Russell Westbrook has been linked to the Lakers for some time now, and that speculation will probably only ratchet up further with the injection of Magic Johnson into the situation.

Some of the talent on the roster such as Nick Young and D’Angelo Russell could be the building blocks for the next version of the Lakers. The new perspective that Johnson will bring into the job will be fascinating to see as the months move forward.

There is one certainty especially if you ask a Knicks fan: Magic would be hard pressed to do much worse than Phil Jackson has done in the same role in New York. The Lakers need to get back to their championship pedigree, and Magic Johnson is just the right person to take them there.

NBA Renaming of D-League & Corporate Cronyism

The NBA announced earlier today that their Development League for young prospect players to work their way to the best basketball league in the world, is being renamed and rebranded.

The NBA Development League, long known also by the nickname the D-League, is being renamed the NBA Gatorade League in a deal with one of the NBA’s largest corporate sponsors. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed and the NBA insisted in their media relations efforts today that the agreement is not to simply attach a corporate name to the D-League or to extract more money from a sponsorship relationship.

The league executives, including NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, spoke about the agreement being a vehicle toward further integration of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, which is currently used by star athletes in the NBA and NFL among other leagues. The Institute or (GSSI) as it is also known evaluates the impact that the performance level for athletes at the elite levels of competition endure, and what elements may be needed to provide better nutrition or conditions within the body to enhance that performance level.

The issue at hand, in my view, is that no matter how the NBA wants to spin this deal today, it is for all intents and purposes, a money grab. It is the league using the stature of their brand recognition to extract more revenue from a corporate sponsorship partner. It just looks bad, and it has the media now drumming up names like the “G-League” and “insert sponsor name here” league.

It even caused one reporter at a press event today to ask if the NBA itself was going to follow suit, and sell some type of corporate sponsorship to their name. This question was flatly denied by Commissioner Silver, but I cannot fault the reporter who asked it because the sponsorships have become so out of control in sports. I could envision it: “the NBA brought to you by State Farm Insurance” would be the new name of the league, and every five years they would change the name of the NBA to the next corporation willing to pony up the dough.

It sounds like an exaggeration, but where is the line drawn? This type of transaction today where the NBA essentially names their minor league system after a major corporate sponsor leads reasonable people to take the path of asking what the next deal is going to be centered upon.

The corporations will be pushing different concepts as well because they believe that anything that gets their brand or their name out there is a good situation. I can envision it: “the Kraft Foods NBA Eastern Conference Standings” or the “Coca-Cola Western Conference Standings” where the trophies would be a giant box of cookies or a huge metal Coke bottle.

The decision by the NBA with regard to the D-League, my apologies, now the Gatorade League, is corporate cronyism at its finest. Any entity that gets that type of sponsorship shelled out some large amount of dollars, and with that large expenditure that entity will demand access and influence. The company in this scenario is Gatorade which is a division of Pepsico, and they will want access to players in exchange for this elite level of sponsorship.

The involvement of corporations to this degree should create some type of caution within the offices of that particular major sports league and their franchise owners. However, in the case of the NBA, which has also approved corporate sponsorships on the jerseys of each individual team starting next season that caution seems to be nonexistent.

It is scary to think what type of influence the corporations will be able to wield within the structure of the NBA. The increased revenue is going to have a direct effect on player salary increases, and the salary increases will have an effect on operating costs. The owners, when faced with operating cost increases then start to look at raising ticket prices on the fans and on the businesses who purchase season ticket plans or suites to entertain clients.

The NBA made a bold move today which could have repercussions on the way they handle future corporate sponsorships. They opened the door to a potentially dangerous pathway, where corporate involvement could become detrimental to the integrity of the sport that they were meant to preserve. The cumulative effect on the fans, the customers in this situation, could be a source of a serious miscalculation by the NBA if these types of deals are made in the future.

Defining Moments

Over the past few weeks I have watched several episodes of a series on MSG Network called “The Garden’s Defining Moments” which focuses on the back story to some of the most iconic events in the history of Madison Square Garden in New York City. The series has featured the visit of Pope John Paul II, now Saint John Paul The Great from the perspective of both the attendees and the event organizers as well as Garden employees.

 

The series has also included classic sports moments such as Larry Johnson’s unforgettable four point play for the New York Knicks, the incredible hockey playoff series between the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils, and the unbelievable college basketball game between Syracuse and the University of Connecticut which needed six overtime periods to be decided.

 

I viewed this series as a trip down “memory lane” in my own life, though I was too young to remember the visit by the Pope back in 1979, I found that episode in the series particularly poignant and inspiring. This episode took on increasing significance when you consider that last week we remembered Saint John Paul II because it has been 10 years since he passed away. This holy man was beloved throughout the world but particularly in America, which was demonstrated by the reception he received in the Garden in an event geared toward the youth, which essentially served as the precursor to what would become World Youth Day in the Roman Catholic Church.

 

Four Points

 

Another episode in this series on Madison Square Garden’s history focused on the improbable and stunning four-point play converted by New York Knicks forward, Larry Johnson, during a playoff game in the 1999 push by the team to the Eastern Conference Championship. This episode coupled with the before-mentioned Devils vs. Rangers playoff series were the two episodes that evoked the strongest memories for me.

 

It was Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals with the Knicks and the Indiana Pacers in a series tied 1-1 setting the stage for a pivotal third game at the Garden. The Knicks would be without Patrick Ewing who sustained an injury at the end of the previous game, so the team needed Johnson to have a big game to replace the scoring they were going to lose with Ewing on the bench.

 

I watched that game, as I did so many other big Knicks games, with my mother. My mother enjoyed watching the games with me, especially basketball, and like all other things she did, she made it feel like a special event. She made sure to prepare dinner early so that everything was wrapped up and the kitchen was cleaned up by the time the game began. The playoff games helped because they generally started a little later in the evening.

 

I remember that series well, and being a Knicks fan, I was always preparing for the worst possible scenario. I recall thinking that the Knicks were in trouble without Ewing, the Pacers were a tough team, but I remember my Mom being optimistic that they would win because, as she explained: “it was at the Garden”. My mother made a bunch of different “game day” type snacks, and of course she had a nice dessert made too.

 

The game was dramatic, close, and the Garden crowd was raucous throughout the action. The Knicks and Pacers were like two heavyweight boxers exchanging blows, going toe-to-toe in the center of the ring, each team matching the other: basket for basket, dunk for dunk, and rebound for rebound. The Knicks kept the score close with Indiana largely due to the ability of each player utilizing their strengths and through a standout offensive performance by Larry Johnson.

 

In the closing moments of the game, the Knicks trailed by three points and the prospects of victory seemed bleak. Larry Johnson attempted a three point shot which he made successfully and a foul was called on the shot attempt giving him a trip to the foul line for one shot. The three point field goal tied the game at 91 and Johnson stepped to the foul line and time seemed to stop too. Johnson knocked down the free throw to give the Knicks an improbable 92-91 lead which would end up being the final score.

 

The roar of the crowd after that four point play was palpable even while watching it at home on television. My mother and I were elated that the Knicks were able to come from behind and win a pivotal playoff game without their best player and in front of their devoted fans. Of course, my mother also had to basically say “I told you so” and joked that I should have known also that the Knicks would get the much needed win.

 

The Road Ahead

 

New York would go on to win the series with Indiana in six games to advance to the NBA Finals to play the San Antonio Spurs, the top seeded team in the Western Conference. The Knicks would lose the series to San Antonio in five games, including losing twice on their home court and by one point in the deciding game 78-77. The Spurs have gone on to win multiple NBA titles since that series, while the Knicks have largely struggled for the better part of the past fifteen seasons.

 

It was a “defining moment” for MSG, the Larry Johnson four point play, but it also was a defining moment in my own journey. A month after that Game 3 victory in June 1999, my mother would be diagnosed with cancer. The four long years of fighting the disease took us to Philadelphia, where she received treatments. That was during the Allen Iverson days of the 76ers in Philly when they made their own run to the NBA Finals. My Mom and I would watch those games together when we were staying in Philly, and we would debate whether the Knicks teams from the mid-90s could have beaten that Sixers team.

 

My mother would pass away four years after her diagnosis. Now, when I watch Carmelo Anthony drop 45 points on an opponent I will say to my wife, “Mom would have liked that game” to which my wife will reply, “She did, she saw it with you”. The seasons move on and life moves on, but the memories remain.

 

The MSG series “Defining Moments” was really enjoyable and well produced. It took me on a trip back through time, into some defining moments in my own life, not only regarding sports, but in bringing me back to some events in my life that I had forgotten about in the busy nature of recent years.

 

I am grateful for that introspection, for eliciting the memories of nights watching playoff basketball with my Mom, and of times we shared together when life was different than it is today. The NBA regular season ended last night, and while the Knicks failed to make the playoffs, I will be watching the playoff games, and as my wife will remind me, my Mom will be right there watching them with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NBA All Star Weekend: Lost In the Shuffle

The NBA held their annual All Star weekend of festivities which culminated in the All Star Game last Sunday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The Western Conference All Stars won a very high scoring game last Sunday night in the marquee event of the weekend.

 

The problem with the NBA All Star Weekend is that the general consensus was that most people did not care. The NBA All Star Game is known throughout sports circles to be a mostly unwatchable event because the teams play zero defense. That trend certainly continued in this year’s installment. Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder finished as the MVP of the game with 41 points which is one point shy of the record for total points scored in the event.

 

The Skills Competition took place over in Brooklyn in a first for the All Star Game, having events in multiple arenas. The entire weekend of NBA events was not even on the radar screen for many people in the New York City and New Jersey metropolitan area. I think that several reasons exist for that sentiment around this game and this past weekend:

 

  • The performance of the two local teams – both the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets are playing poorly this year and coming into the season both were expected to at least compete for playoff spots. The Knicks have the worst record in the entire NBA at the All Star break, which is one of the biggest surprise storylines of the season. New Yorkers characteristically like winning teams so this cannot be underestimated as a role in diminishing local interest in the event
  • The weather – it was very cold over the weekend in the New York area with temperatures dropping into the single digits or below zero with the wind chill values. That goes a long way toward lowering the interest level in the events surrounding the All Star Weekend in the NBA. When it is that cold, the average casual sports fan is not going to head out or take their children out in that type of brutally cold weather
  • The Big Apple – the large scale sporting events which normally would dominate all the attention in other cities end up getting swallowed up by New York City. A good case in point was the Super Bowl being held in the New York area in February 2014. The biggest showcase in sports was a small blip on the radar screen in New York, it was almost like a side bar to everything else going in the City at that point in time. The Big Apple has so many people with so many different interests that it just eats up these larger events, and I think the NBA All Star Weekend fell into that dynamic

 

No Comparison

 

The most revealing way to demonstrate the impact of these factors on the NBA All Star Weekend is to compare the reaction of New York City and the surrounding metro area to the Major League Baseball All Star Weekend. When it was held at Yankee Stadium and then more recently at the Mets home, Citi Field, the MLB events drew huge crowds and had an interest level untouched by the NBA event and even the Super Bowl.

 

That interest level is driven by a few factors: the local baseball teams both have extensive fan bases respectively, the weather was warm because it was the middle of the summer, and New York is known to be a baseball town. I also think some of the interest in the game when the Yankees had it was because it was connected to the final year of the old Yankee Stadium, one of the most historic sports venues in the world.

 

The MLB All Star Game is similar to the NBA event of the same kind in that it does not carry the same interest level from the perspective of some fans. The MLB All Star event is seen as a simulation of a real baseball game, where the pitchers usually pitch no more than an inning or two at the most. The powers that be within the league office at MLB attempted several years ago to “up the stakes” on the All Star Game by having the winning league from the game gain home field advantage for the World Series competed at the end of that given season.

 

However, that change did little to increase interest in the MLB All Star Game, in fact the TV ratings have gone down in the past 4 years when compared to earlier in the 2000s when the game would average around 10 million total viewers compared to 6.7 to 6.9 million total viewers over the last four years.

 

Lost In The Shuffle

 

The NBA All Star Game this season in New York scored a 4.3 rating and 7.2 million total viewers airing on both TNT and TBS networks. This rating could be viewed as disappointing considering the event was held in the world’s most famous basketball arena, Madison Square Garden, and was held in the media capital of the world.

 

By comparison, the NBA All Star Game’s ratings for last season were 4.3 and 7.5 million total viewers, and in 2013 the rating was a 4.6 and total viewers topped out at 8 million. These figures are comparable to the baseball event and in my view they reflect a growing disinterest based upon a similar common thread to the root of the disinterest in the baseball event of the same type: it is a simulated game, an exhibition. The fans of the NBA, by and large do not want to see a game played with no defense at all and at times questionable effort by the players. I have seen so many times in the NBA event the attempts for trick plays and fancy dunks get missed or poorly timed, it ends up being a spectacle of sloppy play and endless turnovers. That is not fun to watch.

 

I have read in some other mainstream sports sites, the suggestion that the NBA should consider moving the start time of the game up by an hour, so in this way it would not have competition from prime time programming on the East Coast and in the Central time zone either. Those in the audience might remember that NBC would utilize the earlier start time when they held the NBA television broadcasting contract, the game would air at 5 PM Eastern time especially in the year that the Winter Olympics were televised on NBC.

 

I remember those earlier telecasts as a kid, and I actually think that they work better for a younger audience which would be tuning in to see their favorite NBA stars compete in this showcase event. It may also increase social media traffic for the event too because a larger “tween” and teen audience from a demographic standpoint would reflect an increase in social media activity.

 

Furthermore, in what should give the NBA further evidence that a change of some kind needs to be made to increase interest in the event, the NBA All Star Game was not even the highest rated program within that time slot. The AMC scripted drama series, “The Walking Dead”, outperformed the game in the ratings which is almost unheard of today with live sports programming of almost any type characteristically always winning the time slot.

 

The only event of the All Star type which performs worse in the ratings is the NHL hockey event which this season was held in Columbus, Ohio. The NHL game drew only 1.1 million total viewers in the U.S. and the ratings in Canada were down about 40% from the prior year. The game has already changed the start time to begin earlier to reduce competition from other programming.

 

The rationale behind this decline, in my view, is probably similar to the other events of its type, it is unwatchable because the game is not competitive. The NHL game has been maligned for years for the fact that nobody gets hit in the game and nobody plays defense. A hockey game stripped of intensity is not an event which will tend to draw the average viewer or the casual fan. The case in point is that this year’s edition of the NHL All Star Game featured a record 29 goals scored between the two teams. That is not the type of game that fans will tune in to see.

 

In addition, the other reason why the NHL game viewership could have declined stems from feedback I observed on social media regarding the drafting of the teams to play on a team captained by a player rather than a selection based on the best players in each conference. The feedback I read was that many fans want to return to the East vs. West format of the game rather than teams that are a mix of talent from across the entire league.

 

The fact remains that regardless of the sport, really with the exception of NFL football, the ratings for certain sports programming remains variable. Baseball is a regional sport, so it is never going to gain the same national viewership as other sports. The ratings for NHL hockey have seen an upward trend in recent years but that is also relative to the size of the fan base for the sport. The regular season games are still heavily market dependent for television ratings and the most popular way to see hockey remains the in-person live game experience.

 

The viewers have more choices than ever before with the advent of streaming television services, video on demand services, and movie rental options from services such as Red Box. If these games celebrating a collection of the best players in that particular sport are going to rebound in the ratings they have to embrace some changes.

 

Back To Broadway

 

I have lived in the New York – New Jersey metropolitan area my whole life, and I have listened to people I know and fans on sports radio shows here complain in the past that New York rarely gets the chance to host the larger sporting events. The argument being that the leagues would never have the ratings, the interest, and the revenues that they have currently without the large contribution from the New York area based on the sheer size of the population of the market alone.

 

However, the fact is that with the exception of the baseball All Star Games held here in recent years many of these larger sporting events have not captured the broad based interest in New York like it has when the same events are held in other cities. I am not sure why that is exactly, it could be weather dependent, it could be the expensive nature of the event in a down economic market for this area, or it could just be that the people here have access to so many other options that it is difficult to capture their collective focus on one event.

 

In the end, these events and their ability to be held in New York especially during the winter, need to be reevaluated. The leagues need to determine how they can recapture the attention that these events once held in the national consciousness within the rapidly changing dynamics of the media, entertainment, and social media.

 

(Television ratings data and some background information courtesy of Yahoo! Sports, The Sporting News, The Baseball Almanac, Sports Media Watch, and CBS Sports)

 

 

Why Phil Jackson Will Not Coach The Knicks

The New York Knicks are in a tailspin, everyone who follows basketball knows that, and the rumors have been swirling that their head coach, Mike Woodson, is going to be fired as soon as next week. The speculation is that the Knicks front office will go with an interim head coach for the remainder of the season, and pursue Phil Jackson to be the next head coach for the long term.

 

I have been a Knicks fan for a very long time, and I can state with a fair amount of certainty that Phil Jackson will not be the next head coach of the team. My rationale is simple: Jackson has been offered the job before and declined it, the roster of the team is a mess that is not easily fixed, and the owner is too intrusive.

 

In addition, Phil Jackson has won his championships, he has made a ton of money coaching, and he is retired with some health issues. The Knicks have approached him and made overtures to him before and he has not been interested in the job. It is going to take a lot of money and a great sales pitch for Jackson to consider taking over the Knicks coaching duties at this point.

 

The Knicks will begin the second half of their season after the All Star festivities over this past weekend in New Orleans. I thought this would be a good time to evaluate the team and the future of the head coaching position in New York.

 

Roster Mess

 

The key motivation point for Phil Jackson to take the coaching job in New York would be the capability for the current roster to be championship-caliber. This roster at the present time is not winning a championship at any time soon, in fact it would be pressed at this point to make the playoffs. In the Eastern Conference, that is saying very little, since the majority of the teams do not even have winning records.

 

Jackson is not going to coach here for a long period of time, he is 68 years old, and so this has to be a “win now” situation. The Knicks are set up to have several contracts expiring so they will have a great deal of salary cap room in the summer of 2015. That is still over a year away and it will take time to build team chemistry with an overhauled roster, so this will take a multi-year commitment from Jackson.

 

The Knicks current roster features poor point guard play, a shooting guard in J.R. Smith who plays erratically and inconsistently, an aging front court which has been injured more than they have spent time on the floor, and a star player in Carmelo Anthony who plans to test the free agent market at the end of this season.

 

The team needs depth at every position, a point guard, and a forward with size who can rebound and play defense. The Knicks also have virtually no draft picks because they have traded them away in deals to obtain veteran players from other teams in the past.

 

This is a key aspect in roster building because it takes away the ability to get younger players through the draft on more cost effective contracts. It also takes a key chip off the table in future trades where the Knicks could improve their team by trading draft picks and not parting with multiple players on their current roster.

 

Ownership drama

 

The final reason, and perhaps the most compelling reason, why Phil Jackson will not be the next head coach of the Knicks is the intrusive nature of their owner, James Dolan.  Dolan gets involved in every aspect of the Knicks and does not allow the head coach any power or control over the roster moves of the organization. Phil Jackson is a proven winner and is considered to be among one of the greatest coaches in NBA history. He is going to be approached by other teams in search of a head coach.  Why would he take the job with the Knicks and have no control over the roster, when he could go somewhere else and have full control over player decisions?

 

The answer is that he would not come to New York and deal with the owner constantly making front office moves, firing the general manager on a whim and forcing the front office to make trades before they were ready to do so, like with Donnie Walsh and the trade for Carmelo Anthony.

 

Phil Jackson is not going to want any part of the front office drama that comes with the territory of being associated with a Knicks organization run by James Dolan.

 

I have seen the Knicks make some bizarre moves just when you thought they had a plan, they would make a trade or bring in a free agent that made no sense. That had started to change after the disaster of the Isaiah Thomas years, and Walsh had assembled a pretty good roster here at one point, and then this season happened.

 

The unorthodox style of the Knicks front office continues, when just last week, New York was linked to a potential trade with the Denver Nuggets for Kenneth Faried. Now, I think Faried is a talented player and a great athlete, but the move does not make sense from the Knicks perspective because they need size on the front line. Faried is an undersized power forward who can score, he is not known for his rebounding.

The Knicks currently use a smaller lineup with Carmelo Anthony playing the power forward spot and using his quickness, athleticism, and lethal shooting ability to score against bigger, slower players at that position. Kenneth Faried can score points but is in no way even in the same category as Anthony, who is one of the top players in the NBA. I do not understand why the Knicks would try to obtain another smaller guy to play power forward, neither did many reporters on the beat for the team. It is an example of strange moves by the front office in the Garden.  It is also yet another reason why Phil Jackson will not take this job.

 

At this point, I could see Mike Woodson coaching through the last 30 games of the season, and if the team misses the playoffs, then I think they would have to make a coaching change. The more feasible choice at that point could be Jeff Van Gundy, who has a history with the Knicks, so he knows how the franchise operates. He also has a reputation as more of a disciplinarian than other guys they could bring in, and I think the Knicks need a strong amount of discipline to turn this team around.

 

I would be shocked if Phil Jackson took this job, for all of these reasons, and because I am not sure that even his coaching greatness could fix the mess which is the New York Knicks.

 

 

 

 

 

TV markets and the expansion of professional sports – Part 1

A major factor in the decision regarding the expansion of professional sports teams is the size of the television market for the respective city proposing to join one of the major sports leagues.

 

In the changing landscape of the medium of television, live sports event programming is a ratings gold mine for the networks. Due to the advancements in smart phones, tablets, social media, and other devices it has created a scenario where it is very difficult for a fan to not learn the outcome of a given sporting event.

 

These advancements have changed the practices for the viewing of sporting events because many of them are no longer recorded to watch at a later point. The fans of a respective sport want to watch the event live as it happens, which has created a surge in the ratings for sporting events on television, and it also creates added importance for the major sports leagues to be in position to capitalize on those ratings.

 

Each league has their own unique challenges when it comes to expansion and the maximization of television ratings and other revenue streams. This first part in a multi-part series will detail the current status of each of the “Big Four” sports leagues and their future potential expansion prospects.

 

The “Big Four” leagues are each in different positions in their own respective growth cycles with regard to expansion. This is driven by a variety of factors:

  • Size of the league currently
  • Locations of their current franchises
  • Current revenues/revenue projections for the future
  • Stadium/arena situation
  • Dedicated and stable ownership in the respective market
  • Corporate Sponsorship and local/state government support

 

A point of clarification on the revenues and projected revenues item listed above before moving into the individual leagues. Each league divides certain revenues among all of the respective member franchises.

 

Some leagues (NFL, NBA) have ownership boards that like the number of teams they currently have and do not want to “split the pie” too much further with expansion franchises. Particularly because most expansion teams will not be successful in the standings, so they could qualify to receive higher amounts of revenue sharing funds based on the rules for that respective league.

 

The revenues for the National Hockey League (NHL) are expected to rise but the league is at a point where they just came through a labor disruption with the 2012 lockout. The owners and players both have an interest in getting more out of their “piece of the pie”. One way for them to do this quickly is to expand the league because the fees paid by the new owners for entry into the league is an immediate revenue injection.

 

National Basketball Association (NBA)

 

The National Basketball Association (NBA) currently has 30 member franchises split into two conferences of fifteen teams each, within each conference are three divisions consisting of five teams in each division.

 

The NBA could conceivably expand by two teams to 32 at some point in the future. Those who follow the league know that they NBA just went through a roller coaster saga with the Sacramento Kings franchise and their ownership change.

 

The former owners, the NBA, and the city government could not come together on a deal for a new arena, and the current arena in Sacramento is badly outdated compared to other venues in the league.

 

It appeared that the team might be relocating to Seattle, where the league had a presence for years, until they moved the Seattle Supersonics to Oklahoma City in 2008 (www.nba.com). The loyal fans in Seattle have been trying to get their NBA team back and were very upset that it was moved away (also over a failed new arena deal) and the NBA has been trying to correct that public relations nightmare ever since.

 

In the end, the city of Sacramento put together a solid ownership group to bid for the team to keep it in the capital of California. The NBA approved the deal because it did not want to relocate another franchise and have angry fans in Sacramento like they did in Seattle. The new ownership group quickly moved on a new arena deal in a different location of Sacramento than the previously failed sites, and the team did not move out of Northern California (www.nba.com).

 

This last minute change thwarted all of the work that Seattle did up to that point to secure a new team to replace the franchise the city lost. Therefore when you consider the expansion markets for the NBA they are as follows: (all TV markets data courtesy of www.stationindex.com and the demographic info was provided by www.census.gov and the Fortune business info is courtesy of www.money.cnn.com )

 

  • Seattle – they have a history and established fan base from the Supersonics years of being located there.

TV Market: ranked 14th

Metro area population: ranked 15th

Fortune 500 companies: 4

Synopsis/Outlook: The Seattle market is too large from a population and TV market size perspective for the NBA to ignore. They have a dedicated potential ownership group lead by Chris Hansen, who has spent large sums of his own money to secure land near the other 2 stadiums in downtown Seattle to build a state of the art arena. The political climate has changed because the officials there learned from the past mistake of not allocating government
funds to a new arena back in 2007-08. The public there is very dedicated to gaining a new team, and they have a built-in fan base. The outlook is highly likely that they will gain a team, either through expansion or relocation. The latest news here is the Milwaukee Bucks have an arena issue, and the NBA has said they need to solve it or else they would entertain relocating the team elsewhere. Seattle would be the first destination on the list for a relocated franchise, if the Bucks cannot get an arena deal consummated with the State of Wisconsin.

 

  • Tampa/ St. Petersburg – attractive location for the league could join Southeast Division in expansion.

TV Market: 13 (pretty big compared to markets currently in league)

Metro Population: 18th ranked

Fortune 500 companies headquartered: 0  (5 in Fortune 1000)

 

Synopsis/Outlook: The population demographics and the TV market size are strengths for this city. The arena there hosts an NHL team and is state of the art. The issues with a bid from this city are the lack of major corporations which could negatively impact: corporate sponsorships, luxury suite spending, and media air time buys. The other factor to consider was the area was hit hard by the recession and that could have an impact on attendance figures. The two other major detriments are no known committed ownership groups and the NBA has two other teams in Florida including one a couple of hours away in Orlando.

 

  • Pittsburgh – has the other 3 sports and wants to be a “Big 4” city

TV Market: 23rd

Metro Population: 22nd

Fortune 500 company HQ: several- including suburbs estimated 13-15

 

Synopsis/Outlook: The strengths for this city for the NBA bid are numerous including top 25 TV market, a brand new arena built for the NHL Pittsburgh Penguins, and very strong major corporation presence. The Sporting News has named it the “Best Sports City” in the past, and the fans of their current teams are known for their passion. If the right ownership group could put together a strong bid, this could be a very viable option for an NBA expansion franchise.

 

  • Kansas City – an outsider looking in – some good points and some question marks for a potential expansion bid.

TV Market: 31st

Metro population: 30th

Fortune 500 Company HQ: 3 (several other large corporations with offices here)

 

Synopsis/Outlook: This city is a solid contender for NBA expansion bid with the location being between Oklahoma City and Denver, which would create regional rivalries which help expansion teams. The arena, Sprint Center, was built in 2007 and the taxpayers desperately want a full time professional tenant to use it, since they shelled out money to pay for it. The players in exhibition games have raved about the arena being completely state of the art and nicer than some current facilities in the league. The arena is a huge component of an NBA bid and it is a very strong positive for this city. The issues here could be public support long term of the team with the immense popularity of the University of Kansas basketball team in competition directly. The right ownership group could be a challenge as well.

 

  • Louisville – my last entrant for the NBA based on a mention in an interview by NBA Commissioner David Stern regarding potential expansion sites.

TV Market: 50th

Metro population: 42nd

Fortune 500 Company HQ: 3

 

Synopsis/Outlook: Louisville is an interesting contender for an expansion team but might be on the outside looking in. If the NBA expands it will be by one or two teams and I think Seattle will definitely be one of them. The TV market rank looks bad at 50th –  but then the NBA has a current team in New Orleans, the Pelicans, and that TV market is ranked 53rd. Since basketball has very strong local support it generally does a solid rating even if it is a small market. The corporate presence is good here, and the arena is only a few years old. It is very close to Indianapolis (about 90 minute drive time) which could be looked at as a plus or minus by the league with a team currently in Indiana.

 

Europe?

 

The last consideration as far as NBA expansion is concerned is the potential for European teams. Some might feel this is further away than it actually is, it could be a serious consideration in the next 5 years. The NBA and soccer are the only two global sports.

 

The NBA has so much international appeal that David Stern has talked about a potential division of teams in Europe. In my opinion, you are probably looking at London, Paris, Rome, one team in Spain (probably Madrid), and because of the health of the German economy probably two teams there for a total of six. I would think six teams would be the only way it would be worth launching in Europe, and is a solid number without overreaching in the early stages. The players would probably dislike the travel, but it is something that could become viable in the future.

 

The second part of this series will detail Major League Baseball, and the potential for expansion of the game that has defined America for generations.

 

 

 

 

New York Knicks News: J.R. Smith out 10-14 weeks / Metta World Peace returns to NYC

The recent news as reported by CBS Sports, is that the New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith recently underwent knee surgery and will be out 10-14 weeks. The team also announced it has reached agreement with small forward Metta World Peace (a.k.a. Ron Artest) on a 2 year contract (www.cbssports.com).

 

The fact that Smith had to have these knee surgeries done is a concern to me as a fan on a couple of levels. First, the injuries to Smith’s knees have been chronic and what if these procedures do not fix those problems?

 

Now, the Knicks have signed him to a 4 year contract, and he could hypothetically miss extended periods of time due to nagging injury.

 

However, Smith has battled through injury his entire career and has shown toughness and resilience in the past, but I do think that the injuries have an effect on his shooting capability. It could help to explain the long scoring drought he had in the playoffs this past season.

 

Who is going to help Melo?

 

The second area of concern I have regarding the absence of Smith is that he will miss training camp and the beginning few weeks of next season. That timetable, of course, is if everything involving in his rehab goes well. What if he has a setback?

 

In the absence of Smith, who is going to be the secondary scoring player to help Carmelo Anthony (a.k.a. Melo)?

 

The Knicks are going to need some scoring help from one of the other guards on the roster. I would look to Iman Shumpert as a potentially capable source of that offense.

 

I know so far Shumpert’s calling card is his ability to play lock-down defense, but the Knicks sent him to play Summer League ball in Las Vegas specifically to work on the offensive aspects of his game.

 

The other option is that secondary scoring might have to come from the front court with Andrea Bargnani. He has a very well rounded offensive game, as I covered in a prior post here on “Frank’s Forum”. Any seven foot guy who can shoot the 3 pointer, drive to the basket, and shoot mid-range jumpers is difficult to defend.

 

The opposing team will be looking to stop Carmelo Anthony, so that may open up some shots for Bargnani to knock down.

 

Outside of those two players, I do not know where the Knicks are going to find the points that Smith would normally contribute. In his absence, they need to put together a game plan to figure that out.

 

Metta World Peace: return to NYC

 

It was widely speculated that following the Los Angeles Lakers using their amnesty buyout on the contract of Metta World Peace, he would come and play for the Knicks.

 

The rationale behind that rumor was because he would still be paid by the Lakers the remainder of the money on his contract with them, the Lakers just eliminated those dollars from the salary cap and the luxury tax figures.

 

The Knicks have very little money left to spend on free agents but figured to offset the money he was receiving from the Lakers with half the mid- level trade exception which is around $1.6 million.

 

The Knicks used the other half of the mid-level trade exception to sign Pablo Prigioni recently to bring him back after his successful first year with the team last season. Prigioni will fill an important role in the Knicks backcourt in the upcoming season.

 

Metta World Peace (a.k.a. Ron Artest) figured to resume his NBA career with the Knicks because they are a potential title contender (he has played 14 years in the league so he was not going to go to a bad team at this point) and he is from New York City. The Knicks have a need at small forward, so this is a good move for all sides.

 

I know that World Peace has had a checkered past history, but I believe in redemption and second chances. He has grown into a solid defender and rebounder as well as a locker room leader which Kobe Bryant wanted back with the Lakers. This is a guy who used to drink beers before games when he was with the Indiana Pacers.

 

Then, he famously changed his name and thanked his psychiatrist after the most recent Lakers championship series victory a few years ago. He will fill an important void for the Knicks in their frontcourt and in the locker room. I think Coach Woodson will get a high caliber of effort out of him as well.

 

So, Knicks fans, we have a bad news and good news type of day. The team still has a couple of smaller roster moves yet to make, including the continued negotiations to bring back Kenyon Martin, which I think is imperative for them to do moving forward. Stay tuned.