The Lakers took Monday off, so I’ll refer you to an article that appeared on the front page of The New York Times about the future of the Seattle SuperSonics in the Pacific Northwest.
It’s hard to imagine the Sonics not playing in Seattle – – they honored their 40th anniversary team when the Lakers were in town Nov. 5 – – but the only plausible option for staying in Washington state is an arena in one of the suburbs such as Bellevue. Three out of every four voters was against subsidizing a renovation of Key Arena.
The Sonics owners have made clear that they want public funds for a new arena; Seattle’s best offer was $50 million before the ballot initiative. There’s no incentive to build a privately funded arena when there are cities with buildings just waiting for an NBA team.
There are going to be franchises on the move in the next couple of years in the NBA. The first question is will the Hornets return to New Orleans next season. That could set the stage for the Sonics’ new Oklahoma City-based ownership group to move in soon after the Hornets depart.
One thing for the NBA to consider: The Seattle television market, according to Neilsen Media Research, is the 13th largest in the country at 1.701 million TV homes. The Oklahoma City market is the 45th largest with 655,400 TV homes. It’s smaller than the combined Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo-Battle Creek, Mich., TV market.
You run the risk of a ratings disaster if the Oklahoma City Sonics ever played in the NBA Finals. This is why the league has tremendous incentive to find a way of making the Knicks competitive again. There are 7.375 million TV homes in New York that aren’t watching close to the amount of NBA basketball they could be.
There are undoubtedly small-market success stories like Sacramento, San Antonio and Utah. A new arena also is the easiest way to generate the revenue needed to compete in a league where the average player makes more than $5 million. But the league heads to places like Memphis, Tenn., and Oklahoma City at its own risk.