The New Arena

marc w · February 16, 2012 at 11:34 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Reclusive hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen went public today with a proposal to build a new arena housing an NHL and NBA team in south Seattle. In a letter to King County Executiye Dow Constantine and mayor Mike McGinn, Hansen states that the public investment would be limited to revenue-backed bonds, that all cost overruns and operating deficits would be covered by the private investor group that Hansen will lead. The facility would be built in SoDo, on a parcel already owned by Hansen. Nothing can move forward, however, without a tenant and a binding 30-year non-relocation clause.

The proposal would appear to meet the tests imposed by Initiative 91 , which prevents the city of Seattle from providing funding to any sports franchise unless the investment would return a profit. That measure passed in the midst of the furor over Clay Bennett’s purchase of the Seattle Supersonics and his “efforts” to get the state to build a new arena in Seattle (or Renton).

So, a bit over three years since the last new team moved into Sodo, the M’s may have some new neighbors. Does this help or hurt? First of all, let’s be clear that nothing’s finalized and that the city and county have to review the proposal while Hansen searches for some tenants. But say Hansen’s successful and the M’s get two new top-level sports franchises moving in on their doorstep – is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Three years ago, USS Mariner readers were open to the idea of the Sounders, a team whose season overlapped with baseball’s. The Sounders were an instant hit, drawing over 30,000 per game in 2009, and have reliably drawn over 36,000 since (their 2011 average of 38,000 in 2011 includes Kasey Keller’s last game which drew over 60,000). Meanwhile, the M’s dropped from 2.3 million fans in 2008 to 1.9 million fans in 2011. Obviously, the drop in M’s attendance has much more to do with the M’s posting a 101-loss team in 2010 and a 95-loss team in 2011 than any poaching by their neighbors. There’s no clear evidence that the Sounders success has hurt the M’s, despite the overlap. While two winter-sports franchises might seem to be even less likely to take fans away from the M’s in a zero-sum competition for a finite supply of sports dollars in the city.

On the other hand, it’s not really about casual fans attending a game or two more/less per year – it’s about businesses ponying up for luxury boxes and well-heeled fans paying for season tickets. It makes sense that some businesses may choose to purchase suites/boxes at the new arena in lieu of springing for Mariners tickets, though of course the M’s best attendance years occurred while the Sonics played a few miles north at Key Arena. From what we can tell, the state of the team matters a lot more than the existence of sporting substitutes in the NBA or NHL.

In fact, new teams in these leagues could end up helping the M’s. A package of an NBA, NHL and MLB team would exert a lot of leverage when negotiating a TV deal with ROOT sports or with Comcast. The option to create a local, team-owned sports network would interest the M’s (and the other teams) and would have to play in to any bid to renegotiate the current contract with ROOT. The existence of the Rockets must’ve helped the Houston Astros launch a new network that will carry the team’s games in 2013; it’s obviously got nothing to do with the success of the team. The YES Network (the most successful of the team-owned operations) broadcasts the NJ Nets as well as the Yankees, and Comcast’s SportsNet Bay Area broadcasts both the Giants and the Golden State Warriors games.

So now we wait; Sonics fans whose heart was ripped out by David Stern and Clay Bennett (just saying these names in certain company can provoke highly un-Seattle-like rage and spittle-inflected diatribes against everyone from Starbucks and Howard Schultz to certain sports radio personalities to the viability of the NBA itself) now take interested looks at the rosters of certain vulnerable franchises. People who wouldn’t know the offsides rule in hockey even with an Ed Hochuli-level explanation now opine on the inevitability of the Phoenix Coyotes moving north. Patrick Dubuque captures the tension of recently-aggrieved Seattle dans aggressively looking for weak franchises in a great post here. Anyone who’s railed against the NBA, its unsustainable business model and David Stern’s vampiric nature while simultaneously feeling nostalgic about Gary Payton/Shawn Kemp (hell, his son’s playing for UW)/Detlef Schempf knows what a weird 24-48 hours it’s been.

This could ultimately come to nothing, especially if Sacramento’s new stadium proposal is adopted, or if the city/county balks at committing its credit to a bond sale for pro sports. Nothing’s set in stone. But we know enough to say first that this deal makes the M’s deal with the state/stadium district look like highway robbery. Sure, that deal’s looked suspect for a while, but it’s nice to see some early evidence for those who’ve argued that stadium deals should be able to work for private firms/investors without massive, uncapped public subsidies. Second, the facility would be publicly owned, and the city/county would charge the tenants rent to repay bonds issued to construct the facility. Though the dollar amounts are obviously far different, this is basically the approach the City of Tacoma took when they issued bonds to renovate Cheney Stadium.

So what do you think? Would new tenants help the M’s or hurt corporate ticket sales? Are you excited about a “new” NBA team, or will you make good on your pledge never to watch the NBA again? Are you ecstatic about the possibility of an NHL franchise to get you through the baseball-less doldrums of winter, or do you associate hockey with lawlessness, cheap-shots and Strange Brew? Is Chris Hansen a civic savior, or is this not the right time to celebrate the titans of private equity, whatever they choose to spend their money on?


32 Responses to “The New Arena”

  1. The Ancient Mariner on February 17th, 2012 4:56 am

    Yes, please.

  2. Johnny Slick on February 17th, 2012 5:42 am

    ESPN always shows the NBA when I’m working out on Fridays. I get interested because, well, I like basketball, so I watch Jeremy Lin or whoever for 20 minutes… and then they start mentioning the Thunder and I have to turn it off.

    I’ve got to be honest now: even if we steal the Hornets and make them the Sonics, that wound is not going to heal. I would not recommend Clay Bennett to make his way up here with his team if Seattle gets back into the league. I would OTOH highly recommend Kevin Durant makes his way up here.

  3. Paul B on February 17th, 2012 6:05 am

    The NBA has been dead to me for decades, don’t see that changing.

    NHL? Mild interest, I may go to a game (if this actually happens).

  4. sodomojo1 on February 17th, 2012 6:07 am

    I could care less about bringing back the NBA, but I’m an instant fan if an NHL team comes to Seattle. Nothing would cure the dark ages between football and baseball like a local hockey team. Go Seattle Steelheads!

  5. rsrobinson on February 17th, 2012 6:23 am

    I’d love to see it happen even though I now live in Arlington, TX and only make it out to Seattle once or twice a year. I’d subscribe to whatever TV packages were required to watch them regularly.

    The biggest benefit to the M’s would be in helping to form a regional sports network and the additional revenues that would bring in. I doubt having NBA and NHL franchises in Seattle would have much impact, for better or worse, on ticket sales. That’s ultimately going to be driven by the quality of the product on the field. Win and the fans will return.

  6. nadingo on February 17th, 2012 6:36 am

    What interests me is whether the new basketball team would be awarded to Seattle before 2013 (assuming it happens at all). Doesn’t the city get $30 million if they don’t get a new team within five years of the 2008 settlement with PBC? Of course, $30 million is chump change for the city, but it would be lovely to stick it to the PBC and then get a new team right after the deadline.

  7. robbbbbb on February 17th, 2012 7:52 am

    You know, I went to a fight once and a hockey game broke out.

  8. MrZDevotee on February 17th, 2012 8:13 am

    Like most businesses, when MORE well run models come into play they actually draw more attention to the area of interest (in this case sports) and ultimately everyone benefits, as long as the product you put into the market is liked and desired.

    The more the merrier!

  9. radiowxman on February 17th, 2012 8:26 am

    I believe the movie you were looking for was Slap Shot, although Strange Brew is a classic.

    Regardless, bringing an NHL team to Seattle makes sense. It creates an instant rivalry with Vancouver, and while it’s not necessarily known as a hockey town like northeast cities, it’s at least a city that’s heard of the sport.

    As far as the Sonics go, as someone who grew up in the era of X-Man, Dale Ellis and Tom Chambers, I couldn’t be more excited.

    With one caveat — a poorly run group of franchises can actually be worse than having no team at all. Look at what’s happened to my adopted hometown of Atlanta. While the Falcons and Braves have flourished under stable and (mostly) smart ownership, the Atlanta Spirit group who owns the Hawks and owned the Thrashers are a complete trainwreck.

  10. wetzelcoatl on February 17th, 2012 8:28 am

    I think getting an NHL team would be great. Hockey probably has the greatest improvement in viewing experience by seeing it live of any major sport. There is just something about Hockey that tv has trouble capturing, although it has gotten better lately with HD tv.

  11. matthew on February 17th, 2012 8:52 am

    If it means a TV network that gives the Mariners revenue in the neighborhood of the Rangers and Angels, that would be exciting. Would love to see what Zduriencik and his team would do with that kind of payroll budget.

    As for getting a new NBA team, I shrug. The team from my childhood moved to OKC. I’m 42-years-old. I grew up rooting for the Sonics. David Stern and Clay Bennett conspired together to steal the team away from the fanbase. Now, I rarely watch NBA games. I’ll stop changing channels if I see the Lakers are down by double digits, just so I can get a good laugh.

    I find it hypocritical that anyone in Seattle that was upset that the NBA stole the Sonics from Seattle would be perfectly okay doing it to another city’s fanbase. Unless, that city is OKC. They can have the Hornets, and the Sonics (as they are currently) can move back to Seattle.

    Short of that, I don’t see ever going to an NBA game in a new arena, unless it’s “eff David Stern” night. I might go to a game where they retire a Sonics jersey to the rafters. Or if they are somehow able to get Durant, Westbrook, Collison, etc. through free agency.

    NHL I could see supporting, even though I’m not a fan of hockey. Have never been to a Sounders game, so even though I say I could see supporting the Sounders, it’s unlikely that I would ever attend a game by either team. Just not a fan of either sport and I’m not a bandwagon type person. Either it’s a team I’ve loved my whole life, or it’s not. The Seahawks and Mariners are the only teams that fall into that category.

    Hopefully any new arena would be a state of the art concert arena. As everyone knows, the Key Arena has terrible acoustics. Believe it or not, that’s what excites me most about a new arena being built. That, and the potential revenue stream giving the Mariners a much bigger budget. Hoping that Z and his staff are still around to take advantage of influx of revenue. I like how he has built the Mariners to this point and hope that the team is (significant) injury free this year so we can see some improvement in the standings so he isn’t canned.

  12. mpowercc on February 17th, 2012 9:22 am

    There has been some very interesting work done recently on the topic of stadium and arena construction and public financing. In most other developed countries, teams finance their own stadiums. American league structure seems to have a lot to do with this. A good article can be found at

  13. stevemotivateir on February 17th, 2012 9:38 am

    Like a lot of Sonic fans, I’m disgusted with the NBA. I’d feel a lot better about a return of the Sonics, if Stern was no longer commissioner, and we didn’t have to steal a team from someone else -with exception to Oklahoma City of course. Maybe the Hornets with their limited history, would be an exception as well.

    It’s the NHL that really excites me. I’ve wanted a team here as long as I can remember (early teens). I think it’s a great idea. A winter sport that wont interfere with football.

  14. Badbadger on February 17th, 2012 9:53 am

    I think it probably helps the M’s. I don’t think sports dollars are entirely a zero sum game, I think that if there is more sports interest in Seattle people will allocate more of their entertainment dollars to sports.

    I’d love for Seattle to get another NBA team, although I will feel bad about stealing one from someone else, unless maybe if it’s the Clippers or something, which would leave local fans with another team to root for. I’ve never watched hockey.

  15. dogkahuna on February 17th, 2012 10:04 am

    I followed the Sonics and was disgusted with what transpired, however I lay blame in the laps of Howard Schultz and local politicians, not David Stern. Blame Stern for an overblown, over-hyped, over-homogenized product or blame him for muscling out the women’s ABL and other monopolistic behavior. Blame him for the least competent and least objective group of professional referees in North American sports!

    I don’t care for the guy, but he didn’t make the Sonics go away. Stern actually came here and lobbied for the Sonics remaining in town.

    That said, I’m open to another NBA franchise, but I’ve got no interest in hockey.

    Ditto about a local multi-sport network providing revenue for the Mariners.

    There may be a few people who have to make the choice between attending a baseball game in June or a basketball game in January but I don’t see the NBA or NHL keeping butts out of seats at Safeco.

    As far as corporate spending goes, I think the NBA would compete more with the Seahawks and the NHL than the Mariners because of seasonality.

  16. Carson on February 17th, 2012 10:11 am

    I was never a huge Sonics fan, but I attended a few games a year. It was a sport that was more fun to watch in person for me.

    Sort of like soccer. I went to, I don’t know, eight Sounders games last season? Was never a big fan before that. Already have nine tickets to this upcoming season. I’m not a mega-fanatic, but, hey, sports! I could see the same thing happening with an NHL team coming to town.

    If the Mariners are winning games during the best weather months of the year, people will show up to either watch or hit on drunk chicks in the beer garden.

    I don’t see two new winter sports teams hurting the M’s.

  17. ck on February 17th, 2012 10:19 am

    Wow. Psychic root canal. Schultz sold the Sonics to Bennett, a thief that Schultz knew was going to move the team, because Schultz’s massive ego could not abide Ballmer, or other local guys, being a success with the Sonics, while Schultz himself was a miserable failure. Stern made the move happen, and screwed Seattle’s fans and 40 years of history, because when Stern came to Washington to get public money for a new stadium, no one kissed his ring and bent over. Stern is used to Bennett’s nose up his anus, and also wanted to have an object lesson to threaten other cities with his extortion of tax money for the owners who pay him. The NDA is dead to me, deader than Fredo.

  18. r-gordon-7 on February 17th, 2012 10:21 am

    “Strange Brew”. “Slap Shot”. What’s next, eh, “Men with Brooms”???

    Seriously, I have absolutely no interest in basketball – none at all – never had any, never will. Same with soccer. Frankly, same with football as well. Hockey’s a bit different – used to occasionally follow the Rangers when I was growing up in NY, so I might go to a game or two a year if the NHL came to Seattle. Might also go to an occasional rock concert in a new arena, if its acoustics (and “the bill” – both in terms of performers and price) warrant it…

    But for me, the biggest potential factor of interest in the proposed new arena is in the potential revenue that might come the M’s way for increased payroll from a team-owned sports channel, which would seem more likely to occur with a new arena and the new teams it would bring.

    However, this prospect comes with a concern… Would a team-owned sports channel require a customer subscription for it beyond what I already have to pay Comcast for my current level of HD service that already includes “Root”? As I have absolutely no interest in (pro, college or high school) basketball, football or soccer and only marginal interest in NHL hockey (not enough to be willing to pay for games on tv – what I can already occasionally see on CBC w/my existing Comcast level of service is ample for me), a team-owned sports channel wouldn’t offer me anything that I have any interest in other than M’s baseball which I already get on cable without having to subscribe to a special premium channel. I’d hate to suddenly have to pony-up a premium “extra charge”, year-round, for a team-owned sports channel full of non-baseball things in which I have absolutely no interest, just in order to be able to continue getting the M’s games during the baseball season…

    So, does anyone here know how these team-owned sports channels operate? Is the cost to the customer typically included in the overall cost of subscribing to HD cable service – or is it a premium channel requiring a channel-specific subscription and a corresponding premium payment, like the MLB package?

  19. bronmaderine on February 17th, 2012 10:36 am

    I want to pull off the triple-header:

    Sounders game at 10, Mariners game at 1, Sonics game at 7.

    If the return of the Sonics, and the introduction of the NHL, led to the development of a Seattle-centric sports network which showered a river of cash on my favorite teams – then this is an AMAZINGLY GREAT idea.

    As it stands, where a super rich guy is giving the city $290 million, and other super rich guys are bringing in the Sonics and the NHL, then this is a GREAT idea.

    If the NHL team is named the Metropolitans and they wear those barber-pole, green and red uniforms then I’m buying season tix. Scroll to the bottom of the link to see what I mean.

  20. The_Waco_Kid on February 17th, 2012 10:39 am

    It’s sad to think of another city losing a team, but that’s what’s going to happen eventually. The NBA isn’t expanding (for good reason). It could be years, but eventually some team will move, probably to Seattle. I’m basically fine stealing a team, just as I don’t blame the city of Oklahoma. It’s not their fault Bennett stole the Sonics and someone woulda taken them to some other city if not to OKC. I blame Stern and the NBA, and if we get some other city’s team, they should blame Stern and the NBA.

  21. Shrike on February 17th, 2012 10:45 am

    Men with Brooms is actually pretty funny. But it’s no Slap Shot(!).

    I for one would enjoy making the trip down for a home-and-home series featuring my Canucks and a Seattle NHL team.

  22. Jamison_M on February 17th, 2012 12:33 pm

    Here is another look at the Seattle Metropolitans’ barber pole jersey (second to last photo on the page).

    On the NBA, I hope Clay Bennett is messing himself, thinking about having to travel to Seattle… kind of like when ARod came back to Seattle for the first time as a Ranger… except we’re mad at the whole organization, not just one guy.

  23. Breadbaker on February 17th, 2012 1:00 pm

    Color me skeptical. Even if the rosy lack of public investment is true (as when the arena owner is shocked, shocked that his projections for a timetable are adversely affected by the construction of the tunnel), I don’t see it from the other side. Buying two major league franchises and being on the hook, effectively, for half a billion in arena costs is a huge investment. The idea that this area can support five major league sports teams, two of whom will overlap in seasons, sounds unlikely to me.

    If they succeed, the M’s will be the ones adversely impacted. The M’s will always draw in the summer, when the weather is nice, tourists are here and they have no competition. They will draw in September when they’re good and them being good is not another local team’s problem. But drawing from Opening Day to mid-June when school lets out makes a huge difference for the M’s finances. Having one or two competitive sports franchises fighting for or in the playoffs right at the moment could be a huge negative impact on the M’s attendance and ratings, even if the team turned out to be good.

  24. f1chunk on February 17th, 2012 2:02 pm

    I am ecstatic about the possibility of an NHL franchise to get me through the baseball-less doldrums of winter. I associate hockey with lawlessness, cheap-shots and Strange Brew.

    That’s where I’m at.

  25. nmm66 on February 17th, 2012 2:34 pm

    As a Vancouverite, I couldn’t be more excited about the prospect of Seattle getting an NHL team. Having a team a couple hours down the highway will be great.

    But just a warning, Vancouverites are going to swarm your city when the Canucks are in town. We promise not to riot. We just want to catch the game, and bring home some cheap beer.

  26. Shrike on February 17th, 2012 2:45 pm

    I echo the predictions made by the author of the previous comment.

  27. Johnny Slick on February 17th, 2012 2:46 pm

    I’m still not 100% sure that the Sonics would have automatically left if Schultz had instead sold to a local backer. That was part of the pain. As for the Hornets, it’ll sort of suck for New Orleans but the fact of the matter is that after Hurricane Katrina they just aren’t that large of a city anymore. It’s great that they’re still somehow managing to host a football team – I guess the TV revenue helps, as does the fact that the team is really good right now and only needs to sell out 8 games a year to stay in there – but they’re simply not standing behind their basketball team (which in fairness itself was only relatively recently transplanted there from Charlotte). I’d really not have a big issue seeing them relocate up here and become the Sonics again.

    Then they’d just have to sign Kevin Durant as a free agent… I know he’s said he was bummed when the Supes moved; maybe he’d take that bummosity and move back?

  28. Mariners35 on February 17th, 2012 3:44 pm

    I think a blog that frequently (and correctly) preaches about small sample size, prospect evaluation, how to use projection systems, etc. should not participate in the chicken-counting-pre-hatching that has been going on.

    There remains an awful lot of bureaucratic hurdles in multiple governments and professional sports leagues – including leagues with commisioners and people not interested in shuffling teams around.

    I’ll form an opinion when there are actual teams coming here and a groundbreaking on the new site.

  29. LefebvreBelebvre on February 17th, 2012 4:46 pm

    As a Seattlite Canucks fan since the early 1990s, I would be both thrilled and daunted by an NHL team in my hometown. I’ve bled black/red/yellow (and now blue/white/green) through two game 7 losses, and shudder at even the idea of having to choose which team to pledge my allegiance.

    This may seem neither here nor there, but I hope it demonstrates that there is passion for the sport in this town — and I know I’m not the only one who feels it.

    Rivalry games between Seattle and Vancouver? My head and my heart would fuse together and then explode into a billion shiny pieces.

  30. awakeling on February 17th, 2012 5:38 pm

    The NBA has been dead to me since the Gary Payton/Michael Jordan era. I loved it back then but there is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, redeeming about the NBA and its players. I’m also not propelled to watch it when someone who could star in a Geico caveman commercial without makeup is the leading player for the winning team.

    I’m fine if the NHL wants to come here, but I don’t think we have the fan base. The Sounders worked well here because there have been generations of kids growing up playing soccer and loving the sport here. You can’t say that about hockey.

  31. Soonerman22 on February 17th, 2012 9:31 pm

    I believe a new arena and two new teams benefits all of us Seattle sports fans.

    I believe all of the teams have a faithful core, but then there is the rest of us. I love the Mariners, but even a passionate fan like myself is having trouble justifying paying all the costs that go with going to a Mariners game and watch them lose or be out of the game in the 3rd, as opposed to going to a Sounders game. I wasn’t a big soccer fan before they got here, but between them winning and me learning about the sport as well as the great marketing and experience the Sounders provide, my money tends to end up over there more than Mariners games. I miss the Sonics, and I would like to learn about hockey.

    I guess this is a long way of me saying if we have a bunch of teams in this city competing for our entertainment dollar, we all win! Maybe we go from a city full of Chicago Cubs (lovable losers) to Boston!

  32. PackBob on February 19th, 2012 8:00 am

    Growing up in the Chicago area, I followed the Cubs, Bulls, and Black Hawks, as did many kids I knew (substitute White Sox for some). Cubs fans were pretty much not White Sox fans, and vice versa, but the three sports didn’t appear to conflict negatively with each other. Several sports helps in that there is more chance of a local team doing well.

    The NBA has come to have a feel similar to pro wrestling for me. Lots of prima donnas and players all over themselves with style points for a dunk. Still only two points. Zero interest for me. Hockey can be pretty exciting once you understand the game and have a team to root for. Having all the major sports would be a boon to the area.

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