(Editor’s note: Signature Healthcare President and CEO Joe Steier now is scheduled to participate in the Bring the NBA to Louisville event tonight at Bearno’s by the Bridge.)
The effort to bring the NBA to Louisville has a new high-profile advocate.
Tyler Allen today became yet another prominent Louisvillian to embrace the effort to bring a National Basketball Association team to Louisville.
Allen spoke at the IdeaMornings event this morning at the iHub, within a few blocks of the KFC Yum! Center where NBA backers dream of attending games.
Part of Allen’s message to a SRO crowd of about 40 people at the entrepreneur/start-up-focused networking event was, “I’ve been there before … look for the University of Louisville to organize an aggressive, well-funded effort to stop this grassroots effort.”
Allen, a Louisville businessman and former mayoral candidate, is best-known for co-founding a grassroots, organic movement in 8664, an ultimately unsuccessful effort to stop construction of the proposed downtown bridge, as well as to remove Interstate-64 from the riverfront.
Allen added that he “knows from experience” there will be an organized, well-funded opposition for the nascent “Bring the NBA to Louisville” effort.
Audience members laughed when he added the aside, “And quite candidly, I’ve dealt with well-funded, organized opposition,” alluding to the 8664 effort, which was opposed by then-Metro Mayor Jerry Abramson and other community leaders including the Courier-Journal editorial board.
This time, Allen is aligned with Metro Mayor Greg Fischer, who has endorsed the NBA effort and organized talks aimed at getting a team.
Allen’s new cause – moving away from what he describes as Louisville’s national image as a “college town” to the image of a major city with professional sports.
He argued that national audiences see a “college town” when they see U of L sports teams on television.
“Don’t get me wrong. A college town is an awesome brand,” Allen said. “Ann Arbor, Madison (Wisconsin) and Lexington are small cities of 500,000 (people) or less that are great places to live. But we’re a city of 1.3 million. We’re a big old industrial city, and yet we’re consistently putting forward that (college town) image.”
“We keep driving home the brand, ‘That’s a college town.’ ”
The fact Louisville is home to U of L is a wedge between the city and the rest of the state, Allen said.
Borrowing a page from former Arena Authority Chairman Jim Host, Allen co-opted Host’s argument that KFC Yum! Center would bring anti-Louisville University of Kentucky fans in from the provinces and change their views of the city. Allen’s argument that the ability to see NBA games rather than arch-rival U of L at the downtown arena would change the perception of rural legislators, and would attract fans not just from Lexington, but from smaller cities such as Bowling Green and Owensboro.
Which is nice, Allen said.
“Why in the world would Yum! Brands want to do that?” he said
At least one audience member replied, “China.”
“Right,” Allen replied.”They saw a branding opportunity for KFC.”
Yum Brands! currently operates about 4,000 restaurants, mostly KFC brand, in China, where the NBA is growing in popularity.
With Yum! Brands investing in an NBA team with ties to China, “that seems like a significant opportunity for a city in the middle of the country.I can’t imagine the value of that,” Allen said. “But there is a subset of this community who says, ‘No, no, that’s not what we want.’ ”
Allen contends anti-NBA arguments – an NBA team will hurt U of L attendance and games are too expensive – “never quite line up.”
“This is a missed opportunity. How can we afford not to go down this path?”
Allen acknowledged U of L officials’ arguments about an NBA team interfering with the men’s basketball scheduling.
Then he stated that of U of L ‘s 54 dates for various programs including men’s basketball, there are only four games – one men’s game, three women’s – scheduled for a weekend night, when the NBA typically plays.
The main argument from NBA opponents is, ” ‘Louisville’s got to do what’s right for U of L,’” Allen said.
“No. We have to do what’s right for Louisville.”
No U of L partisans spoke up this morning.
In the audience were J. Bruce Miller and Stahmer, both of whom are Bring the NBA to Louisville effort activists.
Miller said the NBA represents Louisville’s only real shot at a pro team, because the National Football League already has three franchises in the region – Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Nashville – while National League Baseball would not approve a team in a city as close as Louisville is to the Cincinnati Reds.
More commentary from Albrecht Stahmer:
About Idea Mornings: Idea Mornings is a monthly breakfast meeting organized by entrepreneurial MBA students from the University of Louisville. Idea Mornings are scheduled for the last Friday of each month. Each meeting has a different speaker and topic. Previous speakers have included J.K. McKnight, Forecastle Festival founder, and venture-capitalist/entrepreneur Adam Fish.