Could New Jersey end up with another NBA team after the Nets leave?
Thursday, 15 April 2010 12:39
BY EVAN WEINER
An era in New Jersey sports history ended earlier this week when the New Jersey Nets National Basketball Association franchise played the team's final game in the East Rutherford building that once was named after New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne. For the next two seasons the Nets will call Newark home and then it is onto Brooklyn — maybe.
Assuming all goes well with the arena that grows in Brooklyn, New Jersey will lose the Nets again. The original Nets franchise played in the American Basketball Association at the Teaneck Armory in the 1967-68 season and ended up on Long Island because the Armory was unavailable for a playoff game in March 1968. The team known as the New Jersey Americans never played a playoff game on the Island because the floor at the Commack Arena was unsuitable for a game and the team forfeited the game to Kentucky.
Basketball is a business; it may be called a sport but it is a business first and foremost.
Roy Boe ended up owning the old Americans, a team that transformed into the New York Nets, and was granted a National Hockey League expansion franchise in Uniondale. Boe never had the money to properly run the Nets and the expansion Islanders and things got worse for him after the National Basketball Association "expanded" and took in four American Basketball Association teams in 1976. Boe had to pay $3.2 million for the "privilege" of joining the NBA and on top of that gave the New York Knicks $4.8 million because the Nets "invaded" Knicks territory and Boe could not get access to NBA national television money (from CBS) for three years.
The business of basketball forced Boe to sell his best player and perhaps the sport's best player Julius Erving to Philadelphia for $3 million. The team left Uniondale after 1977 and Boe had to sell his franchise in 1978. Boe's financial problems nearly wiped out the Islanders as well.
New Jersey was the perfect place to start over for Boe and the Nets. A new arena was coming online and this building had some nifty new gadgets, luxury boxes and it sat a lot of people. People were used to going to the Meadowlands for New York Giants games and horse racing.
The new building was the lure for Boe just like the new building in Brooklyn was the target of Nets owner Bruce Ratner's affections although Ratner probably looked at the Nets' moving to Brooklyn as strictly part of a real estate deal.
The Nets' 35-year New Jersey run will end in 2012, if an arena grows in Brooklyn. But that does not necessarily mean that New Jersey cannot get another NBA team even though one-time New Jersey resident and NBA Commissioner David Stern about five years ago trashed New Jersey politicians saying "you blew it" when Nets owners could not get an arena built in Newark.
There is an arena in Newark now but more importantly there is also a regional sports cable TV network available that has limited winter programming that might want to spend big, big money to acquire some winter programming like a third team in the New York City area, namely Newark.
The NBA is not going to expand in the near future and the league could lockout the workforce, the players, in 2011. There are a good number of teams, including Bruce Ratner's Nets that allegedly are posting multimillion dollar losses that might be available for relocation following the 2011 labor negotiations if the owners cannot reduce spending.
Memphis could be one of those franchises.
With the absence of a new arena plan in Seattle, Newark just might be the best location for an owner looking to start anew. The city has a relatively new arena, there is the regional cable network, SNY, that has a lot of college basketball in the winter months but no local team as the Knicks are tied up with the Madison Square Garden Network and the Nets have a deal with the YES Network. There is also a corporate base that already attends NBA games in New Jersey that is unlikely to cross a tunnel and a bridge or a tunnel to get to Brooklyn. That corporate base will get used to going to Newark for NBA games and frankly, Devils owner Jeffrey Vanderbeek probably would work out a deal whereby an NBA team could do well financially in Newark as it is in Vanderbeek's best interests to fill as many dates as possible in his building.
Moving an existing franchise to Newark may not be a large problem as the NBA, unlike Major League Baseball, is subjected to antitrust laws. It would take moving heaven and earth to put a third Major League Baseball team in the New York City area whether it is in Northern New Jersey or Brooklyn because Major League Baseball is exempt from certain portions of the Sherman Antitrust Act. The Steinbrenner Yankees or the Wilpon Mets or both could say no to the idea and that would be it.
Major League Baseball is struggling to find a solution to the San Francisco Bay Area problem. The San Francisco Giants franchise has the territorial rights to San Jose and Santa Clara County, California even though those areas are much further away from the Giants home base in China Basin than Oakland, the city which houses the A's. Oakland A's owner Lew Wolff wants to move his team to San Jose but cannot because the Giants ownership group has the rights to the territory. Major League Baseball is looking for a solution. The solution will come when Wolff pays millions of dollars for "invading" Giants territory or if he wins an antitrust case against the Giants and Major League Baseball.
Wolff does not seem willing to sue Major League Baseball.
That is not the case in the NBA or at least seems not to be the case. San Diego Clippers owner Donald Sterling moved his team to Los Angeles in 1984 without permission from NBA owners. The NBA did block the move of the Minnesota Timberwolves to New Orleans in 1994. It was the last time a franchise shift was denied. Since then Vancouver moved to Memphis, Charlotte's George Shinn took his team to New Orleans and Seattle ended up in Oklahoma City.
This might all be moot if the anti-Brooklyn arena project people somehow stop the Brooklyn project. The arena was originally scheduled to open in 2009 and now the target date is sometime in 2012. Could the metropolitan area support three NBA teams? There is cable TV money available; the Brooklyn corporate money will be coming from New York City not New Jersey. The question becomes whether there are enough "customers" who are willing to spend big money for luxury boxes, corporate seats, in-arena restaurants and concessions. Owners want customers, not fans as fans tend not to be willing to spend a lot of money for tickets. Customers buying luxury boxes and club seats can write off 50 percent of the value of the ticket as a business expense. Fans don't count; they can watch the games at home on TV.
The NBA will have some changes after the next collective bargaining agreement is signed. Some smaller market team owners might decide to get out and sell their teams. That is what happened in Major League Baseball following the 1994-95 strike. Montreal was done and in the NHL, Quebec and Winnipeg lost teams after the 1994-95 lockout.
The NBA might advertise itself as a sport but it is really a business and in 2012 after the Nets are in Brooklyn, New Jersey might be a viable option for another financially failing NBA team.
Evan Weiner is a radio-TV commentator, an author, columnist and a lecturer on "The Politics of Sports Business" and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org