Could Columbus, Ohio Support an NBA Team?

The mayor of Columbus, Ohio, Michael B. Coleman, thinks that his city is ready for an NBA team. He sent a letter to the NBA Commissioner, David Stern, and wanted him to know that “Columbus should be on the league’s radar.” The city just finalized the public purchase of Nationwide Arena, which is the home of Columbus Blue Jackets, an NHL team. The Columbus Dispatch reported the letter today and adds some strong reasons why the city could support three professional teams, if you count the Columbus Crew, an MLS team.

Do you think Columbus could support an NBA team? Is it even the best option in its own state? We’ll dive deeper and look at teams that are in financial trouble and need to move.

Three years ago, a rumor started that Columbus could end up with an NBA team. A team that needed a short-term home could use Nationwide Arena while they finalize a long-term city. I commented on this rumor back then and my opinion hasn’t changed much. Many of the same NBA teams are financially struggling (Milwaukee, Charlotte, Sacramento, Indiana) and a move could most of their issues. The new collective-bargaining agreement relieved some problems, but it can’t solve attendance.

I have lived in Columbus for half of a decade and have attended most of the sporting events that the city has to offer. The Ohio State University has one of the largest student population in the country and its football squad is the most popular team in the city, if not the state. In order to explain the sports mind of the average fan in Columbus, I’ll need to go through the year’s sports schedule. OSU’s football season runs from late August through early January (in a season in which they play in a bowl game). During those months, all other sports do not matter. The Blue Jackets, Crew, and OSU’s basketball season all overlap this time of the year. The Crew’s attendance isn’t affected, because soccer is still arguably a niche sport. The attendance at Blue Jackets games is quite poor during this period of time, but spike after football season is over. At the end the season, they are always near the bottom of the NHL in season attendance. Columbus is a great sports city when you’re winning, but the Blue Jackets have only made the playoffs once in their history. Columbus should not try to add another team right now. Instead, it needs to work on building up the teams that they already have.

Now that we got the other sports out of the way, I’ll explain what the stereotypical Ohio State basketball fan is like. A lot of former alumni attend OSU basketball games and the student section, or lack there of, is not very rowdy. The overall crowd that attends basketball games at Value City Arena is one of the quietest in the Big Ten. The local radio station, 97.1 The Fan, often remarks that the fans “sit on their hands.” The crowd is only alive when they play Michigan or face a team that defeated the OSU football team that season. The passion for basketball lacks in Columbus.

Why would the NBA grant a team to Columbus when larger markets are available? Seattle, Vancouver, Kansas City, and San Diego are without an NBA team and have all previously had an NBA team in their cities. I would include St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati in that list, but I have not heard anything from those cities about wanting an NBA team. You could argue that these cities have already had their shot. Here are the reasons why the NBA did not work in their cities.

  • Seattle – The owner wasn’t able to get public money to fund a new arena, so the owner sold the team to an out-of-town group. That group moved the franchise to Oklahoma City.
  • Vancouver – The city was awarded a team, but the Canadian loonie wasn’t holding up against the American dollar. Canada was having economic issues at this time. The franchise ended up moving to Memphis after an extensive search for a new city.
  • Kansas City – The Kings moved there from Cincinnati, but attendance was the issue in the early 80’s. They moved the team to Sacramento in 1985.
  • San Diego – The team moved from Buffalo to San Diego in 1978. The team stayed in San Diego until 1984, when Donald Sterling, current L.A. Clippers owner, bought the team from Irv Levin.

The situations in those cities have changed and could all support an NBA franchise today. Seattle realized what its like to have its team taken away from them, so getting public money to build a new arena wouldn’t be too difficult. Vancouver has turned into a great sports city and the Canadian loonie is much stronger. A few years ago, Kansas City built the Sprint Center in hopes of luring an NBA or NHL team to their city. Lastly, San Diego could end up as the home of the former Sacramento Kings franchise.

To wrap this up, I don’t believe Columbus could support an NBA team. I only need two examples to prove my point, the Charlotte Bobcats & the Charlotte Hornets. On paper, having a professional basketball team in North Carolina is perfect. The state has a rich college basketball history and the residents clearly love the sport. The NBA found out that the state really loves college basketball, but not professional basketball. After the Hornets moved to New Orleans, the NBA awarded Charlotte another expansion franchise. The team has struggled in every way since their inaugural season. The team even started to draft players who played for the North Carolina Tar Heels and Duke Blue Devils, in hopes of boosting their attendance. The NBA should be weary about putting another team in a college town.

I applaud Mayor Coleman for his ballsy move. It will earn him some votes at the election. His heart was in the right place, but it isn’t feasible at this time. Nationwide Arena is a great place to watch a sporting event and the area surrounding the arena is perfect for post-game debauchery. I hope that I am wrong and Columbus is awarded a team, but it does not add up.


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