Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini is a rich man, but an NBA franchise looks like it might be out of his price range.
At least for now.
The billionaire, who grew up in East Vancouver and owns both the Canucks and Rogers Arena, spoke about the possibility of bringing an NBA team to Vancouver in an interview with Sportsnet 650 on Thursday.
“There’s been some discussions on [bringing an NBA franchise to Vancouver],” Aquilini said. “It’s obvious because we’ve got a building, it’s plug and play. We still have the hoops. We still have the floor. Everything’s there. The locker room and everything is there. We’ve discussed it.”
Vancouver has been without an NBA team since the Grizzlies left for Memphis in 2001.
Aquilini has been linked to the NBA before, reportedly expressing interest in the New Orleans Hornets before they were sold in 2011.
Then-commissioner David Stern confirmed as much, telling ESPN: “We’ve had visits from, believe it or not, Vancouver, where the Canucks are absolutely doing a spectacular job.”
While the NBA isn’t eyeing expansion in the near future, they have expressed an interest in adding teams outside of the United States.
“There are lots of terrific markets out there in the United States and some in countries attached to the United States who also have wonderful cities that could potentially house NBA teams,” current NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in June.
A report in January 2017 indicated that Vancouver was among five cities that the NBA had their eye on, along with Seattle, Las Vegas, Louisville, and Mexico City.
Enthusiastic sellout crowds for the Toronto Raptors’ near-annual visit to Vancouver should only help Vancouver’s cause.
The NBA has also been said to be interested in adding two franchises in the Western Conference, allowing Memphis to move to the East. With a newly renovated KeyArena in the works, Seattle is a clear favourite to get a team, so the race is likely for the second franchise.
We’ve outlined the reasons why Vancouver would make for a suitable NBA city in the past, but currently the biggest problem appears to be the price.
“Right now the entry cost is prohibitive, because it’s up to two billion [dollars] now,” Aquilini said. “Five years ago it was like $300 million, $350 million.”
When Aquilini was kicking tires on the New Orleans Hornets in 2011, they eventually sold for $338 million. The price has gone up since then, helped by a record-setting $24 billion television deal with ESPN and TNT.
The Houston Rockets were the last team to sell, purchased for $2.2 billion in September 2017.
If Aquilini’s pockets aren’t deep enough for that, he could bring on investors to help foot the bill. But until then, the price tag could be a major stumbling block.
People have speculated about Aquilini’s interest in acquiring other pro sports franchises for years, which would follow successful models in Toronto and Calgary.
But despite recently purchasing a lacrosse and an eSports team, the Canucks owner downplayed rumours that the BC Lions or Vancouver Whitecaps are next.
“It’s something that we’ve discussed,” he said, “but it’s not something that we want to do right now.”
“Right now” might be the operative word, as the Lions are for sale and have been for years. Lions owner David Braley hasn’t been able to fetch what he’s looking for thus far.
Aquilini, who says he likes football, could probably run it most efficiently given economies of scale.
Aquilini was also asked about the future of the Canucks’ AHL affiliate. The Canucks have a deal with Utica for this season, with an option for next.
The Canucks could opt to move the Comets to Abbotsford, or elsewhere in the Lower Mainland.
Though there are clear advantages to keeping the team in Utica, the time has never been better to operate their AHL team close to home.
“There’s a lot of debate around that,” he said. “There’s a lot of pros and cons.”
Aquilini was non-committal, but did say that Abbotsford and the Pacific Coliseum are options.