The coronavirus’ cancellation of the 2020 NCAA men’s basketball tournament was an unmitigated short term disaster for basketball fans across the Commonwealth. One unintended long term coronavirus consequence could bring NBA basketball back to the Bluegrass.
Sam Quinn of CBS Sports examined how the city of Louisville could transform from being the NBA’s ultimate bridesmaid, frequently left at the alter on the verge of adding a team, to the city that hosts the league’s next expansion team. Dan Issel and the NBA2Lou’s efforts to bring a team to the city have been well documented and the Yum! Center is an NBA-ready venue, but that’s not why the time could be now for an NBA team in Kentucky.
The NBA has not created a new expansion franchise since the Charlotte Bobcats in 2004, keeping the league at an even 30 teams. Each time a new team is added, the NBA receives an enormous influx of cash right away by charging hundreds of millions in entrance fees. The quick, short-term gain comes at a cost to the rest of the league. Since every team shares revenue, adding a team devalues the other 30 teams. Over the last decade the NBA has never been more profitable. There was no need to expand. That might have changed when Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19.
Enter the coronavirus. As the NBA scampers to put on a postseason, it is also considering how to recoup the millions of dollars it has already lost and the billions that are still on the line. Hundreds of televised games have already been canceled. More valuable postseason content is on the line if the virus forces the league into another cancellation. Even if everything goes off without a hitch, fans are almost certain to be excluded from arenas next season. That’s an estimated 40 percent of league revenue down the drain. Suddenly short-term solvency is a very real concern for a number of teams. Expansion is the simplest way to infuse cash into the league.
Of course, finding a group with the money to pay for the Louisville NBA team’s entry fees would not be easy. It’s often been the go-to point for the loudest critics against an NBA team in Louisville. Economic downturn during the coronavirus pandemic only gives more credibility to their criticism.
If the NBA does indeed begin seeking cities for expansion as a way to recoup losses from the coronavirus pandemic, the city of Louisville and the state of Kentucky have one inherent advantage over competing cities — a monopoly on the market. Seattle has a couple pro sports teams and Las Vegas just added two. Even if Louisville is one of the smallest markets available, it would be the only show in town, a town that is crazy about basketball.
NBA expansion is by no means inevitable. They have bigger fish to fry to recoup some of their losses in the Orlando bubble. If all does not go accordingly to plan, adding a franchise in Louisville may become a part of Adam Silver’s financial solution for the shortcomings caused by the coronavirus.