It’s been a while since the last regular season NBA basketball game was played in Vancouver, a span lasting nearly two decades. However, with expansion in the NBA seeming more and more likely and the ever-growing basketball market in Canada flourishing, Vancouver seems like an attractive option for a second NBA home north of the boarder.
Vancouver, Canada, home of the former Vancouver Grizzlies lost its NBA team after the 2000-2001 season, the team relocating to Memphis, Tennessee. Since then the city has been deprived of an NBA franchise and has been limited to hosting just one Toronto Raptors preseason game in each of the past four years. With basketball in Canada continuing to grow, the love for basketball in Vancouver is alive and well; as evidenced by all four recent preseason games being sold out in a matter of minutes.
It’s not the first instance in which the city of Vancouver has been looking to bring back an NBA franchise since losing the aforementioned Grizzlies. Francesco Aquilini, a member of the ownership group of the Vancouver Canucks and Rogers Arena in Vancouver, was looking at the potential of purchasing the then New Orleans Hornets back in 2011, before they were eventually sold to the late Tom Benson for $338 million. However now in 2018 Aquilini mentions the increased value of NBA teams as a potential barrier to bringing basketball back to Vancouver.
In an interview done with Sportsnet 650, Aquilini was quoted as saying” It’s obvious because we’ve got a building, it’s plug and play. We still have the hoops. We still have the floor. Everything’s there. The locker room and everything is there. We’ve discussed it.” However he continued in saying “Right now the entry cost is prohibitive, because it’s up to two billion now… Five years ago it was like $300 million, $350 million.”
One thing to consider when looking at Vancouver’s ability to support an NBA team would be determining its ability to draw adequate attendance on a consistent basis, as the reason the city lost the former Vancouver Grizzlies in the first place was its inability to attract such. Recently selling out preseason games in the past four seasons, does give the city some hope, however it is by no means a clear indicator the city can do so for 42 games during the regular season.
Since 2001 the city of Vancouver has really grown both in population and in terms of its economy. With a flood of wealthy immigrants, and a boost in its economic driving sectors such as construction and technology, the economic growth the city has demonstrated over the past ten years is encouraging. Furthermore, Vancouver played a successful host to both the 2010 Olympics as well as the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2015, and its Major League Soccer team, the Vancouver Whitecaps has seen its average attendances rival some of the highest in the league.
In terms of expansion in the major sports leagues, we have seen it most recently in the NHL with the Vegas Golden Knights, who made an inaugural trip to the Stanley Cup in 2018. In their first year as a franchise the Golden Knights finished 17th in the league in attendance with an average attendance of 18,042 people per game. The attendance has since increased since the start of the 2018-2019 season, as the team is currently 11th in the NHL in terms of attendance. This should be encouraging to both the NBA and Vancouver as the city boasts the potential for a more static fan base, as well as a larger population on both a municipal and provincial level than Vegas.
In terms of the benefits a potential expansion or relocation can provide to the NBA, a team in Vancouver could serve to expand the league’s market internationally. Not only would this proposed idea improve the NBA’s presence in Canada, but with Vancouver having an Asian population of about 30%, such a move could lead to greater appeal to Asian markets for the NBA.
Current Raptors broadcaster Jack Armstrong believes the NBA may have given up on the city too quickly and that the viability of basketball in Vancouver in the future is certain; saying. “I think it is just a major shame that there is not an NBA team here. You look now how Vancouver is a dramatically different city and I have no doubt in my mind that NBA basketball here could be a viable thing.”
In an interview with ESPN David Stern, former commissioner of the NBA, also expressed his regrets with the NBA basketball experience in Vancouver. In the interview, Stern mentions his regrets in saying “Great city, and we disappointed them and we disappointed ourselves.”
Starving for consistent NBA basketball since the 2001-2002 season, Vancouverites have been longing for an NBA return. With the NHL’s success so far in its most recent expansion, and the continuously growing basketball market in Canada, Vancouver certainly looks like a suitable destination for an NBA franchise in the near future.