The Sacramento Kings' relocation saga is over, with the Kings staying in California's capitol city, and Seattle still looking for a franchise to replace the Sonics that were lost five years ago. This decision may help stabilize the relocations of NBA franchises, something that has been commonplace over the last decade, with the Hornets, Grizzlies, and Sonics all moving to new locales for various reasons. Such stability would really be reached should the league offer expansion to fill the giant hole in Seattle--the obvious blight on the league's national footprint, and the one city with Steve Ballmer's nearly unlimited resources to throw at the problem. Expansion to Seattle and Vancovuer fills the two most lucrative open markets (and the ones with NBA history), meaning that any teams attempting to relocate face choices of locales such as Kansas City, St. Louis, Tampa, and Montreal--cities that can be seen as little more than lateral moves for all but the worst NBA markets (here's looking at you, New Orleans!).
That said, despite the lack of prime candidates for relocation (Seattle notwithstanding), many Blazers fans have worried the team could at some point leave town. Those worries stem for many reasons: the idea of losing the city's only major sports franchise (sorry, Timbers fans, its not the same), the fact that there is no obvious local ownership to buy the team once Paul Allen decides to sell, the fact that the franchise lost money for the better part of a decade (due to gross mismanagement), and the fact that the idea was whispered during the Rose Garden bankruptcy during the height of fan dissatisfaction with the Jail Blazer era. There are ten seasons left on the exclusive site agree that bound the team to the City of Portland until 2023 when the Rose Garden was built. However, there is little reason to believe that there would be any interest in relocating the team at that point--or that the NBA would have any interest in allowing anybody to do so. The current trajectory led by Paul Allen and new team President Chris McGowan have the franchise on a path to sustainability for the long haul. It's also worth noting that, which the franchise lost about $10 million last year, simply not having Brandon Roy's amnestied contract would push this team well into profitability. That contract comes off the books in two years and, after what happened in Minnesota, may have insurance picking up a good chunk of the bill going forward.
Anyway, lets break down the elements of the franchise:
The relocation of the SuperSonics, and attempted relocation of the Sacramento Kings, came down to arena issues. The NBA has had a building boom over the past two decades, but the reasons for that building boom have long been misunderstood. Many fans think that the league just wanted shiny new buildings to play in--but age itself, or even seating capacity, had nothing to do with it. Instead, footprint, square footage, and luxury boxes had everything to do with it. This is evident from looking at the difference between Memorial Coliseum and the Rose Garden--the Coliseum seats just a hair over 12,000 people, but the bigger issue is that it has no luxury suites, no club seats, only one cramped concourse, and only 197,000 square feet of space. The Rose Garden has 70 suites and 2,000 club seats, and encloses 785,000 square feet. That's a lot of room to hawk merchandise and food, have restaurants and beer gardens, and give all the luxuries and amenities. By contrast, the problem with KeyArena is Seattle is that it had only 368,000 square feet--the smallest footprint in the league (Seattle erred in renovating the Seattle Center Coliseum in the first place--this would have been akin to us renovating the Coliseum rather than building the Rose Garden, and was the first step in the slow demise of the Sonics). Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento is 442,000, and both Oracle Arena in Oakland and Bradley Center in Milwaukee are under 500,000--which is why those three buildings are the main focus of the NBA's arena efforts--and really the last cities in the league that will have to build brand new buildings.
Portland's 785,000 square feet places it in the upper half of the league, far above much newer buildings in Miami (680,000), Oklahoma City (581,000), Toronto (665,000), and Brooklyn (675,000). The proposed new arena in Seattle is 700,000. The Rose Garden's square footage is roughly on par with Indiana (750,000), Charlotte (780,000), and Memphis (805,000). The fact is, arena construction was forever altered with the club seats and luxury boxes of the Palace of Auburn Hills, built in 1988 (and quickly rendering the other buildings built that year in Charlotte and Sacramento outdated). The Garden was built to the same specifications as arenas today are.
Places like KeyArena couldn't undergo further renovations simply because they didn't have the space to accomodate the NBA's financial model. The Rose Garden does, meaning that the most the building could need is a renovation. This is what's currently happening with Minnesota's Target Center, built in 1990 at 831,000 square feet. However, the privately owned Rose Garden has been maintained to a much better level than the publicly owned Target Center has, meaning that a renovation is likely to come in on the lower range. Target Center's renovation is expected to cost somewhere between $100-$150 million. Any conceivable renovation of the Rose Garden--which has undergone continuous changes since it opened, would likely come in at less than that. In any case, a renovation is worst case scenario--and it's easier to figure out a way to come up with $100 million than the $500 million needed for a new building. The Blazers aren't leaving town in ten years because of the building they play in.
The only problem with the Rose Garden, from a financial standpoint, is that it lacks the corporate sponsorship that most arenas around the league have at this point. The Blazers are working on that, and expect to have it in place for next season, and to be worth a few million dollars a year.
This market is gold for the NBA. It's the 22nd largest market in the country, but has only one major franchise (other markets of similar size, like Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Baltimore have 2-3 teams). Only Sacramento is a larger one-team market, but Sacramento has practically no corporate support, and sits only 90 minutes from the Bay Area, whose teams are more popular than the Kings in the Sacramento market. The same cannot be said for Seattle's teams in Portland.
And not only is it the best single-franchise market in the country, it's a market that loves its basketball. The Blazers always sell-out when the team is even halfway decent and, this season, still went 4th in the league in attendance (19,829, 95% capacity) for a team that hasn't made the playoffs in two years, and hasn't made it past the first round in 13. Furthermore, the market ranks No. 4 in the NBA for national TV ratings, while the local ratings have been between 2nd and 6th in the league over the past four years.
Portland may not have the Fortune 500 companies to garner large sponsorships but, outside of Seattle, no open markets have that, either. And Portland has been doing well with what they have.
Local TV Contract:
Here is a stain--while the local ratings are strong, the TV deal sucks, both in terms of exposure and money. The problems with Comcast SportsNet are well documented--namely that it's not offered on DirecTV, Dish, or Charter, leaving large portions of the state without any way to watch the team. But the problems extend beyond that--the deal was signed just before the sports media rights bubble, and just before the Sonics leaving Seattle became imminent--meaning that the deal has been significantly undervalued, and has also left the team without any way to try to capitalize on an open market to the north (while an open Seattle could net the Blazers more RSN money when their deal comes up, i'm going to ignore that for now simply because I don't expect that market to still be open in 2017).
The Blazers actually have two TV deals. They net $12 million a year from Comcast SportsNet, and an undisclosed amount for a limited package with KGW that expired after this season (expect the renegotiation of the KGW package, wherever it ends up, to expire in 2017 with the CSN deal, to give the team maximum leverage). The problem is that the Blazers negotiated this deal right before the sports rights bubble went bonkers. The Bobcats and Hornets are both getting roughly what Portland does, despite being the two lowest rated markets in the league. When Chris Hansen was projecting $50 million a year in local TV money were he allowed to move the Kings to Seattle, and even valued their rights in Sacramento at over $20 million a season if they were on the open market. If the bubble hasn't collapsed by then, the Blazers are in for a hefty raise to over $20 million a year in local TV revenue (and perhaps a lot more if it keeps growing). But their current mark seems to be the absolute floor, as the dregs of the NBA are pulling off similar contracts to what the Blazers have now.
Unless Timbers owner Merritt Paulson can put a group together to purchase the Blazers after Paul Allen has had enough (and there are no indications that this is coming soon), there are no obvious local owners for the franchise. That said, neither Larry Weinberg nor Paul Allen counts as local ownership, and the team is still here. Lots of teams--including the Grizzlies, Pistons, Cavaliers, and Nuggets don't have local ownership, and nobody worries about them leaving.
There simply isn't any reason to expect this team not to be in Portland for a very long time. Buildings are what led to the Seattle and Charlotte relocations, and exchange rates are what led to the Vancouver one. Neither apply to Portland. When the Kings moved from Kansas City to Sacramento, it was an attendance issue. Again, not an issue in Portland. When the Blazers were losing $70 million a season in the early part of the last decade, it was because Paul Allen spent heavily into the luxury tax to sign not very good knuckleheads that both didn't win and turned off the fan base with their off-court antics. That issue seems to be taken care of. Not paying Roy's amnestied contract alone gets the team to profitability, while a naming-rights sponsor, and renewed focus on getting more events to Portland and dates filled at the Rose Garden should do so further. Add in a new TV deal, and this franchise is slated to be a money-maker, even absent the NBA's new revenue sharing policies.
So enough relocation panic. If the NBA didn't let the Sacramento Kings leave, they certainly aren't going to let the Portland Trail Blazers do so without glaring problems that, at this point, don't exist, and aren't visible anywhere near the horizon. So enough of the PANIC! already.