To operate a successful, profitable franchise, the size of your market is extremely important.
From the amount of fans that can potentially attend games to the size of television audience available in your local or regional area, there are inherent advantages to operating in a larger market.
While some franchises have found incredible success working against this trend, (we’re looking at you, San Antonio!) most small markets struggle to attract free agents and reach profitability.
Related article: NBA Market Size Rankings
Will the NBA expand to 32 Teams?
Reports surfaced earlier this year that the NBA is ready to approach expansion in the next few years, and there are strong signals that Seattle and Las Vegas are the frontrunners.
The financial implications of the pandemic are a huge factor in the association indicating a desire to expand to 32 franchises sometime in the near future.
One important factor to consider in expansion is the interest and availability of ownership groups that can afford the $2-3 Billion price tag associated with starting an expansion franchise.
Additionally, the existence of a quality arena in that city is a huge plus for a potential expansion team.
So, this begs the question – where would the NBA expand? Especially beyond 32, if and when the association decides to do so.
With factors in mind such as market size, arena availability, and other professional sports teams in that market, we’ve put together a ranking of the top ten expansion markets for the NBA.
- Seattle, WA
Metro Population: 4.018M
TV Market Size: 2.099M
Local Franchises: Seahawks (NFL), Mariners (MLB), Storm (WNBA), Kraken (NHL – coming soon), Sounders FC (MLS)
The clear and obvious #1 choice for expansion is a city that already has a long and storied NBA history: Seattle, WA. The Supersonics moved out of town due to lack of funding for a new arena, but there is still a vibrant basketball culture in the area, and the association is littered with talent from the Pacific Northwest.
With the newest NHL team coming to Seattle, there is a brand new arena in town that could also support the Sonics. They check every other box you want to see, including TV market size – which is bigger than 17 of the NBA’s current 28 media markets.
When the NBA does expand to 32 teams, it seems all but a lock that one of those new franchises will be in Seattle.
- Las Vegas, NV
Metro Population: 2.315M
TV Market Size: 834K
Local Franchises: Raiders (NFL), Golden Knights (NHL), Aces (WNBA)
Vegas is another fairly obvious choice, and an oft-rumored 32nd market for the association. This market was long thought of as off-limits due to concerns about sports betting conflicts of interest. However, with widespread stigmatization of the gambling industry, two of the four major US sports leagues have relocated there.
Plus, the metro and TV market numbers can be deceiving due to the incredible rates of tourism. The NBA has made itself quite comfortable with Vegas through years of hosting summer league games there, and the Aces very quickly became a powerhouse in the WNBA.
- Mexico City, Mexico
City Population: 9.209M
Metro Population: 21.918M
Local Franchises: Capitanes de Ciudad de México (NBA G League), Diablos Rojos del México (Mexican Baseball League), and six major soccer (football) clubs
Expansion into Mexico City makes sense on a lot of levels. For one, it would instantly become the largest market in the league. Not only is Mexico City the largest metropolitan area in the western hemisphere, the team would likely be followed by fans throughout the entire country.
The NBA is testing the waters by moving a G League team into Mexico City, and if fans can get into hoops at that level, it should be pretty obvious that an NBA franchise is viable.
Of course, a move into another country does come with a few concerns. Traveling to Mexico City would be a strain for NBA teams, and the elevations in that area are even higher than in Denver. However, the potential new streams of revenue from the Mexican market are strong enough to make those drawbacks easier to swallow for the association.
- Tampa, FL
Metro Population: 3.243M
TV Market Size: 2.035M
Local Franchises: Buccaneers (NFL), Lightning (NHL), Rays (MLB)
Fans in Tampa got a taste of NBA basketball this season when the Raptors were displaced from Toronto due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This growing city is home to franchises in the other three major sports, so it makes sense that the city could host an NBA team too.
The back-to-back NHL champion Lighting should be willing to share their arena, which the Raptors called home during the 2020-21 season.
The only reason the NBA may hesitate to expand into Tampa is the fact that there are already 2 teams in Florida, and fans in the Tampa area could be slower to adopt the new team if they’re already long-time Heat or Magic fans.
- St. Louis, MO
Metro Population: 2.805M
TV Market Size: 1.239M
Local Franchises: Cardinals (MLB), Blues (NHL)
St. Louis is one of the most underrated sports towns in the nation. Despite the fact that the Rams left town a few years ago, there is still a rabid base of sports fans in the area.
The St. Louis Hawks moved to Atlanta in 1968, but prior to this were one of the top franchises in the early years of the NBA. They won the championship in 1957-58 behind the stellar play of Bob Petit, and to this day that remains the only championship under the Hawks’ belt.
The Blues’ arena, Enterprise Center, was opened in 1994, so this building would be one of the older arenas in the NBA if St. Louis were to be awarded a franchise. This would likely be the biggest hurdle to bringing a professional hoops team to Missouri’s largest city.
- Pittsburgh, PA
Metro Population: 2.309M
TV Market Size: 1.166M
Local Franchises: Steelers (NFL), Pirates (MLB), Penguins (NHL)
The Steel City is known for it’s sports teams. All donning the black and yellow, the people of Western Pennsylvania ride hard for their squads.
With a fairly large population and vibrant downtown area, Pittsburgh could be an incredible landing spot for another NBA team. Similar to the other cities with active NHL franchises, the existence of a quality arena would help to get the ball rolling on bringing a hoops team to town.
- San Diego, CA
Metro Population: 3.332M
TV Market Size: 1.132M
Local Franchises: Padres (MLB)
In between stops in Buffalo and Los Angeles, the Clippers were located in San Diego. The franchise never gained solid footing in that area, but let’s keep in mind that one Donald Sterling was in charge at the time.
Because the Clippers were only in town for 6 years, and were consistently at the bottom of the standings, fans never really gained a true interest in following the team. However, San Diego State Basketball has an impressive following for a mid-major, so there clearly is interest in basketball in the area.
Pechanga Arena holds just over 14,000 for basketball setups, so there would likely need to be another arena built to accommodate an NBA franchise.
- Vancouver, BC
Metro Population: 2.463M
TV Market Size: 1.027M
Local Franchises: Canucks (NHL), Whitecaps FC (MLS)
Expanding into Vancouver may be seen as a risk due to the fact that this was already tried once before. When the NBA expanded into Canada, they did so into two markets: Toronto and Vancouver.
The Grizzlies left Vancouver after only a few seasons in 2001, and the Raptors went on to become a staple in Ontario and throughout the country. After winning an NBA title in 2019, basketball reached all-time popularity levels in Canada, and this led to many believing that Vancouver may be ready to host a team once again.
- Nashville, TN
Metro Population: 1.961M
TV Market Size: 1.102M
Local Franchises: Titans (NFL), Predators (NHL)
In the heart of Middle Tennessee, Nashville is known of course for it’s music and tourism industries. Don’t let that fool you: Nashville is a booming city with a lot more than that to offer.
Both the Titans and Predators have passionate fanbases, and Bridgestone arena is positioned square in the heart of downtown where there are plenty of bars, restaurants, and hotels to accommodate basketball fans.
One part that could potentially go against Nashville getting a team is the fact that one of the leagues smallest markets, Memphis, is in the same state. Adding a second NBA team in Tennessee would likely water down the pool of potential Grizzlies fans, and Grizz fans in Middle Tennessee may be slow in adopting the new team.
- Raleigh-Durham, NC
Metro Population: 1.420M
TV Market Size: 1.237M
Local Franchises: Hurricanes (NHL)
When the Hartford Whalers had to relocate because of arena funding issues, they found a new home in Raleigh, North Carolina and rebranded as the Hurricanes. The Canes have developed quite the following and their arena holds over 19,000 in a basketball format.
The Raleigh-Durham-Cary metropolitan area is nearly as large as Charlotte, and is home to the University of North Carolina, Duke, and NC State. There’s no doubt that fans in the Raleigh-Durham area would adopt a professional hoops team should the NBA expand there sometime in the future.
Honorable Mentions: Baltimore, Kansas City, Columbus, Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Buffalo, Montréal, Calgary.
* TV market sizes courtesy of Sports Media Watch.