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Colour Commentary: Montreal basketball could work

by Nicholas Di Giovanni October 16, 2018
Colour Commentary: Montreal basketball could work

Potential NBA team would need private money, cheap tickets to survive

On Oct. 10, a group of Quebec investors announced they were working to bring an NBA team to Montreal. Former cabinet minister Michael Fortier and Stéphan Crétier, a businessman, said that if the NBA ever expands from its 30-team league, they will be ready with a proposal.

The announcement came hours before the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets tipped off at the Bell Centre in a preseason game. Over 20,000 fans showed up to watch the Raptors beat the Nets 118-91, and the crowd was energetic.

Montrealers have seen this story play out before with a baseball team. There’s a group who seriously wants to bring an MLB team back to the city, and every year, the Toronto Blue Jays play preseason games in front of large crowds here in Montreal.

So here we are, going through this rodeo again. Rich businessmen want to bring another big-league sports team to a city that surprisingly only has one team in the top-four men’s professional leagues in North America. What makes this basketball project different from baseball is that we have an arena ready for a basketball team. The Bell Centre is a state-of-the-art facility ready to accommodate a basketball team alongside its hockey team. But could it work?

Both Fortier and Crétier said it would cost $1.5 to $2 billion to bring a team to Montreal, with Crétier saying he would invest 10 per cent of the cost. Rather than wanting the public’s money for funding, they want to attract other investors. I’m no finance student, but that price tag seems hefty considering it doesn’t include a new arena. A 2013 study by Ernest & Young concluded it would cost just over $1 billion for a Montreal baseball team, but it included building a new $467 million stadium, with money coming from the government.

Regardless of the actual cost of an NBA expansion team, the group of investors are approaching this from the right angle. They know the government won’t want to contribute public money (and why should they?), so they’re doing it privately.

Having fans at 41 home games every year, on top of 41 hockey games, is a hurdle that a potential team could face. The Canadiens have an average ticket price of $115, while the Raptors sell for an average of $145. I really don’t think Montreal basketball fans, especially young families, will be willing to dish out that money.

If a basketball team were to work in Montreal, its investors would need to fork over the money, and keep ticket prices low. There’s a possibility this could work, and I think there’s a market for a Montreal basketball team, but it will be a long shot.

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