Whether you are a fan of professional basketball or are indifferent towards the sport, there is a strong argument why bringing back the Sonics is a great thing for the citizens of the Northwest, the local economy, and even the startup community.
A Brief History
If you are not familiar with the story of how the Seattle Sonics made their exodus from Seattle after 41 years of playing in the Northwest, a local team of filmmakers have documented how it happened in the Webby award winning documentary Sonicsgate: A Requim for a Team that has been nationally televised on CNBC (another showing is scheduled for Friday June 15th at 6pm and 9pm Pacific Time) and has been viewed over a million times online according to director Jason Reid. It is a great story that contains elements of betrayal, deception, and greed – the stuff that would make a great screenplay by Aaron Sorkin. In a nutshell, Howard Schultz was fed up with losing money each year and sold the team to Oklahoma City businessmen who promised to make a good faith effort to keep the team in Seattle. When the government rejected their proposal for a publicly funded $500 million basketball palace in Renton, they announced they were moving to Oklahoma City. The city of Seattle, led by former Mayor Greg Nickels, sued the team for trying to get out of their contract to play in Seattle for two additional years but settled in court for $45 million to allow the team to leave.
An Unprecented Offer
Chris Hansen, a successful hedge fund manager from San Francisco is a passionate Sonics fan and has put together a proposal to bring an NBA team back to Seattle that has been called the best arena deal for the public in about 75 years. What makes it remarkable is that a new arena would be mainly privately funded in addition to a $200 million bond-issue from the local government that will be paid back with tax revenue that would not exist if an arena was not built. The plan also includes bringing an NHL team to Seattle if a team can be acquired. With a commitment of about $290 million in private funding for the arena and and over $300 million to buy an NBA team, it is one of the largest private investments ever for the city of Seattle (compared to billionaire Howard Schultz’s offer to pay 8% of the costs for a new arena in 2006).
It is often debated by economists whether professional sports has a positive economic impact on a city. However, it is pretty clear that NBA games do bring people to the city from all around the Northwest to spend money at restaurants and stores. The arena construction itself would create more than 2,000 construction jobs as well as jobs with the Sonics team. According to an article on the Oklahoma City News Channel 4 website, the economic impact of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s playoff run this year has been estimated to be in the excess of $50 million in direct spending associated with attendance at the games. That is only including the 2012 NBA playoffs.
Value to the Community
There is tremendous intangible value to a community when there is a beloved sports team. Countless people in the Northwest have precious memories of the Sonics championship in 1979 or their playoff run to The Finals in 1996 against Michael Jordan’s Bulls. Players like Kevin Durant and Nick Collison can be tremendous positive role models for the city’s youth to inspire them to pursue sports where they can learn valuable life lessons and important career skills like teamwork and hard work. A winning Sonics team can bring a community together in celebration and excitement like few other things can. Oklahoma City Thunder owner Clay Bennett knows this and told the crowd after the Thunder won the 2012 Western Conference championship that “all I can think of is how this incredible group of young men has unified this city and state like never before.” There is an unmeasurable sense of city pride that is associated with a basketball team, especially with the former Sonics that were a part of the fabric of the Seattle community for over four decades.
Benefits for the Startup Community
An NBA team can strengthen the Seattle startup community in several ways. Top talent from around the country and the globe may be more interested in relocating to a world-class city with world-class entertainment venues and professional sports teams in each major sport. Sonics games create at least 41 opportunities to meet with prospective business partners and basketball can be a great source of shared interest between entrepreneurs. Chris Hansen is a billionaire hedge fund manager and big-time Facebook investor from San Francisco who is coming back to Seattle to invest in the city and it was just revealed that billionaire Steve Balmer and the Nordstrom family are also involved in the project. Attracting investors to the Seattle area can mean more investment opportunities for growing Seattle startups.
If the people of Seattle and the Northwest want to bring the Sonics back, there is currently a window of opportunity that won’t last. The City of Seattle has signed a Statement of Understanding that will allow the planning for a new arena to continue but the Seattle City Council must approve the requested bond issue. If you are interested in helping bring back the Sonics there a few things you can do. Watch the documentary Sonicsgate this Friday at 6pm on CNBC or online at Sonicsgate.com. Visit Sonicsarena.com where you can find contact information for your government officials to write them a letter expressing why they should support the arena plan. Finally, there will be a Rally to Bring Back the Sonics on Thursday June 14th at 4:00pm at Occidental Park in Seattle featuring appearances by Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Slick Watts, and a performance by the Presidents of the United States. The event is free and you can RSVP on the Facebook page here.
Flickr Creative Commons Photo courtesy of Jeramey Jannene