The answer may surprise you.
The Virginia Beach City Council and private investors are moving forward this month with funding proposals to construct an NBA-sized, 18,000 seat oceanfront arena despite the failure of 2012 plans to draw the Sacramento Kings. Flirting with the Kings wasn’t our area’s first rodeo either – neighboring Norfolk nearly drew an NHL team in 1997 and later the Charlotte Hornets in 2001, before the Hornet’s last second change of heart broke their commitment to Norfolk and took them to New Orleans instead.
Will the NBA really come here to Virginia Beach? Or, for that matter, should it?
second-largest metro area in America without a major league sports team, only behind Las Vegas. Some put Virginia Beach at 3rd behind Austin, TX as well; however, Austin’s location only one hour from the neighboring San Antonio Spurs has removed it from NBA contention.This area has come so close to a team, so often, with good reason: The Norfolk-Virginia Beach metro area is the
The Norfolk-Virginia Beach area, surprisingly to some, has a population of over 1.5 million – giving it more people than metropolitan areas like New Orleans, Memphis, and Oklahoma City, all of which support successful NBA teams with populations of just 1.3 million. If places like Milwaukee, Salt Lake City, Memphis, and New Orleans can do it, all of which have comparable or even smaller populations, then Virginia Beach can surely do the same.
Outgoing NBA Commissioner David Stern has noted and even touted the city’s market potential (as have commissioners and owners of the MLB and NHL), and against its likely competitors for a team, Virginia Beach is far and away the best choice.
Take the example of the Oklahoma City Thunder and their fervent fan base. The Thunder, along with the Portland Blazers and Utah Jazz, are among the few teams that have great attendance through the good times and the bad. The reason is simple: those cities only have one team to rally around, a unifier for the city no matter the team’s record or the numbers on the scoreboard. Meanwhile, a team like the Philadelphia 76ers – despite its location in a more highly-populated market – struggles with attendance in bad seasons as other Philly teams grab the spotlight.
As sports analyst Bill Simmons puts it, “Why does Portland love the Blazers so much? They don’t have four professional teams like so many other cities; they only have one. That’s it. So when they beat Philly in the ‘77 Finals, it was like winning four Finals at once. But, when they picked Bowie over MJ, it was like making four humongous mistakes at once…it’s all they’ve got.”
Virginia Beach would undoubtedly be no different. After all, a team would finally give this region – Tidewater, Hampton Roads, Norfolk-Virginia Beach, the 757, or whatever else you may call it – the regional identity it so desperately needs.
If the team was branded as a Virginia team, it would also draw an additional, completely untapped Richmond fan base of 1.25 million. The more than 3 million people living along the mere 100 mile Richmond-Virginia Beach stretch in southern Virginia is by far the largest untapped sports base in North America, and the Washington Wizards located several hours away have never been close enough to truly have influence.
Norfolk-Virginia Beach area ranked 5th in the United States for percentage of people who watched the NBA regularly. Fascinatingly, in a study during Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals, Norfolk-Virginia Beach generated the 6th highest television ratings for the NBA Championship in America (followed by Richmond at 7th highest)… only trailing places like Miami, South Florida, San Antonio, and Austin because the matchup was the Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs.What’s more, Virginia Beach doesn’t just have the large population – it has the television market to back it up. The
And how do the city’s competitors for NBA expansion stack up to that?
Las Vegas, a city filled with temporary residents, would bring a myriad of issues with sports betting and gambling laws that any league would rather avoid, and a team would constantly face unprecedented competition from alternative entertainment in the city.
Louisville, where college basketball trumps the NBA in popularity, lacks the population and television market to support a team that Virginia Beach has, while also sitting on the Indiana border just 100 miles south of the Pacers.
St. Louis has the unfortunate distinction of having already lost three professional basketball franchises, lacking the support for a team time and time again. What’s more, the city’s history fits with the picture today: during negotiations for relocation of both the Hornets in 2001 and Kings in 2012, the city and its leaders showed lackluster enthusiasm and support.
Pittsburgh, already a declining market, would be smallest market in America with all four teams, while Virginia Beach, virtually the largest market without one team, is a rising one. With the overextended city already struggling at the bottom of the MLB and NFL in attendance, adding another team to the mix seems ludicrous.
The Kansas City area, which actually has less Fortune 500 companies than the Virginia Beach area, lacks the cohesive organization of financial and political muscle working toward a team that Virginia Beach has built.
When all is said and done, Virginia Beach brings asset after asset to the table that a place like Kansas City or Vegas simply cannot compete with: America’s most highly populated untapped sports market, the benefits of being the region’s only professional team to rally around, and – with its staggeringly high television ratings – an NBA-obsessed market with a hunger for a team. With a new arena on the way, the pieces to the puzzle are all here.
In our beautiful new oceanfront arena, the Virginia Tide or Virginia Wave will one day soon step foot onto the court for the first time. With the city and region continuing to move forward, the only question left isn’t a matter of if – it’s a matter of when.
Your move, Virginia Beach – the ball is in your court.