Practically, KeyArena at Seattle Center can be no larger than it is. The hole in the ground and the willingness of the public to put money into it went only so deep.
So has Seattle made a mistake constructing a venue already too small for the National Hockey League and in time perhaps too small for the Sonics? I think not.
Besides being sensible for Seattle - getting a building for which the taxpayers have been spared and on a recycled site that helps retain the vitality of Seattle Center - KeyArena may well prove to be more about cutting edge than cutting costs.
Don’t be surprised if five years down the line cities are building basketball facilities like it, no longer comfortable with the basketball-hockey multipurpose building, moving to be more like baseball and its separation from football with its smaller, designer parks in Cleveland, Baltimore, Texas and Colorado.
When sport is as much theater as it is spectacle.
This is a superb basketball facility, as intimate and potentially intimidating as any in the NBA. More so than most.
All for about half the price.
Its scoreboard and bathrooms and concession facilities are as good as the rest. It has club seats and luxury boxes, but it is smaller and less glitzy than other new buildings, kind of like Seattle is to Los Angeles. It is Northwest: recycled, affordable, focused, friendly.
To understand its intimacy, the remodeled Coliseum has 2,848 more seats for basketball and yet seems smaller.
Once it was decided to remodel the old Coliseum, gutting the interior and digging down to add more seats, there was a limit to the numbers of seats that could be had.
Capacity for basketball will be 17,100, at least 3,000 fewer seats than in new arenas in Portland, Vancouver and Phoenix.
“There was never any doubt in our minds that we wanted between 16,500 and 17,500, and no more,” said Bill Ackerley, who represents the Sonics ownership.
“We didn’t want the extra 3,000 seats.”
Ackerley picked up his pencil. Selling 3,000 seats at, say, $20 each for 41 home games comes to $2.46 million.
“That,” he said, “is the salary of one NBA player.”
As Ackerley views it, having 17,100 seats just about ensures a sellout, which creates an excitement that is good for the team on the floor and good for the team in the glass-walled offices.
“A sellout makes the game an event,” he said, “and makes everything you do - selling tickets, advertising in the building, team merchandise, television and radio time more valuable.
“We think it is ideal.”
This will not be a building big enough to host college basketball’s Final Four or perhaps even the NBA All-Star game. It is not the Charlotte Coliseum, which seats 23,698 for basketball.
“We looked at that,” Ackerley said, “and it was not what we wanted. When you have open seats it sends the wrong message. A customer looks around, sees the seat next to him empty and wonders ‘Why did I come?”’
The Sonics, of course, have a monopoly on the building. There will be no NHL, which wants at least 16,000 seats. The NHL will likely expand to Portland, instead, leaving Seattle the Northwest hub for professional baseball and football, Vancouver and Portland for hockey.
“We figured hockey was somebody else’s issue,” Ackerley said. “We are the driving force to pay off the bonds to have this built. The building is good for us and we are good for the building. What’s wrong with that?”
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