NBA Commissioner Adam Silver delivered a keynote speech at the South by Southwest festival this morning, and our own Kevin Nesgoda was in attendance. When the question and answer session came, Silver was asked specifically about expansion to Seattle (not by Kevin, believe it or not). Here was his answer:
We had great teams in Seattle, a great history of basketball there. I personally love the city, I spend a lot of time there. The issue for the NBA, right now, is that in part, for the very reasons we talked about, every team in essence can have a global following. The need to expand a global footprint by physically putting a team in another market becomes less important from a league standpoint, and therefore, the way the owners see expansion at the moment is really the equivalent of selling equity in the league. We're 30 partners right now, 30 teams, all of those teams own 1/30th of the global opportunities of the NBA. So the issue becomes, if you expand, do you want to sell one of those interests off to a new group of partners?
Now, one reason to do it, of course, is if it's additive. No doubt Seattle's a great market, and I would just say that, at the moment, for me, as successful as the league is right now, we're not yet in the position that, putting aside profitability, where all 30 teams are must-see experiences. That's not a secret.
What's fascinating to me also, and I don't understand the answer to this, is that as I watch the NBA over the 24 years that I've been here, the global explosion in interest in the sport and the number of kids all around the world who are playing it, you would think there would therefore be an exponential increase in great players as well. But there isn't, and I don't know why. When you think about it that, unlike for example soccer, for those that follow soccer, several high, high level leagues all around the world, the EPL, the Bundesliga, La Liga. There's only one NBA, there's other leagues in the world but the very best players all want to be in the NBA. Yet, we can all sit here and say that there's only so many great players in the league, and I think that's one of the issues with expansion.
Even putting aside the financial notion of selling equity and whether it's additive to the league as a whole to add more teams, the question becomes "is it diluted in terms of talent?" And that's something that I'm also focused on as well. But I will say, organizations all grow over time and I'm optimistic, you know I'll say that I don't think there's any doubt that we'll turn back to looking at whether we should grow the league. The league, of course, has grown over time. I'll just say for the moment, my focus, I think the current NBA owners' focus, is insuring that we have a high operating, very competitive, 30 team league.
Silver then continues to talk about talent around the world, including a lengthy discussion about Yao Ming, and how to continue to grow the game. While this speech includes the usual talking points about the health of the league and talent dilution, this is a much more optimistic outlook from the commish than we've heard in the past. It's also notable that he puts emphasis on "the owners" when discussing a desire to grow the league.
Kevin also spoke with Mr. Silver personally after his speech and, while the specifics are off the record, they had what Kevin felt was a very positive discussion about expansion and Seattle specifically. Hopefully this is the start of some positive momentum leading into the street vacation vote, which could finally make our arena shovel-ready in case the NBA does decide to grow.