Once again, a local professional sports team’s threats to move the franchise are resulting in lawmakers flouting their own rules (and, oh, yeah, the desires of a vast majority of their constituents) in order to throw public money at a project which will primarily serve to benefit team owners. And once again, local TV, radio, and newspapers are breathlessly fawning over the proposal, without bothering to note that said media outlets have a tremendous financial interest in the success of the proposal. So sliced bread has nothing on this latest unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to Save “Our” Sonics.
It’s not the fault of the Sonics’ current owners, of course, that we’ve been down this road so many times now, with Safeco Field, Qwest Field, Key Arena, and the Bank of America Arena (which is at least owned by a public entity, UW, and whose renovation was mostly paid for by private donors). The financings of Safeco and Qwest in particular were ugly affairs in which the clear will of local voters was defied by politicians in order to accommodate team owners. So you’ll forgive folks a bit of “here-we-go-again” knee-jerk hatred for yet another fleecing, again joyously celebrated by willfully tone-deaf local media.
I actually think the proposal on the table now from four local billionaires to renovate Key Arena with $150 million of their own money, matched by $75 million each from the city and state, is about as good a proposal (and therefore about as reasonable a compromise) as one could hope for, given that the economics of modern pro sports now rely on the public to build teams’ playpens, and there’s always another sucker (in this case, Oklahoma City; previously, the Mariners were heading to Tampa Bay, the Seahawks to Southern California) willing to pay the price. In any other circumstances, this deal would work.
But there’ always a context, and this is a specific proposal, not an abstraction. As such, there are still three major problems we’re not hearing about from our sycophantic local media.
First is that the proposal’s success relies on current Sonics owner Clay Bennett selling the team to our local guys. Bennett has been telling anyone and everyone, consistently since day one, that he has no interest in selling the team. So the whole exercise is unlikely to result in “saving” the Sonics. Moreover, NBA commissioner David Stern, who has a lot to say about the matter, has warned that if the Sonics leave, Seattle won’t get another team.
The proposal is set up to meet the restrictions of (overwhelmingly voter-approved) I-91, which requires that the city at least break even on any arena improvement deal. So the public’s $150 million is to go to overall improvements to the arena, things that will also help with concerts, exhibitions, and the like, while the private $150 million is supposedly the only part dedicated wholly to pro basketball amenities like locker rooms and luxury suites. But that’s a game, of course; this is all about the Sonics. Nobody’s demanding $150 million in improvements so that the public can enjoy rock concerts in greater comfort. Given that, what we’re talking about is an extremely expensive public investment in appeasing a team that’s likely to move anyway. That’s one minor problem.
The second is that even if this were an ideal proposal (i.e., one with a chance of accomplishing its stated goal), the process is awful. By coming to the state legislature for $75 million six working days before the end of the session, boosters are essentially asking lawmakers to ignore all legal procedures and drop all state business in the remaining week in order to consider a very local problem: the “blight” that results if Key Arena were to lose 41 basketball games a year (some of which would be replaced by concerts that now can’t be booked). To use the appropriate analogy, it’s as if a coach whose team is losing badly midway through the fourth quarter suddenly insisted on throwing out the results, starting the score at 0-0, and if his team is still losing at the end of the game, continuing to play (a special session) until they win.
Each legislative session, a couple thousand bills are proposed, most of which fail — not because they’re bad bills, but because the session’s limited time forces politicians to prioritize. The Sonics proposal wants to skip the committee approvals, the public hearings, the deadlines, all the normal hoops bills must jump through, for what in the greater scheme of things is a pretty low state priority.
Lastly, there’s the local $75 million, which Mayor Greg Nickels has already generously pledged. Aside from the fact that it’s supposed to be the city council, not the mayor, who makes city spending decisions, isn’t this the same Greg Nickels who not a month ago wasn’t paying assistance to dislocated renters because there was no money for it? And now he’s magically found $75 million for a bunch of wealthy Oklahoma businessmen, for a proposal whose local economic benefits would be negligible even if it were successful in saving the team? Which it probably won’t be?
There’s a word for this whole process. And it’s not “generous.”
Piper Scott spews:
The banditry of Mayor Quarters, Clay Bennett, David Stern, the Sonics organization and all associated with them isn’t something subject to an ideological divide; a rip-off is a rip-off left, right, or center.
When you go to a car dealer and get one of those, “This price is available today only,” do three things: plug your ears, hold onto your wallet, and get the Hell out.
This so-called rescue package for the Sonics is just another unjustified dip into our pockets and purses. Our response should be alliterative in kind: piss on it! The timing and context of it is designed to foment sky-is-falling panic, which means never mind reading the fine print; it doesn’t mean anything anyway.
Oh? The devil is always in the details, and somewhere buried deep in a proviso or footnote in this deal is a stake aimed at our collective heart.
Extortion is extortion, only when it’s done by politicos and “concerned citizens” it’s masked by the thin veneer of civic virture – the sense that “We have to in order to be…”
Be what? A “big league city?” If this is what it takes, then give me Hicksville, USA any time.
Screw the Sonics, Screw Mayor Quarters, Screw Clay Bennett, for once Screw Slade Gorton, and Screw any elected official who dares come close to this banditry!
The Gang of Four who are allegedly fronting half the money are well heeled enough to pony up the full amount. If they’re that gung-ho, then that’s what they should do.
What’s it going to take to break the cycle of this kind of abuse? Do we need to tar and feather certain elected officials? I mean, we all know it would take a couple truck loads of the gooey stuff to cover him (ever heard of Jenny Craig…Greg?) and the feathers from all the pillows in town to get the job done.
And the necessary rail could be one from his beloved SLUT.
The whole affair is an outrage!
Fuck the Sonics! With Piper’s dick (if he had one. Speaking rhetorically, don’t you know…)
I get it, Geov, you do not like sports. But other people do and some of those people agree to fund projects that they themselves don’t use like bike lanes, the opera and the art museum. But all of those things add to the appeal of the city. It is the combination of these that makes a city a great place to live. Some of Seattle’s most successful business leaders have agreed to put a large sum of their own money to ensure that basketball remains in the city. The government merely needs to set aside a very small amount of money to preserve this important part of Seattle’s history. Even skeptics like Licata and Van Dyke have been in support of this proposal and if you were able to look at the situation objectively you would too.
Well, can you tell me what percentage of city taxes go to, say, the Opera? Museum?
@3 You’re wrong, Ryan. I do like sports. I went to college on an athletic scholarship. And I played basketball in high school. I don’t like corporate welfare, but in this case, as I said, I could live with the compromise. What I don’t like in this case is, in sports, called “cheating”: the rules apply to everyone except for them. And $150 million is a “very small amount of money” to who, exactly? The countless advocates of other legislation that played by the rules? The renters stiffed of a few thousand bucks by the allegedly resourceless city? Or the 70%+ of voters who approved I-91?
If the public had been given the opportunity it usually gets with state and city expenditures to respond to proposals, if backers had come to the state legislature two months ago, if the city council had approved the city’s portion, I’d think it was dumb policy but I could live with it – I recognize that a lot of people find pro sports valuable and want the Sonics to stay. I’d be OK with it. But it wasn’t, they didn’t, it hasn’t, and I’m not.
The thing we all need to understand, when (not if) the Sonics leave town, we will NOT be getting another NBA team in the near (5-10 years). For the governor to truly think it’s even a possibility to get another team, she obviously has not been listening to the NBA commission. Not only that, the cost to buy another team????
The city and state will lose millions a year when the Sonics leave. Maybe even more, restaurant, parking, merchandise and ticket sales and more.
But from what I have read, it is too late in the game. I wish the 4 local billionaires would have made this proposal sooner, but maybe they thought like the rest of us, the NBA commish would see through Bennett’s deceit and lies.
Piper Scott spews:
It’s not a question of being or not being a sports fan; that’s superficial analysis. What’s at stake is breaking the cycle of professional sports, or any other entertainment for that matter, playing the extortion game.
Some things do not belong in government’s province, and funding playpens for uber-rich professional athletes is one of them. Geov mentioned Mayor Quarters’ failure to find $$$ for relocation of displaced renters. Setting aside for the moment whether that’s a legit government function, the point is well taken: isn’t it odd that nothing is there for that, but as if by magic (neither Orlando or Johnson) $75 million can be made available to build luxury boxes to accomodate those who should be paying the $75 million out of their own pockets?
Sucking government money, which means sucking your money and mine, into this bottomless abyss is insane. Let’s tax to death on behalf of those who have in their excess enough to pay the full freight those who are barely making it from day to day.
Stuff like this makes a guy like Tim Eyman an absolute necessity.
We have a basketball team? No. Really?
If the thing isn’t on free TV (basic cable, whatever) it doesn’t exist. Seattle couldn’t (and shouldn’t) care *less* about a team that doesn’t have any broadcast presence other than the occasional away game and their current subscription scheme.
Boxing went to pay-per-view. Yay for them and their short term gain. Long term for them and for the Sonics, they dry up and blow away.
Seriously Sonics, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
I don’t think it’s a proposal that will go anywhere, and everybody involved knows it. It’s too little, too late in the legislative session, Bennett wouldn’t approve it, the NBA isn’t going to get involved, and if another NBA franchise was that easy to get, Bennett would have already gotten one for OKC rather than over-paying for the Sonics.
The proposal does, however, however, give cover to the politicians who don’t want to be hit with charges that they didn’t do enough to keep the Sonics in Seattle. (And you know there will be opposition candidates who will make that very claim). They can say that they went the last mile to offer a reasonable compromise with Bennett and the NBA, but Bennett and the NBA refused to be reasonable.
Right Stuff spews:
Here is my $.02 worth…
What I understand is that the the financing mechanism is an extension of the current financing for Safeco Field.
“Public financing: $340 million from a one-half-cent prepared food tax in King County and rental-car tax.”
That financing is going to result in a 4 year early retirement of debt.
What will be the cost to Seattle if there is no major tenant at Seattle Center? Like it or not the Sonics draw 1000’s to the center. That building is still in debt, and with no major tenant……a literal money pit.
So what we are talking about is not a general tax hike, but targeted “usage” taxes on those who travel here, and eat out… And already in place.
It’s all probably moot anyhow….the NBA leaves Seattle and we are left with Seattle Center bleeding money and of no use.
@ 10 And my question is what happens to the tax currently in place when Safeco field is paid off? Will our state government actual table the tax or will they keep collecting it?
Has there ever been a tax in this state that paid a levy, bond, etc and then was taken off the books…or do they just forever keep collecting the tax?
Geov, I’ve been of mixed mind on the Sonics…mainly in the “don’t let the door hitcha where the good Lord splitcha” camp. I supported the building of Safeco at the time and really disagree that the public’s will was disregarded. King County very narrowly (50.1% to 49.9%) voted down a measure for a lousy funding solution (sales tax increase). Had those same voters been presented with the final funding solution there’s little doubt it would have passed.
But the Sonics have had their bite at the apple, and it wasn’t enough. The Sonics ownership and David Stern have seemed oblivious to the fact that Seattle built them a playground just 13 years ago. Since that time the state has funded two huge stadium projects in Seattle and the economy has slowed significantly…hitting its second recession in eight years. Furthermore, the notion that the league wants to have a team in OK City rather than Seattle is ridiculous on its face. It’s all bluff from Stern to push the state and city to act. If the legislature passes this funding scheme the league will never vote to move the team. Then Bennett will have to sell, the league offering another troubled franchise in a less-attractive location (Memphis, New Orleans).
But if the city holds out I think we might yet get a sweeter deal. It worked for San Francisco with the Giants. They just kept voting “no” until owenership ponied up all the money for the stadium in exchange for some tax breaks and the land for construction. Now that’s the kind of “public-private partnership” I’d like to see more of. Frankly I’d like to see the legislature thumb its nose initially and wait to see how the lawsuit over the lease winds up, and if the leage will let the team move (yes, they might be that stupid if there’s no deal on the table). If Bennett loses both rounds, we’ve got time.
Personally, I love the way that, just as Bennett was trying to sell OKC on a new stadium tax, Bennett’s lawyers were arguing in court that the Sonics didn’t really provide any economic benefit to Seattle, therefore Seattle wouldn’t be harmed by having them terminate their lease early.
Those court papers should be published in every newspaper in the country, as fair warning to any city which is being sold on providing essentially free quarters to any professional sports team.
For once I have to agree with Piper one hundred percent. If our community (and by “community” I’m including the likes of Steve Ballmer and Jim Sinegal who otherwise might put their money to better use) allows the NBA to get away with this kind of extortion for a second time, you can bet your britches they’ll be back for a third time in less than a decade, demanding we sink several hundred million more into some God-damned crystal palace they can use for next to nothing, probably with some sort of deal that gives them a hefty slice of concession revenue and a chunk of the rents from other events.
Enough is enough! And Mister Mayor, how DARE you pledge $75 million of our money (It’s not yours, asshole!) for something that creates that much traffic, commotion and police overtime while you’re trying to run all the music venues in town out of business? Screw you, screw Clay Bennett and screw David Stern, with extreme prejudice. And industrial implements.
Won’t work. The industrial implements will just fall out.
There just isn’t time. The local ownership group should have gotten their shit together before there was one week left in the session.
Roger Rabbit spews:
I don’t see why a professional sports team that can pay its players eight-figure salaries should get 75 cents of my taxes, let alone $75 million.
The Real Mark spews:
Bunny Boy @ 17: “I don’t see why a professional sports team… should get 75 cents of my taxes…”
Like YOU pay any taxes, freeloader! You just suckle on your overly fat gov’t. pension.
For everyone else… If you don’t want to pony up taxes for the Sonics, don’t… uhhh… get a motel room for your tryst with the fellow patchouli-bather you met at the last Drinking Liberally or protest march or whatever. (For those that even bother to get a room instead of using our public parks or alleyways).
My tax dollars go to make sure you have a venue for Bumbershoot. My tax dollars go to lousy public “art” that sometimes doesn’t even see the light of day.
At least keeping a sports team in town has residual economic benefits (the quantity of which depends on the analysis).
The legislature, and the Governor, would be stupid to pass up on this deal before they leave later this week.
1. They have all (Chopp, Brown, Gregoire) known about it since January. This is not a last minute proposal. It doesn’t cost the state one dime. All they (Chopp, Brown and Gregoire) need to do is authorize King County to continue an existing tax, which would have money left over for other things at the current rate.
2. The Sonics are not some elite toy, the team is enjoyed most by a whole bunch of people who are decidedly not elites. They can’t always go to the games, but the Sonics aren’t just about high proced seats at the Key.
3. Because the Sonics aren’t some elite toy, it is high time that good old Seattle lefties quit their high minded elite arguement that the NBA is all about rich athletes and owners. The NBA needs work, but it is still a big community asset around here.
This is the best deal yet. If the legislature doesn’t get that, blame will be rightly targeted at Chopp, Brown, and Gregoire.
Pass the bill. Quit the bellyaching. Make David Stern turn Steve Balmer down. There’s no way Balmer is in for this without some assurance from NBA owners that this won’t work for him. The NBA owners don’t want to lose the market. The guy from Oklahoma is a futz.
Gregoire, Chopp and Brown will look like bigger futzes if they can’t move this modest little deal.
@19 – the tax currently in place to continue…if we don’t continue it to keep the Sonics, will we then have that tax go away? No? So why not use it for something useful rather than the general fund? You have great points! Thanks!
The tax to pay for Safeco is a “luxury” tax, rental cars, hotels, restaurants, so instead of this tax going into the gen fund since we know once Safeco is paid off the tax will not drop off, let’s use the continuance of this tax to keep the Sonics?
RHP is exactly right. I don’t think this is a real proposal. That’s why it looks so good, even to people like Van Dyke & Geov. Does ‘too good to be true’ ring a bell?
I think this is something cooked up to give Microsoft and Costco a mild PR boost, and to give Greqoire cover for the loss of the Sonics in the upcoming campaign.
And if RHP turns out to be right, a larger point is this: why is it that in our overwhelmingly blue state, are big biz and big gov’t eating out of each other’s bowl and sleeping in each other’s bed??? I thought that was a characteristic of Bush and the fascists.
I loved the Sonics. I listened to every game in ’78 and ’79. I went to the playoffs in ’93. I got Slick Watts autograph.
But the deal is done. Howard Schultz the first local owner of the Sonics in a long time sold to the highest bidder Clay Bennett, apparently ignoring these local interested parties.
Geov is right. It looks like a great offer, but it’s too late and the current owner has no interest in selling.
For the Save Our Sonics crowd the best bet is to make Bennett buy out the lease, withdraw the lawsuit, allow the Sonics to leave for Oklahoma, kiss David Stern’s ring and hope for the future.
It sucks, but the Sonics are a commodity. The city might own the building they play in, but not one lick of the team.
I’d rather have my happy memories of the Sonics than be toyed with by the NBA.
@18: The events you named are non-profit. The Sonics aren’t. Big difference.
@19: If, as is claimed, the legislative players have all “known about it since January,” why skip the legislative process and keep it under wraps for two months? Piper @1 is exactly right: when someone concocts an artificially urgent deadline for a true-good-to-be-true offer, it’s a sure sign that if it succeeds, a ripoff is in progress. I also agree that this was a no-lose offer, since if (as is likely) it fails, it’s a perfect CYA for elected officials. Next question under that scenario: what are the quid pro quos for Ballmer et al?
Why isn’t there a totally-privately-funded MICROSOFT Stadium somewhere in this area? One of the most famous, deep-pocketed companies in the world does not have its name on a venue of some sort? They could fund a public gathering place COMPLETELY with pocket change gathered from couches in lounges at Headquarters and not even feel it, and put their name proudly on the marquee, as a 100% privately funded enterprise, thus sparing the long-suffering taxpayers. Where’s the downside, Mr. Gates???
The Real Mark spews:
Geov @ 23 “non-profit”
You’re saying that none of the otherwise overpaid musicians that play at those events get a dime? Yeah, right. And the “executive directors” of these “non-profit” organizations that run the events? They’re all volunteers, right?
And public art? PT Barnum would’ve loved the lottery payday of the “artistes” who get $100K for an “installation” of things they found by the side of the road and then welded together. And where is the economic benefit? At least Sonics games result in tax revenue and economic benefits from those coming to town for the games.
If you don’t want out-of-town tourists to help pay for the facility in which the Sonics play (via hotel/motel taxes), then how dare you ask for a thin dime to support ANYTHING besides police, fire, roads, etc.??!!
19 “Not elite”??? Are you out of your mind? All the owners and players involved are, to quote a friend of mine, “so rich, they can pay someone else to masturbate for them”.
That being said, they want more of your and my money for tribute to keep them from moving the team out of town? Forget that. If Seattle ticket dollars aren’t sufficiently green for the NBA, let the NB-fuckin’-A do without ’em.
The Real Mark spews:
AF & others…
Get your facts straight.
1. The money is not going to the team, the players or the NBA in any way. The money doesn’t even go to operations or projects that are exclusively for the benefit of the team, the players or the NBA. The money is dedicated to improvements that would apply to basketball AND all kinds of other events that are held at Key Arena.
2. In general, IT IS NOT YOUR MONEY! Or, more precisely, it is not a tax that applies to everybody in the area like a sales tax increase, etc. It is funded by a hotel/motel tax and other taxes primarily directed at out-of-state visitors. It also would not be a new tax.
As I’ve said before, HOW DARE YOU expect me to give my tax dollars to (usually questionable) public art if you’re not going to support a facility for my Sonics. An 8-year-old could produce stuff like the $100K public “art” projects, but few people on the planet can play at the level of a professional athlete.