Pitino: Can Louisville afford the NBA?

Rick Pitino says an NBA team in Louisville would negatively impact his program financially. With NBA talk swirling locally, the UofL coach asked an important question Monday: Can Louisville afford the NBA?

The NBA in Louisville? Not this tired, old issue – again.

J. Bruce Miller, who has failed in three previous attempts to lure the NBA to Louisville, is up to his old tricks once again. He's the local attorney who has received about $100,000 of taxpayer money from the Louisville Metro Council to make another attempt to land an NBA team for the city.

Why the NBA is bad for Louisville

The belief the NBA represents progress for the city of Louisville is pure fiction.

The NBA would struggle for survival in Louisville. The NBA is struggling in Memphis. And it's not working in a lot of cities much bigger than Louisville or Memphis. Attendance league wide is a topic of concern. Fan interest in the NBA product is waning nationally. The setup of the league, without revenue sharing, is broken. Now the NBA faces a lockout.

Thirty-five years ago taking the old Colonels into the NBA might have been the right idea. Now, the idea of the NBA in Louisville is akin to a glass hammer. If city and state leaders are truly concerned about progress, they should be working on ways to figure out how to lure companies like Google that will create wealth and jobs in the future for our community. The NBA won't do either.

If Louisville were to lure an NBA team, which seems unlikely, it would be a team like the Sacramento Kings, an irrelevant franchise with a poor record who hasn't factored in the playoffs lately and can't drum up enough support in it's current city for a new arena, even though the mayor is a former NBA standout.

That's not progress for Louisville and it's not an economic boon for citizens of this community. The NBA is a bad idea for this city, and it's time city leaders stop wasting valuable economic resources trying to pursue a professional basketball franchise.

Mike Hughes, Editor and Publisher

Miller is NBA proponent No. 1, if you're keeping score. Metro Council member Dan Johnson is a close second.

Then there's your average Big Blue fan – he's on-board with the NBA, too, believing a pro team would negatively impact the University of Louisville. No, he's not interested in paying NBA ticket prices, or driving in from Lexington, or points east, for a game. John Calipari and UK blog enthusiast Matt Jones both endorse the idea. How much more proof need you, Louisville fans, that the NBA is bad business for your Cards?

The Courier Journal, mired in employee furloughs, seems behind the idea, too. Why? Anything that could boost newspaper sales can't be a bad thing, right?

But what about the average citizens of Louisville, you know, the ones that would be asked to buy the expensive tickets, concessions and souvenirs? Has anybody asked for their opinion on the matter?

I have no doubt there is a degree of support for the NBA, but I haven't heard the local populace clamoring for a team. How would John Q. Public benefit from an NBA team setting up shop in Louisville? Here's a better question: Could locals even afford to support a franchise in a sport dominated by big market teams from Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Boston, and Miami?

"The NBA would be lucky to be in Louisville," Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino said. "Why? Because this is a great state for basketball. There's no other state like our state for basketball. When you're born [here] basketball is just talked about it.

"Now, with that said, can Louisville afford it? I don't know if a family of four can afford $300 or $400 hundred per game times 50 – with the exhibitions. That's what you get charged. Can a family of four do it? That's the question I would have."

The other question is where an NBA team would play. UofL's contract at the KFC Yum! Center guarantees the university a stranglehold on the arena's revenue streams. It also guarantees branding rights, scheduling priority and suite revenues. That's why Miller and friends are talking about using the outdated Freedom Hall. Unless UofL is willing to make major concessions, the NBA isn't coming to downtown Louisville soon.

"The NBA would have to wait for the men's schedule to come out, and the women's schedule to come out in August or September when they come out," Pitino said. "That's the difficulty. You can't have an NBA team in Freedom Hall. It's ridiculous. It has to be the Yum!"

The Freedom Hall solution, which includes an $80-$120 million renovation, doesn't seem plausible, particularly in this economy and in a state with more pressing needs. This NBA discussion in Louisville may be all for nothing. NBA commissioner David Stern mentioned several cities last week that could be in line for a team. Louisville wasn't one of them. If you're handicapping Louisville's chances of landing an NBA team in the near future, the odds look slim.

"We all know they're not going to expand the NBA," Pitino said. "If they do it's going overseas to China or [Europe]. So it would have to be somebody leaving to come to a place."

One team mentioned often for a possible move is the Sacramento Kings. If their owners file for relocation before the NBA's March 1 deadline to do so, Anaheim, which has the impressive Honda Center waiting to house an NBA team, appears the likely choice.

While Pitino admitted Monday that he'd like an NBA team in Louisville for social reasons, UofL's coach says an NBA franchise would hurt his program's bottom line.

"It could hurt us….." Pitino said. "It could hurt our season ticket base in football as well as basketball because [fans] only have so much money….. It could hurt our revenue. We're the No. 1 revenue producer in college basketball seven years in a row and we're going to blow everybody off the map this year. We're going to be double most programs because of the Yum! Center.

"The NBA would take away from the university, certainly."

Pitino said an NBA team would have no impact on his program's recruiting efforts.


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