This post isn’t your number crunching, economical or even attendance related rant. This is really all about product, the NBA product. Many people have taken the words of David Stern to be serious and with the sense that big changes are on the way. While most people realize that Stern will use anything in bargaining negotiations many can’t help but think “what if the NBA were to contract.”
Today we’re going to look at several aspects of why contraction is kind of a bad idea. It may be fine in principle but if you take away what makes the NBA so good then you are left with little on the table. No doubt is the NBA a global brand. Most Americans may choose to neglect it but it really has become a globalised icon for the United States of America. When you think of the US think McDonalds, think General Motors, think David Stern and his NBA.
When Stern suggested that contraction was on the table I laughed. If anything the man wants to expand, to Europe more specifically. But with the NBA needing new sources of revenue what’s the deal with being so harsh on the “small-market teams.”
Most people think that this league is built upon the Lakers and Celtics rivalry’s, the Knicks and their Madison Square Garden as well as the Chicago Bulls and Jordan’s legacy. While that is all somewhat true I beg to tell a different story. For every international fan of the Lakers there is believe it or not a fan of the Grizzlies. For every international fan of the Celtics there is believe it or not a fan of the Hornets.
Many people love the root for the little guy, love to root for the team that has everything against them. If the Grizzlies were to move from Memphis not only would local fans be upset but I can assure you that international one’s would be too as they grow a connection with the city, no matter the distance between that and their own.
America’s Got Talent
The idea of contraction is that the on-floor product becomes less diluted and more evenly spread. Many NBA analysts will comment on the fact that the talent level in the NBA is at an all-time low. While their opinions appear to be ludicrous (it’s all a matter of perspective and they don’t seem to have that) the NBA is stronger than ever. If the league was indeed the cesspit that so many say it to be in terms of competing talent why is it that it draws interest from around the planet at all time highs?
If we glance back to the “Golden Era” season in which 20 future Hall-of-Famers played we saw that the New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets, Los Angeles Clippers and Chicago Bulls all finished near the bottom of their respective divisions. We saw a 12 win team and two 24 win teams. In an era that supposedly had an even spread of talent you’d think that most teams would be near the .500 mark right?
In the very first season of the NBA when there were only 11 teams there was a 25% winning team, a 33% and two 36%’s. Sure it’s a long way back, but if you asked the fans of larger market teams they’d say contracting to 10 teams is a swell idea right? No.
The reason why is simple. There will always be terrible teams in a season and good one’s no matter the talent spread. In the golden era’s and the beginning era’s there are always bad teams, it’s just the way things are. If people are to use this argument you have to wonder, “would it really make that much of a difference?”
This isn’t a matter of talent distribution, it’s a matter of reality. Sure if we cut the weaker teams out we might be able to find Gerald Wallace, Kevin Love, Rudy Gay and OJ Mayo a new home, but would it necessarily mean the league would be any better?
For every Charlotte Bobcats franchise you have a Los Angeles Clippers. For every Minnesota Timberwolves franchise you have a New Jersey Nets one. Even if you are in a bigger market it doesn’t equate to success and a drawing of talent. Take “The Summer of Lebron” for instance. Even when all these superstars and even decent NBA players had a chance to sign with New York, they said, “No thanks we’d rather play in a smaller market (smaller in relation to New York that is.)”
‘Wheeling and Dealing’ It’s a Capitalist thing…
For all the talent and placement of it the NBA is after all a business. There’s no denying it, players, coaches, general managers, owners and even the uhh…sponsors. But with most things economics always comes into play. If an owner had a choice as to where he wanted his new NBA franchise to start up in, a city with 400,000 people or a city of 4 million people? Most would say that the owner would go with the 4 million.
Sure the NBA has big money grabbing franchises like the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks, but the heart of the league lies in the Sacramento Kings, the Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs and the New Orleans Hornets. We may want to neglect them all because of their “smaller market” label, but when you see four rings on Tim Duncan’s fingers you can’t help but smile and give the finger to the bigger market fans. After all it is a war between big city and small city.
Looking at attendance numbers is easy. What isn’t easy is looking at the heart of a city. The slogan “Passion, Purpose, Pride” is one that is embroiled closely with the Hornets organisation, but truthfully that’s what its about for this franchise. Passion for the game, a Purpose to play every minute and Pride in the fans and the city.
These smaller market teams can still be profitable, that’s what many of the “contractionists” neglect to mention. Even if the Hornets average 15,000 per game what if they did so in a manner of efficiency and relative profitability?
The real problem lies in local TV deals. Most smaller market teams are strangle-held by TV deals that blackout certain areas of the city. A city like New Orleans has an entire area completely blacked out due to cable disputes. Teams need to realize that adding revenue through TV deals isn’t just the upfront compensation, it’s the long term benefits of expanding the fan base. Making sure the entire city watches the team each and every night is essential to the long term prosperity of a franchise. With all the talk of contraction and expansion on the table there needs to be a better consideration of the individual problems of organisations and how to become better problem solvers.
Take a bite out of history will you?
When we look at any great league around the world there are always going to be teams you mention based on their success over a longer period of time. Machester United, Pittsburgh Steelers or Green Bay Packers, New York Yankees/Boston Redsox and the Los Angeles Lakers or the Boston Celetics.
The historical nature of teams enhances their aurora. Not only do the Knicks benefit from playing in the greatest arena on the planet but they also reap the rewards of the players that have worn the uniform before them. The current roster does the historical value little justice, but it’s there.
That’s what teams like the New Orleans Hornets don’t have. The Saints are a staple in the city of New Orleans. Why? Because of the historical value. Suffering through years of mediocrity was all the city had, they clinged to it. It really is a retrospective of other teams like the Green Bay Packers. Sure both are small-market teams. One had great Superbowl success while the other wore paper-bags on their heads. But still that historical value comes into play.
I’m sure that in 50 years time that if the Hornets are still in New Orleans that the value and connection with the city will be ever stronger.
The reason the idea of contraction is freely discussed around league circles is because it can be. Talking about moving the Bobcats to Seattle and renaming the Sonics is a great idea. Why? Because of the historical value of the SuperSonics. We all know of the great atmosphere in Seattle and the history that is implanted there, that’s why we value the notion of a team there. And it’s with that very notion that we de-value the idea of a Bobcats team in Charlotte.
Expand and you will succeed… hardly…
David Stern wants to contract, David Stern wants to expand. Can we get a read on this guy? Probably not, there’s a labour agreement around the corner, so just chill. But businesses always want to expand and there’s no doubt that’s what Stern wants at the end of the day. He wants to solidify what he has and get a better return for his investors (NBA Owners) but he always wants to capitalize on the opportunities in Europe.
Opportunities be damned teams like New Orleans are here to stay, and that’s why we Hornets fans love the team that much more, because you don’t want them to succeed. You don’t like the fact that a city that was devastated twice by natural disasters is fighting back and doing a better job at putting together a professional basketball team than the cities of New York and even Miami. You don’t like it, but we sure as hell do.
Topics: Boston Celtics, Charlotte Bobcats, David Stern, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angle, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, NBA Contraction, New Orleans Hornets, New York Knicks, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Seattle SuperSonics, Tim Duncan