Given how one of this site’s main run-on jokes is the fact that we jokingly pretend the Supersonics never moved to that city which shall not be named, I’ve really wanted to stay as far away from this topic as possible. However, given comments and articles published over the past week, I feel that my hand is being forced here.
Before we get underway, let me just make one thing perfectly clear to you, the reader: SoDoOrBust. For those who don’t understand that reference, let me explain.
In 2008, the Seattle SuperSonics were relocated to Oklahoma following a recent ownership transition from Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz to Oklahoma businessman Clay Bennett. What caused the move, besides Hurricane Katrina, was the aging KeyArena. The arena had been around since 1962 and, with just one major renovation under its belt in the mid 90s, it was starting to show. Citing the aging structure, along with the fact that it possessed the 2nd smallest capacity in the NBA, Bennett was able to successfully relocate the franchise and Seattle was left without a professional basketball team in 40 years.
Flash forward to present day, the aging KeyArena now has two renovation proposals for the city of Seattle to consider on top of Chris Hansen’s SoDo Arena proposal that feels like its been around since the Sonics’s departure at this point.
Hansen as been apart of the effort to bring an NBA franchise back to Seattle since 2011. That year, Hansen unveiled his proposal for an arena located just south of Safeco in Seattle’s SoDo district. The proposal slowly but surely received from approvals from the necessary parties over the course of 2012 in the lead-up to Hansen’s group, then contained current Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, attempt to buy and relocate the Sacramento Kings.
The effort failed. NBA owners voted 22-8 against the sale of the Kings to Hansen for the purpose of relocating the team. In the same timeframe, the league approved a separate sale of the Kings to a group that kept the team in Sacramento with a brand new arena to show for it.
Hansen was forced to shift gears in an effort to get his arena built so that a NBA expansion franchise would be awarded to him. Hansen continued to jump through hoops amongst the mangled mess that is Seattle politics.
The current SoDo Arena deal on the table for the City of Seattle to consider has changed since 2011. Since the 2011 plan, Hansen has completely privatized the funding for the construction of the arena; down from the initial $200 million asking price from the City of Seattle and King County. The group has also stated they will put forth the necessary funds to construct an overpass on Lander Street just south of the arena to help alleviate traffic.
Along the way though, Hansen and his group have had to go up against one main adversary: the Port of Seattle. To be frank, the Port are in it for political gains. The Port, the Seattle business equivalent to a petulant toddler upset they aren’t able to get their way a hundred percent of the time, has been arguing that the arena, along with street vacation of one block from Occidental Avenue, puts excessive burden on their operations.
However, as people have repeatedly pointed out, that’s a load of bull crap. It makes sense though. After all, the Port of Seattle have proven to be a rather seedy business at the top in recent months.
This didn’t stop five members of the city council from voting against the street vacation on the basis of it going against their personal interest. Nawh, I’m just playing. Of course career politicians who’ve been aided politically by the Port of Seattle in the past, and not Chris Hansen, wouldn’t be honest to the general public. They say that they’re instead fighting against…let me see…what’s a popular buzzword nowadays that can fire up my far left base…oh, gentrification.
Now, nearly a decade later, the city of Seattle is deciding to get around to renovating KeyArena. The city has received two proposals from arena investment groups known as AEG and Oak View Group. Both proposals call for a renovation of KeyArena, keeping the roof intact, and vary slightly.
To put it bluntly, AEG and the people behind Oak View Group could care less about Seattle and its citizens. They are continuously growing conglomerates of professional sports venues that are actively trying to become as big as they possibly can. To them, the city of Seattle is nothing more than a notch in their growing belt. If you think a renovated KeyArena will be high on their priority list, once built, you’d be sorely mistaken. AEG owns arenas in cities like Los Angeles and London. Oak View Group has already partnered with 26 venues across the US, including Rogers Arena and the Rose Garden (come at me Moda). Seattle will be nothing more than a blip on their radar long-term.
Meanwhile, SoDo Arena would have the undivided attention of Hansen and its investors, all of whom have local ties. Hansen was born in Rainier Valley and Nordstrom is headquartered in downtown Seattle (not to mention that current Seattle resident named Russell Wilson).
What’s most concerning about this whole debate over KeyArena and SoDo Arena is how quickly former pro-Sonics outlets have now turned against those who support SoDo Arena within the past week. This turn of events is why I bothered to give up my day off to write this needlessly long article.
Sites like Sonics Rising, that started as a concerted effort to help bring an NBA team back to Seattle with Hansen’s proposal, have now done a 180 degrees and have promoted demeaning and childish anti-SoDo Arena supporter rhetoric. What’s disheartening is the fact that, rather than simply offering a different perspective to the pro-SoDo Arena with a coherent reasoning, the site has opted to publish a derogatory piece that attempted to ridicule pro-SoDo Arena supporters instead of attempting to state why they don’t share the same opinion as they do.
I would expect salacious behavior like this from sites like Gawker or the Daily Mail. For a site that many Sonics supporters, who’ve held themselves together since 2008 by continuing to show their support for pro basketball, went to for news and updates, this recent tone shift leaves nothing more than a bad taste in my mouth.
Then again, it’s in Sonics Rising’s best interest to curry the favor of both the Oak View Group and AEG, along with the city of Seattle. After all, they’ve seen that pro teams, like Real Salt Lake and the Dallas Mavericks, aren’t afraid to cut off access to smaller voices that don’t garner as many eyeballs. It’s one thing to revoke the press credentials for a site like Sonics Rising based on unfavorable covfefe (this will never get old). It’s another thing to revoke press credentials for KIRO or the Seattle Times. All an official with AEG or OVG needs to do is contact a NBA or NHL team in the future and “give them a heads-up” to not to grant press credentials for this blog. Given their previous long-running support for Hansen’s arena, I’d imagine a few weeks of negatively slanted coverage against the SoDo Arena and its supporters won’t damage the pre-existing goodwill the site has accumulated over the past few years in case tides turn in Hansen’s favor. This is nothing more than a shill endorsement made to preserve potential future gains.
This sentiment has now spread into a prominent Seattle SuperSonics Facebook page. It’s even found it’s way onto Evergreen Sta-wait, that’s a different thing. My bad.
Meanwhile, the Seattle Times is still pressing on with their anti-SoDo rhetoric. Maybe Larry Stone is asking Chris Hansen to “face reality” so he can ask him for some pointers in a year or two when he gets laid off due to declining Times circulation counts. 22 people did just get let go for that exact reason. With the success of the Sounders, many thought Matt Pentz was untouchable and yet, he was not.
Here are my two cents on why I’m still in favor of the SoDo Arena. In fact, it’s a reasoning that, while I’ve seen floated around online, I’m surprised it isn’t the biggest sticking point for more SoDoOrBust supporters.
I am of the belief that the cities across the country continue to get swindled into new stadium deals that only benefit the private investors and not the taxpayers whose tax funds get placed into these stadiums. In 2015, John Oliver dedicated an episode of Last Week Tonight to stadiums. It’s 19 minutes long and highlights the many pitfalls a city can run into if they craft a poor stadium deal.
With regards to Seattle specifically, I can sum up my frustrations regarding a potential KeyArena renovation with two words: Kansas City.
In 2007, the city of Kansas City unveiled a brand new downtown arena with AEG, whose CEO at the time was current Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke, as operating partners. The city built the arena with the belief that a brand new arena would automatically attract either a NBA or NHL franchise to the city.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were the first and most serious target. Mellon Arena was beyond its years and Kansas City thought they had a slam dunk future tenant. Arena officials even remarked that, when franchises like the Los Angeles Clippers had expressed interest, the Penguins were still the first option for the Sprint Center.
Pittsburgh built a brand new arena for the Penguins though.
Shortly after the Penguins had stopped flirting with Kansas City, a local investor offered to purchase the Nashville Predators to relocate them to Kansas City. The investor ended up becoming a part of the pre-existing Predators ownership group instead.
In 2009, the New York Islanders held a preseason game in Kansas City, believed to be an attempt to test the local hockey market. The Islanders would eventually move out of Long Island’s Nassau County Coliseum and into Brooklyn’s Barclay Center…only to probably move once again in the near future. Seriously, the Barclays Center hates them.
In 2010, the New Orleans Hornets were explored. The Pelicans still have the smallest arena capacity in the league and with the city still feeling the effects, business wise, from Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is barely holding onto two professional sports franchises.
Yes, even the Sacramento Kings, who previously relocated from Kansas City in 1985, were brought up at the same time Hansen was angling to purchase the team.
Why, you might be asking, am I talking about Kansas City’s arena? It’s because the stark parallels both city officials had at the time, just prior to construction is eerily similar. Both KeyArena renovation groups share significant lineage with the Sprint Center. Both came to the respective city, promising that a brand new arena that would bring back professional basketball (Kings/Sonics) and hockey (Scouts/Metropolitans) franchises to the city.
Yet, over a decade later, and AEG has done absolutely squat to help attract an NBA or NHL franchise to the Sprint Center. Honestly, what makes you think they’ll put any more effort into finding a tenant for KeyArena once the construction check is cleared. They are more than content with having musical acts and the Seattle Storm being KeyArena’s major tenants. I mean, maybe they should be focusing on renovating KeyArena into a large premium music venue just like The Forum instead but what do I know.
There’s also the fact that the City of Seattle is financially liable for KeyArena, unlike the SoDo Arena.
Say, just like with Kansas City, Seattle doesn’t get a pro sports franchise for over a decade once KeyArena is renovated. Who is on the hook for that future? Why the taxpayers of course. If KeyArena, which would still be one of the smallest venues in the NBA and NHL due to the roof hindering any potential expansion plans, doesn’t attract a franchise, then the projected profit earned from having a pro sports tenant gets pushed onto the taxpayer. It means future tax increases to cover the losses. It means possible funds cut to city-financed programs. It means if the NBA and NHL decide to stay clear from Seattle, for a variety of reasons, it will hurt the taxpayers.
This, however, isn’t the case with Hansen’s SoDo Arena. If Hansen’s arena fails to attract the NBA or NHL tenant, the losses fall on him and his group of private investors. If SoDo Arena has no major pro sports tenants for ten years , the lone effect it has on the Seattle taxpayer is the benefit of the Lander Street Overpass.
With the City of Seattle busy focusing on many other pressing issues that aren’t related to arena ownership such as homelessness, I’d rather remove one thing from their workload instead of having a potential money pit in the heart of the Seattle Center.
Plus, the City of Seattle can still explore renovating KeyArena if they want in the future if they were to approve of Hansen’s arena. Unlike OVG and AEG’s proposals, Hansen’s proposal does not contain an exclusivity clause that prevent other arena projects from taking shape in the city. Maybe an NHL team feels crowded inside the SoDo Arena along with the Sonics and Storm and wants their own building. The Timberwolves and Wild don’t share the Minneapolis-area arena. It’s the same case in the Bay Area.
At this point in the article, it’s pretty clear which side of the fence I’m on. I believe SoDoOrBust because it makes sense from an economical and risk-avoidance standpoint.
To those blinded individuals on the internet who believe my stance is petulant and will cost your beloved city an NBA franchise, let me wake you up to the reality of your situation as a Seattle sports fan.
Seattle is by no means a market starving for professional sports franchises. Within the Seattle limits, you have five pro sports teams (Seahawks, Mariners, Sounders, Storm, Reign). Looking out at the wider Seattle area, you two major junior hockey teams (Thunderbirds, Silvertips), two minor league baseball teams (Rainiers, Aquasox), an indoor soccer club (Stars), and over half a dozen amateur soccer clubs spread across the PDL, NPSL, EPLWA and NWPL. This doesn’t take into account the University of Washington, and its dozen plus athletic teams, just outside of downtown Seattle along with a handful of other universities scattered across the NCAA’s three divisions located in the greater Seattle area.
If you think Seattle NEEDS a professional basketball and hockey team, to the point you’re willy-nilly letting the City of Seattle take on a major liability without questioning the architects behind the renovations, then you should visit a doctor to have that screw in your brain tightened. Seattle isn’t strapped for teams. As someone who tallies scores from across Cascadia’s sports landscape daily, I can tell you that there are no dead spots in the Seattle sports calendar. Sure, December through March could put on some more weight, but it isn’t necessary.
I WANT an NBA team in Seattle. I WANT an NHL team in Seattle. There is a difference, however, between wanting something and needing something. To people online who say that Seattle needs the NBA back, you sound like a jilted lover. You sound like someone who was dumped, albeit for egregious reasons, and isn’t bothering to look around at all of the options still out there. Since the Sonics left, Seattle has gained two pro soccer clubs. Washington has gained a newly renovated Husky Stadium. The people of southern King County have gained their own brand new arena and the three sports franchises that occupy it.
You don’t settle for a multi-million dollar stadium project. When you do, you get the Sprint Center. You get Tropicana Field. You get the Alamodome. You get Turner Field. You get the Georgia Dome. You get Miami Arena. You get every single cookie-cutter multipurpose stadium built in the 1970s. You get the Kingdome.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In the mid 90s, KeyArena went under a major renovation and the NBA commissioner loved what they did with the place. Fifteen years later, that same commissioner was angling for another major renovation of KeyArena. Tell me why, fifteen years after KeyArena is finished being renovated for the second time, it won’t happen again.
I ask those who are being blinded into backing the OVG and AEG KeyArena renovations through their own desire to root for a group of millionaires that throw balls for a living to please take a step back. The #SonicsOrBust initiative, which every Sonics fan once was apart, has now been co-opted by a group of people who, for whatever reason, believe that having a basketball team is a RIGHT for the city of Seattle and not a PRIVILEGE that one can strive to achieve. There is nothing wrong with wanting a NBA or NHL team. There is something wrong though when that want becomes so intense that you’re willing to ignore every and all warning sign that stands in your way.
Individuals, like the one who wrote the Sonics Rising article above, are suffering the sports equivalent to battered person syndrome. They’ve been abused with No vote after No vote that they are now willing to accept whatever is put before them in order to recapture that feeling they once felt rooting for the Sonics a decade ago. Look to fans up north in Vancouver as an example of how you’re supposed to act long-term when a professional basketball team is removed from their city. Would they like to have a NBA team once again. Probably. Would they accept a poorly planned publicly financed renovation of Pacific Coliseum in order to get it done? Probably not.
A few weeks ago, I talked about how Portland has seemingly moved on from professional baseball. Orlando moved on from baseball. Kansas City moved on from basketball. San Diego is more than likely going to move on from football just like St Louis is starting to. You don’t want to turn into a jilted person whose sole purpose in life is recapturing an idealized past by any means nevfefe.
The OVG and AEG renovation proposals aren’t perfect. And, you know what, for a five dollar pizza that’d be alright. We aren’t talking about a hot-and-ready pepperoni pizza though. We’re talking about a multi-million dollar investment into the infrastructure of Seattle that taxpayers could be on the hook for if things don’t go as planned.
Ask sports fans in Kansas City what it’s like to have a city-owned sports arena with no major sports tenants. Look into how the Kingdome’s poor planning effected the city and the effect that Safeco and CenturyLink’s rash construction has had on the city. Do some honest research into all three proposals by the people who put them forth, the motives behind them, and what the politicians and business owners who support each proposal stand to gain if their ideal proposal is chosen.
This isn’t a time to let your emotions get the best of you. SoDoOrBust, simple as that.