Sacramento Kings Relocation: 10 Cities Better for the NBA Than Virginia Beach
Inside Business, a local business journal in Hampton Roads, reported today (citing unnamed sources) that the Maloofs, owners of the Sacramento Kings, are currently negotiating with Comcast-Spectacor to move the team to a Comcast-owned building in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Upon hearing the news, I did a face-palm.
Virginia Beach? Really?
When have you ever heard Virginia Beach being mentioned as a future home for any major league sports franchise? What makes the Maloof brothers, or anyone, think that a team in Virginia Beach could work?
Virginia Beach is primarily a resort town and part of the Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News media market, the 43rd largest media market in the country, according to Nielsen. That alone makes the move highly suspect (the NBA's smallest television market right now is New Orleans, at 52). However, while some markets on this list will be ranked lower than Virginia Beach, they also won't face some of the same challenges as Virginia Beach (Oklahoma City is actually ranked 44th).
Now, the good news for Sacramento is that the Maloofs told the local CBS affiliate in Sacramento that there is no move imminent; however, where there is smoke, there's usually fire.
Here's a look at 10 better markets for the Kings and the NBA than Virginia Beach.
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I might as well start with the Kings' current home.
The reason the Kings have been such a frequent relocation target is not due to anything the city of Sacramento has done, nor has it been due to lack of fan support.
Sacramento has been working hard in their attempts to get the Kings a new arena; however, the Maloofs have proven to be very difficult to deal with and have made some irrational demands that even the NBA seemed to disapprove of.
The best-case scenario is the Kings stay in Sacramento. It just feels like the only people who aren't interested in keeping the Kings in Sacramento are the owners themselves.
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Pittsburgh is one of the best sports towns in America.
Sure, you might say it's easy to support perennial contenders like the Steelers and Penguins with established stars like Ben Roethlisberger and Sidney Crosby. But the fact that Pittsburgh has continued to support the Pirates in the last 20 years despite a lack of success or stars shows you just how loyal the city is to their teams.
College basketball also does very well in Pittsburgh, so why no NBA team? Especially when they built the Consol Energy Center just two years ago?
The Kings would do very well in PA.
Just change the garish purple and black to Pittsburgh black and gold, and you have a team that would fit in well in an already sports-crazed town.
Kansas City, Missouri
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Here's another sports-crazy town like Pittsburgh that makes me wonder about the lack of an NBA franchise. However, unlike Pittsburgh, there is no NHL franchise to compete against.
Kansas City is already home to the Royals and Chiefs, two franchises with some of the most loyal fans around. What they don't have is any winter pro-sports franchise. The closest to that is Kansas Jayhawks basketball, which will make trips to the Sprint Center from time to time (Sprint Center is also home to the Big 12 Basketball Tournament).
Oh yeah, then there's also the fact that the Kings used to play in Kansas City before moving to Sacramento. And one of the few defensible reasons for moving a franchise, of course, would be to bring it back to a previous "home."
Mr. Triple-Double Oscar Robertson (right) achieved his feat while playing for the Cincinnati Royals, who are now the Sacramento Kings
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This is a homecoming that would certainly be great.
The birthplace of the current Kings franchise is in Rochester, N.Y., but it was in Cincinnati where they first rose to prominence. They were known as the Cincinnati Royals from 1957 until they moved to Kansas City in 1972. Despite never winning an NBA title in Cincinnati (they won one in Rochester), they were a perennial contender led by Oscar Robertson.
It was in Cincinnati where Robertson had his historic triple-double season in 1961-62. However, once Robertson was traded to Milwaukee in 1970, the Royals started to fade. Two years later, they were off to Kansas City, while Cincinnati would get a brand new arena in 1975 (now known as the U.S. Bank Arena, which was also the sight of tragic stampede at a concert headlined by The Who).
Other than a few preseason Cleveland Cavaliers games, that arena hasn't seen any real basketball, and the biggest challenge for Cincinnati would be the need for a new arena worthy of hosting an NBA franchise.
However, Cincinnati's rich sports history with the Reds and Bengals, and unwavering support for both teams make this a good market for the Kings to go back to.
Just as long as they change their name back to the Cincinnati Royals and name their new arena after Oscar Robertson.
Vancouver, British Columbia
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The NBA tried the Vancouver experiment with the Grizzlies in 1995, and on the surface it looked like a failure.
While in Vancouver, from their inception until 2001, the Grizzlies were terrible. They went 101-359 and never even got a sniff of the playoffs. Despite this, attendance was usually in the middle of the pack until the 1998-99 lockout, when it took a precipitous drop.
Oh, and they even traded a 2003 first-round draft pick to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Otis Thorpe...in 1997.
While the Grizzlies would be in Memphis by the time 2003 came around, it is worth mentioning that that pick was protected if it turned out to be the No. 1 selection. The Grizzlies would've had the second pick in the 2003 draft (yes, Detroit used the pick to choose Darko, but remember who was drafted after him—some guys named Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade).
The Grizzlies' on-court struggles, and handicap of the weaker Canadian dollar, led to the sale of the team to current owner Michael Heisley and relocation to Tennessee.
Vancouver, however, does deserve another chance, and one that the Kings should consider.
They already have a state-of-the-art arena in place and is a strong sports town. Furthermore, the Canadian dollar no longer presents such a competitive disadvantage (which is why many NHL teams have considered going back into Canada).
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Three cities in the U.S. can support multiple NBA franchises. Two of those cities already have multiple franchises, yet Chicago doesn't.
Will it be difficult for a second Chicago franchise to take some fans away from the already well-established and rabid Bulls fanbase? Without a doubt. However, it can be done. Look at the demand for Bulls tickets and you will see that a second NBA team in the Second City is an enticing proposition.
Of course, Jerry Reinsdorf would likely say no; however, if anyone knows how to compete with a second team in his market, it's him. Both teams would thrive.
Bonus points if the team stays in the Western Conference. It would make geographical sense (especially if they switch with the Blazers and move to the Northwest Division with Minnesota, Oklahoma City, Utah and Denver—all Central and Mountain time-zone teams), and could possibly give us a Windy City series in the NBA Finals.
I'm no Bulls fan, but I have to admit, that would be pretty cool.
El Paso, Texas
The Don Haskins Center isn't an NBA arena, but El Paso could (and should) consider building one as it is a prime location for an NBA franchise (photo courtesy of UTEP Athletics).
I get why the Kings (or any other NBA team) would consider Virginia Beach. They're looking for the Oklahoma City effect. They're looking for a market where their franchise is the only only game in town in a medium-sized market.
But Virginia Beach is too close to other NBA cities, namely Washington D.C.
El Paso, on the other hand, is a professional sports wasteland. Only Austin, Texas and Louisville, Kentucky are bigger cities lacking major league sports. And unlike Austin, El Paso is far enough from Dallas, San Antonio, Houston and Denver so as not to encroach into the other markets.
It would be a strong market on its own, as El Paso boasts a population of approximately 650,000 (with a county population over 800,000). And that's not including nearby cities like Las Cruces, New Mexico, which itself boasts a population of 97,618.
The only thing missing is an NBA-caliber arena. Their biggest arena right now is the Don Haskins Center, on the campus of the University of Texas-El Paso. However, this is an area with too much potential to not think of as a future NBA site.
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Austin is the biggest city in the United States without a major league sports team. It's also a city with plenty to offer: a good business community, great surroundings, and there's no doubt that this city loves their sports.
But here's why I felt El Paso would be a better market to have an Oklahoma City-effect: Austin is too close to San Antonio and Dallas, and in the end, the Longhorns will always reign supreme.
Longhorns basketball would challenge the Kings' attendance numbers, and a Kings game somehow being scheduled the same day as Longhorns football would be a ghost-town.
Would it work? Yes. The NBA would work with the Kings and the city of Austin to not have any scheduling conflicts with Longhorns basketball or football.
El Paso would just work better, because competing with the University of Texas is like competing with an NFL team in any city, as well as a second NBA team. This is likely the biggest obstacle to any potential Austin relocation.
It's still a better city than Virginia Beach, though.
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Formerly the home of the Kentucky Colonels of the ABA (who were the winningest team in the ABA), Louisville has plenty in place to make it a strong NBA city.
The history of the Colonels plays a large role in this, as does the state's college basketball tradition. This team would already have a regional rivalry with the Indiana Pacers, who were the Colonels' biggest rivals in the ABA.
There's already an arena in Louisville as well—the KFC Yum! Center, which seats 22,000 and has 72 luxury boxes. Not much work would be needed to make it NBA-ready.
Oh, and the Kentucky Colonels simply makes for a great nickname.
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Before any of the other cities are considered (save for staying in Sacramento, of course), Seattle must be considered.
We know this market can support the NBA. This was a city that was hoodwinked by a shrewd and greedy owner. (And I don't mean Thunder owner Clay Bennett—I can't blame him for wanting to bring a team to his hometown.)
To add insult to injury, Seattle fans had to watch the team that was once theirs go to the NBA Finals (again, that's not OKC's fault, all of the blame goes to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz; I mean did you honestly expect an owner from Oklahoma City who wanted a team in Oklahoma City to NOT move his team to Oklahoma City?).
Seattle's issue, of course, is with a new arena.
Progress is being made (according to Tim Booth of the AP, via Yahoo! Sports); however, while waiting for a new arena, they still have a decent one in the KeyArena (with prospective Sonics owner Chris Hansen willing to pay for renovations to the Key). This could hold them over for a good five years while awaiting a new building.
On top of that, it would be the best story in the NBA, along with the fact that this would bring us a new and exciting rivalry with the Thunder—assuming, of course, that a new SuperSonics team would actually be good. Ironically, one way to ensure of that would be to emulate the Thunder's formula.
So why consider Virginia Beach, or any other city for as long as Seattle doesn't have a team?
The other eight cities listed are nice, but before we step out on that ledge, either staying in Sacramento or bringing back the Sonics should be the priority.