In the dynamic landscape of the National Basketball Association (NBA), the size of a team's market can significantly impact its operations and success. By success, we're looking beyond simply wins and losses and more at the overall value of the team. In this article, we will delve into the NBA's smallest market teams, analyzing their market size, stadium capacity, and franchise value. We will explore how these factors intertwine with the teams' performance and fanbase, showcasing that success can be achieved regardless of market size.
Small Market Triumph: Overcoming Obstacles
Small market teams face unique challenges in the NBA. With limited financial resources and potential revenue disparities compared to larger market teams, they often have to be resourceful and innovative to remain competitive. However, small market teams can foster a strong sense of community, as they're the only game in town. Fans remain incredibly loyal, and successful teams can often change the vibe of an entire city. Let's take a look at the NBA's smallest market teams.
The Smallest Market Teams in the NBA
New Orleans Pelicans: Embracing a Unique Market
The New Orleans Pelicans, situated in the vibrant city of New Orleans, navigate a distinct market landscape. With a market size of around 1.2 million people, the Pelicans operate in arguably the NBA's smallest market. However, they have fostered a passionate and dedicated fanbase that embraces the team as an integral part of the city's culture. The Smoothie King Center, their home arena, has a seating capacity of approximately 16,900, providing an intimate and energetic atmosphere for games. The downside here is that Smoothie King is the smallest arena in the NBA. The franchise value of the Pelicans stands at an estimated $1.51 billion, which is dead last in the NBA. For reference, the New York Knicks command the highest valuation in the league at $6.12 billion. Despite all of this, the Pelicans finished the 2022-2023 season ranked 9th in the Western Conference at 42-40. While they lost in the play-in games, their roster is young, talented, and relatively cheap, as they had the 20th highest team salary in the league. Lots of upside in New Orleans.
Memphis Grizzlies: Thriving in the Mid-South
The Memphis Grizzlies have carved out their own space in the NBA as a competitive small market team. With a market size of approximately 1.3 million people, the Grizzlies have solidified their place in the hearts of fans in the Mid-South region. The FedExForum, their home arena, has a seating capacity of around 17,500, offering an inviting and electric atmosphere for games. The franchise value of the Grizzlies is estimated to be $1.53 billion, one spot ahead of the Pelicans. Had this article been written weeks earlier, we would've pointed straight at Ja Morant and said "the value of the Grizzlies is clearly on the rise." If Morant can get past his recent string of questionable decisions, Memphis is set up to be a power in the West. The Grizzlies finished the regular season ranked second in the West, only behind potential NBA champion, Denver.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Thunderous Success in the Heartland
The Oklahoma City Thunder, born out of the relocation of the Seattle SuperSonics in 2008, have emerged as a formidable force in the NBA despite their small market status. With a market size of around 1.4 million people, the Thunder has built a passionate and dedicated fanbase and has a lot of young talent to be excited about. Their arena boasts a capacity of approximately 18,200 seats, creating an electric atmosphere for Thunder games. The franchise value of the Thunder is estimated to be $1.67 billion, showcasing their financial strength. The Thunder didn't spend a lot in 2022-2023, with the 18th highest team salary, and they have a slew of upcoming first-round picks. OKC's ability to draft well and develop young talent sets them up incredibly well for the future.
Indiana Pacers: Small Market Resilience
The Indiana Pacers, hailing from the basketball-rich state of Indiana, embody the resilience and passion of small market teams. With a market size of around 1.7 million people, the Pacers have built a loyal and devoted fanbase that cherishes the team's rich history. Bankers Life Fieldhouse, their home arena, boasts a seating capacity of approximately 17,000, creating an energetic and engaging environment for games. The franchise value of the Pacers stands at an estimated $1.8 billion, which is ranked 21st in the league. The Pacers hit on Benedict Mathurin in the 2022 draft, have a young superstar in Tyrese Haliburton, and will draft 7th in the upcoming 2023 draft. The Pacers are a couple pieces away from being a serious contender in the East.
Utah Jazz: A Rocky Mountain Powerhouse
Nestled in scenic Salt Lake City, the Utah Jazz have solidified their status as one of the NBA's premier small market teams. With a market size of around 1.2 million people, the Jazz have demonstrated that loyalty and passionate support can transcend market size. Vivint Arena, the Jazz's home venue, has a seating capacity of approximately 18,300, which is larger than the other team's venues on this list. The franchise value of the Jazz stands at an estimated $1.78 billion, which ranks 22nd in the league. Led by legendary players such as Karl Malone and John Stockton, the Jazz have consistently competed at a high level, even when most outsiders thought they were tanking to start the 2022-2023 season. Instead, Utah finished 37-45 and was competitive throughout the year. Rookie big man, Walker Kessler, was tremendous and earned a spot on the first team all-rookie team. Lauri Markkanen was also excellent is a foundational piece that Utah can build around. With the 9th pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, Jazz fans should be excited about next year.
Milwaukee's championship run in 2021 proves that small market teams can win at the highest level. Of course, it's not every day that a player like Giannis Antetokounmpo shows up and changes the future of your franchise. The Bucks were sold in 2014 for $450 million. 9 years later, they have a new stadium and are worth more than $2 billion, showcasing the power of what both a superstar and winning can bring to a smaller market franchise.
Today, the Spurs have a similar value to Milwaukee (around $2 billion). Will the arrival of a generational talent like Victor Wembanyama help? You better believe it. While small market teams have a ceiling on their value (based on the number of people in market), we live in a digital and global age where the popularity of players and teams can truly grow worldwide. As the NBA continues to grow internationally, what was previously a barrier in terms of city size will no longer matter as much, as fans around the world will pay to support their favorite teams and players, regardless of what teams they play for.
John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
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