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Professional basketball is all aflutter these days about the first prospective addition to the family since 1949. The newcomer is baseball's Marty Marion (backed by St. Louis Millionaire Milton Fischmann), and it appears likely that his team will be playing out of Kansas City, which thereby will have acquired major league status in two sports within the short space of three years.
Joy over this good news, however, is considerably less than unconfined in some NBA quarters. For some gentlemen the prospect of fresh money and new blood in the league is of less importance than the kind of team Marion will field next fall in the Kansas City Auditorium (capacity, 10,500). They anticipate all manner of trouble on this score, and they may be right.
Present plans for stocking the new club call for Marion to put up $100,000 and each of the eight NBA teams to put up three of its players. Marion will choose a maximum of eight players from this pool, no more than one from each team. League officials will then prorate the $100,000 among the teams involved and, conceivably, return to Marion whatever is left. Then, before the regular draft of this year's graduating college players begins, the new club will be allowed five or six free choices—the only condition being that each team, as usual, may exercise territorial rights on one player.
Actually, the college draft part of the plan is of secondary interest to Marion, since even a team composed of the top 10 draft choices in any year would not be in the same class with one of today's NBA pro teams. The real heart of the matter is: What will the eight clubs offer Marion in the 24-player pool? On the surface, it seems obvious that self-interest would demand that they offer at least some of their best players. When Marion brings his team into Boston next year, for example, who will come out to watch if he can't provide solid competition? (In the NBA, it should be remembered, the home team keeps all of the net receipts on single games.)
But there is another side to the question, put to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED by one NBA club owner who insists that many of the others feel as he does: "Why should I help him [ Marion] by hurting myself? I've spent years, and lost money too, trying to build a winning team. So have the other owners. Who do you think Boston will offer—Ramsey? Russell? Are you kidding? If it's that easy to get into one of the major leagues, I'm going to petition Ford Frick for a franchise and ask the Yankees for Mantle, the Dodgers for Snider and so on. If he wants to get into the league, Marion should buy a franchise instead of starting a new one. And don't tell me he's tried. I've heard that story. If he has tried, he hasn't offered enough money—or any, for that matter."
What all this boils down to is that present NBA club management is perfectly willing to let Marion join the fraternity, but the initiation fee—in terms of several years of struggle to assemble a respectable team—may be much higher than even a St. Louis millionaire anticipated.
Aside from players, Marion's prospects in Kansas City are pretty fair (see box). These are representative figures itemizing his probable costs and reasonable income. In some cities rent, travel and training expenses can be higher; on the other hand, income from radio, average ticket sales and special promotions may also be higher. Television is a special case. Some NBA clubs do not allow it at all; some limit it to road games, some televise only a few home games. Marion says he will try to arrange for it at the start as a means of publicizing the new team and take his chances on possible lowered attendance.
The expenditure budgeted for Marion is low in several respects. An advertising campaign in New York's seven newspapers comes considerably higher than in Syracuse's two. And salaries for a team that includes men like Cousy, Sharman and Russell may substantially exceed the figure listed here. Finally, there is no allowance at all for executive salaries (like Marion's) and no return for Fischmann on his investment.
Marion's budget could be balanced, at an average ticket price of $1.50 (plus taxes), by an attendance of 3,500 for each of 30 home games. The accuracy of this figure is confirmed by two facts: first, Rochester, with an average attendance of 2,500 so far this year, will come within $25,000 of breaking even; second, St. Louis, with extremely high travel expenses and no TV income, requires an average attendance of 5,000 to break even.