Editorial: NBA should look to expand, think global

Published: Saturday, Apr. 20, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 12A
Last Modified: Saturday, Apr. 20, 2013 - 12:06 am

NBA owners have a smart solution right in front of them – one that should appeal to their interest in making the league more of a global brand.

Instead of having to choose between Sacramento and Seattle, they can broker a sale of the Kings to investors who would keep the team here, plus award an expansion franchise to Seattle.

That would reward both cities for their herculean efforts and establish the league in two strong markets, while avoiding ugly fan reaction and potentially costly lawsuits from the losing city.

The official line has been that the league has no plans to expand. But a key owner – Peter Holt of the San Antonio Spurs, who is chairman of the league's board of governors – said this week that expansion is "not off the table."

As owners continue to sort through the competing bids in the next few weeks, they ought to consider expansion more seriously.

There are some potential hurdles. Expansion could lower the presumed value of each team if the fee were appreciably lower than the record price the Seattle investment group is willing to pay. It cost $300 million for the most recent expansion team, the Charlotte Bobcats in 2004, while the Seattle group is offering $357 million for a 65 percent controlling interest in the Kings.

Expansion could also change the equation in the highly contentious collective bargaining agreement that the owners and players approved in 2011 after a five-month lockout that canceled part of the season. Adding a 31st team would mean each owner gets a smaller slice of the pie from national TV contracts and other shared revenues.

What owners need to focus on instead is expanding the pie. That means building the NBA into more of a global commodity. It has made inroads into China, but India remains a largely untapped market.

Vivek Ranadive, the league's first Indian-born owner and lead investor in the Sacramento group, could play an important role in extending the NBA's reach in the country of more than 1.2 billion. In his presentation to owners on April 3, he emphasized how globalization is a key part of creating what he calls "NBA 3.0" to make basketball the sport of the 21st century.

He is already well known to owners as vice chairman of the Golden State Warriors. They should want Ranadive as an even more prominent member of their club. By letting his group buy the Kings from the Maloof family, while giving the Seattle group a team as well, they can do just that.

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