March 6, 2013 in Sports

Thiel: Seattle franchises have left much to be desired

Art Thiel
 
Associated Press photo

SuperSonics fans rallied unsuccessfully outside KeyArena in April, 2007, in attempt to keep team in Seattle.
(Full-size photo)

Migawd. Do we

have a

perverse time with pro sports in Seattle, or what?

In 1970, trucks bearing the Seattle Pilots baseball equipment left spring training in Arizona and instead of heading due north, went northeast and relocated the team to Milwaukee. The state sued the American League, won, and received in 1977 the expansion Seattle Mariners as a settlement.

In 1992, the Mariners were all but moved to Tampa until a Japanese billionaire came out of nowhere to buy the club to keep it in Seattle. The American League tried to stop it, was accused of xenophobia and racism by Seattle and the nation, and relented. Guy still hasn’t seen his first Mariners game in person.

In 1996, trucks carried the Seahawks franchise to Los Angeles, where the team attempted to relocate without having a place to relocate. The NFL ordered the team back to Seattle.

In 2006, the Sonics abruptly were sold to out-of-towners because the arena that was updated 11 years earlier with $100 million in public money was declared economically obsolete. In order to get a $45 million settlement, the city dropped a winnable lawsuit that would have kept the team two more years. Five years later, the city is loaning $200 million to build a new arena for an NBA team that, coupled with the franchise purchase, will have a public-private cost of more than $1 billion. And it may not be sufficient.

Pro sports is a dumbfounding, exasperating, nearly lawless industry, loaded with more charlatans, narcissists, miscreants, outlaws and wastrels than your average House of Representatives.

For sports fans used to investing two or three hours in a contest and getting a result, the secrecy, process and deceit of franchise manipulations are epic aggravations. Yet fans riven with emotion about getting/keeping an NBA team crave any information that tells them what they want to hear.

As it stands now, the public knows some things about the fate of the Kings franchise, but can conclude nothing about the outcome because so few facts have been disclosed. The game is still being played. Seattle’s history with its franchises was provided above because the common thread is that most of what was believed at the time turned out to be wrong.

Most people in Seattle believed the Pilots could not be yanked after a year. They were wrong.

Most people in Seattle believed the Mariners would never find a buyer to keep the team here. They were wrong.

Most people in Seattle believed that when the trucks pulled out of Kirkland, the Seahawks were gone. They were wrong.

Most people in Seattle believed that 41 years of history, tradition and excitement around the Sonics, not to mention $100 million, were worth something to the NBA. They were wrong.

So much for conventional wisdom in pro sports.

Today, fans in Seattle want to believe that Chris Hansen, who seems genuinely to be the antithesis of the stereotypical sports mogul described above, has done enough of the right things to get an arena built and a team purchased.

Just as eager are the sports fans in Sacramento, whose mayor, Kevin Johnson, has spent the last three All-Star Game weekends lobbying NBA owners to keep the Kings in his town. As indefatigable as is Hansen, so is Johnson, who helped assemble a counteroffer to the NBA Friday that included wealthy investors as capable of the big buy-in as Steve Ballmer and the Nordstroms in Seattle.

In January, shortly after the Hansen purchase agreement was announced, NBA commiss- ioner David Stern met with Ron Burkle, an owner of the NHL Pittsburgh Penguins, who was identified as the arena devel- oper in Sacramento. Stern appears to be taking him seriously.

Over the last decade I have learned to be skeptical about whatever Stern says regarding the business of his franchises, because his remarks are designed to manipulate, deflect or obscure the public’s understanding. As an example, at the All-Star Game, he was asked a question about Seattle’s support for pro sports, and he replied that the Seahawks and Mariners were given public subsidies, but there was none for the Sonics. He deliberately ignored the $100 million in 1993 that paid for the renovation that became KeyArena.

That’s the kind of prevarication that makes him so untrustworthy. But he did answer another question in an intriguing way.

“I don’t see any scenario where both cities are happy,” he said. What he inferred, and another answer supported, is that expansion is not under consideration.

I think he’s lying to drive up the value of the Kings.

Art Thiel writes for sportspressnw.com

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