Monday, May 18, 2009

Kevin Nesgoda on the Pacers, Vancouver and Seattle

Much has happened since my initial post last week about the rumours of the Indiana Pacers potentially moving to Vancouver. The story's spread everywhere from CTV to Newsday to the Indianapolis Business Journal, with many sites claiming there's nothing behind it. Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini, the rumoured potential buyer of the team from current owners Herb and Mel Simon, gave a very interesting statement to CTV, though, saying he has "no immediate interest in purchasing an NBA basketball team."

That's a pretty weak denial, especially considering the "immediate" part. Prospective owners of sports franchises rarely make their interest known publicly well in advance, particularly when relocation is involved. Moreover, the initial report stated that any deal was at a very early stage, so Aquilini could be telling the complete truth here and still purchase an NBA franchise a month down the road (if he had immediate interest then). As I wrote the first time around as well, the Pacers are far from the only troubled NBA franchise as well, so even if this particular move comes to naught, Aquilini's comments suggest that he may look at the possibility of a new Vancouver team down the road.

In any case, I figured it was worth trying to get some more information on the Indiana circumstances, so I contacted Kevin Nesgoda, who wrote the original piece on the matter for Bleacher Report. In addition to his work at Bleacher Report, Kevin runs Biased Sports. He's also a big basketball fan and passionately supported the Seattle Sonics before they were abducted by one Clayton Bennett. He runs as well, a site devoted to criticizing Bennett and trying to bring basketball back to Seattle. My interview with Kevin on the Pacers, Vancouver and Seattle is below. Thanks to Kevin for taking the time to answer my questions!

Andrew Bucholtz: Can you provide any details on how and when you first heard about Aquilini's supposed interest in the Pacers (i.e. a Pacers source, someone on Aquilini's end, someone with the NBA or a politically-connected type?)? Obviously, I don't expect you to reveal your source but it would just be helpful to have an idea of which side this is coming from.

Kevin Nesgoda: I have a few people in the know about the situation and first heard about it from a friend who works for one of the Los Angeles teams. He’s always been right about everything he’s ever told me and an extremely credible source. He told me about Clay Bennett buying the Sonics two weeks before it even hit newspapers or news stations in Seattle or OKC.

A.B.: What made you decide to write about it?

K.N.: In hopes that Pacer fans can unite and do what they can to protect their team and keep it in Indy. It’s horrible when a team has to move. Especially if a team has been there for 30 plus years. It’s not fair to the fans.

A.B.: How serious do you think these rumours are? Is it just a negotiating ploy for leverage, or is there a chance the team will move?

K.N.: I think it’s very credible. From what I get the talks between Simon and Aquilini have been very quiet. If Simon can’t get a new deal worked out with the city of Indianapolis he will sell the team. Aquilini then will file the paper work for relocation and start the ball rolling on getting the team to VBC.

A.B.: How does this compare to the Sonics' situation, in your mind?

K.N.: It’s extremely similar: an out of town owner with a ready arena and deep pockets looking to buy a struggling franchise. Though I think Aquilini will be more upfront about what is going to happen. He won’t make false promises about keeping the team in Indy. He’ll buy it and get the team to Vancouver ASAP. It won’t hang in the air like it did for two years in Seattle.

A.B.: In your opinion, if the NBA had a completely free choice about what city to relocate a struggling team to, would they pick Vancouver, Seattle, or somewhere else? Why?

K.N.: I think Vancouver is definitely a bit more attractive than Seattle or Kansas City. It’s bigger than both cities, has a huge Asian market and could envelope the Seattle market on top of everything. Stern said he regretted what happened in [the NBA's] previous run in BC and following closely on how Stern works, I’m convinced he would like to make up for it. Giving Vancouver another team would make a lot of sense, since Vancouver’s economy is extremely strong right now.

A.B.: Have you heard anything more on the situation since your initial Bleacher Report post?

K.N.: Nothing substantial, but if Simon can’t get something worked out, look for him to move fast on the sale.

A.B.: On the Sonics, obviously, losing the team meant a lot to you from your Biased Sports post. Do you think the majority of Seattle residents feel similarly, or have they forgotten and moved on to other sports?

K.N.: There is a small contingent, mostly the diehard fans that are extremely broken up about it and are doing everything in our power to get a team back to Seattle. There are a lot of pissed off people around the area; most have said the NBA is dead to them until Stern is out as commissioner. A lot of people now focus on the Sounders. Sadly, Seattle is a huge bandwagon town and they’ll jump on whoever is winning at the time.

A.B.: Is there enough political will in Washington to get the necessary KeyArena renovations done without a firm promise of a franchise?

K.N.: No. We had a bill up in the Senate that didn’t create any new taxes and the money was mostly raised by people from out of town, but we couldn’t get it to a vote, which I don’t get because the money is raised in Seattle and spent in Seattle. It should never have to go to a state vote. Just expand the tax: then the money for the arena is raised by money spent at the arena and the city makes a profit after three years.

A.B.: Has the economic situation affected this at all? How so?

K.N.: It has a bit, but with the construction jobs created and having an arena that would create over 300 jobs and then stimulate the businesses around the arena it would have been a lot more beneficial to the city. But the idiots in charge in the city and state don’t see it that way.

A.B.: Are you optimistic that Seattle will ever get another NBA team? If so, how long do you think it will take?

K.N.: We’ll get one eventually. I am thinking it won’t be until the NBA lockout happens. There could be six teams that have to fold or relocate and since most new arenas actually lose money, KeyArena, even not renovated, will look like a palace.

A.B.: How would a team in Vancouver affect the chances of Seattle getting a team? Would it help Seattle's chances due to the rivalry between the cities or hurt them because of Vancouver's proximity?

K.N.: I think it would create a true northwest division. Seattle, Vancouver and Portland would be a great series of rivalries. It would be the I-5/Canadian 1 rivalry. If Vancouver actually got a team, I think Seattle would get it in gear on getting a team. I guess a free $30M from Clay Bennett this year or a free $225M from the city of Seattle and Steve Ballmer wasn’t enough.

Thanks again to Kevin for taking the time to answer my questions. Check out his Bleacher Report work here and his Biased Sports site here.

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