NBA Neighbors for OSU Basketball?

By Kyle Lamb on May 11, 2012 at 10:00a
The Columbus Horizon was the city's CBA team until 1994

If Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman has his way, The Ohio State University men's basketball team will no longer be the only basketball tenant in town. A Thursday report by the Columbus Dispatch revealed the city is now actively soliciting an NBA franchise.

According to the report, Coleman sent a sternly-worded letter to NBA commissioner David Stern, expressing (read: pleading) his desire to attract an NBA franchise for the city of Columbus. The NBA, which threatened the player's association with possible contraction last summer during collective bargaining agreement negotiations, has made it clear that expansion is not in its immediate plans. 

More likely, a possible franchise would have to come from an existing team. 

For the last two years, the most tenuous of NBA members has been the Sacramento Kings. Kings' ownership and Maloof family, led by Gavin, has been working with the city of Sacramento in attempts to replace the aging Power Balance Pavilion (formerly Arco Arena), which just a few years ago reached legal drinking age. Last month, a possible deal for a new arena fell through, leaving the future of the Kings very much in doubt. Reportedly, the Maloof family has developed a fondness for scouring real estate in Anaheim as a hobby on the side. 

While the NBA has unofficially endorsed the idea of a third Los Angeles-market team based out of Anaheim, the Lakers and Clippers both would strenuously object to such an arrangment by most accounts. In order to relocate, the team must receive a majority approval from the league's 30 owners. The Toronto Raptors and Detroit Pistons have also been named as relocation candidates. The New Orleans Hornets have been managed by the NBA for the past few seasons, although recently a new ownership group has stepped to the table and a lease has been extended by the city through 2024, likely sparing the Hornets from moving. 

Basketball fans in Columbus are left with three pressing questions: can the city support an NBA franchise; what will this do to OSU basketball; and would the Kings continue to suck as badly as the Blue Jackets?

Columbus has been dormant from professional basketball for 18 years since the Columbus Horizon, of the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association, left for greener pastures as the Shreveport Crawdads. The franchise ultimately folded in 1996 after 13 seasons in the league and stops in five cities. The CBA finally went under in 2009 after it fell to four clubs.

The Horizon existed for five seasons in Columbus, finishing last place in the Eastern Division in four of the five years. The last two years, the club finished near the bottom of CBA attendance, drawing just over 1,700 fans a game at Battelle Hall in the Columbus Convention Center. In fairness to basketball patrons of the capital city, the club's marketing strategy included the hiring of former Michigan man, Cazzie Russell, as head coach in 1992. Though I can't confirm, it wouldn't surprise me if further research turned up "Maize & Blue Night" as one of the team promotions.

It's not that Columbus couldn't support a professional franchise. After all, the ECHL's Columbus Chill was a smashing success for the city, selling out a league record 83 straight games beginning in January of 1992. It was the Chill's unparalleled support that attracted the NHL to Columbus. In 1997, Columbus was awarded an NHL franchise and started play at Nationwide Arena in September 2000.

For the first half of the team's existence, the Blue Jackets finished in the upper half of NHL attendance. However, the success, or rather lack thereof, has dropped the CBJ into the bottom quadrant over the past four seasons. Because of diminishing attendance due to making the playoffs only once in 11 years and an unfavorable lease through the arena's ownership, the franchise was in danger of leaving. However, last September Franklin County rescued the team by buying the arena and reaching a deal to keep the club in Columbus. The city is hoping to attract an NBA team as a second tenant to better finance the acquisition.

The Kings are the city's best shot at luring an NBA franchise

Now it's a matter of whether Columbus has what it takes to lure -- and preserve -- an NBA team.

Some say that's as likely as the Mayan Calendar ending in 2012. Call me an optimist. 

According to the latest Nielsen Media release, Columbus ranks No. 32 in terms of Designated Market Area size with an estimated 932,680 tv-equipped homes in the market. Salt Lake City (927k), Milwaukee (907k), San Antonio (881k), Oklahoma City (712k), Memphis (670k) and New Orleans (644k) are the existing teams with smaller markets. When television deals are negotiated with networks, DMAs typically impact the tiers in which cable operators place certain networks. So when a club negotiates media rights, the size of the market has a huge impact on the size of the deal.

Yes, gentlemen, size does matter.

Television ramifications are not the only consideration. The population within the area is also important as it can impact potential attendance. As of April 2010, the U.S. Census lists Columbus as 1.8 million people in its core-based statistical area, ranking ahead of Charlotte, Milwaukee, Memphis, Oklahoma City, New Orleans and Salt Lake City. 

Since moving to Oklahoma City from Seattle, the Thunder has been a relative success in terms of support. Though partially because of the marketability of superstar Kevin Durant, the Thunder averaged 18,203 this season in 33 home games as one of the league's best teams. Columbus, though, would have to support both an NBA team and a major university. This is the part of the conversation where cynical Buckeye fan usually adds, "Ohio State can't even support its basketball team."

Despite the cynics, there is some anecdotal evidence that it can.

The Memphis Grizzlies might be the best litmus test for whether Columbus and Ohio State can coexist. With the exception of 2008 and 2009, the Grizzlies have pretty consistently averaged between 14-16,000 people since moving from Vancouver. While that hasn't shattered any records, it has fit nicely with the Memphis Tigers. 

Since the Grizzlies arrived, Memphis has averaged 15,631 a game for Tigers' home basketball games between 2001-2012. The average national rank for Memphis in NCAA Division I men's basketball has been 13. Ohio State, meanwhile, has averaged 15,768 during the same timeframe with an average national rank of 11. This suggests that given a larger market than Memphis and similar fan support, Columbus can indeed support an NBA franchise. It also shows that the Buckeye faithful has heard of the game invented by Dr. James Naismith.

Interestingly, the Memphis attendance has actually improved since the Grizzlies came to town. In the previous 12 seasons, the average Tiger home basketball game drew 12,505 people. Granted, the Grizzlies' arrival coincided with the hiring of John Calipari and shortly thereafter, moving out of The Pyramid Arena and into the FedEx Forum. Nonetheless, they are a living example that a city the size of Columbus could support both.

Calipari seems to agree. Calipari, who saw the impact the Grizzlies had on Memphis up-close-and-personal, has been outspoken about bringing an NBA team to Louisville. Calipari believes it would be good for Louisville and the state of Kentucky, but also for both college programs.

"It will never take away from the University of Kentucky, never, ever," he said in an AP interview in 2010. "It will never take dollars away, it will never take seats away."

Of course Louisville and Kentucky are often 1-2 in national attendance, so comparing them to Ohio State is apples-to-oranges. Nonetheless, Calipari added there are inherent advantages to recruiting with an NBA team in your own backyard.

"The recruiting for Louisville will go up because there will be pro scouts in there every day," he added. "That's what happened to us in Memphis, every day, because they're going in to see the pro team that night. Where do they go that afternoon? They go to the gym to see the college players."

Louisville coach Rick Pitino sees several advantages to having an NBA team in Louisville, though his concern was over the economic feasibility for local families. The Bureau of Economic Analysis puts out an annual personal income report by metropolitan area and his concerns are not unfounded. Louisville, in 2010, averaged $48,968 per person. Memphis averaged $50,613 whereas Columbus is a healthier $70,619. The three cities have a nearly identical cost of living index, which means Columbus has more disposable income to support a professional franchise. 

Columbus also has a higher rate of income than NBA cities Charlotte, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Oklahoma City and Salt Lake City, and nearly identical to Cleveland, Orlando and Sacramento. More disposable income means more money to waste on $7 beers and $10 foam fingers. Forget dime-a-dog-night, Columbus. You know you want extra opportunities to boo LeBron James.

This all may be a moot point. There doesn't seem to be many vacancies at the inn right now for C-bus. The Maloofs might find their happy home in the city of Angels (Anaheim, that is) and this could turn out to be nothing more than Coleman's pipe dream. But there is certainly some indication that this could work. 

The NBA is an attractive selling point for a college coach. Thad Matta actually enjoys having the football program to sell. I would be surprised if he has anything negative to say about this idea, having a possible NBA team in his home city to sell to recruits. Provided the Columbus Kings, or whatever incarnation we'd see, didn't go out and start hiring UofM graduates as coaches, Columbus could make this work. OSU could too.

For now I'll ignore the pressing consideration that roommates rarely ever work out with a happy ending. If Coleman pulls this off, my suspicion is that it will turn out better than the Horizon. Let's just hope they suck less than the CBJ. That's the question that remains unanswered.


Comments Show All Comments

thatlillefty's picture

I love Ohio State but Cincinnati is more deserving of an NBA franchise
there, i said it

hodge's picture

Totally agree, especially with Xavier and Cincinnati's college prevalence, and the fact that it would become hoops-crazy Kentucky's de facto pro franchise.  The issue, of course is that Nationwide Arena is a massively superior venue to the Cincinnati Colluseum.  We're pro-ready, they would need to build an entirely new venue--and that becomes a touchy political game, especially in this economic climate (see the city council debates on buying Nationwide in Columbus' last election).  Not trying to talk politics here, but unfortunately sometimes the two coincide.
Granted, a pro basketball arena next to Great American and Paul Brown would be incredible, especially with all the effort Cincy's put into their waterfront of late.

btalbert25's picture

Speaking of which, there is another restaurant/bar coming to The Banks.  It's called The Yard House, apparently it's a chain that is really sought after.  The closest one is near Chicago.  Over 200 beers on tap.  They are expecting 5 restaurants to open in 2012.
It's not just the banks though.  OTR is really getting cleaned up and the Casino is coming in soon too.  It took them about 15 years too long, but it seems Cincinnati is getting their shit together.  May not be a ghost town after 5 oclock in the near future.

SouthBayBuckeye's picture

They have them in SoCal and they are amazing. It's called the YardHouse because you can order a yard of beer.

Banned from ATO since June 3rd 2PMish PST

SouthBayBuckeye's picture

So you're saying Kentuckey should have an NBA team?
Also, "deserves"? The city should just give up on pro sports.

Banned from ATO since June 3rd 2PMish PST

B1G 10 Buckeye Stuck in SEC Country's picture

Does Columbus REALLY make sense for an NBA franchise?

" Life is hard; it's harder if you're stupid." - John Wayne 

741's picture

Isn't Mayor Coleman aware that King James1 and his team have declared that the NBA needs to contract?

tennbuckeye19's picture

I don't doubt your figures on attendance, but bringing up Memphis in comparison to Columbus is apples and oranges. Memphis is a basketball town. University of Memphis (formerly Memphis State) has always been a hot ticket in basketball. I have friends in the Memphis area and they will tell you that even with the Grizzlies in town, the Tigers are still the draw. Throw in the fact that Memphis Tiger football is dreadful, and they don't have a whole lot else there. 
I do not consider Columbus a basketball town. OSU struggles to fill Value City Arena during the season. That is not a good sign for a top 5 program. Even when OSU basketball has had great success, including this year, I would venture to say that more Buckeye fans were eager for the Urban Meyer era and spring practice to get going than they were excited about Matta's team and the Final Four.
Columbus is a football town. Yeah they've got the Clippers, the Crew and the Blue Jackets. But we all know the big draw in town is Buckeye football. If OSU is playing Eastern Michigan in football the Shoe is full. If OSU is playing Eastern Michigan in basketball, the Schott would not be close to full. I just don't see how Columbus could think that bringing an NBA team to town would be a good idea. 

Kyle Lamb's picture

Tenn, you say Memphis is a "basketball town," yet OSU "struggles to fill" Value City Arena. But over the past 12 years, Ohio State has outdrawn that basketball town. 

Isn't it hard to reconcile those statements with the attendance since OSU outdraws Memphis?

tennbuckeye19's picture

My point is that in Memphis there isn't anything else but basketball. I don't think you can say Memphis is a football town, can you? Columbus might like basketball, but it is not king. I consider Columbus a football town because OSU football is king.
I don't dispute your attendance figures on OSU being greater than Memphis for basketball. I do know that Memphis played in that disaster of a venue called the Pyramid until 2004. Capacity there was over 20,000, yet the place was awful. They've been playing in the FedEx Forum since then and my guess is that capacity is smaller there than at Value City. 

Kyle Lamb's picture

I don't care if it's a football town or a basketball town. I see the football town, that you say is "struggling" to draw, is out-drawing the basketball town over the last 12 years. To me, that's all I need to know about the support level. 

The characterizations are pointless. Ohio State is drawing better than Memphis. Even if Memphis is a basketball town, which I don't dispute, Ohio State is bringing more fans into the arena. Support is support regardless of what sport is the most popular. 

BTW... Memphis actually averaged higher the last four years in the Pyramid than they have in FedEx since then. 

tennbuckeye19's picture

Wow. It is hard to believe the Pyramid averaged more fans than FedEx. Capacity was larger but man that place was horrible, although it looked quite cool from the outside, you know being a pyramid and all. 
Honest opinion though: do you really think the NBA could/would work in Columbus?

Kyle Lamb's picture

I really do think so. I don't think Columbus would ever be averaging 20,000 people consistently, but I think they'd draw well enough to stay afloat.

tennbuckeye19's picture

Who knows, maybe the NBA would succeed in Columbus. I've been a Cavs fan my whole life, but if Columbus got a team, I would have to follow them as well. 
Do you think CBJ remains in Columbus long-term?
Sidenote: Did you ever get to see the Horizon play? I remember how excited I was to get to see Jay Burson play in person post-OSU. 
Also, do you remember the Ohio Glory? They were part of the World League I guess that I guess eventually became NFL Europe. I was present for their one and only win in Ohio Stadium. 

hodge's picture

Well, it's a great idea for Columbus--given that we already have facilities (Nationwide Arena) and a bustling downtown area where it's located (which is why Columbus fought so hard to keep the Blue Jackets here, they're the sole reason for Downtown's revival in the Arena District).  The issue is attendence, and the unfortunate fact of the matter is that Cleveland and Cincinnati, though smaller cities, have drastically bigger metro areas.  It's a good deal for Columbus, just not the NBA.  

Kyle Lamb's picture

Hodge, the 2010 Census shows Cleveland as having a CBSA of only about 180,000 more than Columbus. Cincinnati was roughly 250,000 more.

Now, in fairness, using the combined statistical area (CSA) instead, Cleveland is quite a bit larger, though Cincinnati and Columbus were nearly the same size. 


hodge's picture

But Cincinnati has much more pull in Kentucky, since they have no pro sports teams.  That's the unfortunate reality of sports in the Capital City, we have less to draw from.  Cleveland has ~800,000 more people in its CSA, and not to mention draws from the entire northern part of the State, including population centers in Toledo and Youngstown (combined CSAs=~1.3 million).  Now, Columbus can also draw from the Dayton CSA (~1 million), but so can Cincinnati (~1 hour drive from each city).  Aside from that, Cincinnati's reach can extend into Louisville (1.3 million CSA in 2006).
The unfortunate fact is that Cleveland and Cincinnati can get our share of the market (or split it, in terms of baseball and football), and pull into more unique regions that we really can't access.  That's the geographical downfall of having your capital right smack dab in the center of the state.
Imagine if State College had a population on par with Columbus, they wouldn't get any pro teams either.  Pittsburgh and Philly can draw their market and extend past where State College can.

Kyle Lamb's picture

The way the Census does their CSA and CBSAs, a large portion of Northern Kentucky is included in that population for Cincinnati. 


hodge's picture

True, but the Louisville CSA is still a pretty big cash cow.  Gotta think their allegiance would shift from the Pacers/Grizzlies with a team that close.

btalbert25's picture

Cincinnati Sports definitely have a lot of pull in Kentucky, as a whole.  The Reds are the state of Kentucky's favorite pro franchise for example.  Not just the 10 counties that are part of the Cincinatti metro area.  Kentucky basketball fans are crazy about their team and players.  You would get a lot of people from Lexington and the rest of the state who want to go watch John Wall or Anthony Davis play.  A Cincinnati NBA team, espeically if it had a UK player or 2, would get high tv ratings in the state of Kentucky.
All that said, I still don't think we'll ever seen the NBA in Cincinnati again.

RedStorm45's picture

I think it's hard for Columbus to have an NHL and and NBA team.  CBJ attendance would plummet unless they can win.  However, I think the NBA would do better.  We've sold out preseason Cavs games over the last decade.  Just not sure it would fly with Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Detroit all so close and not overly huge markets.

Iwearmocs's picture

Also, unless the cavs are the team that moves, they would complain about a team moving into "their" territory.

Kyle Lamb's picture

Dan Gilbert was interviewed yesterday by the Plain Dealer. While he was non-committal whether or not he would object, he didn't seem completely opposed to the idea.


703Buckeye's picture

Gilbert did say that it would not be the Cavs moving. No other team, outside the Kings, seems to want to move. The Kings, if they move, will go to Anaheim or Seattle. The NBA definitely won't expand. So, Columbus isn't getting a NBA franchise.

"Attack the Strong, Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead!"
-Former OSU S&C Coach Lichter

Kyle Lamb's picture

Yeah I don't think anyone really expected the Cavs to move. However, Toronto and Detroit have both been mentioned as being possibly up for sale. It's been said for a year that someone might buy the Raptors with the intent of moving them. It's very feasible that a prospective ownership group from Columbus could buy them with the intent of moving to Columbus.


toledobuckeyefanjim's picture

The Pistons were sold several months ago to Tom Gores. The new owner is a former Gander and I'm sure he will stay in the Detroit area. I really doubt the Pistons will move out, so don't get your hopes up.

Iwearmocs's picture

Oh yeah, I don't see any reason the cavs would move right now. I just can't imagine Gilbert being cool w/ another team potentially cutting into his profits.

sir rickithda3rd's picture

I dont think the cavs would be very happy about another bball team in ohio. Without LeBron how well are they doing on sales? I dont have any facts this is just an assumption

mark may wins douchebag of the year... again

Seabass1974's picture

It doesn't matter. It would just end up sucking just as much as all the other pro sports teams in Ohio. While I love my state and wish we did well in professional sports, we all know our teams just flat out suck. 
This is why The Ohio State University is king in Ohio.

The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender. - Woody Hayes

torlando2006's picture

As much as you would like to think that Columbus is a great NBA market it is not.I lived in Minneapolis for 8 years  It would become another Minnesota Timberwolves…and Minneapolis is the more progressive city. (look it up and compare). You would end up with a team that can’t afford to put a decent team on the floor. People only coming to the games to see the superstar other teams etc. You are not going to have another OKC Thunder moment, they moved a franchise that was a historically successful franchise for decades 
You can't count heavily on OSU students paying premium prices for NBA tickets in your business plan and if you take the students out of the picture you have gutted your ticket base.
Think about it, Ohio State Basketball is not a guaranteed sell out as we speak.   Not including student tickets that the university makes no profit on... as far as they are concerned. 
Hockey, Football and Soccer fits the market... go with what you know

tennbuckeye19's picture

Wasn't Denard Robinson spotted sitting courtside at a Pistons game this year? 

sonofsarek's picture

Bases on Columbus' high TV ratings for NBA games, coupled with the recent low attendance for the CBJ, it might be best if the Cavs and CBJs switch cities. 
Columbus Cavs
Cleveland BJs. 
Attendance would probably improve in both cities. 

741's picture

It would be cool for "Columbus" to trade "Cleveland" about 6 regular season CBJ games a year in exchange for 6 Cavs regular season games.
For that matter, have a Browns game in Ohio Stadium in exchange for a Buckeyes game in the mistake by the lake every year. (Browns-Steelers, please - since we are shooting for the moon here.)

tennbuckeye19's picture

FYI: The "Mistake by the Lake" no longer exists. Cleveland Municipal Stadium was torn down when the Browns left town in the 1990's. The new Browns stadium is much nicer and while built on the same site as the previous stadium, I don't think its a 'mistake'.
Although, to be sure, the Browns often probably could be 'mistaken' for a MAC level college football team. 

741's picture

I know. (I've attended games in both facilities.) I'm just trying to get my digs in on the Cleveland Browns fans. (Assuming some still exist.)

tennbuckeye19's picture

There are still plenty of Browns fans. Browns fans are some of the most passionate and loyal fans in all of sports. And given the fact that the Browns are terrible, that is saying something. 

NoVA Buckeye's picture

like me

The offseason begins when your season ends. Even then there are no days off.

NoVA Buckeye's picture

be careful, they can also be confused for a super bowl winning franchise (see winning streak vs defending super bowl champs)

The offseason begins when your season ends. Even then there are no days off.

tennbuckeye19's picture

I'm also a Browns fan. Been one my whole life. Its a love/hate thing. You love them and yet they often break your heart.

sandytowne's picture

This is all a moot point.  Seattle is first in line to get an NBA team should one choose to relocate.  New Orleans, which was just purchased by the Saints owner, is not moving.  Detroit, which was also recently sold, will also not be leaving the city.  That leaves basically Sacramento and I see no reason why the Maloof's would move to a midwest city.
As far as moving the Cavs to Columbus; it is not happening.  First, they actually didn't have that bad of attendance this season, outdrawing a number of playoff teams.  Further, season ticket sales are up 75% from last season.  There also is the Dan Gilbert factor.  If you think he is going to up and leave the Cleve you are crazy. 
I do think doing some sort of swap with the Blue Jackets a couple games a year makes financial sense for both teams and cities.  In fact, I am surprised this hasn't been proposed yet.

Kyle Lamb's picture

Toronto is another option. Further, Seattle still has not been able to commit to financing an arena. They won't be getting an NBA team until/unless they're able to make a new arena work.

btalbert25's picture

I don't see NBA in Cincinnati ever being an option really.  I think if a city within 100 miles of NKY/Cincinnati area ends up with an NBA team it'll be Louisville.  The Yum Center is one of the nicest arena's in the country and they didn't build the place just to host U of L games and concerts.  There have been rumors for years that Louisville could end up with an NBA team too. 
I wouldn't mind if Cincinnati added a 3rd pro team, it'd be cool to see, but I just don't imagine we'll ever see the NBA in Cincy.  US Bank Arena, while not terrible like it was in the colosuem days is definitely not an NBA venue.

spqr2008's picture

The Kings would make sense in Cinci.  They were there for a few years starting in 1957.  They could change their name back to the Royals, draft a few UC, XU, Buckeye, and UK players, add in a few bench folks/ practice squad from Dayton, and draw a large attendance.