When the Knicks face the Pistons on Jan. 17 at London’s O2 Arena — only the third regular-season NBA game held in Europe — it won’t be a sign of permanent things to come. Commissioner David Stern said as much in a recent report by the Boston Globe, saying uncertainty between currencies, a lack of owners and lack of NBA-ready arenas won’t make his goal of a five-team European division feasible. By Stern’s comments, the NBA isn’t just tabling this idea until a better opportunity — it’s almost given up the idea altogether.
Chris Sheridan rounds up some of the details (the Globe story is behind a paywall), and they essentially can be boiled down to this: the European fan is not conditioned to watch basketball at the rates the NBA wants to charge for the pleasure. With little fan support, there’s little reason to build a new arena. There’s little urgency to start a new division from the arena floor up — Stern is adamantly opposed to just one Euro team — because of financial incentives aren’t easily seen in fan attitudes. EuroLeague is an established, popular hoops league that regularly exports its best to the NBA, and though its popularity is secondary to soccer by a huge margin, it still would be a competitor. Taken together, it’s too much to fight against right now for the NBA. Maybe ever.
Stern said part of the problem is that European cities, where soccer rules day and night, are not financially prepared to build arenas to house anything more than an exhibition game. “In one of my recent visits here, there was a discussion about both an arena in Rome that construction ceased upon, and the possibility that there would be a new arena in Milano in connection with the world expo, but that’s not happening, either,” he said. “So right now, it’s the same two buildings, with the prospect of construction in France that will start in 2014. So, realistically, there is no short-term way that we could, I think, profitably consider that. “So the mode for us is to work with the federations, work with FIBA, work with the leagues, and work with the Euroleague, which we’re doing right now.”
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