KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 08: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder walks back to the bench during the game against the Miami Heat on October 8, 2010 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Fans in Kansas City have embraced the pro game in exhibition matchups, but several hurdles remain for permanent prospects.
More than five years after ground was first broken and three years after opening its doors, Sprint Center remains without an anchor tenant. At the time of its opening, critics scoffed, unable to comprehend how the publicly financed facility would generate feasible revenue without the benefit of an NBA or NHL team calling it home.
Ever since, AEG, the company that manages Sprint Center's operations, has proved naysayers wrong. Back in July, Pollstar, the event industry trade publication, cited the arena as the 5th busiest facility in the country by first quarter event ticket sales. The four facilities above it host NBA or NHL teams (and in some cases, both), which means that Sprint Center can hold its own without an anchor tenant, despite the city's fascination with the NBA as evidenced by last week's exhibition game between the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder.
Several organizations, including the Seattle Sonics (now the Thunder), Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Islanders and Sacramento Kings have been mentioned in connection to Sprint Center due to unrest between team ownership and facility management. However, none of those conversations have led to serious consideration of relocation to the Kansas City area. Such a move would carry significant implications for the Sprint Center's bottom line.
One element is simple economics. If you play host to an NBA or NHL team, arena management is committing to 41 home dates, plus preseason and postseason dates at the opportunity cost of revenue lost by filling those dates with concerts and other performances. While fans would surely flock to Sprint Center for an NBA team in the early going, the honeymoon effect would taper off after two or three seasons - we're already starting to see an example of this with the Kauffman Stadium renovations.
One must also consider the economic climate. In the current down market, more than a quarter of the league's teams are making various efforts to sell their teams. You might say "KC should strike while the iron's hot," but it should also tell you about the dwindling value of an NBA team, especially with the possibility of a lockout next season.
Lastly, the market for basketball in the area is well-satisfied by KU, Kansas State and Missouri, three of the nation's top-flight programs. While big-name college programs haven't deterred NBA teams from settling in crowded college markets in recent years (Charlotte Bobcats, Oklahoma City Thunder), it would be tough for a team to consistently reel in TV viewers with that sort of competition in the winter months.
Due to a variety of factors, the time just isn't ripe for an NBA team to relocate to Kansas City. The league has experienced a rebirth of sorts over the past few years with tons of superstars and a full-fledged PR effort when it comes to cleaning up the game. The last thing the league needs is a lockout to squash that momentum along with the prospects of landing a team in Kansas City.