It's no secret there are a few NBA franchises that are struggling in the current economic climate.
Heck, there were a few NBA franchises that were struggling before the current economic downturn. The Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Hornets, Sacramento Kings, and Milwaukee Bucks—among others—have been rumored for some time to be relocation candidates. Not to mention, cities like Kansas City, Anaheim, and Las Vegas have actively tried to lure an NBA team with promises of a great arena deal and a market that is starved for some pro hoops action.
A market that seems to not be on anybody's radar is Montreal. The entire NBA community seems to be scared of any Canadian city not named Toronto after Vancouver proved to be a failure as a viable NBA market. Adding further fear to the idea of heading north of the border is the fact that the Montreal Expos became essentially irrelevant in their final years of existence. Hockey is king and nothing can compete, at least that's what we were told.
So why should Montreal be considered as a possible NBA city? Well to start off, it has a metropolitan area of almost 4 million people. Vancouver? About half that.
Let's look at the demographics. About 1 percent of the population in Vancouver identify themselves as African-Canadian. In Montreal, approximately 7 percent identify themselves as African-Canadian. This is a significant difference, especially considering the fact that Montreal is a much larger city to begin with. Of course, I don't mean to suggest that the NBA is only popular with blacks. I would, however, venture to say that it is more popular with blacks than say, the NHL. Wouldn't you agree?
There are those who claim that French Canadians only care about hockey—especially their beloved Montreal Canadians—and that they would never support a pro team in another sport.
I beg to differ. Am I to believe that Toronto is any less passionate about the Maple Leafs than Montreal is the Canadians? I know Toronto is a larger market, but what about cities like Detroit and Boston? They are crazy about both their NBA and their NHL teams, and they are comparable in size to Montreal.
And what about Denver? They support both the Avalanche and the Nuggets without any problem and are approximately half the size of Montreal.
Granted, it would take time to build a loyal NBA fan base in Montreal, but it's like the old adage "winning cures everything." Why not lose money for a few years while building up your fan base, with the knowledge that eventually, with a winning product on the court, you have a viable market to tap into? Cities like Memphis, Milwaukee, and New Orleans will never be able to compete with Montreal in terms of potential. They don't have the numbers to.
So why did the Expos fail? There are several factors, and believe it or not, none of them had anything to do with Montreal's lack of love for baseball. In the early years of the franchise, they drew huge crowds, and they were actually a hot ticket in town. What happened in the 1990s was they were plagued by ownership that wouldn't shell out big dough to retain free agents.
Essentially, the Expos became a farm team for the likes of the New York Yankees and other such big spenders. The fans became upset, and then when they were promised a new stadium and didn't get it, they became even more angry.
The straw that broke the camel's back was the MLB strike of 1994. The Expos were in first place, and there was a buzz around Montreal about how well the team was doing. Unfortunately, it all went up in smoke, because the players and the owners couldn't agree on a new CBA. So the fans responded the only way fans can when they are mad—they stopped supporting the team.
The NBA has talked about expanding to Europe in the future and wanting to be the first North American sports league to be truly globalized. Montreal is a step in that direction. It is the second-largest French-speaking city in the world after Paris, and it has a very European feel to it despite being in North America.
If the NBA wants to go global, it should stop putting teams in places like Oklahoma City and start looking at Canada's second largest city.