Ever since the SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008, investors in Seattle have been looking for a replacement NBA team in the great Northwest. It’s been a long, tough journey for the city that is still without what it seems to covet gaining most.
Seattle isn’t the greatest sports market in the United States, and it really isn’t close, either; its metropolitan area is home to just shy of 700,000 people, ranked 18th in the country. It’s hard to make a solid argument that they have great fans, too. The Seahawks have ranked in the top five in percentage of stadium filled for years now, but the Mariners haven’t even been able to fill two-thirds of their ballpark.
The Sonics were able to fill over 90 percent of their seats in their last few years in Seattle, though that was just average compared to the rest of the league.
Nonetheless, here is Seattle with a new sports franchise: a hockey team. For the second time in three years, the NHL has added an expansion team to its league, and they’ve awarded this one to Seattle.
This may mean that Seattle, perhaps one of the country’s most aggressive cities in chasing to acquire an NBA team, will work to focus on the teams it already has. But that doesn’t mean more cities won’t step up in their place.
With the addition of Seattle’s newly unnamed team and the Las Vegas Golden Knights, the NHL is up to 32 teams. In 2018, Forbes named the New York Rangers as the most valuable NHL franchise at $1.55 billion and the Arizona Coyotes as the least valuable at $290 million.
In 2018, Forbes named the New York Knicks as the most valuable NBA franchise at $3.6 billion and the New Orleans Pelicans as the least valuable at $1 billion. Forbes also states that NBA valuations have tripled in the past five years, are up 22 percent from last year, and average team valuations are within just $1 billion of NFL teams. That is still a large gap, but at the pace the league has grown, it’s hard to imagine the NFL holding that large of a lead for much longer.
The NBA has the money advantage over the NHL, but still has just 30 teams; the league has not expanded since adding the Toronto Raptors in 1995. Some teams have changed cities (and names) since then, however.
There are markets with plenty of room to support a new NBA team. San Diego has $1.4 million people and a hole in its heart after losing the Chargers to Los Angeles. Las Vegas and Louisville have ready-made arenas. Why not give the Raptors some company up in Canada?
It’s surely a question of when, not if, the NBA will expand. But here’s a question the league should answer: why not now?