Oklahoma City Thunder arena finally finished, time to talk about building a new one

The Oklahoma City Thunder‘s Chesapeake Energy Arena was opened in 2002 and just finished being renovated this season, but according to at least one fan blog, it’s already obsolete:

There will come a day when the Thunder, metaphorical hat in metaphorical hand, come to local voters asking for money to re-renovate the Peake or money for an entirely new arena. And judging by recent history, and the lamentable timing that led the Peake to be designed barely before the truly modern standards for revenue-generating arena plans came to full fruition (most visibly, for example, a second deck of suites along the sidelines), that day might be coming sooner than people think.

Oh no! We forgot to build double-decked suites!

I’m not actually sure that two levels of suites is so vital to the NBA business, especially in a smallish market like OKC, that it’s worth tearing down an 11-year-old building just to build a new one that’s tricked out like the kids in the big cities have. But don’t let me stop Michael Kimball of the Daily Thunder, who’s off to the races explaining why even though new arenas don’t really help your local economy so much, building another one would still be worth it:

Yes, people spend money at Thunder games, in and near the arena, on many things, and the city gets to keep the sales tax revenue. And yes, a lot of those people come from suburbs and other places outside of Oklahoma City. But at least some of those dollars, coming from a person’s or a family’s entertainment budget, would have been spent elsewhere in the local economy. The Thunder’s presence certainly provides some marketing and advertising for the city, but the amount is hard to calculate.

Still, the Thunder were competitive in the NBA after only half of the inaugural season, and legitimate title contenders in only the third season in OKC. That remains the case, and will remain the case as long as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are on the team. From a fan’s perspective, there’s hardly any more than you can ask for. And from a voter’s perspective, with some imported tax dollars undoubtedly rolling in and Oklahoma City’s increased national and international profile, it’s hard to argue that there’s at least some true and tangible benefit for having the team in town.

So what he’s saying here is that … you can’t put a price on the attention you get from playing in the NBA Finals, I guess? Of course, he also includes a long section on how Oklahoma City did good by paying cash instead of borrowing the arena money, thus avoiding interest payments — which, yes, but it also means you have to shell out the money now rather than putting it off till later, when it’s worth less in present value, something that anyone who’s taken out a home mortgage should understand. So maybe it’s not really worth addressing Kimball’s actual arguments, but better just to sit back and admire the aesthetic perfection of someone arguing on behalf of building a new arena to replace one that’s only just finished being built. Take this any further, and somebody’s going to have to call in the Campaign for Real Time.

Sonics exec on what new arenas do for regular fans: “Nothing”

Ther’s a long article over at Deadspin by Jeremy Repanich, a low-level employeee of the Seattle Sonics before their move to Oklahoma City. And it includes some illuminating, if unsurprising, observations on the reasons why the owner of Seattle’s oldest pro sports team decided to demand a new arena just 12 years after the complete reconstruction of his old one:

When a team can make the same amount of money selling two courtside seats as they can selling an entire section of the upper bowl, they’ll target their sales strategies accordingly. Getting the affluent to your games means pampering them the minute they walk through the doors. At Safeco and CenturyLink fields, the Mariners and Seahawks do just that; they’re gleaming palaces of conspicuous consumption that ensure that fans paying top dollar are given a premium experience with food, drinks, and seatside service delivered efficiently and comfortably. The Sonics couldn’t do that. KeyArena had some low-budget exclusive hangouts, but nothing compared to the city’s other stadiums. So when Sonics execs saw the Seahawks reaping all the attention and getting fat off a stadium financed in part by public money, they didn’t feel happy—they were jealous.

Jealousy, though, isn’t much of a campaign strategy, as Repanich started to learn once the angry calls from fans started pouring in. (With no talking points provided by team management, he resorted to telling callers that the Sonics “needed a new arena to be competitive in the league” — an argument he apparently grabbed out of thin air.) He then describes a staff meeting led by team president Wally Walker:

He went through a litany of minor reasons why the team needed a new arena: higher capacity, bigger arena footprint, more room for high-end concessions, more places for premium seat holders, a.k.a. the super rich, the people who could afford a pair of courtside season tickets for $70,000. These were the justifications he offered us to explain why we were asking for a heaping pile of taxpayer dollars. After Walker’s spiel, a member of the sales staff asked the fateful question: “Wally, what will this arena upgrade do for Joe Sixpack—the regular fan?”

Dead silence.

After an uncomfortable few seconds, Walker said, “Well, nothing.” The wind went out of me. It was as if he’d punched me in the stomach. Walker tried to backtrack, but the damage had been done. The battle for hearts and minds had ended before it’d even begun.

The whole article is a great read, and is especially recommended for anyone interested in what it feels like to work for an organization that is trying to sell tickets to the very fans that it plans to abandon the minute it can. If there’s an odd note, it’s that Repanich seems to reserve most of his ire for Walker and Howard Schultz, less for demanding a new arena and selling the team to out-of-towners when they couldn’t get one than for being inept about the way they went about it. “I didn’t see how we’d get an arena deal led by men who couldn’t conceive of it as anything but a rich man’s boondoggle, perpetrated on behalf of other rich people,” Repanich writes. Howard Schultz, it seems, was worse than an envy-driven, greedy carpetbagger; he was a lousy liar.

Seattle arena bill really most sincerely dead

I’ve given short shrift here to the slowly simmering campaign to allocate tax money to a renovation of Seattle’s KeyArena, and this is why:

A bill to help pay for an expansion of KeyArena was declared “dead” by its chief sponsor Wednesday, but a top aide to Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels vowed to keep trying to revive the proposal in the waning days of the legislative session.

The proposal, Substitute Senate Bill 6116, passed the Senate Ways & Means committee over the weekend and had appeared poised for a vote of the full Senate Wednesday evening.

But when majority Democrats talked about the bill in caucus, too many objections surfaced, according to Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the bill’s prime sponsor.

“The bill is dead for the session. Really dead,” Murray said.

The bill would have extended the sales-tax surcharge that is paying for the Mariners‘ Safeco Field and the Seahawks‘ Qwest Field and used the proceeds for renovation of both the KeyArena and the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium, as well as arts and affordable housing projects. Clay Bennett, owner of the Oklahoma City Thunder (formerly the Seattle Supersonics), would have to pay Seattle $30 million if the state legislature allocated renovation money and no new NBA team arrived within five years — but given that the state would likely have to put up at least $150 million toward the renovation, you can see where some legislators might not consider that a good ROI.

Also of note: The tattered remnants of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer covered this turn of events by running a five-sentence AP story. That whole web-only journalism thing is really going just swimmingly, huh?

Special to the Times: Rehashed fluff

Yesterday’s Seattle Times re-ran a New York Times article on how the Oklahoma City Thunder (formerly the Seattle Sonics) are contributing to their new hometown. “Despite dismal record, the Thunder is contributing to city’s booming town status,” runs the Seattle paper’s headline. And how are they contributing exactly?

Well, we learn that the transfer of the Sonics has been “an unqualified success,” that it helps make OKC more attractive to employers because people think, “If I take this job, I get to live in Oklahoma City!”, that there’s “a big-time excitement here,” and that the team’s arrival sends “a coast-to-coast signal that this city is primed for the limelight.”

The voices behind these sentiments belong to, respectively: NBA commissioner David Stern, OKC Mayor Mick Cornett, Thunder player Desmond Mason, and Times NBA reporter Jonathan Abrams. Also interviewed by the Times: Thunder GM Sam Presti. And that’s it – not a single independent economist or urban planner, let alone an actual critic of the Hornets’ move.

A more honest headline would have been “Advocates of Sonics Move Say It’s Working Out Great For Oklahoma City” – but that’s apparently too much honesty for either coast’s Times.