Mayor Greg Fischer – the Mayor Fischer who used to support the NBA coming to Louisville – with Kevin Johnson .

The guy who’s been out front in the effort to bring the NBA to Louisville took himself out of the game, today.

No, not attorney J. Bruce Miller.

Miller is still going full speed ahead, with several prospective National Basketball Association team investors.

I’m talking about Louisville Metro Mayor Greg Fischer, who walked back – no, ran – from his previous support after Greater Louisville Inc. released the NBA market assessment it commissioned from PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

The report’s executive summary suggests Louisville has a sufficient fan base to support an NBA team, but not sufficient corporate density to buy suites at KFC Yum! Center.

After seeing the executive summary, Fischer told WHAS TV reporter Joe Arnold the NBA2Louisville effort “has never been front of mind  in the mayor’s office. We’ve spent very little time on this.”

This from the guy who invited businessman and former NBA star Junior Bridgeman and other potential NBA team owners to the Galt House back in September to brainstorm.

This is from the guy who dedicated his entire Vision Louisville initiative intro event to floating the idea of an NBA team in Louisville. Down to blasting the Rolling Stone’s “Start Me Up” at full volume and inviting Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, another NBA star, as event headliner.

In short, Fischer totally disassociated himself from that other Louisville mayor who made this video:

Today, Fischer 2.0 characterized the NBA study findings as, ” ‘It depends.’ ”

In the interview this morning with Arnold, Fischer retreated to saying that Louisville getting an NBA teams depends on the NBA expanding, “and if they did, it would be years.”

He dismissed Arnold’s line of NBA questioning as part of a “media frenzy.” Which it is because the mayor incited the frenzy nine months ago with an open endorsement of the idea – in defiance of U of L officials.

J. Bruce Miller, on the other hand, said he’s standing by his prediction the NBA ultimately will expand to 32 teams, and Louisville has a good chance of being one of the new markets.

Moreover, Miller said, the PWC study is flawed in that the consulting firm didn’t look at the region, but only at the city.

“I said 10 years ago that Louisville/Jefferson County is not big enough to warrant any major league franchise,” he said. “But for them to say we have 165,000 households in our ‘market’ doesn’t recognize (the draw) from Lexington to Covington … to Elizabethtown, Southern Indiana, Frankfort.”

Finally, Miller said, he believes most large Louisville companies will support the NBA, but PWC focused on business leaders “who support U of L, and who want to do business with U of L.”

The PWC report, he said, “gives fodder to those who don’t care that Louisville has lost its regional, economic hegemony.”

To their credit, U of L officials had the grace to not grave dance in the end zone.

This is the official statement from Mark Hebert, director of communications:

The University of Louisville cooperated fully with the PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP assessment, providing all of the data, interviews and other information requested.  How the results of the assessment should be interpreted is best left to others.

So, what does the study say?

We’ll never know.

The study was conducted for GLI … for internal use only. It was paid for with private funds, and the entire study will not be released to the public. The full report does not identify who was interviewed. PWC provided confidentiality to those they interviewed so GLI does not even know who they were, said Carmen Hickerson, GLI vice president, public affairs and communications.

Albrecht Stahmer, an NBA2Louisville supporter and Insider Louisville’s Malaysia-based Asia correspondent, said he doesn’t believe the report will put the NBA2Louisville effort on hiatus. “Number one, we don’t know what’s in the report,” Stahmer said. “No one has seen the report or seen the methodology. Second, it’s not our responsibility to find a franchise or a team.”

If Louisville’s business community wants an NBA team, “there will have to be an internal champion for the effort like KFC was back in 2000 to 2001,” Stahmer said.

In 2000 and 2001, KFC executives offered the Vancouver Grizzlies, then the Charlotte Hornets, $100 million, 20-year naming rights deals if an arena were built to house the team.

Stahmer quoted the original GLI-commissioned report that is the foundation of the current study.

“In that report, dated May 25, 2000, it states, ‘The data clearly show that Louisville has the population and the corporate strength to support an NBA team.’ I just don’t get how (the current conclusion) is so drastically different when the data is pretty similar,” Stahmer said.

The executive summary released by GLI doesn’t have overwhelming evidence Louisville can’t support the NBA. Just that if an NBA does come, it’s likely – not certain – to take dollars out of the pockets of U of L.

In fact, the PWC market assessment indicates Louisville has 165,000 households, and 687 large businesses. Compare that to Oklahoma City, which played in 2012 NBA finals, with 139,000 households and only 518 large businesses.

To Miller’s point, Louisville wins based on the “availability of a proximate resident base available outside the immediate market should a local NBA team be properly positioned to the broader region,” according to the market assessment.

If the NBA2Louisville effort is doomed, it may be because U of L already has deep relationships with top executives at the largest companies and regional banks. For example, Chuck Denny, PNC’s regional market president, is on the boards of University of Louisville Foundation, University of Louisville Board of Overseers (Past Chair), University of Louisville College of Business and University of Louisville Health Science/Nucleus.

Humana’s free suites are built into U of L’s lease at KFC  YUM! Center. Papa John’s International’s name is on U of L’s football stadium.

All of which Mayor Fischer only now seems to be realizing as he raises money for his reelection campaign.

Terry Boyd
Terry Boyd has seven years experience as a business/finance journalist, and eight years a military reporter with European Stars and Stripes. As a banking and finance reporter at Business First, Boyd dealt directly with the most influential executives and financiers in Louisville.