Glen Taylor, the billionaire former Minnesota state senator who owns the Minnesota Timberwolves, is in the midst of selling his team to online marketing billionaire Marc Lore and not-billionaire-but-pretty-wealthy former disgraced baseball star Alex Rodriguez for around $1.5 billion, and given that neither of those guys are locals, it’s immediately sparked heightened speculation about whether the team could move, maybe to Seattle, which is still on the hunt for a replacement for the Sonics. In response, Taylor told WCCO-AM that his sale agreement contains language to keep the team in town; as reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which Taylor also owns:
“We have it in the contract, they have signed the contract to do that,” Taylor said…
Taylor said in his interview with Chad Hartman that the NBA does not want to see the Wolves moved out of Minnesota to another city like Seattle.
“The real agreement is with the NBA. The NBA will make the decision if somebody’s going to move or not move,” Taylor said. “The NBA will not approve of the Timberwolves moving from here to Seattle. It’s in the NBA’s interest that in Seattle, that a new team is formed. It’s an economic decision that’s in the interest of all of the owners.”…
He also said the new owners “are not going to pay” $1.5 billion to buy the Wolves then another $2 billion or so to move the team.
“That’s the assurance that I have that they aren’t going to move it out there,” Taylor said.
So, we have: Lore and A-Rod won’t move the team because they signed a contract saying they won’t; the NBA won’t let them move; and the NBA might let them move, but would charge the owners so much money to do so that it wouldn’t be worthwhile. That’s totally clear and not at all inconsistent!
In response, the Star Trib linked to an article it ran last July wherein several legal experts said it would be difficult to make a permanent non-relocation agreement in a sale contract enforceable, or to get one approved by the league:
“You could have some contingencies … and I’m sure there could be a provision that relates to keeping the team in place,” said Eldon Ham, an author and professor of sports law at Chicago-Kent College of Law. “But I don’t think it would be able to extend forever.”
At the crux of any guarantee to keep the Wolves in Minnesota would be how long that guarantee would last or how harsh the financial penalty would be for breaking it. Ham said any kind of agreement that makes outlandish demands, like a 30-year promise to keep the team in Minnesota, might not make it past league approval, which requires a $1 million fee just to apply, he said.
“The league itself has to approve all this,” Ham said. “So if you have a ridiculous contract, they’re just going to tell you: ‘We’re not approving this stuff.’”
So, what’s really going on here? Clearly, Taylor, who still needs to maintain his local cred if only to keep Minnesotans from threatening to burn his newspaper in effigy, is trying to do all he can to say that if the Timberwolves ever move, it’s not his fault. So he’s putting in some kind of clause in the sale agreement, but also noting that the NBA would want a ten-figure payoff to let Seattle back into the league, something the new owners are unlikely to put up just to move from one mid-size city to another mid-size city — all of which is true.
But as we’ve seen here time and again, move threats aren’t just about actual threats to move, but ways to (say it all with me now) create leverage for owners to extract concessions from local elected officials. The T-Wolves’ Target Center just got a $140 million renovation in 2017, helped along with $74 million in public money, but at 31 years old it’s also the second-oldest arena in the NBA, and you just know how shiny new sports team owners hate not having the shiniest new buildings to go with their freshly acquired baubles. Hence how there’s somehow only one remaining NBA arena built before 1990, seriously, what kind of planned-obsolescent world are we living in, people?
Anyway: There’s no reason to think that Lore and A-Rod will move the Timberwolves, but there’s also every reason to suspect that they would not be unhappy for the possibility of the Wolves moving to continue to be front-page news in, oh, say, the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Especially if talk of a new arena, or another round of renovations to this one, begins making the rounds. This is all conjecture, mind you — maybe A-Rod will declare “Today, I am a Minnesotan!” and vow that the team will only leave over his dead body — but it’s conjecture informed by a whole lots of sports shakedown history, so let’s just say that if this isn’t the last we hear about Wolves-to-Seattle rumors, don’t be surprised.