Mayor discourages NBA talk after study questions corporate support


by Joe Arnold

Posted on May 7, 2013 at 10:59 AM

Updated Wednesday, May 8 at 1:17 AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- Louisville’s NBA hoops dreams took a body blow on Tuesday when Mayor Greg Fischer stepped back from the NBA conversation upon the release of a study which questions whether the city has enough corporate support for a professional franchise.

"We don't need to be wasting a lot of time on something that is so theoretical," Fischer said to reporters when asked about the PriceWaterhouseCooper study, commissioned by the city and Greater Louisville Inc.  Only a two page "executive summary" of the study was made public.

The summary cites a lack of corporate depth in Louisville and a general lack of available support for an NBA team.

Click here for the .pdf link to the executive summary

"We've got the size of the city, we've got the fan base," Fischer said, "but what makes these things click financially in terms of the teams coming to town are the suite sales."

After interviews with local corporate leaders, the study's authors conclude that spending to support an NBA franchise would come at the expense of current local sponsorships, such as University of Louisville athletics.

"They actually interviewed corporations here in town as well as some in the surrounding region," explained Carmen Hickerson, a Greater Louisville Inc. spokeswoman, "just to get a sense of how much they might be willing to put into support for an NBA team."

Fischer has been consistent on his NBA stance since last summer, repeatedly saying that Louisville does not have an immediate plan for a professional team or a particular franchise in mind, yet needs to be prepared to act if the opportunity presents itself.

The mayor's 2012 comments, however, were the strongest by any high-ranking public official about the NBA since local efforts to land the NBA’s Hornets and Grizzlies fell through one decade ago.

The comments and meetings with NBA backers had breathed new life into the dormant NBA conversation, in the process aggravating the University of Louisville which would have to share the KFC Yum! Center with a professional franchise. 

“It's never been in the front of mind in the mayor’s office," Fischer said on Tuesday.  "This is something I've spent very little time on.  That's why I asked to get the data.  There has been a certain media hysteria over this as well that kind of fabricated this thing as if something was going to happen.  But, anybody that's been following this, of course, knows that an NBA team is not available.  But we should always do the homework in case an opportunity for any professional sports team comes up."
News of the study came as NBA proponent J. Bruce Miller, a Louisville attorney, said he was talking with prospective majority owners about an expansion franchise here.

"Any Louisville NBA study needs to consider the team's market would be the entire region, not just Jefferson County," Miller told WHAS11.

"I don't think we can close the book on any discussion until we see the entire report," added Albrecht Stahmer, an administrator of the facebook effort, Bring the NBA to Louisville.

WHAS11 spoke to Stahmer, a former Louisville resident, from his home in Singapore.

"It would be very, very devastating if Mayor Fischer decided he was no longer interested in pushing this issue forward," Stahmer said.

Fischer said it's not for a lack of interest, but a lack of a team.  Last month, the NBA relocation committee voted to reject the sale of the Sacramento Kings to a Seattle group.  Fischer said NBA expansion is "unlikely," and years away, if ever. 

Fischer had pitched the NBA as one possible way to generate more downtown tax revenue and pay for the arena's construction financing.

Now, he says he'll push for other ideas, including the expansion of the downtown convention center, casino gambling and extending the duration of the tax increment financing district from 20 years to 30 years.

"We still have some financial challenges with the Yum Center that the state can help with, the city can help with and U of L can help with," Fischer said.

Last summer, Fischer argued that an NBA team would fill the KFC Yum! Center's empty dates and generate tax revenue needed to pay off arena bonds.  Moody's downgraded arena bonds to "junk" status citing several factors, including tax increment financing revenues falling far short of projections, generating roughly one-third of forecast revenue in the six square mile arena TIF district.

Stahmer believes the mayor is under intense political pressure.

"He's in an incredibly difficult situation," Stahmer said.  "It's very very hard for him to take something to the community and to take something to U of L which doesn't really exist yet."