Sunday, December 14, 2014

If the monopoly NBA followed the example of soccer, teams like the Nets might be worth much less (never happen)

In his intriguing piece in yesterday's Times Sports section, Soccer Shows How the N.B.A. Could Make Losing Hurt, Victor Mather suggested a solution to tanking:
Imagine if, as in soccer leagues around the world, the very worst N.B.A. teams were relegated to a lower league the following season.
...The annual and unsavory spectacle in which losing teams dump good players late in the season would come to an end. Teams instead would constantly beat the bushes to improve themselves while keeping a wary eye on those behind them in the standings.
From a fan’s perspective, the conclusion of the regular season would improve immeasurably, as European soccer leagues demonstrate every year.
Of course the geography here is different than in Europe, so it wouldn't be easy. He writes:
There is no reason that there could not be 100 thriving professional basketball teams in the country — if those teams had the carrot of a real chance of promotion to the N.B.A. someday.
Would not Seattle support such a team? Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Pittsburgh? Couldn’t Chicago have more than one team, and New York and Los Angeles more than two?
...And this system might curtail cities’ practice of handing out huge tax breaks and free arenas to teams for fear of their leaving town. If a team did try to leave, a local entrepreneur could simply start up a new one. If fans turned out, the money would be there to climb up the leagues and get the city its N.B.A. status back in a few years.
He recognizes that this would erode the monopoly profits that lead to NBA riches, so it would never happen. Beyond that, I believe it would require a reconfiguration of financial arrangements regarding cost-sharing and other issues.

After all, while arguably dozens of cities could fill an arena with, say, at least 14,000 seats (the Barclays Center seats 17,732, but the gate count averaged under 15,000 in the first season), not so many cities could fill expensive suites, and generate extensive revenue from naming rights and sponsorships.

The New York perspective

Still, it's a reminder that yes, New York City was underserved with one team (since New Jersey didn't count), and the metro area surely could support another team. (The Prudential Center is waiting.)

And it's a reminder that the astonishing rise in value of Mikhail Prokhorov's Brooklyn Nets (to Forbes, $780 million; to the investment banker marketing Bruce Ratner's share, $1 billion) has much to do with the NBA cartel and the precious perch in the hottest borough of the nation's largest city. 

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