NBA Cries Poor While Moving to Small Markets

Ethan Sherwood StraussNBA Lead WriterApril 13, 2012

PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 27:  NBA commissioner David Stern speaks at a press conference before the NBA game between the San Antonio Spurs the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on March 27, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Spurs defeated the Suns 107-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Perhaps you remember the lockout and its small-market discontents. The league bemoaned financial losses and supposedly sought to craft a system that would better reward the little guy.

Well, maybe it worked, because David Stern announced on Friday that he sold the New Orleans Hornets to Saints owner Tom Benson. It is worth mentioning that Tom Benson is a basset hound of a catfish, whose Foghorn Leghorn voice is a muddy drawl to dream upon. 

Setting aside the precarious fate of the Kings, today's announcement assured the NBA's retention of yet another small squad. In a league of 30 franchises, the NBA has teams in the 43rd-, 44th- and 45th-ranked media markets (New Orleans, Memphis and Oklahoma City) per 2006 figures. 

At the press conference, a beaming David Stern said, "It's a small town," in describing the New Orleans audience as though it brought the NBA some kind of pastoral gravitas. While discussing the team's imminent future, Stern said, "[T]his year the team was a break-even proposition." Okay then. 

Regardless of whether the Hornets are making or losing money, in the abstract, other cities could better help the NBA's popularity and augment its revenue. I am not opposed to basketball in New Orleans, but I have to shake my head at all these small-market moves in the aggregate. 

Baseball's smallest media market is Cincinnati. The NBA has five teams in smaller markets than that. If you wonder why MLB is profitable while the NBA claims $400 million losses, this area deserves your attention. Baseball is smart enough to double-up with teams in the Bay Area and Chicago. Basketball is stupid enough to go trawling for fans in small Southern abodes.  

The NBA's small-market cornering is a recent phenomenon. Those 43rd-, 44th- and 45th-ranked areas I mentioned? They were all added after 2001 and came at the expense of more populous areas (New Orleans-Charlotte, Memphis-Vancouver, OKC-Seattle).

While any of these moves can be excused individually, this strategy is fiscally irresponsible in totality. The NBA is a far scream from the NFL's popularity. Pro basketball has less margin for error, little excuse for moving away from television viewers.

While there are those who have a fetish for small markets as though they imbue us all with humility and grace, it is difficult to defend them from a financial perspective. When the league negotiates national TV contracts, advertisers would prefer that teams play where the people are.

And when your sport so loudly cries poor, perhaps that's where your teams should be.