Buffalo officials are hoping to lure the Vancouver Grizzlies professional basketball team, which is on the prowl for a new home.
The drive's main sponsor acknowledges that it could be an uphill struggle, noting that cities such as St. Louis, New Orleans and Las Vegas already are apparently on a short list of possible destinations for the financially ailing National Basketball Association team.
But Common Council Member Marc A. Coppola of the Delaware District said he thinks the region's past support for the Buffalo Braves and a spurt of downtown development activity could boost Buffalo's chances for the NBA franchise.
Coppola is sponsoring a resolution to extend a written invitation to the Grizzlies ownership and NBA Commissioner David Stern to visit Buffalo. The Council was expected to endorse the effort during today's session.
Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, who was a basketball star at Canisius College in the 1960s, said he thinks that the effort to land an NBA franchise is worth a try. "It's a long shot, no question about it," he said. "But I think Buffalo has all the right ingredients, including a great arena and the best basketball fans anywhere."
But a marketing professor at the University at Buffalo says the push to land an NBA franchise is "laughable." Arun K. Jain cited losses incurred by the Buffalo Sabres, past problems the Buffalo Bills faced in selling luxury boxes and club seats and sagging attendance at Buffalo Bisons games.
"I have serious doubts about the viability of this effort, because we don't exactly have a booming economy," Jain said. "Someone would have to be crazy to think that another professional sports team could make big profits here."
But Coppola said Council staff member Mark Jaskula has been studying demographic data in an attempt to gauge the region's ability to support professional basketball. Coppola said more than 4 million people live within a 130-mile radius, a measure that is commonly used for judging the size of a media market. By that standard, the region would be the nation's 26th-largest market.
Jaskula noted Monday that he has not looked into the possibility that Toronto's NBA team, the Raptors, might oppose a franchise in such close proximity.
"With the Toronto market being what it is," he said, "I think there would be benefits from a rivalry, like with the Sabres and Maple Leafs."
Coppola said that "Buffalo has consistently shown that it's one of the best sports towns in America. When we lost
the Braves in 1978, it wasn't due to lack of fan support. The Braves left because it created a windfall for the team owner."
Buffalo lost its NBA franchise 23 years ago after Braves owner John Y. Brown Jr. swapped teams with the owner of the Boston Celtics, a deal that resulted in the Braves' being moved to San Diego and eventually becoming the Los Angeles Clippers.
There was a significant drop in home attendance in the Braves' final two seasons, but many blamed the decline on a string of bad player moves combined with some brutal winter weather, including the Blizzard of '77.
Coppola said he thinks that Buffalo's waterfront redevelopment project, including plans by Adelphia Communications to build a new headquarters building downtown, is spawning a "renaissance" in the city.
"We can point to tangible signs of progress, including our Inner Harbor project, the Adelphia project and all the high-tech companies that have relocated or expanded in the city," he said.
City officials also cite Buffalo's success last year as host to first-round games in college basketball's NCAA Eastern Regional, an event that sold out HSBC Arena. The NCAA says the tournament will return here in 2004.
NBA officials could not be reached to comment on the invitation by Buffalo officials. Last week, Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley met with Stern and other NBA officials and was given permission to explore moving to another city next season. The team is expected to lose at least $40 million this year.
If the team wants to move by the start of next season, it would have to submit an application to the NBA by March 1.