In a move that significantly ups the ante over the team’s arena demands, the Seattle Sonics and Storm were sold today for $350 million to Oklahoma businessman Clayton Bennett, the leader of an investment group put together to acquire an NBA franchise for Oklahoma City.
Outgoing owner (and Starbucks baron) Howard Schultz immediately declared, “I honestly believe this group wants to stay in Seattle. Moving the team is not their intent.” For his part, Bennett promised that he would keep the teams in Seattle for the next 12 months – a convenient time span, given that the New Orleans Hornets are scheduled to finish up their unplanned two-year stay in Oklahoma in 2007, and return to New Orleans.
The threat of a move promises to make for an interesting year as the Sonics step up their push for a taxpayer-subsidized upgrade to, or replacement for, KeyArena, which was last renovated way back in 1994, when “Cheers” was still on the air, for chrissakes. The Seattle Times reports that Schultz rejected three city proposals for arena improvements:
A $198 million expansion of KeyArena, of which the Sonics would pay $49 million.
A $149 million expansion, with the team to pay $37 million.
A $50 million renovation, all with public money, but with no public vote required.
The Times further reports that “the options would have given the Sonics $8 million to $20 million a year in additional revenue” by keeping luxury-suite revenue that’s currently split with the city. Investing $49 million to get a return of even $8 million a year seems like a no-brainer – but then, investing $0 to get $8 million a year is even better, if you can swing it.
Meanwhile, the group Citizens for More Important Things is awaiting word on the 20,000 petition signatures it submitted to get a referendum on the November ballot to block city funding of sports projects, unless the public gets a return on its investment. With 78% of Seattleites saying they’d prefer to let the Sonics leave town than to give them public money, it should be an interesting vote, if it happens.