Another group is attempting to gather support for a potential Louisville NBA franchise, with the KFC Yum Center floated as a potential home venue — a scenario that would be highly unusual in the world of NBA economics.
Basketball Hall of Famer Dan Issel is leading the NBA 2 Louisville campaign, which is working to raise the necessary funds for an NBA franchise over the next 18 months. The effort is in its embryonic stages: the group has raised around $3 million (including $775,000 from Issel) toward what they acknowledge is the huge cost of acquiring an NBA team: some $1.4 billion. (That number may be a little low, given the recent $2.2 billion sale of the Houston Rockets, but that number includes physical assets like an arena.) According to an article from the Courier-Journal on May 9, Issel “‘doesn’t envision’ a scenario where public financing would play a role in luring a team to Kentucky.”
The plans call for the prospective Louisville NBA team to play at the KFC Yum Center, the home of the NCAA’s Louisville Cardinals that opened in 2010. The venue was designed to physically accommodate an NBA team if one were to become available, but an NBA franchise at the arena would lead to a somewhat unorthodox situation. While there are other arenas shared by NBA and college basketball teams–Memphis’s FedEx Forum being one example–KFC Yum Center would be controlled by the college, and not the professional franchise. (Indeed, when you look at NBA/college arrangements in Memphis, Milwaukee and New York City, the NCAA program is the secondary tenant.)
Several aspects concerning the use of the arena, including scheduling, would have to be resolved. Issel believes that an NBA franchise could play out of the arena without disturbing the college, but a local official says that discussions would have to take place about modifying the university’s lease. Put simply: how much would the Cardinals program need to give up in terms of arena revenues to make a deal work? The KFC Yum Center has faced some financial issues in recent years. More from the Courier-Journal:
He maintained that if an NBA venture comes to fruition then hammering out those details would fall to the Louisville Arena Authority or elected leaders, such as Mayor Greg Fischer or Gov. Matt Bevin. He said his group doesn’t want to alienate the university or its fan base.
“We are not and won’t deal with the University of Louisville, we have no intentions of doing that,” Issel said. “If we have an opportunity to play our games at the Yum Center that opportunity will come from the Yum Center board, not from U of L as far as we look at the situation.”
Arena Authority Chairman Scott C. Cox said if NBA investors emerge then the board, which is appointed by the mayor and governor, would be willing to work with them.
But Cox emphasized that any NBA ownership group still “would need to meet with the university to see if the school’s lease agreement could be modified to accommodate the NBA’s schedule and still have acceptable dates for U of L’s men’s and women’s basketball teams.”
Louisville is frequently mentioned as a potential NBA market, and it does offer some advantages. The city has a solid minor and collegiate sports league scene, with a passionate fan base for basketball, and the KFC Yum Center represents a fairly new venue in a downtown setting.
However, the NBA does not have any logical relocation candidates at this point, and no formal expansion plans have been announced by the league. If the 30-team league does decide to grow in the future, there will likely be several other markets in the mix. Seattle’s chances will improve because of an upcoming renovation to KeyArena, while Mexico City seems to appeal to the league on a certain level and Las Vegas could be a factor with its vibrant (and growing) landscape of arenas and venues.