Unnamed official says Suns owner threatened to move team to Seattle or Vegas, now that’s all we can talk about

The Phoenix city council indeed put off a vote on spending $168 million on arena renovations for the Suns yesterday, and it was indeed because they didn’t have the votes to pass it, after swing-vote councilmember Michael Nowakowski issued a statement that “I must hold true to the value I place on making sure people are informed and heard.”

Then an unnamed councilmember told Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts that Suns owner Robert Sarver had said a thing, and this was the thing he said:

“Sarver’s talking about moving,” the council member told me. “He basically told me the team will go (if they don’t get a renovated arena). Vegas and Seattle were the two he talked about.”

Sports team owners seldom make threats like this explicitly in public, because they are the nuclear option: Once you’ve set off a move threat, you may have encouraged fans to panic about the possibility of losing their team, but you have also encouraged them to want to run you out of town on a rail, so there’s no going back. So it’s not surprising that Sarver made this threat in private to a councilmember, and wouldn’t even be surprising to hear that the councilmember leaked it with Sarver’s approval (though given Roberts’ opposition to the arena deal, it’s also possible this was an arena subsidy opponent leaking her the news, in a can you believe this guy? way).

Regardless, the unspecific threat relayed by an unnamed source — which arguably runs afoul of the Society of Professional Journalists’ rule to always question anonymous sources’ motives, but anyway — had the expected reaction, especially since it went as far as to mention actual cities the Suns might depart for. News outlets in Seattle and Las Vegas immediately sprang into action to report on the potential arrival of an NBA team, and then the aggregators got involved, and soon it was all anybody could talk about: I was already interviewed for one article about it, and I’m going on Orlando’s 740AM The Game’s “The Beat of Sports” at 10:15 Eastern this morning to talk about the Suns’ potential move (among other things).

The two city names that Sarver allegedly dropped are understandable enough: Seattle is jonesing for an NBA team to replace the Sonics now that they have an arena renovation underway, and Las Vegas has recently acquired NHL and NFL teams and is only 300 miles away from Phoenix, which is close in Southwestern terms. Beyond that, though, they’re pretty different: Seattle is almost exactly the same size TV market as Phoenix, whereas Vegas is less than half as big, so Sarver would be crazy to leave Phoenix for Nevada. With Seattle, it all depends on whether he’d earn more in revenue at KeyArena than he does at Talking Stick Arena — which is unlikely given that he’d be the second pro sports tenant at a venue run by an arena operator that’s going to need to keep revenues to pay off its $850 million renovation cost, but not outright impossible.

Mostly, though, this is clearly a threat intended to throw a scare into city councilmembers that they better cough up the dough or else this could be the last they’ll ever see of their NBA team, see? It’s not clear yet how effective that threat will be, given the overwhelming public opposition to the deal and the fact that the Suns’ 4-24 record means fans might welcome sending the team as far away as possible. But it’s shifted the debate from “Why should the public spend $168 million to profit a rich sports owner?” to “Where could the team move if we don’t?”, and in that, it’s certainly done its job.

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12 comments on “Unnamed official says Suns owner threatened to move team to Seattle or Vegas, now that’s all we can talk about

  1. The other funny thing is that Vegas also has an arena operator (technically two) that is trying to keep revenues to pay of construction costs.

    That said, I could see Sarver moving to Vegas. He could likely charge more for tickets in Vegas, and the Suns are averaging less than 10,000 viewers per game locally. I don’t care how big the city is, if you have an outdated arena, empty seats, and nobody watches your games on TV, then moving to Vegas makes sense.

    1. The suns are not moving to saturated ass Vegas. Stop the shenanigans. I have no clue why all of sudden people are enamored with that dust pit.

      1. Probably the same reason we were told Los Angeles was clamouring for an NFL team for nearly a quarter century… because people would believe it – at least the people in smaller cities terrified that big nasty monster city was going to come and steal their team (imagine the team as Fay Wray fainting in the hairy hands of the giant monster city).

        Funny thing. LA really didn’t miss professional football. Rams are good and have some history in LA so people are watching. No-one cares whether Chargers win, lose or don’t even bother to play their games.

        It would be interesting to know whether the increase in viewership and merch sales with two teams in LA have been large enough to offset the loss of viewership and merch sales in San Diego and Stl.

    2. The same team would likely draw the same number of customers and TV viewers in Las Vegas as in Phoenix. “Nobody watches and nobody attends” is true of bad teams, regardless which desert city you locate them in. If they moved, it would only generate waves of apathy from pretty much everyone except the few die-hard fans and a few idiot local pols.

  2. Um, even vocalizing under your breath “if these people aren’t more reasonable i am going to move the team” is a terrible move.
    When I first lived in Dallas in 1994-1995, the Mavericks were a joke of a team. The ownership group at the time was dominated by Ross Perot Jr. who was not exactly a pleasant chappie. The Mavericks wanted a new stadium, Reunion Arena being small and outdated. They started hitting up local cities, but the only city really interested at the time was Lewisville, who needed to put a proposal for stadium funding to a city-wide referendum since it required a local tax increase.
    At this point, there were suddenly sabre-rattling threats that if nobody locally loved the Mavs, they could move elsewhere. Birmingham AL was the most frequently mentioned name.
    The threats (if they were real) backfired. Lewisville voted down the tax increase by a significant margin, ending the attempt to move the team up the road from Dallas. When you’re in the NBA basement, threatening to leave one city for another is not exactly a hot hand.
    Nothing else happened, and several years later Mark Cuban bought the team, and eventually the Mavs became co-tenants of American Airlines Arena in Dallas, getting their hands on a shiny new venue.

  3. I wonder if the creators of MAD magazine knew what they were starting when they published the issue with the “Buy this issue or we shoot this dog” cover?

    1. They thought they were starting National Lampoon:


  4. In other Arizona sports teams news

    How does Arizona fix Coyotes attendance problem?

    Brian Burke joined Prime Time Studios as they discussed the on-going saga of Glendale, AZ, and the lack of attendance at Coyotes games.


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