With all the talk of “big market” and “small market” teams, one thing has been lost during lockout talks: some NBA cities just can’t support a team. To illustrate that in this post I’ve put together a list of six cities that, for various reasons, are very difficult markets for their NBA teams.
A quick explanation of terms is at the bottom, because we know that everyone would rather get to the good stuff first!
6. Salt Lake City
- Metro Population: 1,124,197
- Pro teams: 2
- Total Personal Income:$55.5 Billion
- Available Personal Income:-$5.9 billion
- Win/Loss Record: 1633 Wins, 369 Losses, 54.4%
- Playoff Appearances: 24 times in 37 years, 64.9%
The Jazz have been very, very good in Salt Lake City, sporting an impressive W-L record and reaching the playoffs in a high percentage of their years in the league. Fan support seems to be quite solid too. But the truth of the matter is that Salt Lake City just isn’t big enough for an NBA team. Even nearly three decades of sustained success on the court isn’t going to change that reality.
5. New Orleans
- Metro Population: 1,167,764
- Pro teams: 2
- Total Personal Income:$89.3 Billion
- Available Personal Income: -$18.4 billion
- Win/Loss Record: 913 Wins, 941 Losses, 49.2%
- Playoff Appearances: 12 times in 23 years, 52.2%
Even in the best of times, New Orleans was not a very big market. The Saints have been in New Orleans since the 60s, and there wasn’t enough local income available to the Hornets when they first moved there in 2002. Then Hurricane Katrina hit, which only made everything worse. Eventually, former owner George Shinn had to sell the team to the NBA, and it’s only a matter of time before the team is moved somewhere else.
- Metro Population: 3,317,308
- Pro teams: 4
- Total Personal Income:$233.3 Billion
- Available Personal Income: -$39.4 billion
- Win/Loss Record: 705 Wins, 1067 Losses, 39.8%
- Playoff Appearances: 8 times in 22 years, 36.4%
The Twin Cities are actually a pretty big market — the 18th largest in Canada and the US, in fact. However, the area has four professional sports teams, and because of this the TPI is significantly negative. It’s likely that either the Timberwolves or the Wild will find themselves playing somewhere else in a couple of years. And although the T-Wolves have been in the area longer, they have a terrible track record, and seem more likely to be moved.
- Metro Population: 1,555,908
- Pro teams: 2
- Total Personal Income:$178.4 Billion
- Available Personal Income: -$58.8 billion
- Win/Loss Record: 1825 Wins, 1669 Losses, 52.2%
- Playoff Appearances: 26 times in 43 years, 60.5%
Another shame. The Bucks are a historically good team in a small market, but the problem is that the area also has an MLB team. Also not very helpful is the fact that the franchise’s best days are behind it, with a disproportionate amount of success coming during its early days. Attendance has been low for several years, and the owner of the team, Herb Kohl, has been whining about his team’s financial situation for years. Unless the owners get a very favorable new CBA, Milwaukee could be on the way out. (Editor’s Note: It’s even worse if you count the Green Bay Packers)
- Metro Population: 2,077,240
- Pro teams: 3
- Total Personal Income:$227.7 Billion
- Available Personal Income: -$71.4 billion
- Win/Loss Record: 1540 Wins, 1790 Losses, 46.2%
- Playoff Appearances: 18 times in 41 years, 43.9%
While the Cavaliers have been in the league for about as long as the Bucks, they have not had nearly the same level of success. And because Cleveland is a bigger city than Milwaukee, this would be okay, except for the fact that Cleveland has two additional pro teams. As it stands, Cleveland is the second most overextended sports market in North America. The long Rust Belt decline and Mr. Comic Sans certainly don’t help either. LeBron James had the right idea: it’s time for the NBA to get out of Cleveland.
- Metro Population: 2,543,482
- Pro teams: 5
- Total Personal Income:$293.7 Billion
- Available Personal Income: -$87.4 billion
- Win/Loss Record: 1369 Wins, 1469 Losses, 48.2% (NBA)
- Playoff Appearances: 22 times in 35 years, 62.9% (NBA)
Like Minneapolis, Denver is actually a large market. However, Denver is the most overextended sports market in North America. There are five pro teams there! There is not enough money in the Denver area to support so many teams. In order for there to be enough money to go around, the city would have to lose either the Rockies or two of the Broncos, Nuggets, and Avalanche. MLB teams do not move very often and the NFL is very popular, so the best bet would be that the Nuggets and Avalanche could be on the way out in the near future. Which is a shame, because the Nuggets — as well as the Avalanche, but no one cares about hockey (says the Canadian) –have had a lot of success in Denver. As long as the team is doing well — as it has done recently — it has a chance of sticking around, but whenever it hits a sustained down period…be prepared Nuggets fans, be prepared.
- “Metro Population”: the population of the Metropolitan Statistical Area.
- “Pro teams”: the number of NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, and MLS teams in a city.
- “Total personal income(TPI)”: the sum of all money earned by all residents of an area in a given year. Using team revenue data and average ticket prices one can calculate amount of TPI needed to adequately support a team in each north american professional sports league.
- “Available personal income(API)”: simply TPI less the cost it takes to support the city’s pro teams. Minimum income bases were estimated (see linked article) to be $85.4 billion for MLB, $37.6 billion for the NHL, $36.7 billion for the NFL, $34.2 billion for the NBA, and $15.4 billion for MLS. If API is positive, it means that you are good to go for a franchise. If API is negative, then you really need to figure out where you are going to move your team. Only teams in the NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA and MLS are counted for this calculation.
- “Win/Loss Record”: win-loss record, which includes winning percentage
- “Playoff Appearances”: the number playoff appearances divided by the number of years in the NBA