|Wednesday, June 5
Updated: June 11, 8:52 AM ET
Super market streak
By Darren Rovell
The Boston Celtics and Sacramento Kings might have put up a good fight in the conference finals, but the two teams were unlikely to face each other in the NBA Finals.
Some 16.5 million people live in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or Houston, more than all the people combined who live within the city limits of the 24 other cities that are home to an NBA team. That a team from one of those four cities usually reaches the NBA Finals has helped fortify the league's popularity since 1980.
Undoubtedly, it also has helped to maximize revenues. The league's television partners have enjoyed their best ratings when either the Lakers or Chicago Bulls have won championships.
"The NBA has done a great job marketing parity," said David Carter, principal of the Sports Business Group, a sports marketing firm. "Every fan thinks that his or her team has a chance, but over time the big markets dominate. Perfecting the art of making money over the past two decades thanks to the large markets is nothing the NBA should hide from."
The probability (96 percent) over the past 23 years that a large-market team reaches the NBA Finals is remarkable when considering that the percentages in the NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball aren't even close. Baseball has had eight World Series (38 percent) since 1980 that included at least one team from the top four markets. The NHL, without a team in Houston, has had eight (35 percent) Stanley Cups since 1980 involving New York, Chicago or L.A. And the NFL, its hard salary cap now encouraging parity, has had a Super Bowl involving a large-market teams only five times (22 percent).
Baseball, of course, did not have a World Series in 1994. And in the NFL, two Los Angeles teams -- the Rams, which played in Super Bowl XIV, and the Raiders, which won Super Bowl XVII -- now call St. Louis and Oakland their home.
"The NBA seems to resent public perception that it rigs its games or that it somehow favors large-market teams," said Hadrian Shaw, sports analyst for Kagan World Media, a market research firm. "But at the end of the day, coincidence or not, the success of these large-market teams does in fact help drive the popularity of the game."
There is not a direct relationship between market size and NBA Finals television rating. The largest-market New York Knicks in 1994 (vs. Houston) and 1999 (vs. San Antonio) did not do well. Thanks in part to the lockout, the series against San Antonio yielded an 11.3 Nielsen rating, the lowest rating to date. The series against the Rockets, which took place during Michael Jordan's first retirement from basketball, went a full seven games, but yielded only a 12.4 rating. In comparison, every NBA Finals matchup involving the Bulls earned at least a 14.2 rating.
"You have to ignore a lockout or Michael Jordan leaving to understand that the owners and players have an enormous incentive for large markets to get into the Finals and win," sports economist Allen Sanderson said. "The sports world can't survive off too many Milwaukee-Sacramento series."
Though it is the fourth largest city in the country, Houston's television market ranks 11th.
Rumors circulated this week that Britney Spears would appear as a driver in a movie about NASCAR. The London Sun reported last week that Spears was a fan of "Days of Thunder," and the new movie would begin filming in October. But Spears' publicist, Lisa Kasteler, told ESPN.com that "the report is premature and she hasn't decided on anything yet."
Wayne Gretzky's decision to hire Mike Barnett, his former player agent, as the GM of the Phoenix Coyotes last August rubbed many in the industry the wrong way. Despite the fact that Barnett, who also represented Brett Hull and Mats Sundin, was ultimately forced to drop the title of agent in his new position, NHL Players Association executive director Bob Goodenow said last week at the Sports Lawyers Association conference in Phoenix that Barnett's unexpected career change from representating clients to managing them has helped create a new league policy. "Agents now have to check off a box if they terminate their certification that they won't take a job with a club for nine months," Goodenow said. "Some agents have been fine with that, others have been bothered by it." Other general managers who were once agents include Brian Burke of the Vancouver Canucks, Pierre Lacroix of the Colorado Avalanche and George McPhee of the Washington Capitals.
Not quite a Berkeley sit-in
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.firstname.lastname@example.org