For more than a year, sources have told us at NBC Sports (and we have reported) that NBA owners had cooled on the idea of expansion. Cooled enough that the idea of convincing two-thirds of them to vote for expansion was a long shot right now. Commissioner Adam Silver echoed that sentiment just before the start of the NBA Finals.
“That talk is not true,” Silver said when asked about expansion in 2024. “At least maybe there are people talking who are not at the league office about us potentially expanding after the 2024 season. We are not discussing that at this time. As I said before, at some point, this league invariably will expand, but it’s not at this moment that we are discussing it.”
When might that discussion start? Marc Stein reports at Substack it’s likely after the upcoming CBA and new television deal negotiations.
NBA owners — brace yourselves — like money. So you can safely expect them to delay any serious thoughts about expansion until the league has negotiated a new television contract that figures to be worth at least twice as much as the most recent nine-year, $24 billion deal which expires after the 2024-25 season.
Talks have also already begun on a new labor pact with its players, with both sides possessing the ability to opt out of the current deal in December. The sense I get is that owners want both deals wrapped up and all the specifics about the new landscapes at their disposal before entertaining expansion.
The next TV deal, by most projections, will increase franchise values dramatically, which would naturally increase the expansion fee that the league can charge those one or two new teams. It is likewise conceivable that owners could push to limit the initial share of the TV pie afforded to the new clubs.
That means 2024 is the earliest serious discussions will start, and anyone who has followed the NBA knows owners don’t always change direction at the fastest pace.
Still, they might change.
Silver previously called the rumors of a $2.5 billion expansion fee per team “low.” It’s possible after the new CBA and television deals are in place the money could be big enough to spark interest in owners. However, they view this as a short-term boost vs. further dividing up the pie — the new teams need to raise the value of the league enough to offset the percentage points the owners are giving up.
One thing not in question: Seattle and Las Vegas are the clear frontrunners to land teams if there is expansion. Both cities have NBA-ready stadiums and fan bases to support the franchises, and their mayors are on board. Plus, the players’ union backs the concept of expansion.
It’s just a question of when the NBA decides to take up the discussion. And that could be a few years.