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A Southern Strategy For The NBA

Now that we welcome another NBA team to our Footprint (three cheers for OKC), it's time for the NBA to start making some other changes that will help this league's popularity continue to grow in our region.



Oklahoma City deserves to be in a division with its natural Texas rivals.  Memphis deserves to move to the Eastern Conference.  Here's how Swampland Sports hopes that things shake out:

Boston Celtics
New York Knicks
New Jersey Nets
Philadelphia 76ers
Washington Wizards (moved from Southeast)

Chicago Bulls
Cleveland Cavaliers
Detroit Pistons
Indiana Pacers
Toronto Raptors (moved from Atlantic)

Atlanta Hawks
Charlotte Bobcats
Memphis Grizzlies (moved from Southwest)
Miami Heat
Orlando Magic

Dallas Mavericks
Houston Rockets
New Orleans Hornets
OKC (moved from Northwest)
San Antonio Spurs

Denver Nuggets
Minnesota T-Wolves
Milwaukee Bucks (moved from Central)
Portland Trailblazers
Utah Jazz

LA Lakers
LA Clippers
GS Warriors
Sacramento Kings
Phoenix Suns

Although we hate to lose the Wizards to the Atlantic Division, it makes more sense in the long run.  The idea here is to help solidify teams in cities that are new to the NBA by making sure that natural rivalries develop.

Memphis has had the short end of the stick being in the Western Conference so it is time to fix that oversight.  In the process Milwaukee was moved from the East to the West.  Although this seems strange, that team is very likely to be relocated to either Kansas City or Seattle.  Both of those cities naturally fit into the NBA's Northwest Division.

The key to long term success of any pro team in the South is through regional success.  Memphis needs the entire state of Tennessee to identify with the Grizzlies.  Moving them into a division with Atlanta will help that happen.


The NBA already has some built in disadvantages because it has to overcome the natural inclination of our region towards college athletics.  However, it can counteract this problem by uniting states that might otherwise be divided through college rivalries. 

This recent column by Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman even raises the question about whether OKC's new NBA team could eventually eclipse the OU Sooners in statewide popularity.  Although it is unlikely, Tramel does take the "glass half full" approach.

However, nothing this monumental will happen unless people can watch their team.  There are a handful of teams that have horrible TV deals that have crippled their ability to grow their fan base.

It all comes back to the advent of RSNs (regional sports networks).  Fox really got this business model going when it rolled up several of them in hopes of creating a nationwide sports network to rival ESPN.  That plan fell flat, however.

It did lead to an explosion of RSN deals with all kinds of disparate ownership groups including media companies, cable companies, and the teams themselves.

This wheeling and dealing created a lot of problems.  Mostly, it came from cable companies refusing to carry these new RSNs.  Considering that the NFL Network still can't get on most of the major cable providers, RSNs have overplayed their hands.  Cable companies have no problem keeping RSNs off the air.

Since pro sports leagues ignored the South for decades only expanding heavily into our area over the last 20 years or so, they haven't had enough time to build the kind of viewer loyalty necessary to override the cable companies will.

Here are a few teams with horrible TV issues:

New Orleans Hornets - The Hornets were one of last season's great stories.  They  have a young team that made a strong run in the tough Western Conference.  Unfortunately, the team has an exclusive cable deal with Cox Sports TV.  This cable-owned RSN is not carried by Charter or DirecTV which leave huge parts of the New Orleans area without Hornets games.  Because Cox is a rival of Charter and DirecTV, no resolution is expected anytime soon.  This is a total shame.

Orlando Magic - This team finally rose from its post-Shaq doldrums by winning a first round series and sporting one of the best young lineups in the East.  Unfortunately, half of its regular season games couldn't be seen around Central Florida.  Bright House Networks (controlled by Time Warner Cable) refuses to place FSN Florida alongside its sister Fox-owned Sun Sports on basic cable.  This not only affects the Magic hometown fans but also Tampa which gets FSN Florida but not Magic games.

Memphis Grizzlies - Although Memphis isn't as bad as either New Orleans or Orlando, 22 games were still not aired during the 2007-2008 season.  Even less games were shown in the Nashville area.  Considering the trouble that the Grizzlies have had thus far, limiting their TV exposure doesn't help at all.

Charlotte Bobcats - This team was prominently on the list until a resolution was reached in the middle of last season.  Bobcats owner and BET founder, Robert Johnson, tried to start an RSN which failed.  That failed RSN locked the Bobcats into a bad deal with Time Warner.  In the end, the Bobcats exchanged naming rights on their arena to allow FSN South to carry Bobcats games.  This change should allow the team to build their fan base around the Carolinas.

Except for the Washington Wizards which has a deal with Comcast, New Orleans (Cox), and OKC (which hasn't announced its TV deal yet), every other team in the Footprint goes through Fox.  It seems like Fox should be able to do a better job of marketing the NBA around our region.

One way or another, these TV issues must be resolved.


Although the D-League is fairly new, it can become an important regional marketing component.   Already, the San Antonio Spurs have bought and re-branded the Austin Toros to tie this important market to the Spurs.  Other teams are starting to follow their lead.

The Houston Rockets affiliate with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.  The Dallas Mavericks will likely link with a new D-League team set to come to Frisco, TX.  The NBA has already announced that the OKC team will use the Tulsa 66ers as their new affiliate.  It's time for the rest of the teams to follow their lead.

Let's have a look at other team in our Footprint and where they should look to place their D-League team.

Atlanta Hawks - [Macon, Columbus (GA), Birmingham, Huntsville (AL)]  Any of these cities would build the Hawks regional base.  Macon and Columbus help to stretch the Hawks support throughout Georgia while either Birmingham or Huntsville bring Alabama into their orbit.

Charlotte Bobcats - [Greenville (SC), Fayetteville (NC)]  The Bobcats desperately need to build support throughout the Carolinas.  Either of these two cities would help make that happen.

Memphis Grizzlies - [Little Rock, Huntsville (AL), Jackson (MS)] The Grizzlies are greatly in need of regionalization.  They need to take a page from Nashville's Tennessee Titans which has the largest radio network in the NFL.

Miami Heat - [Fort Myers, FL] Fort Myers already has a "suspended" D League team.  They only need to find a way to reactivate it.

Orlando Magic - [Daytona Beach, Jacksonville, Lakeland] Any of these cities would continue to grow the Magic's Florida base.  Considering that the Magic have the rights to the majority of Florida's growing population, the team should be looking to set up a D League outpost somewhere that can cement their standing.

New Orleans Hornets - [Shreveport (LA), Jackson (MS), Mobile (AL)]  Like the Grizzlies, the Hornets need to continue to build their regional base.  There are all kinds of options for them to increase their market.


The NBA has many challenges, but it can be an important part of the Swampland Sports landscape.  With a growing emphasis on improving our urban areas and a need for teams that unite fans currently divided by existing college rivalries, there are many opportunities as well.

Through realignment, the NBA can create the right kind of rivalries.  Improved TV deals and D-League affiliations can stretch the appeal of the NBA througout the region.

The NBA must not rely upon its success in NYC or LA.  It must understand that sports fans in the Footprint already have allegiances, mainly college teams.  If they can tap into those fans, they have a chance to be part of the hearts and minds of southern sports fans for the long haul.

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