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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

“It’s Just A Blank Check”

posted by on March 26 at 12:32 PM

Yet another “kiss the Sonics goodbye/I hate NBA commish David Stern” article, this one courtesy of the Associated Press. Sonics owner Clay Bennett put on the dog-and-pony show in OKC yesterday, wooing NBA owners and reps with a show of OKC’s support for an NBA franchise. The usual tripe gets trotted out—dismissive comments about Steve Ballmer’s plans to renovate Key Arena, dismissive comments about the vastly lower marketshare of OKC compared to Seattle, and so on.

But the bludgeoning of misinformation turned from the usual hokey stuff to downright insulting. Take it away, New Jersey Nets owner Lewis Katz (part of an NBA subcommittee mulling the whole OKC deal):

“My hope is that we’ll find a settlement with Seattle that will give them the opportunity to have a replacement team. Seattle should have an NBA team, and I think David [Stern] expressed that in the meetings. We all feel that way. My guess is you haven’t heard the end of the Seattle story.”

Reeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaally. Mr. Stern, didn’t you say something about this in November of last year?

“I’d love to find a way to keep the team there,” he said, “because if the team moves, there’s not going to be another team there, not in any conceivable future plan that I could envision, and that would be too bad.”

Let’s not sugarcoat this, guys. We’ve seen the commish and the owner in cahoots all along to get out of town at any price, to solidify the league’s demands for bigger arenas, more suites, more ways to charge fans and fewer costs for the league and its owners. They’ll do whatever it takes—in this case, alienating a top-tier American sports market—to scare other cities into succumbing to Stern’s will when renovation plans come up in the next decade or two. But the notion that Stern needed to be wooed by his Okie-pal Clay Bennett, on top of everything else, is really testing the gag reflex. Thankfully, there appears to be someone in Oklahoma who is noticing the Bennett/NBA tactics that turned our city off, though this bit is strangely buried at the bottom of the AP report:

Former Oklahoma state Rep. Wanda Jo Stapleton voiced concerns to the council that the lease leaves the city in position to pay for any cost overruns on the Ford Center renovations and the construction of an approximately $24 million practice facility funded by the sales tax extension.

“It’s in black and white there that the city will pay for the cost overruns, and there could be tens of millions of dollars in cost overruns because they’ve given the team owners free rein to make any changes, whatever they want, during the entire construction period,” Stapleton said. “It’s just a blank check, that’s all it is.”

The city’s response? They’ll keep their eyes on it. I can’t wait to see how that turns out for OKC.

RSS icon Comments


We need to call his bluff and let the Sonics go. Otherwise we're just perpetuating the cycle of bribery that funnels billions of taxpayer dollars to these ultra-rich cheats.

Posted by Fnarf | March 26, 2008 1:00 PM

The Okie Drifters (formerly Seattle Super Sonics) will move and will continue to suck as they do now. Then the NBA will start whining about "upgrading" the Ford Center. Meanwhile, in Seattle, no one notices the Sonics are gone except the 20 people who go to games now.

Posted by crazycatguy | March 26, 2008 1:03 PM


Posted by Giffy | March 26, 2008 1:06 PM

Don't forget that the OKC lease has an attendance-related opt out clause for the team after the second year. Hilarious.

Posted by Postureduck | March 26, 2008 1:10 PM

@3: I agree with that sentiment.

Posted by Ryan | March 26, 2008 1:10 PM

I think (or at least, would like to think) that the CW is starting to catch up with reality: A world-class city isn't judged by how many professional sports teams it has. Rather, the sad, desperate willingness to throw budgets and treasure out the window to finance corporate cannibalism makes a city look decidedly small-town.

World-class cities don't prostrate themselves for anybody. We don't need you, Stern.

Posted by Matthew | March 26, 2008 1:14 PM

Nice post, Sam. I'm beginning to realize that losing the Supes won't be so bad after all.

Posted by niche | March 26, 2008 1:17 PM

Why spend time and effort listening to some whiny losing bball players when we can replace them with a winning NHL, MLS, or curling team that we'll all enjoy a lot more and pay a lot less for?

Besides, we already got the Storm out of them - sue their asses of if they try to skip on rent, but otherwise it's sayonara sweetheart ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 26, 2008 1:19 PM

@8: If we were able to pick up an NHL franchise, that's more than worth the Sonics! In fact, I'd actually be in favor of giving them a taxpayer-financed deal on Key Arena, just out of spite.

Posted by bma | March 26, 2008 1:29 PM

bring the trailblazers and change their name.

Posted by SeMe | March 26, 2008 1:32 PM

Maybe some focus should be put on ending Seattle's 90 year Stanley Cup drought.

Posted by Mike of Renton | March 26, 2008 1:38 PM


Posted by Greg | March 26, 2008 1:39 PM

@11 * 91 year

Posted by Mike of Renton | March 26, 2008 1:41 PM

@ 9 - what makes you think Seattle can support an NHL franchise?

Posted by UnoriginalAndrew | March 26, 2008 1:45 PM

...particularly given that they'd need a new facility suitable for the NHL built for them (when Key Arena was rebuilt in the 90's, the Sonics massaged the specs to ensure that NHL hockey could not be played there - can't have any competition for that finite sports dollar, after all).

Maybe we could put it at the base of one of those nonexistent 100-story residential towers Will keeps blathering about?

Posted by Mr. X | March 26, 2008 1:48 PM

They're gone. This doesn't confirm anything most of us didn't already know, but it should shut up the hopeful naysayer Sonics fans that held out false hope because of nice comments here and there from NBA owners, local interests and other fluff.

Posted by Gomez | March 26, 2008 1:55 PM

Don't count on an NHL franchise. Someone would have to or want to move, Kansas City and their shiny new arena would get first dibs, and the NHL is suffering from similar market saturation and attendance problems.

Posted by Gomez | March 26, 2008 1:58 PM

But you've gotta admit that an NHL team in Seattle makes more sense than an NBA team in OK City.

Posted by Mike of Renton | March 26, 2008 2:22 PM

@8 Did you actually say "professional curling team"? Do such things exist? People pay to watch curling?

Posted by Mittens Schrodinger | March 26, 2008 2:26 PM

I've got a different opinion on this. Seattle should try to keep the Sonics. It's not about the direct $$ in the economy, and it's not about keeping the highly paid players in town.

It's about community. It's the same reason we should fund the symphony hall and arts throughout the region. The city budget is a stunning 3 1/2 billion dollars or something like that. More at

Posted by Steve | March 26, 2008 2:37 PM

Moving a team from a city ranked #17 in the US in per capita income to a city ranked #103 is NOT a wise fiscal decision for the 29 other NBA owners. Seattle needs to call Stern and Bennett on their bluff.

Posted by DOUG. | March 26, 2008 2:47 PM

Is no one capable of distinguishing the Sonics (the historical franchise, the city's oldest sports team) from the Sonics (the greedy OKC ownership group)?

Is no one here the least bit disappointed to see a part of the city's history disappear? Maybe you didn't grow up with them like I did, but can't you at least appreciate their historical significance and not simply sigh, "Good riddance?"

Oh, and news flash: nothing will replace the Sonics, at least nothing anytime soon. As has already been mentioned, an NHL franchise would require a large, hockey-specific arena or a massive overhaul of KeyArena. (Shit, KeyArena won't even have a minor league hockey franchise in a few more weeks.)

Whoever said curling had better be joking, because that's not even a legitimate spectator sport. Professional lacrosse? Too insignificant. Our best bet is to flood the place and stick in some hydros.

Oh, and @8: I know you probably love the new MLS team (which will be functionally much the same as the current Sounders), but guess what -- the only reason the MLS is here is because we already gave the new franchise a huge new stadium.

In short, fuck Clay Bennett, and fuck all of you bystanders who just add insult to injury.

Posted by joykiller | March 26, 2008 2:50 PM

@2 - I'll notice when they're gone. Westbound rush hour bridge traffic is WAY worse on any day there's a Sonics game. Goodbye and good riddance.

Posted by Jeff | March 26, 2008 2:54 PM

@19 - yes, it's an Olympic sport. Heck, CBC shows curling for four hours about once a week ...

But NHL is probably an easier sell.

Mind you, if we got a winning curling team, most people would get all excited, and never miss the losing bball team that is the OK Sonics.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 26, 2008 3:10 PM

@21, given the NBA's current "business" model -- essentially a mildly disguised form of rent-seeking -- it is a good move. Stern's using the Sonics as an example of what happens to cities that don't cave to the league's outrageous demands. It doesn't really matter if the market in OKC can support the team in the long run. The team makes a few quick bucks while it's still a new product and has a highly subsidized new arena, then pulls the same shit and moves to Lewiston or Galveston or Billings.

Posted by joykiller | March 26, 2008 3:13 PM

18 20 21. Context, guys.

18. From what standpoint? The only points of view that ultimately matter are those of the ownerships of sports teams and the governors of the leagues in question.

Also, on a basic level, no, moving an NHL team to a city with an undersized arena not suited for hockey and no plan to build a new one isn't as good an idea as an existing NBA team in an undersized but configured arena.

20. It doesn't matter what anyone here wants as long as the ownership and league are dead set on moving the team. Not at all.

21. It's not just about market size. Shit, one of the NFL's most storied franchises plays in Green Bay, WI, barely one of the top 100 markets in the country at best, probably not even that. But the 2nd biggest market in the US, Los Angeles, showed a lack of suitable support an NFL team. Market sizes don't really have much of a place in the SEA/OKC discussion. This is all about interest, available money and the resulting feasibility from that.

Also, one last note, as someone who has a passing but informed interest in watching curling: cities don't have curling teams like other sports, because there is no such thing as a curling league, not in the sense that we understand leagues. Curling is a sport with meets and events, much like golf or cycling. Curling teams are individual, privately endorsed endeavors. For example, Jennifer Jones heads a competitive 4 person Canadian team called Team Jennifer Jones, and they make so little money from prizes and sponsorships that they all have day jobs aside from curling.

So the idea of a curling team is an uninformed one... unless you plan on starting such a US Curling League, and if you have the money for that, you may as well convince Clay and friends to let you buy the Sonics.

Posted by Gomez | March 26, 2008 3:15 PM

@24, Olympic athletes are mostly amateurs, so this "professional curling" business you allude to has little to do with the Olympics.

And, seriously, on what planet do "most" Americans get excited about their city's winning curling team? Or most Canadians, for that matter? Dozens of people would be thrilled, at most, and half of them would be team members.

Posted by joykiller | March 26, 2008 3:19 PM

Sorry, I was thinking we lived in Ecotopia, @27. Just getting ready for the McCain/Bush 08 interregnum.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 26, 2008 3:24 PM

Isn't Katz the guy trying to move the Nets into a big-box store in Brooklyn? I think the Sonics should try that -- have Gehry whip up something blobby on the site of the downtown Bed Bath and Beyond. Gimme a hell yea!

Posted by hohoho green giant | March 26, 2008 3:32 PM

There is a lot of hating going and a lot of "they suck anyway". I know hipsters are not supposed to like basketball, but this was a playoff team a couple of years ago until management traded away players seemingly to produce a bad record and drop in attendence as an impetus for lack of interest and then moving the team.

It was just a few years ago that the Hawks ate ass and when was the last time the Ms were formidable.

Now with the T-birds gone, Key Arena will be empty save for Dane Cook shows.

Posted by el Rutherford | March 26, 2008 3:43 PM

@18 - no. Oklahoma has a demonstrated interest in basketball, between the way it supported the Hornets, and the fact that there are high school and college basketball teams in Oklahoma. Meanwhile, the T-Birds are moving to Kent, and there's no high school or NCAA hockey in Washington state.

Posted by UnoriginalAndrew | March 26, 2008 3:47 PM

Gomez @26: Market size matters much less in the NFL because teams play 8 home games a year. Each NFL game is an EVENT, capable of drawing folks from miles away for an entire day or even a weekend. Filling an NBA arena 41 times a year is a much bigger task.

Posted by DOUG. | March 26, 2008 3:52 PM


OKC demonstrated the ability to fill the Ford center for 2 years. that's it. once the civic pride at their "victory" & the novelty of the NBA wears off, they're drawing from the surrounding region: Tulsa, and the bustling metropolii of Enid, Norman, Bartlesville, etc. If they weren't already.

I wish OKC luck. they whored themselves out, and in 5 years the bloom will be off the rose.

What the other owners get out of this is an utter mystery to me.

Posted by max solomon | March 26, 2008 4:01 PM

Curling teams aren't professional in the same sense that other sports are, but there is prize money. Just not a lot of it. There's a tour, too, which would be awesome to see in Seattle, though I doubt they'd fill the Key; they'd probably just play, or, uh, spiel, up at the Granite Curling Club. They've held the National Championships up there before. Won some, too. Curling is a lot of fun to watch if you know what's going on, and even more fun to do.

NHL is out, as Mr. X points out, because a legal hockey rink won't fit in the Key. The only way the Thunderbirds can play there is by extending one end of the rink under the lip of the stand, and the NHL doesn't allow such shenanigans.

Posted by Fnarf | March 26, 2008 4:05 PM

What @22 and @30 said. Lots of people in this town like having a pro basketball team to watch and root for. Many of them are urban youth rather than ironic hipsters who care more about hanging out in trendy clubs (but whine when the wrong kind of people move into Georgetown). Well, vive le difference. As long as we support a ballet and an opera and a sculpture park, etc., etc., then why the hell not have a public arena suitable for pro ball? I bet a hell of a lot more people follow the Sonics (even in their present diminished state) than follow the Ring of the Nibelung.

Posted by likes ball | March 26, 2008 4:39 PM

The reason local market share matters less for the NFL is due to revenue sharing. There is no revenue sharing in the NBA.

Posted by kk | March 26, 2008 4:41 PM

@ 33 - possibly, but I think it's still more interest in basketball than Seattle's demonstrated in hockey.

Posted by UnoriginalAndrew | March 26, 2008 4:46 PM

Has Los Angeles been groveling and begging for another NFL team? No, they are confident that it doesn't have any effect on their status as a "world class" city and that it's the NFL's loss more than it is LA's. The NBA will have moved out of Vancouver and Seattle and into OKC and Nashville. It's clear to me which cities are more desirable to work or live.

Posted by Tiffany | March 26, 2008 7:51 PM

In a nutshell, Seattle doesn't want the Sonics and Oklahoma does. Let them go, good riddance, and don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Posted by RainMan | March 26, 2008 8:08 PM

@39, that Seattle is unwilling to blindly throw cash at the team's ownership is hardly an indication that the franchise is unwanted.

Also, "don't let the door hit you on the way out" is something you say to someone when YOU win, not when they win. Clay Bennett, et al, wants to take the team to Oklahoma. He couldn't give two shits about whether some imaginary door hits him, because hey, he's a hometown hero who's got fresh OKC tax dollars coming his way. As far as Seattle's concerned, he's managed to leave us with one less community asset, one less link to our past, and one less form of entertainment than we had previously.

There's no way to spin this: losing the Sonics is bad for Seattle. It's no victory -- not even a moral victory -- it's a loss.

Posted by joykiller | March 26, 2008 8:50 PM

I'm with 22 and 30. Stern, Bennett, Schultz and the like are to blame surely, but...

Isn’t there a lack of fairness when one sport not subsidized (I know, the Sonics will be 10 mill short on revenues) is forced to compete with other sports that recently have received hundreds of millions in subsidies for new facilities - baseball and football (and soccer). Supporters and critics of funding the Sonics all seem to agree on one thing - that these sports compete for the same dollar. So subsidizing some but not others creates an unfair playing field. So this new deal shouldn't have been viewed entirely as a shakedown.

In principle, I agree that sports shouldn't be subsidized. But legislatures and governments also shouldn't be picking and choosing our sports for us, and that is what they have done. As a basketball fan, I am disappointed that governments have chosen to fund three sports with hundreds of millions while telling a franchise that has been here the longest and actually brought the city a championship to take a hike. It also bothers me that people are so happy about the Sonics leaving and yet ready to jump on the hockey and soccer bandwagons. There must just be something about basketball that Seattle can’t relate to...hmm, I wonder what it is?

Posted by james | March 26, 2008 9:51 PM

@41, they can't relate to white guards from Blaine.

I see your point about the playing field relative to the three major sports. And it has some validity, in spite of the fact that it's also been used by the ownership as part of their shakedown.

I think the difference here -- as opposed to the Qwest and Safeco brouhahas -- is not only the cost ($500 million? really?), but the perceived benefit of a new facility. Qwest and Safeco are great venues that replaced a decrepit concrete bunker that, by any reasonable standard, wasn't a great place for anything other than a boat show. From a fan's perspective, though, there's nothing wrong with the Key. There aren't really any bad seats, all the amenities are fairly modern, and it's in a vibrant neighborhood with food, bars, and several bus routes. Bennett and Stern want to replace this with a self-contained, dime-a-dozen arena somewhere in the burbs that's only a great venue if you can afford a luxury box.

Posted by joykiller | March 26, 2008 10:08 PM

32. Ultimately, it still comes down to interest, the number of seats you have and so on. That OKC filled the arena for a mediocre orphaned team for nearly two full seasons PERIOD is an indicator that they can handle an NBA team. A true fringe market wouldn't have been able to do that even with strong corporate backing. The idea of market size as a prime determinant of market viability is a false one. A factor, sure, but not a prime determinant.

Posted by Gomez | March 26, 2008 11:01 PM

42, I agree that there is a big difference between the Renton proposal and Safeco/Qwest. I like Key too. But even Key Arena proposals seemed like non-starters for Seattle and the state until this last minute Hail Mary. The recent punt by the legislature on the 75 mill and Schulz-era defeats are pretty consistent. The leg doesn't want to give any money to basketball – no matter the circumstances. It makes it that much easier for Bennett to make unreasonable demands and paint any rejection as part of a trend.

Posted by James | March 26, 2008 11:26 PM
Posted by bobcat | March 27, 2008 9:18 AM

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