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Commish for a Day: Fix arena financing, expand to 31

One of the biggest problems facing the NBA is arena financing. There's a way to fix it.


SB Nation NBA's first theme day this offseason is "Commissioner for a Day." We encourage you to share your "if I were commissioner for a day" ideas in the comments. The highest rec'd one will go on the front page Friday morning.

Sacramento almost lost its Kings because of arena financing. New Orleans almost lost the then-Hornets. Charlotte did lose the Hornets. Seattle lost its Sonics. All because of arena financing. The Bucks and Wolves and even the Pacers are staring down years of drama over arena financing. If only all of those teams belonged to an association that could take a central role in addressing this issue.

I don't know what the fix is. But I do know that arena financing is the biggest issue facing the NBA, and if I were commissioner for a day, I'd spend my time working on it. And because of past failures on this tip, I'd expand the league to 31 (with owners' approval) and add an expansion franchise in Seattle, to begin playing in 2016-17.

What the league did in Sacramento was something I think the league should replicate. David Stern was fully engaged here over multiple years, and we are extremely lucky for it. The 2012 deal the Maloofs tore up even included money straight from Stern's coffers, which was apparently unprecedented. Every proper NBA city needs that sort of dedication and level of commitment. I imagine the Sonics would still exist if Stern had been as involved in Seattle as he was in Sacramento. (Of course, Seattle and Stern had all sorts of additional issues -- let's not rehash all of that.)

The point is that arenas get public funding in all but the largest cities due to relocation threats, plain and simple. It's an awful, adversarial relationship that pops up time and again. I get the sense that the current status quo creates wedges between communities and teams: we all saw how hard it was to enjoy the Kings from 2010-13 given the state of things? That happens far too frequently in the NBA.

Here are the specifics of what I would do.

  • Expand to 31. It's a first step to righting the wrong of 2008, and it takes the top relocation 'threat' off the table. Seattle deserves a team.
  • Establish a top-level position dedicated to assisting teams and cities in finding creative financing options for arena replacements or retrofits, as needed. I would have suggested John Moag for this job if, you know ...
  • Establish a fund out of the revenue sharing pot that serves to:
    • Serve as a loan guarantee so that cities/municipalities themselves don't have to guarantee bonds.
    • Contribute bridge amounts or development planning costs to projects (i.e. up-front consulting contracts so that cities don't have to pay for studies before anything is inked).
    • Be available for actual loans to teams, depending on the size of the fund.

It may seem unfair that high-revenue teams like the Lakers are contributing to arena projects in smaller markets through revenue sharing, especially considering the Lakers' building was privately financed. But consider the alternative: all teams are forced to big markets because that's where it makes financial sense to privately finance buildings. The Lakers can contribute a few bucks to an arena in Milwaukee, or they can meet the Anaheim Bucks. Easy choice, right?

I'm not even sure these suggestions would 'fix' things. But they'd be a start. Sacramento came so, so close to losing the Kings, and I don't want to see any other cities deal with that.

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