The NBA is in a tough spot. Like many other leagues and companies it has come out against North Carolina’s controversial HB2 bill. Unlike other leagues, the NBA is the only professional sport that can wield the proverbial hammer of moving a scheduled marquee event out of the state. The NBA All-Star game is scheduled in Charlotte during the 2016-2017 season, and there have been some rumblings that the league may move its in-season showcase if there aren’t changes to HB2. The problem is these events take years to plan, so picking up and moving somewhere else isn’t easy. In fact, the NBA has severely limited options according to some sources.
Let’s get this out of the way first: The NBA probably isn’t bringing the All-Star game back to Vegas. If you google NBA All-Star Game Vegas the first auto complete is ‘NBA All-Star Game Vegas disaster.’ There were rumors of fights and violence. Casino execs said it wasn’t good for business — and everything is good for business with people in Sin City. Articles spoke of a culture clash. A lot of things would have to be prepared if the NBA returned for All-Star weekend and frankly there just isn’t enough time.
So that leaves Orlando. Orlando is a great convention city and could easily accommodate the NBA. It isn’t turn-key obviously, but if the NBA is running out of choices Orlando wouldn’t be the worst option. The Magic and its owners would probably welcome the game, and the chance to introduce casual NBA fans to its young team. The only real problem is that the game was played there in 2012, but if the NBA is desperate, Orlando is a top option.
Indianapolis is also a great convention and large event city, but it doesn’t look like it is possible according to the convention sources. Of course that could be changed, but the NBA needs to start looking at alternative sites if the league is serious about its HB2 issues. The league definitely doesn’t want to do that. It doesn’t want to take away the All-Star game from one of its most famous owners in Michael Jordan. The game could be a celebration of Jordan’s accomplishments and the Hornets new-found success after its dismal years as the Bobcats. There are reasons the NBA hasn’t pulled out yet, and a lot of it has to do with its connections and respect for the Charlotte franchise. That may not be enough to keep it in North Carolina if sponsors really put pressure on the league.
As for Orlando it is sitting pretty. It can help bail out the NBA if it comes to that and it’s positioning itself for more pro-sporting events. The city is rumored to be bidding for the NFL’s Pro-Bowl, and if it wins that bid it could host two All-Star festivities in 2017.
Michael Colangelo is Managing Editor of The Fields of Green and Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute.