Saturday, August 16, 2008

Small Market Blues

A Kansas City sports blog laments the fact that not only can the owners of the Sprint Center in Kansas City not "land" an NBA or NHL team, it can't land a WNBA team either. The arena's owners have been chatting up a Kansas City franchise for years now, including the years 2006 (when Charlotte disbanded and the players were dispersed) and 2008, when the Dream got its team.

The lone commenter writes "no tennant (sic) in the sprint center is better than a wnba team". It looks like the lone commenter is going to get his wish.

Here's what I don't get about the small market blues. When Baltimore's mayor talked up the possibility of a WNBA franchises, there were many more comments than the ones on the blog I linked to in the first paragraph. A third of the comments were the crowd, who feared that some lesbian somewhere in Baltimore might be made happy by the arrival of a WNBA team. Another third focused on the perceived corruption of Baltimore's mayor.

The final third considered the arrival of a WNBA franchise as an insult. "Baltimore is a big league city," was the cry. They feared that the acceptance of a WNBA franchise would doom them to second-class status.

Here's one thing about dumbjocks and dumbjocksniffers - despite the fact that many of them are in sales, marketing, and the traditional "macho boy" kinds of business professions, when it comes to spots fandom they toss their business acumen right out the window. They forget about the necessity of networking.

First, take a look at all of the WNBA cities. They are all big league cities. In the entire history of the WNBA, there has been only one city that didn't have a corresponding NBA franchise - Uncasville, Connecticut, home of the Mohegan Sun casino. (The other is Seattle, but it did have an NBA franchise at the beginning of 2008.)

Second, many of these cities still have NBA ownership or staff operations.

Third, just about every WNBA game is attended by someone who knows something in the NBA. Either actual NBA players are watching (whenever I attend Dream games, the Dream make sure to highlight them on the jumbotron), or arena owners, or local businessment with money and sports connections, or whatever.

You would think that people would come to the obvious conclusion - if you want an NBA franchise, the best way to draw the NBA's attention is to start a WNBA team. Claims of the dumbjocksniffers set aside, the WNBA is assisted financially by the NBA because David Stern sees it in the NBA's best interest to have the WNBA around. And what does it cost the NBA to prop up the W? About as much as it costs for a low-scoring point guard on the New York Knicks. It's a low-cost subsidy that yields high results. (My fear is that the next WNBA commissioner will not be as smart as Stern is.) Those little kids that go to WNBA games might grow up to be WNBA fans -- and NBA fans as well.

When you start a WNBA francise, you make friends with WNBA President Donna Orender. Donna is in David Stern's back pocket. If you know Donna, you know David Stern by extension. And the rule in business is that it's easier to do business with people with whom you have some sort of "in", some sort of social connection.

What you don't do is belly up to the bar and claim, "We're a big league city and we deserve consideration". One thing about big league cities - they don't brag about how big league they are. It's little league cities that have some point to make.

So if you're living in Baltimore, or Kansas City, or Tulsa, why don't you use your brains? Get that WNBA team. A few seasons of good attendance, and when those NBA owners want to bail out on their teams - and you know that's going to happen sooner or later - guess where David Stern and the ownership will be looking first?

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