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Small market success is built on its own rules

Feb 28, 2010, 10:28 AM EST

Let’s face it, it’s a big-market league. The Celtics and Lakers have won over 30 championships. The Knicks are a huge moneymaker despite being an abomination to effective sports management. The Clippers are profitable, people. It’s pretty obvious that the big boys run the game.

There is a lot of discussion about revenue sharing adjustments in the upcoming CBA that could help out smaller markets, and at this point it’s a requisite adjustment. But if the idea is to try and replicate the success of the NFL, small-market teams are going to have to rely on strategies which both adjust to the financial realities of the league and harken back to proven paradigms.

For the latter, we look to Charlotte Bobcats blog Rufus on Fire. David Arnott illustrates the problems of previous ownership in Charlotte, both with George Shinn’s tenure in Carolina with the Hornets and Bob Johnson’s time with the Bobcats. The core of his argument is that both ownership groups have failed to do business “The Carolina Way.” Part of it is conforming to traditional values, but in a larger sense it’s built on a devotion to the community.

San Antonio thinks of itself in terms of Texas, the Rodeo, a fine system of shopping centers, and the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs are an institution there. Similarly, the Pacers have the same presence, though it’s a lot more effective when they don’t suck so bad they make you go blind. Building a community presence gives you traction with sponsors beyond the seasons where the team is competing for playoffs.

The other component is covered in Chris Mannix’s excellent interview with Milwaukee Bucks’ general manager John Hammond. Hammond talks about the financial realities of operating in Milwaukee and his work to essentially untie the franchise of the long-term commitments it was saddled with upon his arrival. The Bucks are looking to 2011, not 2010 as the year they can make a significant move towards contention. What’s interesting is that will likely also be after the prolonged lockout we’ve all resigned ourselves to. Which means the Bucks would end up with high flexibility in a different operating environment.

Operating an NBA team in a small-market is often met with derision and the constant suggestions that the team move (“Why don’t the Grizzlies just move to Seattle even though they have an ironclad lease with FedEx Forum that almost completely removes any realistic probability of them moving? It’s so easy!”). But there are ways to be successful, if the team looks to how other teams have thrived in such places while also adapting to the new economic environments.

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