LOS ANGELES — Fitch Ratings could cut bond ratings on the National Basketball Association, Los Angeles’ Staples Center, and Denver’s Pepsi Center if the NBA fails to reach an agreement with players and cancels the season.
Fitch put the NBA’s league-wide revolving facility borrowings, and bonds backed by revenue at the two basketball arenas, on negative watch after the league canceled the remainder of its pre-season games last week, according to Fitch director Chad Lewis.
The Staples Center’s $234 million of revenue-backed bonds and the Pepsi Center’s $46.7 million of revenue-backed bonds are rated BBB-plus and BBB-minus, respectively, according to the report. The NBA’s $957 million revolving facility borrowings and $1.34 billion senior notes are rated BBB-plus.
Bonds backed by arena revenues tend to be considered riskier, because of the volatility of depending on ticket sales and other arena-related revenue for income, Lewis said.
Fitch is concerned if the contract issues aren’t ironed out, the league could end up with a repeat of the 1998-99 season when both sides failed to immediately reach an agreement and the season was shortened.
Lewis said he didn’t know how much lost income resulted from game cancellations in the 1990s.
Fitch tracks seven NBA arenas, but only two, the Staples Center and Pepsi Center, have publicly rated bonds. The $500 million in privately rated arena-revenue backed bonds with an NBA anchor tenant were also placed on negative rating watch.
Fitch will likely know within six months whether the season will be shortened — similar to the NBA’s 191-day work stoppage in 1998-99 when regular season games were reduced to 50 per team from 82 — or fully canceled, according to the rating report.
If a partial season occurs, Fitch analysts said they will evaluate the projected impact on league and arena finances and resolve the rating watch, the report states. If the season is cancelled, downward rating action may be warranted, according to analysts.
AEG, owner of the multi-use entertainment center L.A. Live that includes the Staples Center, has an agreement with Los Angeles officials to issue $250 million in bonds to raze part of the city’s convention center and build a National Football League stadium.
Michael Roth, an AEG spokesman failed to return calls.
Both the Staples Center and Pepsi Center benefit from having National Hockey League tenants in addition to the NBA franchises.