The D-League is undergoing quite a bit of turmoil at the moment. The Arsenal have left town, and the Bakersfield Jam’s owner, in one of the more amusing euphemisms I’ve ever seen, has declared that “I wouldn’t say we’re folding. We’re just not going to operate anymore.” The Albuquerque Thunderbirds have laid off all of their staff, and even the D-League champion Colorado 14ers may be folding up their tent. While the D-League isn’t threatening to turn into the USBL or ABA, this is still cause for concern.
When even NBA teams are having money issues, it’s no surprise that the minor leagues are also suffering. Anecdotally, the crowds have been quite a bit smaller this season — I’m guessing that the discretionary income of people who might be D-League customers in better times is severely restricted or non-existent right now. I’m not really sure what the answer to this problem is, apart from better cost controls and more aggressive promotions and community outreach. The best-attended Arsenal games tended to be ones that had community involvement — large groups performing during halftime or otherwise involved in some sort of festivities.
With the support of the NBA, I don’t think that the D-League is in any danger of going away, but the ownership groups of some teams may have dug themselves holes that will be difficult to escape. An additional complicating factor is that the NBA’s collective bargaining contract restricts the interactions of NBA teams and their D-League affiliates — with some reforms, I feel that NBA teams would have more flexibility to assign players and use the D-League, and build a stronger relationship with their affiliates.
As a final note, I was pleased to see that former Arsenal player Marcin Gortat came through in a big way for the Magic in game 6 of their series against the Sixers, with 11 points and 15 boards.