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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

NBA’s Small Market Dilemma, circa 2009

As a business strategy, to be the only game in town is a legitimate one. Ask Walmart. The NBA has been trying that strategy for a few years now and with mixed results; abandon large markets that have NFL/MLB/NHL franchises, for smaller towns like Salt Lake City, where they are the only pro sports game in town. The theory is that there will be no competition for the sports dollar. Utah is a success story, but looking deeper tells the story.

The Jazz moved to SLC in 1979, even though it was a smaller market than New Orleans. In SLC’s defense, they had proven they could support a pro basketball team when they hosted the ABA’s Utah Stars from 1970 to 1976. The Stars were popular in SLC, but financially collapsed in their last two seasons, folding in December 1975 after playing only 16 games of what was ultimately the ABA's final season. Jerry Sloane came on board in 1988 and under his tenure they have been a consistent contender, reaching the playoffs in 18 of 20 seasons, including five trips to the conference finals and three to the NBA Championship. They also were lucky enough to have John Stockton, Karl Malone (combined to play 35 of their 36 seasons in Utah; Malone spent his last with the Lakers) and Sloane’s style of play to perfectly compliment their talents and discipline. It was a unique and wildly successful situation. It’s rare that an athlete or a coach stay in one place that long in sports any more. I would consider Utah to be the exception to almost every rule. The NBA flourished under Bird, Jordan, Malone and Barkley. Vancouver, Charlotte, Miami and Orlando hosted franchises as the NBA exploded in popularity.

Flash Forward to 2009.

Vancouver left for a doomed marriage to Memphis. The Charlotte Hornets went to New Orleans and then Charlotte got another team, to replace the team that left to fill the void the Jazz created when they went to SLC in 1979. We’ve come full circle! Oh, and somehow Seattle, a large market team with 41 years of history, was carted off to Oklahoma City because 10 years after giving the Coliseum a $150 million dollar face lift, the City, under pressure by Stern, refused to do it all over again.

How will small market teams be affected now that we’ve entered the age of the recession? Let’s take a look at the new landscape and theorize future affects.

Personal Expenditures during a recession.
These always drop, which means fewer tickets, hotdogs and merchandise. Economics affects expenditures on non-essential items during lean years. More guns = less butter: its econ 101. When you have a smaller pool of potential tickets purchasers, and you have a drop in interest due to recessed economy – you are likely to get hit harder in a small market. In New York where you have 15 million potential ticket buyers and the economy drops – let’s assume you eliminate 50% of you potential sales targets – that still leaves you with 7.5 million potential targets. Now, if your target base is 200,000 and you lose 50%...that is a harder hit, especially in an isolated market. This likely will result in lower ticket sales, which means less concessions and merchandise sales – the primary revenue streams.

TV ad revenue.
This once drove the league. Now, as advertising revenues shrink, networks cannot afford to pay top dollar. The proliferation of cable television helps offset that as there are more local and regional distributors, BUT local distributor means local market value - meaning much less money outside of the top markets. Ad rates are based on market size – so do the math. Even radio revenues are dwindling and that equals shrinking ad rates. If you are in a small market you are already receiving a lesser rate than the top markets – so this squeezes small market teams’ bottom line even more. Larger markets have a much larger revenue stream from local tv and radio.

Twitter Culture!
In our current ‘instant gratification' era, fans have a thousand distractions to deal with. This puts the pressure on entertainment to produce immediate results to an attention-deficit culture. Win now or fans lose interest and move on to the next shiny object vying for their attention...there are so many other things vying for consumer's time and money - a better value can be found elsewhere quickly.

Few of these can be blamed on the NBA – except over expansion. Few saw the recession coming. Where is the NBA headed? Only time will tell for sure. It seems plausible that some teams will fold. Memphis, Indiana and Sacramento are few potential candidates, who are losing big money. I am sorry to disagree with David Stern, but fancy new arenas for bad teams will not turn them around. No one ever got richer because they moved into a big new house. The NBA has a $180 million in loans it can dole out to teams in financial trouble and at least a dozen teams were vying for that money. Surely that figure will grow as financial losses pile up during this tough time.

All of these factors will make it hard for the NBA and small market to sustain, let alone grow. In these incredibly lean times, it’s going to be very interesting to see how the little guys try to stay afloat while the league drowns in debt. It’s tough to own a losing, small market franchise in any economy. In a recession, it may be impossible.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Seahawks Rock the Draft!

Tim Ruskell shined in the 2009 draft in nearly every area. Drafting Curry, stud linebacker out of Wake Forrest was a solid choice. Many speculated that Curry is the best athlete and surest thing in the draft. Only time will, but it was a great move by Ruskell to solidify one of the strongest linebacking corp in the NFL. It also took any bargaining power away from holdout Leroy Hill as he is no longer an essential sign. That was confirmed when Ruskell wisely rescinded the "franchise" tag on him, instantly freeing up over $8 million in cap space.

Max Unger is another strong move to shore up the interior offensive line with depth and versatility. Unger can play center or guard and puts instant pressure on Chris Spencer to reach his potential at center or get out of the way. A big body at 6'5 and 285, Unger played in the Senior Bowl and his stock continued to rise up until the draft.

Deon Butler broke several Penn State receiving records held by former Seahawk Bobby Engram and is the all-time receptions leader there. He adds depth and speed to a suspect receiving corp upgraded in the off-season with the addition of veteran producer, TJ Houshmazadeh. This new combo should stretch the field for the Seahawk offense and open up the running game and make stud tight end John Carlson even more dangerous underneath.

Cameron Morrah a 6'4 tight end from Cal. A 7th round pick that can spell Carlson when needed, is a strong run blocker and another big body over the middle for short yardage situations. Set the Cal season record for td receptions by a tight end with eight in his junior season. Declared before his senior season and was a starter every game his junior year.

Ruskell also acquired Denver's first round pick in next year's draft and really gave up nothing significant. The only question mark is they did nothing to strengthen the secondary which has been a glaring weakness on this team. Part of last year's meltdown can easily be attributed to injuries, a situation unlikely to repeat itself to the degree it did. Expect the Seahawks to look into free agency to get a big-bodied secondary player - likely Ken Lucas - who will be needed if that unit is going to make any significant steps forward.

Good job Ruskell!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Bennett Closer to Being $30 Million Poorer!?

According the the Seattle PI:

The Bill designed to get new Seattle NBA team is moving forward in the legislative process.

A state Senate committee on Monday passed a bill that would make it easier for Seattle to get another NBA team - or for the city to collect $30 million from the Sonics-turned-Oklahoma City Thunder owner if professional basketball doesn't return to Jet City soon.

Senate Bill 6116 would allocate a portion of existing restaurant and car rental taxes to pay for the arts and housing for poor people as well as for improvements to KeyArena.

Specifically, the measure says: "If by 2013 the city of Seattle has a lease with an
NBA team the 2 percent car rental tax and the King County food and beverage tax raised
within Seattle must go to pay for bonds for necessary improvements to Key Arena."

The bill must still be approved by the full Senate and signed off on by the House. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn Sunday.

To break his lease at KeyArena and move the team, Bennett agreed to pay $45 million. He also agreed to pay the city another $30 million if the NBA doesn't send a new team to a revamped KeyArena by 2013. However as part of that deal the Legislature has to approve a revenue stream for a facility by the end of this year - or Bennett gets to keep his money.

One step closer to relieving Bennett of his $30 million!

One thing to keep in mind is that the upgrades could be used to help lure other business to the Arena, not just and NBA franshise. This is a good thing all around. An upgraded Coliseum, a potential new NBA tenant, a potentially poorer Clay Bennett!

More Corndogs, Less cash for Bennett, more Blunder!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Blunder Season Finale: Stuck in the 50's!

Ah, the 50's. A wonderful time in American history. 50's history is repeating itself for the losses! The Blunder finish another 50 loss season under Clay Bennett; 59 losses to be exact.

Ironically, The Blunder dominated the lifeless, listless, useless Los Angeles Clippers in the season finale for both teams, 126-85. In what can only be deemed a shameful performance, the Clippers solidified their place as the league's official laughingstock with a 19-win season. Hats off to the Blunder who came to play as the Clippers shamefully gave a performance so bad, the fans truly deserve refunds and the players deserve to be docked pay for being MIA. An embarrassing display by a pitiful NBA franchise. Eric Gordon led the Clippers with 22 points.

Durant led six Blunder players in double figures with 26 points as OKC went out on a high note, but ultimately failed on their quest for the 60-loss plateau. The former Seattle SuperSonics managed to lose 59 games in their debut season in OKC, a full three games better than the disaster Clay Bennett unleashed on Seattle fans last year. The Blunder has a nice core of Westbrook, Durant and Green and have draft picks aplenty. It will be interesting to see how they use them. They MUST get an instant impact player to keep interest up in OKC and to boost season ticket sales for next season, sales figures that are likely to drop due to the recession. If they do not get the #1 lottery pick, I expect them to package up a trade consisting of multiple first-round picks over the next two seasons in a hail-Mary attempt to land Griffin.

The Blunder will have plenty of cap space, something I deem irrelevant; this team was never in cap trouble. This organization simply cannot AFFORD to max out their cap space, even with new talent. The recession damaged the owner’s pocketbooks. This season's inaugural season ticket sales were expected, but how will the recession treat next season's sales? TV and radio revenues are dwindling and for a small market team that could be disastrous. Teams used to count on that revenue, but advertising money simply isn't there in this economic climate. The Blunder have to stay far under the cap just to pay the bills and keep the lights on. As if this team will ever challenge the salary cap with this ownership group. That's just hilarious.

The Blunder treated Scott Brooks to a solid win, which have been few and far between this season. Blunder 'management' announced Brooks will stay as head coach next season after taking over for P.J. "Scapegoat" Carlesimo who was not hired to win, but to ensure losses and help get the Sonics out of Seattle. PJ did not lose on purpose, but he was clearly the wrong hire to begin with; a very old-school guy with a roster of youth. Bad combination. There were much more logical choices, like Dwayne Casey. Bennett had no intention of being competitive under PJ; their agenda was to distance themselves from the Seattle fans. PJ was the perfect fall guy; too old to coach this young group and instead, alienated them. It was evident in the ESPN game early in the season against New Orleans; PJ had no control over this team.

General manager Sam Presti said Brooks proved his ability to communicate with a young team while demonstrating the necessary passion to help players improve. The Blunder were 1-13 when Brooks took over on November 22, and went 21-47 afterward. What is curious is they only committed to him for next season - no long term deal for job security was put in place. That seems like oddly conflicting messages to the supposed leader of the team.

Blunder: 23-59, last place, three games better than last season. Viva la 50's!
Outlook: Draft positioning.
Motto: More Corndogs! More Losses! More Blunder!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Blazers Thrash Blunder as OKC Daydreams about Blake

The Portland Blazers crushed the Blunder on Monday 113-83, a game barely worthy of the term ‘professional competition’ as the Blazers led by as many as 35 in the route.

The Blazers remain locked in a three-way tie for the third seed in the Western Conference with San Antonio and Houston. They close out the regular season at home against the playoff-bound Hornets. The Blunder close out their first season in OKC with a scheduled loss against the Clippers (3-0 vs. the Blunder) on Wednesday.

Amid all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the Blunder relocating to OKC and immediately making an impact - it just never happened. The Sonics team that Clay Bennett decimated in a calculated effort to aide his move, has exactly two wins more than last season. The Blunder claim victory at the ticket office. However, it's tough to know accurate attendance figures because they are easily manipulated by teams with agendas, as we all know: by inflating this year's figures to look good to the media vs. last ludicrous years' cries of "OMG...they aren't supporting the team!" Typical propaganda tactics that are convincing to the non-thinking milieu.

Future ex-Blunder Kevin Durant who averages 25.5 points, scored only 10 points in 32 minutes for the Thunder who were led by Earl Watson's 16 points. OKC have lost six of their past seven games as they position themselves nicely for the Blake Griffin sweepstakes. Rookie Russell Westbrook added 15 points and seven assists as Brooks gave the bench heavy minutes.

From CBS Sportsline:

The Blazers stayed on track by building a lead of as many as 35 points against the hapless Thunder for their fifth consecutive victory.

Hapless sums it up nicely. Let's not forget they are hapless by design as the team attempts to build for the future. The problem is that eventually it IS the future and results are necessary to sustain interest after the new-car smell has worn off.
The Blunder needs one more loss to carry them to the 60-loss plateau, again, under Clay Bennett's guidance and vision. While the Blunder do have a nice cache of picks coming up, they desperately need a veteran presence in the middle to make them a serious contender. The trio of Durant, Westbrook and Green are a solid nucleus, but will never be enough.

OKC will face some serious off-season challenges, as all the teams will. They'll likely get a nice pick, but not necessarily one that will make an instant impact. The most intriguing situation will be the season ticket sales figures during a recession. Surely Bennett and Presti are salivating at the thought of Blake Griffin and what he could do on the court and for season ticket sales. Perhaps if they do not get the top pick, they trade this year's and next year's number one picks for it to move up. That's a long shot scenario but one the Blunder may seriously consider.

Blunder; 22-59
Next loss; Wednesday vs. the Clippers.

Oklahoma City's Nick Collison was honest about how his team did against the Blazers: "They play like adults and we don't play like that sometimes." The former Seattle Supersonics were met at the Rose Garden by former fans wearing Sonics' jerseys. One young girl’s T-shirt said "Missing my Seattle SuperSonics."

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Blunder Close in on 60th loss; Nuggets Close in on 2nd Seed

The Denver Nuggets win the season series against the mighty Blunder (3-1) with a convincing 122-112 win in Denver on Wednesday night. Carmelo Anthony had 31 points, five rebounds and assists as the Nuggets won their eighth straight, putting them 27 games above .500 for the first time in their 33-year NBA history. Denver can clinch the Northwest division and the second seed in the Western Conference with a win against the top-seeded Lakers Thursday night in LA.

Future ex-Blunder Kevin Durant led OKC as usual with 31 points and 7 rebounds in as the Blunder continued their quest for 60 losses. They have lost seven of eight games down the stretch to conveniently position themselves for a lottery pick. At least Durant (41 minutes) and Green (43 minutes) played starter-minutes this time.

Russell Westbrook went 0-2 from three-point range with five turnovers and four fouls and Nick Collison and Nonads Krystac each had five fouls and ex-Wazzu star Kyle Weaver had 3 points to lead the Blunder low-lights.

More Corndogs! More Losses! More Blunder!

Blunder; 21-57
Playoff outlook; "There's always next year"
Next loss; Saturday vs Charlotte

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Spurs Plunder Blunder as OKC Focuses on Blake Lottery

The Blunder continued their late season plunge as the Spurs hand OKC another loss, 99-89. Tim Duncan led San Antonio with 25 points and 15 rebounds as the Spurs played without Manu Ginobili who's been lost for the season with a ankle injury.

Future ex-Blunder Kevin Durant led the Blunder with 24 points in 40 minutes and Jeff Green had 16 points in 42 minutes. Seems Blunder starters only play full minutes against the Spurs lately. Perhaps Blunder GM Sam Presti is motivated to beat his former team, at the risk of jeapordizing their coveted lottery status. Durant, Green and Westbrook have each seen diminished minutes during the Blunder's last few games, dating back to their last win - against the Spurs on March 31st. It is interesting the starters log full minutes against San Antonio and no one else. Is the front office only interested in winning games against the Spurs? That's not giving the fans the full effort they are (over)paying for.

If Ninendo wanted to promote an NBA game (featuring the Blunder) on their Wii system, their should be paddle motion option to simulated punching Bennett. That'd boost sales!

The Blunder have lost six of seven games.

Celebs turn out to enjoy some Blunder!

Wayman Tisdale, University Oklahoma's career scoring leader, was honored at the game. He will be inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in November. Celebrities in the crowd included former Sooners football star Brian Bosworth. Most remember him for his hair cuts and getting run over by Bo Jackson on Monday Night football. His famously short-lived NFL career never lived up to his self-hype. Speculation centered on his steroid abuse as being a key factor in his injury-shortened career. The last time he was semi-dominant was in Tecmo Bowl.

Blunder: 21-56
Next Loss: Wednesday vs. Denver
Playoff outlook: Eliminated
Strategy; "Just lose, baby"

More corndogs! More losses! More Bosworth!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Blazers Thrash Blunder; OKC Tanking Games for Blake's Sake?

Portland blew past the Blunder on Friday night in OKC, 107-72. LaMarcus Aldridge went off for 35 points and 18 rebounds and Steve Blake added 14 points and 10 assists. With Texas coach Rick Barnes at the game, Aldridge nearly matched his highest scoring total of his career (36) and had a key role in three scoring runs that pushed the Blazers to their fourth straight victory by at least 20 points.
Portland, 48-27, moved closer to clinching a playoff spot.

Future ex-Blunder Kevin Durant, also a Barnes student, led OKC with 13 points as the Blunder put up a weak effort in the lopsided loss.

Are the Blunder tanking games to enhance their lottery status? Is their new strategy to "just lose, baby" to potentially get AP Player of the Year, Oklahoma's Blake Griffin? That would cetainly be a feel-good story for the former SuperSonic franchise that desperately needs one. Consider this; Durant, who usually logs heavy minutes, had only 28, along with Westbrook and Green, their three best players. How are you expected to compete when your strongest chance at winning are all sitting on the bench for a quarter of the game? None were in foul trouble. As the season is winding down so are Durant's minutes. Aren't the fan's paying to see him on the court and the team competing?

Blunder: 21-54
Next loss: Sunday vs. Indiana. If they cannot win this game at home, you know something is going on.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Jay Cutler - Out or In?

Addendum! Bears trade for Cutler - giving up 2 first-rounders, a third-rounder and Kyle Orton for Cutler and a fifth-round pick.

The Jay Cutler saga keeps getting more interesting. Thursday morning had Cutler backtracking on his trade demands, claiming he never asked out of Denver, nor did he want it to get that far. Meanwhile Denver is reportedly seeking two first-round picks for Cutler and a possibly a player, which makes you wonder if they are intentionally pricing him out of tradability. The Redskins have quickly become the front runner but even Dan Snyder isn't likely up two first-rounders. Are the Broncos having second thoughts? Are the two sides trying to work it out behind the scenes after a silly escalation of posturing? Recent developments, Cutler's comments and Denver's absurd demands, certainly create a good argument for Cutler staying in Denver.

Cutler, who turns 26 on April 29, is coming off a Pro Bowl season. He threw for 4,526yards and 25 touchdowns in 2008.

Tensions between the two quickly escalated after Denver reportedly offered to send Cutler to New England for upstart Matt Cassel who successfully filled Tom Brady's shoes last season. Denver quickly backed away after bruising Cutler's ego but Cutler has played the victim card in all of this.

After repeated damage-control efforts failed, the Broncos made known their intention to try to trade Cutler on Tuesday as owner Pat Bowlen sent out a statement to members of the media. That ended a month long battle between the disgruntled quarterback and new coach Josh McDaniels, the former New England quarterbacks guru.

This is a lose/lose scenario for both sides. Cutler has a good thing going in Denver and vice-versa. Is it too late to work it out? Of course not. Should Cutler remain in Denver and the team rally around him successfully, well that's a great feel-good story for the season. Especially if they can make the playoffs. Yes, we'll get sick of hearing about that, but should it implode the team and morale, that is an even bigger lesson.

Stay tuned for more.