Toronto Raptors: Where will the Raptors play in 2020/21?

 

The Toronto Raptors fanbase has been unable to enjoy a game in the confines of Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena. The trend is likely to continue next season as the Raptors could be based in Louisville, Kentucky.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to affect the Toronto Raptors organization’s operations as it has the world since the beginning of this year. It was announced late last week that there is a possibility the 2020/21 NBA season will have the Raptors play in Louisville, Kentucky.

In addition to draft and free agency, the necessity for finding a temporary home is that the NBA’s lone Canadian Franchise will be hampered by an international border between Canada and the USA, remaining closed until the pandemic is under control.

Louisville Story may be a rumor.

However, the Louisville, Kentucky story may have been a false report. In a story by Yahoosports, the idea was attributed to one Junior Bridgeman who was an NBA player between 1975-1987, playing two stints for the Milwaukee Bucks sandwiched around a stay with the Los Angeles Clippers.

But there have been recent statements by Bridgeman in which he states the report has:

“absolutely no truth.” 

Regardless, it does not change the real possibility that the Toronto Raptors will be displaced once again in the upcoming season.

Louisville, Kentucky, would not be a bad place to operate from, if necessary. The strategic selection of a temporary home, under the circumstances, serves multiple benefits for the NBA and the league.

Kentucky stocks the NBA with talent

First, the University of Kentucky has provided the NBA with many star players in recent years. There have been nearly 40 Kentucky Wildcat alumni since 2009 plying their craft in the NBA from Karl Anthony Towns to recently crowned NBA Champion Anthony Davis. The list also includes players like Jamal Murray and John Wall.

If fans are allowed into the games at some point during the season, playing in Kentucky is a way of saying thank you to the locals and the University of Kentucky’s program for their talent development. It could also create a boom in the local economy if the situation is right considering the effects of COVID-19.

Secondly, selecting a place like Louisville, Kentucky, is a way for the NBA to gauge the region’s response with an eye towards future expansion or franchise relocation plans. The Kentucky Wildcats play out of the Rupp Arena, and it has a capacity for 20,545 fans to watch games.

While the rumors about the Toronto Raptors operating from Louisville in 2020/21 appear false, it does not eliminate the real possibility the Raptors will not play in Toronto this season.

The following three cities could become potential hosting sites for the Raptors in 2020/21:

1.  Rochester, New York

Rochester, New York offers several benefits for the Toronto Raptors if they have to select a USA destination as a temporary home this season.  It can be considered a border town near Buffalo and Niagra on the USA side. The city has a rich basketball history dating back to 1923 when the semi-pro Rochester Seagrams began to play there.

Further, it will keep Toronto on the East coast and on EST (Eastern Standard Time), which is great for Toronto Raptors fans trying to tune in to television games. It also helps the team as they are an Eastern Conference contestant.

The stadium in Rochester, New York, the Blue Cross Arena, has a capacity of 13,800, which is limited for a pro-franchise, but with the pandemic still a factor, it’s unknown if fans will fill NBA arenas this season.

The other great benefit for the Toronto Raptors is that with the New York Knicks stuck in a 20 plus year lack of success, the Raptors can give basketball fans in Western New York a glimpse of winning exciting basketball and expand their fanbase providing greater financial opportunities in the future.

For right now, this season, the Toronto Raptors could workout a local TV contract to broadcast their games in Western New York improving their financial situation during the pandemic when gate revenue may not be possible to obtain.

2.  Hampton Roads, Virginia

Hampton Roads is another USA city that holds the potential to be a great temporary home for the Toronto Raptors. Like Rochester, New York, Hampton Roads is on Eastern Standard Time. Should fans be allowed to attend games, there is a population of 1.7 million people in the city.

Hampton Roads is in a region of the United States which lacks any professional sports. There does appear to be an appetite for basketball, though, as:

“According to the NBA last year, the area ranked #1 among all markets nationally for the percentage of TVs tuned in to watch NBA games. Hampton Roads (Virginia Beach & Norfolk areas) lies within the 12th most populous state in the country”.

The Hampton Coliseum would only seat 9,777 fans, but with the pandemic in the backdrop, the NBA and Raptors are probably more concerned with the TV-contract and ratings.

3.  Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City, Missouri, has a history with professional basketball as the Sacramento Kings operated in Kansas City until 1985. Kansas City would be on Central Daylight Time, which would not be ideal; however, the city does have the T-Mobile/Sprint Center with a capacity to seat 19,252 people. The city has a population of 491,918.

The region has a history with professional basketball, but the University of Kansas Jayhawks is another school that has stocked the NBA with immeasurable talent. Devonte’ Graham, Ben McLemore, and Joel Embiid are a few of the most recent Jayhawk alumni in the NBA.

As of Friday, October 23rd, 2020, in a board of governors meeting, it is expected the NBA will begin the 2020/21 season on December 22nd, 2020, and play a 72 game schedule. Therefore, the question of where the Toronto Raptors will play their home games is real.

The NBA is not expected to use a version of the Florida bubble moving forward, so teams will travel for road games but only the Toronto Raptors play their home dates outside the USA under normal circumstances.