In recent years, sources from within the NBA have spoken of the possibility, in the sooner rather than later future, the NBA could possibly look to expand or relocate a franchise. It is obvious that since the Seattle Supersonics relocated and became the Oklahoma City Thunder at the beginning of the 2008-09 season, that former commissioner David Stern and current commissioner Adam Silver have wanted to get a franchise back in the pacific northwest. However, there is a lot of irony in the whole relocation of the sonics anyway. People may not know, but when Clay Bennett bought the Supersonics in 2006 for $350 million, the former owner Howard Shultz's last wish was for Bennett to keep the team in Seattle. In 2007 after failing to get the $500 million fund to the team for a new arena, Bennett notified the league that he planned to move the Franchise to Oklahoma City at the start of the 2008-09 season. The city of Seattle had filed a lawsuit against Bennett trying to rescind the purchase back to Shultz so they could keep their team.
Its no secret why the NBA would want a team back in Seattle, after all even though the city didn't approve the $500 million renovations to the arena, the city has a very large and loyal fan base. Just take a look at the Seahawks in the NFL, they have arguably the best home-field advantage with the "12th Man" that they caused actual seismic waves through downtown Seattle during Marshawn Lynch's famous "beast quake" run against the Saints in 2011. In April 2013, the Sacramento Kings franchise was attempting to move to Seattle, but Bennett who was a part of the relocation committee unanimously voted against it.
So its very apparent that the NBA eventually wants to get a team back in Seattle, but, if yet again a relocation to Seattle or an expansion fails, the second leading spot for the NBA to look at, is Louisville, Kentucky. While Louisville is not your typical glamour, the large market team that the NBA seems to be wanting, Louisville would be one of the smaller markets that could succeed hugely in the NBA.
Louisville and the state of Kentucky for that matter have been starving to get a professional sports team since the city's only pro team; Kentucky Colonials left the city when they were dismantled due to the ABA/NBA merger. Most people don't look at Louisville as a prime destination as a pro sports city, mainly because the whole state is known as a college basketball state for obvious reasons considering it has two of the top 10 programs in the country only 70 miles apart from each other. Both fanbases, while widely different, do share one thing, and that is their die-hard, deep-rooted loyalty and love for either their Cards or Cats.
To prove the love that both fanbases share for their college basketball teams, you must just take a look at the attendance numbers from 2013-2017. Kentucky has been number one in total home attendance average in 2013 with an average of 23,100 fans per game and in 2017 with 23,461 per game. Kentucky has also been number two in the same category three times (2014,2015,2016) all three years with an average of 23,000 plus fans per game. Those numbers aren't what will surprise people, the Louisville home attendance average is quite impressive. Louisville was number three on average home attendance every year from 2013-2017. In 2015 only three college teams had over 400 thousand total attendance (number of fans at home, away, and neutral site games) and those teams were Kentucky at number one, Syracuse and Louisville were the only other teams to reach that accomplishment. Both teams have also been in the top 5 in total attendance every year since 2013 with the 2016 season being the exception with Louisville coming in ranked at number eight. Getting all the people who already have favorite NBA teams to convert to this upstart team will never be possible, but if the team could just get half the state, they would do just fine.
Recently, former Kentucky Wildcats all-time leading scorer, Dan Issel has attached his name to the "NBA 2 Louisville" investment group and donated $750,000 to help upstart the funds for the team. 20 of the City's biggest investors have joined the movement and donated different, undisclosed amounts of money to the organization to get it off the ground. Issel, a UK great, and NBA Hall of Famer has his experience with the association, knows the difficulties of trying to get a team here, but he does know that it takes patience and hard work by everyone involved.
In order to bring a team to the city, the group of investors must raise $1.6 billion dollars. The staggering amount though is not what the monkey wrench in these plans are, that happens to be in addition of having to raise the $1.6 billion, they must do it and have it up front for the league before they even consider Louisville to be a destination for the leagues newest franchise.
One major hurdle to bringing a team to the city would be having an arena to play in, not that the city doesn't have one it's just that they don't know which one of the two will be available. Option number one for the city would be to use the KFC Yum! Center downtown, which was opened in October of 2010. University of Louisville men's basketball team currently owns the lease of the KFC Yum! Center and has stated they do not want to share the arena with an NBA team. To try and find a solution to this problem, if and when this becomes a reality, the city will contact the University and try and negotiate a deal to bringing a team to the arena. If the city cannot reach an agreement with the University, they have expressed the option of potentially using the recently renovated Freedom Hall. Freedom Hall, an 18,865 seat arena was the home of the UofL men's basketball team from 1956-2010. Now, the city mainly just uses it to host small concerts and shows and live events through the year, but especially in early August during the annual Kentucky State Fair. The leader of the NBA 2 Louisville project, Dan Issel, also said quote "another problem is finding who the majority owner of the team is going to be, and developing the grassroots of a fan base." Issel will and attempt to solve both of those issues before they find out which arena will be available for the team.
While the NBA has spoken of a possible expansion or relocation, it is at the moment at a stalemate. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said when asked about the possibility of expansion "Some cities still need a team, but it doesn't make economic sense for the league right now." Basically what he is saying is, the owners aren't ready to lose their cut that the NBA pays them to have to share with one or two more teams." As of now, sources say that the time of the best possible relocation would be in 2024 when the New Orleans Pelicans lease is up. New Orleans, while a beautiful city with a lot of attractions, has frequently been in the bottom tier of total team value and revenue since moving to the city in 2002, including being dead last at number 30 at the end of the 2015-16 season. Louisville believes that even as a small market, media attention won't be hard to come by. The reasoning behind this belief is because Louisville in the past 5 years has been ESPN's number one media market for college basketball broadcasts and programs.
Another reason why many citizens of Louisville believe the city will be a great landing spot for a pro basketball team is that in 2015, the Orlando City FC soccer team agreed to move to Louisville to become the new "Louisville City FC". While not an MLS team, the FC is still a professional team, playing in the USL, where they claimed their first championship for the city this past 2017 season. Louisville City plays their home games at Louisville Slugger Field which has a maximum capacity of 21,121 people for baseball games, the stadium only uses about 10 thousand of its seats for the soccer games. Louisville city has seen a significant increase in its attendance since its inaugural season of 2015 in which it averaged 6,765 fans per game. That number rose to an average of 7,218 fans per game in 2016, and a substantial increase of 1,383 fans per game in 2017 which brought the teams average attendance to 8,601 including one game that was sold out with over 10 thousand fans. Louisville city will move to a new stadium that the city unanimously voted in favor of, which will use 10,000 seats for home games but will be expandable to 20, possibly 25 thousand seats if needed. 2017 showed that if a professional team of any sport comes to Louisville and does well at developing a fanbase that it could work, in that 2017 championship season for the FC, the home attendance average rose in the playoffs from 8,601 fans per game in the regular season to 9,500 fans per game in the playoffs.
Louisville's economy is the most un-talked about, the biggest reason why people believe the city will make it support an NBA team. Living conditions in the city for support of an NBA team include a high standard of Time, Money, Transportation, Media Access, and Densely populated urban area. Louisville, unlike most cities, can guarantee all five of those things. NBA teams have 4 types of income: Sport (the amount of money paid to the team by the NBA), Arena (ticket sales, concessions), Brand (team merchandise, jersey sales, NBA store sales), and finally Market (portion of money that comes from its city/market size. Team revenue per fan). In order to get a feel for how this works, you must first look at some numbers from NBA teams. In 2016, the New York Knicks were the most valued NBA franchise, valued at $3 billion. New York just in the 2016 season made $1.45 billion from its Market, $907 million from its arena Madison Square Garden, $447 million from its brand and $240 million from the NBA payment. While New York, the biggest city, and market in the United States makes that much, the Pelicans came in last at number 30, making a grand total of $650 million dollars; significantly less than the Knicks. New Orleans made $160 million from its market, $117 million from its arena, $59 million from its brand, and $319 million from the NBA. So its easy to see that not all teams will make as much as the Knicks, but an extra $650 million dollars, which is more like $1 billion in 2018 because, for the first time in history, Forbes valued all 30 NBA teams at over $1 billion.
Having an NBA team in your home city or state is an unbelievable honor and a great experience that some fans around the country long for, and would do anything to have the privilege to experience. Louisville, a city starving for a professional sports team believes that with the right team of leaders, the right backing, and support of the city, and with a little bit of luck, the city of Louisville can and will be a great landing spot for an expansion team if and when the NBA decides to proceed with it.