Raptors’ breakthrough could bring the NBA back to Vancouver within 10 years: analyst

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WATCH: The Raptors' championship victory could be good news for the NBA in Vancouver... but it won't come quick – Jun 17, 2019

The parade is over, the ticker tape has been swept up, and with the glow of Raptormania beginning to fade, the rush of an NBA finals run has many in Vancouver reflecting on what could have been had the city’s own franchise stuck around.

The Vancouver Grizzlies left town in 2001, after a decidedly mediocre six-season run, becoming today’s Memphis Grizzlies.

But could pro basketball come back to town? One UBC business professor and sports market analyst says the Raptors’ historic championship increases the odds the NBA will return to the west coast, though he says it will probably take a decade, and won’t happen before Seattle gets a team back.

READ MORE: An oral history of the Vancouver Grizzlies

Seattle is currently rebuilding the Key Arena for a planned NHL franchise, and has designed the facility with attracting an NBA team in mind.

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But Prof. Aziz Rajwani with the Sauder School of Business says Vancouver could come soon after that.

“In the next 10 years, a decade from now, I believe the Vancouver market will get a team back,” he told Global News.

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Raptors become big economic driver in Vancouver – Jun 7, 2019

“The probability has increased now that the NBA has seen what Canada as a nation responds like when it’s got a winning team.”

The big stumbling block remains the price tag, according to Rajwani. He said the latest Forbes valuations put an NBA team at about USD$1.9 billion.

READ MORE: The Toronto Raptors’ road to the NBA Finals began in Burnaby, B.C.

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“You’re looking at upwards of $2.5 billion Canadian for at team. However, that’s what the team’s value is, because they generate a lot of money.”

He said to foot the bill, Vancouver would likely need a different ownership structure than is in place for the Canucks.

He suggested the Aquilini group would either need to have partners — perhaps Asian investors — or even act essentially as landlords at Rogers Arena to an ownership group.

But he said the lousy economics that sunk the Grizzlies of the 1990s have changed in Vancouver’s favour.

READ MORE: The 62 who played for the Vancouver Grizzlies: Where are they now?

“That’s part of why the Grizzlies left,” Rajwani said. “It wasn’t that there wasn’t a fan base. It’s that a lot of the revenues that were generated in 2000 were based on ticket revenues.”

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Now, he said, the NBA’s television rights structure pays each team out about USD$89 million a year alone. With a USD$102 million salary cap, he said making up the difference is an entirely different game.

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“At that time, the Canadian dollar was very low — and we face that same uncertainty today with the Canadian dollar. But most of the dollars are coming from television and broadcast rights, so it’s a very different landscape.”

That decade-long timeline could be just enough for the next generation of Canadian talent to bloom.

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SFU Basketball coach Steve Hanson says the Raptors’ win is certain to inspire a new generation of fans to hit the court, much in the way the Grizzlies’ short run did.

“Just thinking back to the Grizzlies’ era, the number of kids that were nine, 10, 11, 12 that grew up watching the Grizzlies — there was a huge cohort of talent in B.C. during that time,” he said.

If the TV ratings are any indication, that groundswell is already underway again.

Bell Media estimates 15.9 million Canadians watched some or all of the NBA Finals series, with as many as 10 million tuned in for the final seconds of the team’s championship win.

— With files from Aaron McArthur

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