5 Cities the NBA could expand to
The NHL recently announced that it's newest team will be called the Seattle Kraken. The Kraken will be the latest in a series of expansions for the four major North American leagues going all the way back to the 1960s. However, expansion has slowed considerable in the last 25 years. The Kraken are the first major expansion team in any North American league since the Vegas Golden Knights joined the NHL in 2017. The last NFL team to be added was the Houston Texans in 2002, the MLB has not added a new team since 1998 when they added the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The NBA last expanded in 2004 when it added the Bobcats.
The NHL has expanded 4 times since 2000 and 11 times since 1990. The NFL has expanded once in the last 20 years, and only 4 times since the late 1970s. The MLB hasn't expanded since the late 90s and has added only 4 teams since the 1970s. The NBA has seen considerable expansion since 1980. Since 1980, when the NBA added the Dallas Mavericks, the NBA has added 8 teams to its league.
The NBA's last expansion is a bit confusing. in 2004 the NBA returned to Charlotte and added the Bobcats as its 30th team. The Bobcats replaced the Hornets which went to New Orleans two seasons prior. The Bobcats were considered an expansion team and had their own unique history, while the New Orleans franchise kept the Hornets history. Than in 2014, the New Orleans Hornets became the New Orleans Pelicans and the Charlotte Bobcats became the Charlotte Hornets once again. The Hornets history from 1988 until 2002 went back to Charlotte, while the history after 2002 was kept by the Pelicans and the Hornets kept the Bobcats history.
Still, the Charlotte Bobcats were an expansion team. They had an expansion draft and were treated as such until 2014.
Than there is the curious case of the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder where originally the Seattle Supersonics but than relocated to Oklahoma City, but they have kept the history. Both Basketball-Refence and NBA Hoops Online consider the Sonics history as part of the Thunder's history. So while, some sources show the Thunder as the NBA's newest team that is not true.
But expansion is in the air. The NHL will now have expanded twice in the last 3 seasons, and there is a very good chance that MLB will expand to either Nashville, Portland or Salt Lake City in the next five years. The NFL has had talks of returning new expansion teams to cities such as San Diego, Oakland or St Louis.
What cities could the NBA expand in?
This is really the billion dollar question, and by billion dollars it would cost at least that for a new expansion team. When the NBA expanded into Charlotte for the 2nd time, Bobcats owner Robert Johnson forked over $400 million dollars in expansion fees. That was almost 20 years ago, inflation and market changes would surely put an expansion fee somewhere in the rage of 700 to 800 million dollars. Than there is an arena. Arena's are expensive. The Clippers new proposed arena in Inglewood is got an estimated cost of 2 billion dollars. The Warriors new arena the Chase Center cost 500 million to build. So a city would need to be able to accommodate these financial hurdles.
The second issue is market size. The best analytic for market size for the US is Combined Statistical Area or CSA. The US Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has defined 392 CSA area's with 50,000 or more people residing in them. Currently the NBA has 12 teams in the top 10 markets with Los Angeles and New York having two each. The largest CSA area without an NBA team is the Riverside, California area. Riverside, however, is very close to the Los Angeles area already with the Lakers and Clippers. The next largest market without a team is the 15th largest market in Seattle.
Of the 30 largest CSA's in the US the NBA has teams in all but Riverside, Seattle, San Diego, Tampa, St Louis, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Austin and Cincinnati.
The third issue is competition from other leagues. While it is true that the NBA shares 21 cities with at least one other league, the NBA also has more single league cities of the 4 major leagues. a single league city is a city that only has 1 of the 4 major leagues. The NBA has 7 of it's franchises in cities where they are the only show in town; The Magic, Blazers, Jazz, Spurs, Kings, Thunder and Grizzlies.
Normally, the NBA does not have to worry about competing with MLB or any of the smaller leagues like Major League Soccer or Canadian Football League. Even competition with the NFL is limited, the NFL does dominate the ratings game during the early part of the NBA season, its season is over for half the NBA's season. The real competition comes from the NHL. But in an odd twist, the NHL may help the NBA in its expansion endeavors.
As mentioned above, one of the biggest obstacles for any expansion team is funding for an arena. But if an arena already exists, this lessons the cost for the expansion team. 14 cities have NHL teams but not NBA teams, 15 if you count Seattle. Six of those cities are in Canada.
Expansion outside the United States is possible, but not likely. The NBA already has issues with American players wanting to go to Toronto and they are a championship caliber franchise. It is also hard to get players into American cities like Salt Lake City, it is unlikely American players will want to go to Ottawa or Winnipeg. The only realistic Canadian city would be Vancouver, who once previously held the Vancouver Grizzlies.
The NHL also has some teams in smaller American cities such as Raleigh, Columbus and Buffalo. it is unlikely any of these cities could support both an NBA and NHL team. The NBA has failed in Buffalo once, and one of the NBA's predecessors the NBL failed there twice, when Buffalo was a much larger and prosperous cities.
If you take away the 6 Canadian cities the realistic cities and the smaller American cities you're left with some very good candidates for expansion.
The Emerald City was once home to the Seattle Sonics, a team that the fan base feels was stolen from them. The city did not lose the Sonics to poor fan support, but rather shady business dealings.
With a population of around 4 million it is the 16th largest market in American sports and the largest without an NBA team. With the city getting an NHL and arena, adding an NBA team will help pay down that price for the city.
Vegas loves the NBA. A lot of people are huge Lakers fans and will fill up any game there. Vegas also has a WNBA team that fairs quite well, and the Golden Knights of the NHL are highly successful.
Bookmakers are actually rather bullish on Vegas getting an NBA team. You can read about the best bookmakers for basketball in this useful guide by OLBG Sports Betting Tips. One site actually has them as having a better chance of getting a team than Seattle.
Las Vegas also has a history of hosting NBA games. In the 1980s the city hosted several home games of the Utah Jazz. In 1992 the playoffs where moved from Los Angeles to Las Vegas due to the Rodney King riots, and in 2008 the city hosted the NBA all-star game.
The home to the Gateway Arch, the Blues and the Cardinals. The Gateway city has not been home to an NBA team since 1968 when the Hawks left for Atlanta. The city also housed one of the first ever NBA teams in the St Louis Bombers.
The city is facing economic struggles which may prevent a team from coming to the city, but at nearly 3 million people it definitely has the population.
Just across the state of Missouri is Kansas City, home to the Royals and Superbowl champion Chiefs. The City has a recently built arena which could house an NBA team.
The Kings once called KC home, so there is a history of the NBA. Though, that may not be a good thing because the Kings had terrible attendance and split time between KC and Omaha before finally heading west to Sacramento.
Like Kansas City, Louisville has an arena that could host the NBA. Louisville was home to one of the most successful ABA franchises the Kentucky Colonels. The Colonels wanted to join the NBA when the ABA-NBA merger happened but accepted the buyout and disbanded.
An odd entry on this list, but the Windy City is big enough to host a 2nd NBA team. The Bulls do dominate the city, but there are generations of Chicagoans who were not alive when Michael Jordan lead the Bulls to glory.