Sonics sold, Oklahoma-bound?

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.

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4 comments on “Sonics sold, Oklahoma-bound?

  1. This proposal smells as bad as the recent Twins deal in Minnesota. I hope the Sonics move to Oklahoma City. Then the Minnesota Timberwolves can threaten to move to Seattle. This time we’ll be eager to be rid of them. No referendum as long as they take Kevin McHale with them. Sorry Seattle. I know you deserve better. Best Wishes!

  2. “Citizens for More Important Things” is an absolutely perfect name. It just says everything that needs to be said, doesn’t it? Could similar groups in other parts of the country use it or have they copyrighted it? If the latter, would they franchise it?

  3. “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.”

    Uh, I believe “Cheers” had its last call in 1993, but “Frasier” was in its second year in the fall of ’94. And I can imagine Martin Crane, who often was pictured watching a Sonics game on TV from his famous chair, raising holy heck about all this.

  4. Anyone who is a citizen, and who has a better idea for public expenditures than subsidizing professional sports with tax dollars, is welcome to use the name Citizens for More Important Things, and consider themselves affiliated with us. All we ask is that you be gritty, determined, and passionate, that you be willing to take on the most notorious of welfare cheats and chislers, which are the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball, and that you be committed to the true betterment of the communities in which you live. We are not anti-government, anti-tax, or anti-anything. We are simply against the inherent and transparent injustice of the transfer of wealth from ordinary, taxpaying businesses and people to these organizations–which obviously have more than enough money already. We have very significant expertise in media and public relations, are not directly associated with any other political party or organization, and will gladly help any person or organization develop campaigns and media with which to fight these stadium battles. We enjoy broad public support, the support of very well placed elected officials in Seattle and Washington State, and the support of various organizations including more progressive labor unions such as SEIU, and business groups committed to the preservation of free enterprise and free markets. But if you link up with us, be prepared to fight, and to be vilified by sports fans. We will work with you to create state of the art media and public relations campaigns. You will be proud of the good fight in which you will be engaged. You will make a difference in your communities. You will win, and you will lose. And whatever the outcome, people will sure as hell remember your name.

    And thanks for the compliment, too.

    Chris Van Dyk, Co-Chair, Citizens for More Important Things, PO Box 4473, Seattle, WA 98194

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