It’s hardly a secret that I would love to be able to pull a WNBA team into Albuquerque. It’s a daunting challenge, to be sure, but it should not only be doable, but it could be a very successful relationship.
My History With This
In 2003, I read an article in the Albuquerque Journal (archived here) about a couple of women trying to wrangle a WNBA franchise for the Duke City. As one of the women used to play at my alma mater, I simply had to try and get in touch with her and see if I could be a cog in this machine. It actually turned out that not only was she a fellow Terp, but she was also a very good friend of one of my uncles (small world). Well…that was easy.
We set up a meeting. This meeting was only supposed to be a 10-15 minute meet-and-greet. It lasted close to an hour and a half. You get me started talking about women’s basketball…well, let’s just say that I created an impression. Enough of an impression that I was invited to a gathering before a WNBA pre-season game that was going to be held in town. (With a former Univeristy of New Mexico player on the Minnesota Lynx roster, and the opposing coach for the Sacramento Monarchs having also coached at UNM, there was a lot of local flavor which helped bring the game to the city.) I was happy to be an invited guest; imagine my surprise when I find out that I’m considered part of the leadership group(!) Gee…it’s nice to know these things in advance.
At this little shindig, government and business officials managed to attend, but arrived so late that not a lot of schmoozing was able to occur (basically none, in fact) before everyone had to head out to The Pit to watch the game. The game drew a strong, but not overwhelming crowd (the U.S. Women’s Soccer team was playing one of their last pre-Olympic “friendlies” against Mexico a few days after…drawing away some of the fans). Governor Richardson was also in attendance, and I got to spend a few minutes with him following the game.
I was of course energized by this and started preparing white papers and other material in anticipation of everything moving forward. Unfortunately, the forward momentum ended almost as soon as it began. I don’t have much in the way of detail about what exactly went wrong, but it seems that there were some clashes of expectations. It’s that sort of stuff I don’t really understand. See…my only goal was to bring the WNBA into Albuquerque. If something else came of that afterwards, if I could be of some use, great; but at least the team would be here. I seem to have been the only one.
There have been some changes in the New Mexico sports establishment over the past few years, but I’ve made no secret to anyone who will listen that I’d like to help if I can. I might not have the $10 million in my pocket that’s necessary to buy into the league (as of now), but I’m certainly industrious and enthusiastic.
What’s the Problem?
You would think that an area able to boast one of the nation’s largest women’s basketball attendance figures for their NCAA team would be able to host a professional team. What’s the problem?
Actually, it’s two problems. First, as with many WNBA teams finding independent ownership, is money. As I said, you need about $10 million to buy in, and you need someone willing to lose $1 million (or so) a year for quite a few years in order to build the base necessary for a franchise that will endure in the long term. Even though Albuquerque doesn’t boast quite the numbers of deep pockets that other cities do, they are around.
A bigger problem, the elephant in the room, is this desire to have a downtown arena. They were talking about it in 2003, and they are still talking about it today, in connection to having a WNBA franchise. I seem to be in a minority in thinking that it’s a mistake…not only tying the two together, but the arena concept itself.
Here’s the thing. Driving in downtown Albuquerque is a nightmare whenever time of day you venture out. Not enough lanes, not enough parking. Delivery trucks have to park in the center turn lane in order to be efficient. And that’s without an arena trying to funnel an extra 6-7,000 cars in and out in a very brief amount of time. Plus, there really isn’t any good place to put an arena.
I propose something very different. Albuquerque already boasts a fairly famous college arena: The Pit. Unfortunately, the The Pit is also an aging arena. One of its great advantages is that it is situated in an area of the city near UNM where most of the other sports venues are located: University Stadium, Isotopes Park, and so forth. It can handle the traffic and there is room to build. My idea is to pool together the city/state/and UNM money to build a new area at this site with the intent of replacing The Pit (the old arena could be converted to some other facility or a parking garage). Traffic is handled, people will still know where the games are, downtown isn’t crushed during game days (well, no more than now), and no one group has to shoulder the complete financial burden. UNM and the government get a modern arena, and the Lobos and the WNBA will have a home.
But… and this is a big but… the WNBA coming here must not be tied to the arena. They need to be separate projects. While they can benefit one another, they need to be isolated. For the time being, there’s no reason to think that UNM won’t be willing to lease The Pit for WNBA games at a reasonable rate (we’d basically had that agreement in 2004). We have an arena, it’s just that it’s not “sexy” enough for some.
Putting it All Together
Some will say that a lot of cities want to have a WNBA franchise. There are definitely a few, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. That was the case a few years ago as well. There will always be cities interested. It takes desire (which I and others have) and money (which I don’t, but others certainly do). I know that if the right people with a single vision get together on this, Albuquerque could become one of the next new cities hosting a women’s professional basketball team. We might even get a nice arena with it, as long as we don’t make that a condition. As we western people know enough to not put the cart before the horse, so too must we not put the arena before the WNBA.
I hope that interested parties wanting to contribute their industry—whether it is financial, athletic, organizational, marketing, artistic, or even just fervent interest—get in touch with people at the New Mexico Sports Authority (http://www.nmsportsauthority.com) and let them know that you want them to move forward to make Albuquerque enticing enough for a WNBA team. If you say nice things, let them know that CJ sent you (otherwise, let’s just keep that between us). If there is demonstrable interest, that will help the cause considerably. WNBA President Donna Orender often lists Albuquerque as one of the candidate cities, so it’s up to us to make it happen.