Arrowhead Pond executives polished their NBA sales pitch Monday after the league granted Vancouver Grizzly owner Michael Heisley permission to explore options for relocating the troubled franchise.
Although no NBA team has moved in 16 years, and although NBA Commissioner David Stern last year thwarted a potential move by the Grizzlies to St. Louis, Stern said Monday that Heisley could lose $40 million this season and that the league would help him investigate "other North American cities which may be appropriate for Vancouver to look into."
Besides Anaheim, potential new homes for the Grizzlies include New Orleans, Nashville, St. Louis, Louisville, Las Vegas and San Diego, although the latter three cities lack the new arena necessary to attract the Grizzlies, should they wish to move this year. If Heisley wants to play elsewhere next season, he will have to apply for NBA permission no later than March 1.
"We're paying very close attention to this," Pond General Manager Tim Ryan said. "We continue to believe this is the No. 1 choice for an NBA franchise with a desire to relocate."
When the Houston Rockets explored potential relocation sites last year, before reaching agreement with the city for a new arena, Rocket executives ruled out Anaheim because the team did not wish to share millions in revenues from NBA games with another tenant. The Mighty Ducks' lease forces any NBA team moving into the Pond to split its revenue with Disney, although Anaheim Sports President Tony Tavares has said Disney would consider renegotiating the lease to accommodate an NBA franchise.
The Grizzlies could tap into a wealthy base of ticket holders and corporate sponsors within Orange County, but the presence of the Lakers and Clippers would limit TV revenue in the otherwise lucrative Southern California media market. NBA Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik has called Anaheim "potentially a very successful market for us," but some league officials would prefer to put a team in a new market, rather than putting a third team in Southern California.
Neither the Lakers nor Clippers could veto another team's shift to Anaheim, although a majority of NBA teams must approve any move.
The Grizzlies are 13-36 this season and have lost four of every five games since the franchise started play in 1995. The plummeting attendance at Mighty Duck games suggests Orange County fans might not tolerate a losing NBA franchise, although the Clippers drew an average of 14,830 as part-time tenants at the Pond from 1994-99.
"We continue to believe there are tremendous financial opportunities for any team that wants to relocate to Anaheim," Ryan said.
Heisley, a Chicago businessman, told the Vancouver Sun he has had an offer to buy the Grizzlies for more than $200 million and move them to a city in the United States, though he would not identify the buyer or the city. Ryan said he was unaware of any such offer in which the Grizzlies would play at the Pond.
Stern rebuffed St. Louis Blue owner Bill Laurie last year, when Laurie sought to buy the Grizzlies and eventually move them to St. Louis. Heisley then bought the Grizzlies, but Stern said the Vancouver corporate community that rallied around Heisley last year failed to support the Grizzlies with promised sponsorships and ticket sales.
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