An Interview With Springfield Owner Michael Savit
Q: What attracted you to the NBA Development League?
Savit: My history is in sports marketing, and in particular the last dozen years or so my company [HWS Group] has owned and managed half a dozen teams over that period. I sense that there are a lot of similarities between the NBA D-League and minor league baseball in terms of future growth and future value enhancement, primarily because itís a part of the NBA. In minor league baseball, Iím involved with affiliated teams and what makes it work is that MLB logo. I feel the same thing with the NBA D-League--itís a part of the NBA and I know the NBA is putting its muscle, time and energy behind it and really wants to make this work.
Q: What leads you believe that the NBA D-League is a strong enough property to be successful in a new market in the current economy?
Savit: The fact that itís a part of the NBA gives it its value. The NBA D-League is a relatively young league, but I know that the development of the players in a system that is controlled and operated by the NBA is very important. The model is similar to the MLB model, which has been around for 100 years or so, and that works. It gives me the confidence that long term this league is going to prosper and is something that I would want to get involved with.
Q: What are some of the current challenges for the league and some of the specific challenges for your franchise?
Savit: My attitude is that, number one, everyone in this economy is going to suffer somewhat, but one of the things that I really like about the NBA D-League is that itís affordable, family entertainment. I think even in times like this people still want their entertainment. One sector thatís doing well right now is movies. I liken the minor leagues to the movies in terms of price and entertainment.
In this specific case, the challenge is that the team and league are in a new market, so there will be a lot of educating the market as to what exactly the NBA D-League is. Thereís been a glut of minor league basketball leagues over the years, so part of the challenge is to clearly differentiate this league from the others--this is the NBA. Weíve got to make people understand the statistics of the last few years of how many players have been called-up to the NBA, how many coaches have ďgraduatedĒ, and that the NBA D-League player youíre seeing today is one youíll be seeing on national television in the NBA next year or the year after that.
Q: What qualities of the city will make the NBA D-League successful in Springfield?
Savit: The decision to put a team in Springfield really came down to the fact that it is the birthplace of basketball and the home of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Springfield has a couple million people within a 30-mile radius, borders the state of Connecticut--which could be the number one basketball-crazy state in the country--and has great high school, youth and grassroots programs already in place. If you put all those synergies together, it became obvious to me that this is the place to give it a shot. Subsequently, I met a lot of key business people in Springfield--many of whom will be investors--and I met the government officials, the local people and the people who run the arena. All of them have been so positive and have opened their arms to this opportunity.
Q: What are your thoughts on the NBA D-Leagueís movement back East? What does it mean for the league?
Savit: Basketball in the East is a big deal. I think its good for the whole NBA D-League and NBA product, because a lot of the current NBA teams on the East Coast are affiliated with NBA D-League teams on the other side of the country. One advantage of Springfield is that weíre close to Hartford (Connecticut), so getting from Springfield to anywhere on the Eastern seaboard is pretty easy, and itís going to be a lot easier for the teams we end up being affiliated with in regards to player movement.
Q: How do you plan on leveraging the close proximity of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame?
Savit: Theyíve been great. As a matter of fact, our launch press conference is at the Hall of Fame. From day one, theyíve been 100 percent behind this. Weíll be doing all kinds of promotions with them, and Iím sure that theyíll be helping us and weíll be helping them.
Q: Many minor league baseball teams are known for their unique promotions. Whatís your view on those types of activities, and can fans expect to see them in Springfield?
Savit: I think fans in Springfield can definitely expect to see them. My view is that they range from the sublime to the ridiculous, and some have worked and some havenít. Iíve always been somewhere in the middle in terms of not wanting to take away too much focus from the game by making some of the promotions crazy, but on the other hand, some are good, funny and memorable. Our creative juices will certainly be running and weíll see what we can come up with.
Q: How beneficial do you feel the NBA D-League has been for players and their development? What differences do you see between the NBA D-League and minor league baseball?
Savit: It seems that itís been very beneficial in terms of players being able to be taught a system and the NBA way of doing things. Itís great for NBA teams to have the accessibility to bring these players up when they see fit to fill roster spots and eventually become key parts of teams.
As far as differences go, itís a different animal in that each major league baseball team has an average of probably five minor league teams, each of which are stocked with 25 of their own players under contract. Itís a much bigger operation in terms of how players advance, but the basic strategy and theory is the same. The NBA D-League is like AA or AAA, and I say AA because it really is the best level talent-wise in minor league baseball. The top prospects who arenít quite ready to make the team can train and work and play in a similar environment at the next level down, and when their number is called, theyíre ready to go.
Q: What is something visitors have to experience in Springfield?
Savit: Youíve got to go to the Hall of Fame, and starting in December, itíll be to go to an NBA D-League game and the Hall of Fame. Whenever Iíve been to Springfield, itís been a warm, hospitable welcome, and whatís made this whole relationship work is the NBA, the Hall of Fame, Springfield being the home of basketball, and the MassMutual arena.