The Milwaukee Bucks are a small-market team in a cold city. There is no escaping that.
But the NBA has the ability to aide the Bucks and other small market teams by changing the NBA economic model to help small market franchises be successful.
Looking at the NBA model from last year, it becomes clear why small market teams such as the Bucks will struggle to maintain consistent success.
Money equals success in the NBA.
The revenue for NBA teams is primarily made in game attendance and television deals.
The Milwaukee Bucks averaged 15,412 fans per game during the 2010-11 NBA season, which was good for 23rd in the league. The city of Milwaukee has the 35th largest TV market in the country and ranks 25th in the NBA.
By NBA standards, the Bucks are in one of the smallest markets.
Teams in markets such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago are able to charge higher ticket prices to a larger population. They are also able to sell ad time for a larger television audience. When you look at the potential income for the larger market teams, the disparity of team revenue becomes enormous.
Revenue sharing in the NBA is nearly non-existent. During last year's season, the NBA shared roughly $45 million. This is a drop in the bucket next to the comparable sports. For example, the NFL splits all game revenue, with 40% of every games gate going to the away team.
In the NBA there is no game sharing revenue.
In the absence of revenue sharing in the NBA, the teams in the larger market are able to exceed the NBA’s soft salary cap. The Los Angeles Lakers had a player payroll of $95.3 million last year. The salary cap was $58 million. For every dollar over the luxury tax threshold of about $70 million, an additional dollar of tax is added. The Lakers were able to afford an additional $25 million of pure tax on top of the already staggering payroll.
The Bucks had the 10th highest payroll in the NBA at $67.7 million. But they also were paying Michael Redd $18.3 million in the last year of his contract. They realistically paid about $50 million for players who regularly contributed. The Bucks payroll will be significantly less without Redd’s contract next year, as they do not appear eager to replace his money that will be coming off the books.
Without a firm salary cap and the presence of an equitable revenue sharing system, small market teams like the Milwaukee Bucks simply cannot spend money the way other teams do.
The Bucks cannot afford to sign the marquee free agents, and in most cases cannot afford to hold onto their home grown talent.
Fans can only hope the NBA helps curb the small market stigma facing the Milwaukee Bucks. Without a change in the current economic model, the prediction of the Bucks' future is not an opinion but a math equation.