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Monday, June 16, 2008

Free Sonics Tickets. $15.4 Million Worth.

posted by on June 16 at 7:45 AM

Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis is a total smart aleck.

If I were a lawyer, I would not want to cross examine him. But if you’re rooting for Ceis, he’s a treat. And, the way this Sonics story is shaking out, it’s likely you’re rooting for him.


Despite the fact we all voted against city subsidies for the Sonics in 2006 (74 percent of us anyway), you know in your heart you want the Sonics to stay, and you’re rooting against Clay Bennett and his homophobe Oklahoma ownership group.

That means you’re rooting for Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis, one of the potential witnesses in the city’s lawsuit against Bennett, going to trial today, to make the Sonics play at KeyArena for two more seasons. (Oklahoma businessman Bennett, whose group bought the Sonics and Storm in 2006 for $350 million, pledged to keep the Sonics in Seattle. However, after failing to get $400 million in public assistance in 2007 to build a new stadium in Renton, Bennett won NBA approval this Spring to move the team to Oklahoma City. Seattle has sued to make Bennett honor the Sonics’s KeyArena lease agreement, which locks them into playing at KeyArena through 2010. Bennett also tried to buyout the remainder of the lease for $26.5 million. The city, which still owes about $30 million, turned that down.)

To get an earful of Ceis’s excellent smarty pants ways, all you have to do is read his April 28 deposition.

My favorite part of his deposition—in addition to when Ceis points out that his signature actually isn’t on a supposedly damning document that Bennett’s lawyer Paul Taylor seems to think it’s on—is when Taylor tries to trip up the Deputy Mayor (and by implication, the city) for dealing with Bennett’s Sonics in bad faith. (Yes, even though Bennett is the one who got caught sending what appear to be double-crossing emails, Bennett’s team of lawyers is out to show that it’s actually the city who was dealing in bad faith.)

Early on in Ceis’s deposition, to try and establish that Ceis is an untrustworthy character, Taylor asks Ceis why Ceis alerted a local Save Our Sonics activist to the fact that Seattle Times reporter Jim Brunner had evidence that Ceis had been at a top-secret NBA meeting—a meeting that Ceis agreed not to disclose.

Ceis’s candid, F.U. answer: “Because he [Brunner] did [have the evidence].”

Ceis’s factual statement—Brunner had done a public records request that proved Ceis was in New York—cleverly exonerates Ceis from breaking any non-disclosure agreement. It also reveals that Ceis is interested in letting the public know exactly what’s going on. Right on, Deputy Mayor.

However, I have to admit, there’s a moment in Ceis’s deposition that captures the weird schizophrenia of the city’s position and of this whole Sonics thing. Referring to the city’s attempt late last legislative session to get the state to authorize $75 million in King County taxing authority to help pay for a KeyArena expansion, Taylor asks Ceis, “If the public was not supportive of investing in KeyArena, why were you trying to seek public money to invest in KeyArena?”

It’s a fair question. And even Ceis cannot quite answer this one. He yammers about being a “responsible public official…trying to find a way to satisfy the needs of the franchise and hopefully have a long-term relationship with the Sonics.”

This is all well and good for a parse-y legal answer in a deposition, but it sidesteps the real question that Taylor (unwittingly or not) is asking; a question that 74 percent of us are probably asking ourselves: Do we want the Sonics to stay or not?

Again, you’re probably rooting for the Sonics to stay, but simultaneously, you’re proud of our city (and our legislature) for not being sycophantic NBA ass kissers; for being the only place in the United States of America to say no to the NBA’s crass business model; for setting a precedent against David Stern and Co.’s corporate blackmail.


Despite all the Slick Watts (headband!)/Dennis Johnson (1979!)/Jack Sikma (white guy)/Shawn Kemp/Gary Payton/Ray Allen memories, wouldn’t it be great if Seattle made national news for setting a Just-Say-No precedent to arena subsidies and the bloated world of professional sports that those subsidies condone and perpetuate.

If the the city wins the lawsuit, and the Sonics are here for two more seasons, do you really want the city to use that window of opportunity (as their plan appears to be) to hustle up a “reasonable” public subsidy to make them stay?

I think the city has a good shot at winning its lawsuit. I’m not a lawyer, but City Attorney Tom Carr’s beautifully bitchy brief is hard to dispute: The Sonics signed a lease that said they’d play in KeyArena until 2010. There you have it.

If yesterday’s Seattle Times account of U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman is accurate—that she’s a no-nonsense fact checker—then I like the city’s hand a lot better than Bennett’s.

Here’s what I think the city should do if it wins: Make the Sonics pay us back the money they still owe us on the current subsidy. And I’m not talking about the estimated $30 million that’s still due. I’m talking about the estimsted $15.4 million in back debt service they owe us. Remember? The city revamped KeyArena for the Sonics in 1995 for about $74 million, and the city has ended up picking up the Sonics’ payments to the tune of $2 to $3 million a year going back to 2001.

If Judge Pechman ends up ruling in favor of the city, she should order the Sonics to make $15.4 million worth of free tickets available to the public. With an average price of $40, that’s about 385,000 tickets. I’d say it’d take about two seasons to hand out that many tickets. The public would finally get what it wanted when it agreed to fork over $74 million dollars: the chance to go to a basketball game

Here’s a link to a Soincs primer I wrote when this story first started brewing.

And here’s a link to the Seattle Times comprehensive coverage.

I’ll be filing updates from the U.S. District Courthouse in downtown Seattle all week.

RSS icon Comments


Time until the troll who posts "Why was Josh fired?" in 5,4,3,2.....

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | June 16, 2008 7:55 AM

Well I would be rooting for the sonics to stay if not for the fact that basketball is incredibly boring, oh yeah, and rigged.

Posted by Giffy | June 16, 2008 8:07 AM

Kelly O and Ari Spool give Josh Feit can of Rize, Josh Feit drink Rize, freak out, Hulk out, JOSH FEIT BECOME HULK!


And no, I'm not letting it go.

Posted by The Incredible Sulk | June 16, 2008 8:32 AM

I could give two fucks of a cat's ass if the Sonics stay or go. Public subsidies for the asshole jocks and their culture that we all hated in High School. Greeeeeaaaaaat.

Posted by Big Sven | June 16, 2008 8:38 AM

I'm absolutely against public subsidies for billionaire sports team owners. Now, if there were a chance of luring an NHL team here, I might be in favor of public subsidies for billionaire sports team owners. Professional hockey is the only thing that could turn poor Seattle into a genuine world class city.

I'm almost sincere. My sincere belief is that there are very few principled people who are against tax dollars funding even their own pet projects. Not news, I know.

Posted by umvue | June 16, 2008 8:42 AM

If you are really supporting the Sonics, you will consider attending a rally in support of Seattle's basketball team.

Where: Federal Courthouse
When: 430pm
Who: Gary Payton and Xavier McDaniel are scheduled to appear

Posted by jessica | June 16, 2008 8:42 AM

Spell check, please. ..."estimated" and "Sonics"

Posted by Thanks | June 16, 2008 8:50 AM

Oklahoma City needs a baseball team! Please? Pretty Please?

Posted by Karlheinz Arschbomber | June 16, 2008 8:59 AM

pissing in the wind. they're gone, this farcical proceding just fixes the amount & terms of the lease buyout.

the city will settle for 30-35 million & the anachronistic supersonics name.

OKC will get to the big leagues, which they'll regret within 5 years. the population of the entire state of Oklahoma doesn't equal our 4-county metro region.

i hope they choke on the sonics.

Posted by max solomon | June 16, 2008 9:09 AM

I was unaware we decided to call our new Major League Soccer team the Sonics.

Because that b-ball team sucked bigtime - glad they're gone!

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 16, 2008 9:12 AM

@ 10 How about them Mariners.

Posted by Fortuna Mandolin | June 16, 2008 9:16 AM

soccer sucks.

Bleed the sonics ownership for two years or/until a compromise to keep basketball in seattle.

Posted by cw | June 16, 2008 9:16 AM

"I'm not a lawyer"

No shit.

Posted by ouch | June 16, 2008 9:17 AM

I like the Mariners too.

Never forget, while you're paying $5 a gallon for gas to get to work from Ballard or West Seattle, that Tim Ceis was the guy who killed the Monorail, with the help of Martin Selig.

How's that 10 percent overage looking now, Tim?

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 16, 2008 9:35 AM

We should have taken the $26 million.

Ceis will make a terrible witness cause he's a lying piece of shit. And he's slimy

Posted by ouch | June 16, 2008 9:59 AM

Josh...I think you overestimate the number of Seattleites who are hoping the Sonics stay...that game has played itself out. We want them to go, and we're a bit miffed that the city and the State are compromising what could otherwise be a big "FU" to the NBA.

...sidenote...@14, Will...not to dredge up old arguments...but why should the West Seattle and Ballard commuted be subsidized by the rest of the city to pay for a system that never, ever would have been expanded to serve more than just those two corridors? Intra-city fixed-transit systems don't make a lot of sense when you can encourage regional transit systems to intersect the City, and get the benefit of a regional tax-base to pay for it.

Posted by Timothy | June 16, 2008 10:14 AM

Your right Timmy, it is much better to get WS and Ballrd to pay for transit that doesn't serve them. Hmmmm they are paying for ST getting nothing but would have received service from the monorail - that would have been totally fucking unfair.

Posted by ouch | June 16, 2008 10:33 AM

@17 - yeah, now we can let them get nothing for the next 30 years (current plans).

Face it, DSA and Ceis hate West Seattle and Ballard, and they're not afraid to lie to them to steal their cash and let our 40 percent of transit taxes get 20 percent of transit spending in Seattle.

The day they fight for our due is the day Hades freezes over.

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 16, 2008 10:48 AM

I support a Light Rail spur to West Seattle and Ballard.

Again, at least ST is paid for on a regional basis, making it much more cost-effective to the residents of Seattle.

Also, you bitch as though other parts of Seattle are better served, specifically, by ST than are WS and Ballard. What does the Central District get out of ST, specifically? That's where I live, and still, I think ST is a better investment into a system than the monorail ever would have been, and I have more hope/faith that the ST Light rail system will be expanded to serve greater areas than the monorail ever would have been.

But, in the end, I'm done arguing about the monorail. Let's look forward to solutions rather than backwards toward what could have been. And currently, light rail is about the explode upon the consciousness of the region.

Posted by Timothy | June 16, 2008 11:14 AM

I stopped reading when I read "you know in your heart you want the Sonics to stay". Those of you who feel that way might think that the rest of us do too, but allow me to burst your bubble: we really don't give a rat's ass. Really, truely. And Sherman Alexie's prattling is getting really tiresome.

What's many times more interesting than basketball is leagal analysis, and here's what's interesting about this case: if the city wins this case, you will not have the right to move out of your apparement before your lease is up, even if you pay your landlord rent for those months. The landlord will be able to claim that his interest in the contract is more than the rent, that he leased to you because you flirted with his daughter she likes you, and for that reason you are legally obligated to live in that appartment and wow her for the duration of the lease. So much for renters' rights.

Posted by David Wright | June 16, 2008 11:30 AM

Actually, I'm rooting for the Sonics to go. Preferably before the start of the '09 season. I'm tired of subsidizing something that gives me nothing but a longer trip home from work.

Posted by Rhiannon | June 16, 2008 11:47 AM

@20, not really. Specific performance (making them honor the lease)might be appropriate here because of the nature of the tenancy due to the sonics being a unique type of tenant. The City cannot just go out and rent to another basketball team, nor is the facility necessarily useful for anything else (thats a question though). In most cases however the landlord can go out and find another tenant. This makes specific performance unnecessary. Plus in most residential leases such things are explicitly contracted for.

Posted by Giffy | June 16, 2008 12:11 PM

I want them to stay! I like the updates! Ill be at the courthouse for the rally...There is a way to make this work--for the owners, the fans, the bitchy asses who dont want public money going to the teams, there is a way to make it work....We just need someone to figure it the fuck out.

Posted by DianaRhea | June 16, 2008 12:13 PM

@23...good for you. Why don't you and your friends figure out how to pay for it, and leave the rest of us alone. Thanks.

Posted by Timothy | June 16, 2008 12:55 PM

@22: Whether the city can find another tenant is irrelevant, because the team is offering to make them whole -- if the team leaves, they will recieve just as much rent from the team as they would have if the team stays. The city's argument is that they have a greater interest than the rent money, that the team staying adds tax revenue, cultural value, etc. I think that a court ruling that a leasor "owns" such side benefits would set a horrible precedent that would make the legal value of a contract very hard to pin down. I'm glad if most residential leases already explicitly disclaim such interest, but the implications on contract law would extend beyond residential leases.

Posted by David Wright | June 16, 2008 1:41 PM

You know, once the light rail line goes to SeaTac, we can literally run the Sonics and Tim Ceis out of town on a rail ...

Which would be very very appropriate.

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 16, 2008 1:46 PM

"I support a Light Rail spur to West Seattle and Ballard."

Yeah, that should open in about... oh... 2040.

The monorail would have opened next year, goddamnit. People in West Seattle and Ballard *should* be pissed.

Posted by litlnemo | June 16, 2008 1:46 PM
Again, at least ST is paid for on a regional basis, making it much more cost-effective to the residents of Seattle.

Timmy - because of the fabulous sub area equity we here in Seattle are paying for the $7+ billion (2008 dollars) to get light rail through the city. Great value!

Since a huge percentage of city resident's travels are inside the city, building so-called regional transit doesn't do much for those trips.

And currently, light rail is about the explode upon the consciousness of the region.

When people are told what the ST plan will do and how much it is going to cost and that it won't do anything of any significance until 2020 and the new money won't do anything until 2030 maybe they will hand the final defeat to ST Link.

Posted by ouch | June 16, 2008 2:08 PM

Will--the real reason the monorail failed wasn't because of Tim Ceis. You give him too much credit. No, it was arrogant, know-it-all idiots like you and Joel Horn who killed it.

I live in West Seattle, and I am pissed. The goofballs at the SMP made it that much harder to build rail in this region. They assured us nothing could go wrong. Except lack of agency oversight, basic accounting, minimal engineering experience--you know, things like that.

ST does have subarea equity. Seattle gets out what it puts in. Rail through the city is expensive, just as monorail would have been. Only it carries far more people. For the money we put into ST2 we will end up with a north-south line traversing the city and connecting it to the Eastside, South King, and near the Snoho county line. Sounds like a good place to start for me.

Ouch--you might be surprised to know that twice as many people live in the rest of King County as live in Seattle. And you might be surprised to know that many people who live in Seattle actually work in the rest of the county. And you might want to think about where the 1.5 million people moving here in the next twenty years are going to live. All in Seattle? Or in planned new urban centers near transit stops?

Posted by i prefer a reality based commute | June 16, 2008 11:40 PM

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