Really, we all knew how this was going to end: One month after the Phoenix city council postponed a vote on $168 million in public funding for a Suns arena renovation in the wake of terrible poll numbers, and then spent the ensuing month councilsplaining at everyone in sight about why really this was a good thing, a very good thing, the council voted 6-2 yesterday to approve the deal. There were a few minor tweaks — mostly Suns owner Robert Sarver agreeing to kick in $10 million to a “community benefits” fund, which councilmember Vania Guevara cited as swaying her vote — but mostly it was the same deal that was rejected last month, only this time with more votes.
There were many specious arguments made in favor of the Suns deal: that Sarver would move the team otherwise (not likely, even if Seattle is out there as a bogeyman); that if Phoenix didn’t agree to this deal it could be on the hook for more renovation costs if an “obsolescence” clause was triggered (the clause would only have let Sarver break his lease 10 years early in 2022, not force renovation payments); that the Suns are worth so much to the Phoenix economy that spending $168 million on them is a drop in the bucket (hahahahaha!). But really, this was about the councilmembers building themselves a cover story for voting the way they wanted to, thus enabling everyone to avoid any nastiness when a new mayor gets elected in March who might have scrapped the entire project.
Now that all the shouting is over, it’s probably best to look at this deal as a simple payment from Phoenix to Sarver for new a/c ducts and furniture and stuff in order to get him to extend his lease until 2037. Spending $168 million to get 15 extra guaranteed years of NBA basketball (or whatever it is that the Suns play) comes to $11.2 million a year; how does that compare with other sports lease extension deals?
- Carolina Panthers: $87.5 million for six years, $14.6 million a year
- San Jose Sharks: $100 million for eight years, $12.5 million a year
- Atlanta Hawks: $142.5 million for 18 years, $7.9 million a year
- Tampa Bay Lightning: $61 million for a 16-year extension, $3.8 million a year
- Colorado Rockies: a bunch of land rights for close to market price for 30 years, $0 a year
So, not the worst lease extension deal ever, but close to it! And that’s only if you consider “fair” to be “what everyone else is paying,” as opposed to, you know, fair.
The biggest surprise at yesterday’s hearing — at least from what I gleaned from news reports and all that I could stand to watch before Phoenix officials started trotting out the “but the obsolescence clause!” canard — was probably that both the former county supervisor who was shot by an enraged citizen after she voted to subsidize the Arizona Diamondbacks stadium in 1997 and the enraged citizen who shot her showed up to testify. Mary Rose Wilcox was still in favor of sports subsidies, calling the renovations “needed,” while Larry Naman was still opposed, calling for a public referendum before any decision was made. Which I guess just goes to show that violence isn’t very good at changing anybody’s minds.