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Don't Blame Bob Johnson For Selling the Bobcats

Pro basketball can live in Charlotte. We know this. Pre-Bobcats, the Hornets were beloved. There's no rule saying the Panthers, Tar Heels, and NASCAR have to remain the top sports entities in this region. This is a major league area perfectly capable of supporting major league sports. The next time MLB expands, sometime in the next thirty years, Charlotte has to be on the short list of locations for a new team (subscription req'd).

However, right now, in a struggling economy, owning an NBA franchise is a risky proposition. Owning an NBA franchise so soon after the league and the city's previous franchise alienated the potential fanbase is even riskier. The team, notoriously, said they were looking at $35 million in losses over the next two seasons. That's real money that's flowing out the window, and it's why I'm such a hawk about management spending money wisely.

So this is what it's come to. Bob Johnson figures that he'd better cut his losses, despite what I believe to be his sincere desire to keep pro basketball in Charlotte and be a strong African American owner in a white-male dominated world. He's no multibillionaire sports philanthropist like the Thunder owners thought they would be before the economy nosedived, or like the Haas family was when the Oakland A's were the highest paid team in baseball in the late 90s. Investing in Charlotte is, generally, a good idea, and the thousands of transplants who come here year after year will confirm that, so Johnson made a conscious decision to invest here.

The reality is that the NBA is not a money-producer like the NFL. An NFL owner is essentially making money before the season starts, because the national TV deals are so enormous. In the NBA, you have a salary floor that's somewhere in the range of the San Diego Padres' player payroll, though you have half the games at your home arena with an expection of roughly five thousand fewer fans per game, if the fanbase is uninterested. In any event, owning an NBA team that doesn't have hope of making the playoffs year in and year out will suck the marrow out of the experience, and the value out of your net worth. Either the city has to show up to games and see a non-championship caliber team (not a great proposition, given the NBA's recent history in Charlotte), or whoever the owner is must accept and withstand losses until the team is a winner year in and year out, whenever that may be.

As I understand the Bobcats' situation, they're not going to move, because there are penalties for leaving that make that prohibitive. Any prospective owner is not likely to view this as a basketball decision, but as an arena acquisition. The Cable Box shouldn't have been built against the voters' will, but it's got to be a very valuable piece of property, hosting everything from concerts to hockey to basketball to wrestling to the circus. The Bobcats are not an incidental part of the acquisition, but maybe we'll luck out and get a super-promoter to buy the arena and Bobcats as an anchor tenant, and book dates for everything else they possibly can the rest of the time.