THE BUSINESS AND POLITICS OF SPORTS
If you listen to the sports radio talk shows, as painful as that can be at times, there seems to be a resentment that basketball players such as LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard are manipulating the system using impending free agency as leverage to force trades or collude to play with other big time players.
In the CNN-SI Truth and Rumors section, Howard is leaving Orlando for the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent or maybe he will join the Brooklyn Nets.
The New York Knicks flagship radio station, WEPN which along with New York newspaper sports sections led the cheerleading for the Knicks pursuit of Anthony ran a promo pushing Chris Paul to the Knicks when Paul becomes a free agent after 2012. It seems the NBA's major market teams can somehow fit stars into big cities despite the presence of a salary cap just like Major League Baseball, which has no salary cap but significant revenue sharing.
But no one ever talks about the ultimate free agency — franchise relocation.
The prevailing thinking is that the NBA's big stars want to go to big markets. LeBron James and Chris Bosh didn't go to a big market; they went to Miami where they joined Wade. Anthony ended up with the Knicks. Will small market NBA owners look to big markets like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York (Newark) if they cannot make it in Sacramento, Indiana, New Orleans, Memphis and Charlotte to name a few struggling markets?
The National Basketball Association has approved a number of moves in the past decade. Michael Heisley left behind Vancouver, Canada for a new arena in Memphis in 2001. George Shinn took his Charlotte Hornets basketball team to New Orleans in 2002. Two years ago, Clayton Bennett failed at his attempt to get a new Seattle arena for his SuperSonics basketball franchise and literally went home — his home — to Oklahoma City.
Memphis, New Orleans and Oklahoma City are small markets and there seems to be a feeling that the small markets cannot work over the long haul in the NBA.
The Maloof brothers, the owners of the Sacramento Kings, apparently are very interested in moving their basketball business from California's capital to a very crowded professional and college market in Anaheim, California which is south of Los Angeles. The Maloofs have received permission from the NBA to pursue a transfer to the arena close to Disneyland and will tell league officials in mid April if they intend to move south.
Anaheim is a much wealthier market than Sacramento and potentially oozes TV money, which is extremely important.
The Maloofs are negotiating with Anaheim officials and could be speaking with the big bosses from Rupert Murdoch's FOX Sports West about the huge hole in programming at the regional cable network starting in the fall of 2012 when Jerry Buss's Los Angeles Lakers join forces with Time Warner and form a potentially high revenue English- language Lakers channel and a Spanish-language Lakers channel.
In the David Stern world of success, a franchise needs three components — strong government support (Anaheim is pushing to get the Maloofs to sign a deal with Henry Samueli and share the city owned arena with Samueli's NHL Anaheim Ducks franchise), a strong local cable TV contract (FOX Sports West will have an opening for programming) and strong corporate support.
Newark has an NBA franchise at the moment but the city's arena will have an opening, presumably in 2012-13 when the present NBA franchise moves to Brooklyn. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has spoken to Stern about that opening, so presumably there is strong government support for a Newark NBA franchise. The Comcast-Time Warner and New York Mets owned SNY regional cable network has no professional (NHL-NBA) games during the winter and could use programming. New Jersey has not shown strong corporate support for the Nets or NHL Devils and that might be a problem. The New York market oozes TV money too despite two Major League Baseball teams, two NFL teams, three National Hockey League teams, two NBA teams and a few of Big East basketball teams.
That leads to this question. For an owner, is being a big fish in a small pond better than being third fiddle in a super market like New York or Los Angeles?
The Maloofs are exploring that question.