Ballmer: Seattle not getting NBA team anytime soon, probably not arena either

Steve Ballmer, who owns the Los Angeles Clippers but is from Seattle and was possibly going to be part of an ownership group for a new team there before buying the Clippers, says don’t hold your breath for Seattle getting an expansion team, at least in the next year or two:

“It’s just not likely to happen,” Ballmer told those attending the conference. “There has been no discussion about expansion since I have been involved with the league. So, I don’t think that will happen. The league has really moved to favor teams staying in their current markets. You’d have to find a team that’s at the end of their (arena) lease, where it looks hard to build an arena and where they’ve tried really hard to build an arena.”

The next year or two is an eyeblink in league expansion time, so that’s really no surprise. Why it’s significant is that the city’s memorandum of understanding with Chris Hansen expires in November 2017, so even if the Seattle council works out its qualms over closing a street to make way for the arena, there may not be an NBA team to build one for, which is required as part of the deal.

Hansen’s best chance of building an arena, said Ballmer, is to find an NHL team to bring to town — something that would take some fast footwork, since Hansen doesn’t have a team owner lined up, and the NHL just announced expansion that didn’t include Seattle, and there’s at least a $100 million funding gap if Hansen brings hockey to town instead of basketball, and also Hansen doesn’t really like hockey. Verdict: mostly dead.

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27 comments on “Ballmer: Seattle not getting NBA team anytime soon, probably not arena either

  1. Seattle’s only shot at getting an NBA team is for Tom Benson to drop dead and his wife to sell the New Orleans Pelicans. Expansion was never gonna happen since the league is already watered down (no one even cares about the regular season anymore) and there’s just not enough talent for more teams. Let’s not even get into the arena debate, because Hansen practically offered to build a free arena for the city and they still put up a roadblock for him.

    1. I completely disagree. Basketball is the second most popular sport worldwide (behind Soccer).

      There are plenty of really good players playing in other leagues. There isn’t another Lebron James, certainly, but there are plenty of guys you could swap out for any of the 8th or 9th player on any NBA roster and see an improvement, not just no net drop in talent.

      When another team comes in, some of the stars will be redistributed from other teams (just as when the Heat came in in 1988, The Magic, the Hornets, the Raptors and Grizzlies followed etc). Those markets will bring in new fans to the game and ultimately, generate more interest from future players (IE: kids).

      Expansion is never about today… it’s about the future. Each of those teams were considered questionable (and two of them moved, to be fair) when the franchises were approved, yet a couple of decades on two are very strong markets for the league. One of the ones that moved has been replaced (and the “mover” itself replaced another former franchise, now in Utah…)

      1. It doesn’t matter how popular the sport is if there’s not enough talent to make a 30 team league competitive. The NBA hasn’t been a competitive league for quite some time now. Teams like the Bucks, Hornets, Sixers, Nets, Wizards, Magic, Pistons, Knicks, Kings, Nuggets, Suns, Timberwolves, Pelicans and Jazz (even marquee teams like the Lakers, Celtics and Bulls) have been bad or stuck in neutral for many years now. We honestly don’t need two more expansion teams taking away talent from them. How can you get excited about your team when there’s only a couple of teams (Cavs, Warriors and Spurs) that have a shot at the title. Even if you have a superstar, chances are they will end up leaving to play in a larger market, as we have seen with Durant leaving OKC. Do you think anyone will care about the Thunder anymore? Nope. Just like no one cares about watching a Pistons-Kings game in January.

        1. Why would you think that the expansion teams will only draw talent from the already poor teams, making them worse?

          Increased competition for playing talent (although I don’t agree that the talent pool is that weak) should lead to the better teams losing good players at a higher rate than the poor teams do (because they have fewer such players, and in a capped league should have an easier time keeping them).

          On the other and, if the real issue is that everyone at the top end makes so much money (and is salary capped) that they choose to stack superteams so that small groups of players can win trophies and take home $22m, well, expansion isn’t likely to make that problem either better or worse I suspect.

    2. I agree with John, mostly: You’re in the fat part of the bell curve, now, and you could add a couple of extra teams and they’d be no sadder than the Sixers or Nets. The reason nobody cares about the regular season isn’t because the teams are bad, it’s because everybody gets into the playoffs — so really, adding more non-playoff teams could make the regular season *more* interesting.

      The one place I sort of disagree is that basketball gives so little chance to the underdog, and team quality is so strongly influenced by one or two great players, that 90% of the league has no hope of a title going into each year. But that’s a problem regardless of whether you have 30 or 31 or 32 teams.

      The reason the NBA doesn’t want to expand, I’m sure, is because they don’t want to share their incredible cable boodle with anybody else, except the players, which is required by their labor agreement.

      1. Basketball should try a soccer style “Champions League” format. With basketball being popular around the world, and more popular than soccer in the U.S. NBA teams could be big of international brands on the scale of Manchester United and that lot.

        1. They might not be that far away from doing just that, Mark.

          IIRC, 18 teams qualify for euroleague from the top leagues in Europe. That’s certainly not the same level of money (or play) as the NBA, but I can see a path from where they are to a FIBA champions league.

          The only obstacle might be what the NBA wants in terms of $$$ to allow it’s clubs to participate. The league has everything to lose and little to gain by doing competing against lesser opposition. If their teams win easily, they gain nothing. If their teams have to battle hard to win, they lose face. If their teams lose, it’s a disaster.

          1. Cool, but I’d disagree with the article’s premise that the NBA teams had little to gain. I’m just guessing here, but it seems with basketball’s international popularity, combined with it already being huge in the US market, NBA teams, could be huge international brands. (Not that they aren’t pretty big already) The down side for the NBA would be if the other leagues got decent they’d compete for talent.

        2. I like that idea, Mark. A lot more than European expansion. Canadian expansion does not bother me. Last I checked, a Canadian invented the sport. Kinda hard to deny them a team or two.

          I think it might harm the NBA though, if the NBA teams lose early on. Maybe ten or twenty years down the road, and the Euro teams start winning, people here would accept that. They won’t accept it now, though. And, I’m afraid some of these Euro teams would win immediately.

          Some of these new contracts that I’m seeing even somewhat marginal guys get (forgive me, I can’t remember the example/player I was going to give), are outrageous. The NBPA president should be given a Nobel Prize for economics. Good on you, Chris Paul, or whoever did the last negotiations. My point is, that amount of money has to take some of the competitive fire away. We’ll see how Team USA does in the Olympics. They’re not exactly sending the Dream Team.

          I think OKC will support a losing team, because there is nothing else to do there, and the arena is in the only fun part of the city. Go to the game, then go to Bricktown. Go to Bricktown, then go to the game. They think they are a BIG city now, and if they don’t support the team, that fantasy will disappear. Can’t believe Memphis still has a team.

        3. There would be some serious scheduling problems with NBA teams competing in a Champions League-style league. It’s not like soccer, where you only have one game a week, so it’s relatively easy to fly someplace for a Wednesday game and then back again.

          And that’s before even addressing John’s excellent point that the NBA has nothing to gain from this. Do you really think they’re going to buy even more Curry and Lebron jerseys in Moscow just because one of their local teams is playing against them?

          1. I don’t disagree with anything anyone said, or hold fast to anything I said. I didn’t read Mark’s comment properly. I was thinking more of a “Champions Tournament,” not league.

            I don’t really like the concept, either way though. Just kind hee-hawing, really.

      2. Agreed.
        If diluted talent pools was any kind of reason not to expand, the NHL would have 24 teams. Or maybe 20.

        Re: the impact of a single player, one could also argue that expanding even more makes that LESS of an issue. If 15 of 24 teams have “a guy” and yours doesn’t, you are the poor sister (or pathetic owner). If 15 of 32 or 36 teams have “a guy” and you don’t, your fans have lots of company waiting patiently for the next one to come along through the draft.

        When just four teams made the MLB playoffs (or two, if you are old enough…), missing the post season was acceptable. Fans wanted their teams to be over .500 and play meaningful games in September. But everyone realized that most teams would be out of the race by mid July in most seasons. If you came up against a team like the early 70’s or late 80’s Oakland A’s or mid 70’s Cincinnati Reds you’d be out of contention by July even if you were well over .500.

        Add more playoff teams and what happens? Suddenly being out of the race in July is a huge embarrassment… and something must be done.

      3. Agreed…..

        One has to keep in mind that if the NBA were to follow the NHL’s lead in expansion, the talent pool will be severely diluted. When that happens…then the crowds will drop. OR….this will become even more of a studio event in some markets.

        Another item to consider is that Seattle will be for the NBA, what LAX was to the NFL. And at the risk of making a bad Genesis joke….LAX will have the ‘Lambs That Die Down On Broadway’. In this case, be sacrificed at the Colosseum.

        1. Has attendance ever dropped when a league expanded? I’d expect it to rise, even on average, just thanks to the honeymoon effect.

          1. Neil…..

            I should have qualified that. You are right, the honeymoon period will be filled with the novelty and all sorts of Happy-Happy Joy-Joy. But…after…dep on the market, location of the arena, stupidity of the owners…there will be that drop.

            A couple examples from the past come to mind: The Vancouver Grizzlies, Cleveland Barons, of course….the fertile ground of Atlanta for the NHL (more like the disaster with the Thrashers). There are others….like the second incarnation of the Washington Senators.

            Also…..even if the Blazers were cool on an expansion to Seattle….and recreating the rivalry, my spidey-sense is saying Paul Allen is happy with his empire in the PNW…with the wish of keeping it that way.

          2. Sure, there are always some expansion teams that don’t work out, and as you work your way down the market size list, you’re likely to get more of those. But I’m very curious to see whether the attendance data actually show that a diluted talent pool, per se, has any effect on fan interest. Let’s just say I’m skeptical.

          3. Neil,

            Point taken….and in doing a little further research on the Senators V2….with the exception of the year that Ted Williams ran the shop, they tanked on the field and in the stands. Granted too, there are some other factors that were contributing.

            Not being able to compete in full for talent, the Orioles being just up the beltway, RFK not being as baseball friendly as it was FOOTBALL friendly…and others.

            Getting back to the attendance figures, if BaseballReference is correct…..then this will give credence to the talent-pool drain/attendance drop theory-connection. And as such, could be applied to the NBA as well. Not universally….but in enough cases to make sense.

  2. NHL owner wannabees, NHL wants Seattle but need arena solution, send resume and checks to Sodo or Tukwila

    1. What’s worse is Seattle was suppose to the other expansion team alongside Vegas in ’17…. but their “NBA first, NHL meh” strategy is as backwards as the bureaucracy of approving a privately funded arena for nearly a decade.

      Bad news for Quebec since they probably won’t relocate the Hurricanes there until after Seattle has its ducks in a row… I assume it would be weird to ask Seattle to also pay the $500M expansion fee while another team is moving for much cheaper.

      1. I don’t think the NBA-first strategy is backwards, there wasn’t much of a demand for hockey in Seattle until basketball fans realized that it might help secure a basketball team. That’s not a good foundation for success for any NHL team that might come along.

  3. It’s too bad because it’s a looking winter when all you have are hawks games at $200 a ticket. Would be nice to have both cheaper and more frequent sporting events to attend. Shit, I’m sure Renton would built it.

  4. As a supporter of Hansen’s arena deal (not perfect, but a lot better for the taxpayer than most…), I’m not going to criticize his approach…

    But, it may have backfired badly on him. Like all leagues, the NBA wants taxpayers to fund it’s places of business. They would also much prefer it if taxpayers also owned the buildings (no property taxes payable) and agreed in advance to pay for all required upgrades to keep the building “in the top half” of the league in terms of amenities (which, the keen mathematicians among you will note, is a statistical impossibility if applied across the board).

    So when he approached the league about buying the Kings and taking them to Seattle (in a manner similar to that which Mr. Bennett moved the Sonics not so long ago) to an arena he was mostly willing to pay for himself, he was effectively saying something to the other owners (whether he intended to or not).

    That something was this: “I’ve got so much money I can build my own arena, not like you paupers. And I don’t care how much it costs I’m going to do it”.

    Why, then, would the other owners allow him to buy an existing franchise for a relative pittance and move it? If he can afford to build his own arena, surely he can afford to pay them $1Bn for an expansion franchise, right? Or maybe $1.5bn… or maybe $2bn… I mean, now that we know how much you want a team…

    If you walk into a used car dealer’s shop saying “I want that car right there and I don’t care how much it costs”, you should not be surprised when you get ripped off.

    1. Hansen has been blacklisted by NBA owners after the stunt he pulled in Sacramento (funding the arena opposition campaign). I’ll guarantee you that if the Sonics ever make a comeback, it will be under someone else’s ownership. The NBA will never allow him to own a team.

      1. Hansen should do anything it takes to get an NBA team back in Seattle… the team was stolen from that great city. The NBA has already made Seattle wait twice as long as the NFL made Cleveland wait, and Cleveland’s the polar opposite of Seattle economically… The NBA should’ve at least made a real commitment by now despite all the arena shenanigans.

  5. When people bring up the “dilute the talent pool” argument they sometimes forget that the number of available players isn’t fixed. Populations have grown. New countries now play the sport. Youth training techniques have player major league ready sooner. Sure, some dying sports like horse racing have diluted talent issues.

    1. Exactly. Not every expansion attempt works out… but by and large every major sport is a bigger business now than it was four decades ago precisely because of expansion.

      I would be more worried about expanding to ever smaller markets as the bigger ones get “used up” than diluting the talent pool.

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