After hosting the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament this week, Buffalo once again showed its passion for basketball. We are the former home of the Braves (now LA Clippers), have plenty of Division I college action, and we are a potential market for five pro teams and their D-league affiliates: Toronto, Detroit, Cleveland, Boston & the New York Knicks/Nets. MSG TV, TSN, NBA TV will all provide coverage of the upcoming playoffs with expected ratings to be among the highest across the major professional sports leagues.
Always interested in developing a shrinking number of untapped markets, you would think the NBA would have come calling on Western New York long ago. After all, the Bills draw fans from Rochester to the East, Northwest Pennsylvania and Southern Ontario. We have travel and tourism groups working to promote the area; a number of former NBA players still live in Buffalo; the hotel industry is booming thanks to the Governor’s Buffalo Billion program; and we have the kind of faithful sports fans that still pine for the glory days of Bob McAdoo, Ernie D, Bob Lanier and Adrian Dantley.
So I’ve been working for a while with Coach Jim Baron and Paul Stasiak (NFADA) to entice a couple of NBA teams to schedule a preseason game here in Buffalo. We learned from the League Office that the teams make their own preseason schedule. We started by contacting Detroit and Toronto.
The Knicks are further away but a Buffalo ex-pat is heading up MSG TV and signed a deal with the Pegulas to broadcast Sabres games. A Knicks game in Buffalo sure sounds like additional good content.
Detroit has the most connections to Buffalo. Coach Stan VanGundy was an Assistant Coach at Canisius College; Lindsey Hunter played for the Pistons and is now an Assistant Coach for the UB Bulls Men’s basketball team. Not to mention that UB Head Coach Nate Oats came to us from Romulus high school in Detroit. Bob Lanier was a Piston first round draft choice from St. Bonaventure. It’s a 4-1/2 hour drive through Canada to the historic Palace in Auburn Hills or next year to the new Little Caesar’s arena in downtown Detroit.
Toronto is the closest team, about 2 hours to the north via the QEW to the Air Canada Center. Mark Jones from ESPN is from Toronto and growing up was a big fan of the Buffalo Braves. The voice of the Raptors, Jack Armstrong, has family in Western New York. TSN television broadcasts are handled by Leo Rautins who played basketball for Syracuse University. The Raptors availability in the short term may be limited because in the last few years they’ve committed to playing in the NBA Canada series during the preseason.
There are a number of other challenges. One is that the new NBA collective bargaining agreement between the players and the league reduced the number of preseason games from 8 to 6.
The next concern is financial. One of the teams would have to be the “home” team; i.e. on the hook for expenses incurred by having the game here. Costs associated with the arena, advertising, etc. We have to find out what the “guarantee” is – how many tickets we have to “guarantee” we can sell and at what price. That information will come from the team that considers Buffalo as a home game.
We made some very preliminary inquiries to Pistons management who expressed possible interest if they were the visiting team. We have also reached out to the Raptors management. Obviously, they are coming down the stretch in the Eastern Conference and then looking ahead to playoffs in April and May; after which their attention will be focused on the NBA draft in June. It will be tough to keep a discussion going with them now about a preseason game in Buffalo in the next year or two but we will try to stay on their radar.
Until we get a commitment from at least one team we can’t really go full steam ahead to solicit corporate sponsors. I’ve been doing my research and making some contacts with businesses and professionals in marketing. The age-old problem in Buffalo is that we don’t have any Fortune 500 companies here. But I have a few ideas about marketing the event that we can explore with local companies. The teams also have their own personnel who have experience hosting games in different venues. Over the next few months I’ll continue to mention the prospect of sponsorships to national companies during my networking on behalf of R1 Sports Mgnt clients.
Locally, Mayor Brown and Russ Brandon have publicly expressed support for getting the NBA to come to Buffalo. Business leaders, the NCAA host committee and power brokers like the Pegulas and the Jacobs family will ultimately make this happen but we have to show them that there’s a demand for the event.
So if you’d like to see an NBA preseason game here this is what we need: please forward this article to anyone you know who would be interested; “like” it on twitter, re-post it on your Facebook page or Instagram account. Let’s create some social media buzz about this idea.
Our friends in traditional broadcast media and the Buffalo News, like interim Buffalo News sports editor Keith McShea, will be allies and advocates. Lisa Wilson who ran the News’ sports department for the past six years just started March 13th as sports editor of ESPN’s The Undefeated. Somebody must have her new email address. There are Buffalonians all over the country, like Gail Hunter who is Vice President of Public Affairs and Event Management for the Golden State Warriors, that if called upon, would help. Not to mention our local coaches and players who all have extensive lists of basketball contacts. Build support for the game and they will come.
So Let’s Go Buffalo – let the Raptors and Pistons know that “We the North” and “The Grind” were a way of life here long before becoming team slogans. That the “Home of the Braves” is still home to the NBA.