The Detroit Pistons May Be For Sale, but They're Not Packing for Pittsburgh

Tim KingCorrespondent IFebruary 4, 2010

CHICAGO - DECEMBER 02: Ben Wallace #6 of the Detroit Pistons looks to pass against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on December 2, 2009 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Pistons 92-85. 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 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Internet has been thick with Pittsburgh sporting rumors in the last week that have run from the truth to folly and everywhere in between. We'll quickly touch on the first two, but in this corner of the 'net we're concentrating the folly this time.

Ok, quickly: Mario Lemieux made a substantial offer to buy the Pirates off Bob Nutting, who is making too much money losing to sell.

Second: The Big Ten expansion includes the University of Pittsburgh. Gee, that's news to the Big Ten.

Finally: The NBA is coming to Pittsburgh.

Ok, let me get off the floor first, wipe the laughter from my eyes, and continue.

Karen Davidson has put the Pistons on the market after the death of her husband and has indicated that she needs to move the franchise sooner rather than later. No serious offers for the team have materialized yet, but that hasn't stopped at least one Detroit writer from indicating Pittsburgh as one of the possible destinations.

It's easy to see why there is some well founded fear about the Pistons bolting.  Unemployment in the Detroit area is running 25 percent by most estimates and underemployment is nearly twice as bad. 

Those auto making jobs aren't coming back anytime soon as Pittsburghers know from the collapse of our steel industry 25 years ago. Whoever buys the Pistons and keeps them in Detroit stands to lose a giant chunk of money.

But, suggesting that anyone is moving an NBA team to Pittsburgh gets an "F" in Pittsburgh sports history and also has no understandong of the economics of the city.

Those who would bring an NBA team here would have to step over the carcasses of the Condors, Rens, Pipers, and Ironmen. All are failed pro basketball franchises who were driven to extinction by shoddy management, fan apathy, last place finishes, and the presence of minor league and expansion hockey teams outdrawing them every night. 

The NBA also doesn't have a present fan base in Pittsburgh. Sure, an exhibition between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Dallas Mavericks drew just over 10,000 at the Peterson Events Center this past fall and it was the first five-figure crowd at a pro basketball game in Pittsburgh since Michael Jordan's last appearance, but it's not known how many of those tickets were comps.


NBA playoff games draw a seemingly respectable 4.2 share on TV here, but are light years behind the 10-15 shares the Pirates draw for a last place baseball team, the 42 shares the Penguins drew on their run to the Stanley Cup last year, or the 70 shares the Steelers draw on any given Sunday.

Even NASCAR outdraws the NBA in every meaningful demographic in this market.

Finally, there is the problem of the Penguins.

The shiny new arena, that the Detroit Free Press columnist Drew Sharp mentioned in a Jan. 23 column, belongs to them. Mario Lemieux made it happen and while the state is paying for a big chunk of the Consol Energy Center, Mario and his front office have had their way with the design of the building and take home most of the revenues generated on hockey nights and most nights in between. 

Those arrangements would leave an NBA team, with virtually no fan base to star, gaining no revenue streams from its home court and with rent payments due to the team they would be competing with for recreation dollars.

The Pistons might be going somewhere... 

Maybe back to Seattle or off to a shiny new and empty Sprint Center in Kansas City, but the chances they are coming to the 'burg are about the same that you have shooting a hole in one tomorrow with a winning Powerball ticket in your back pocket.  

Good luck with that.