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Don't Worry Mayor Nickels. Basketball doesn't make a difference

In a typical burst of rhetoric and hostility anti-sports activist and Seattle “citizen-by-commute” Chris Van Dyk demanded today that Seattle SuperSonics owners provide detailed information regarding their plans for a new arena outside of Seattle city limits.

“What they are doing makes little sense if they are not willing to address the key issues, which is who pays and how much?” Van Dyk told the Seattle Post Intelligencer . “If they don’t have a number like that in mind, the new ownership is either delusional or as mismanaged as the last set of owners.”

It seems odd that the obstructionist Van Dyk would be demanding solutions on the very day that Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels was left begging for some type of answer to the serious economic issues surrounding Key Arena and its future if a competitive arena is built in the area. While new Sonics owners have had just over a month to begin working towards their numbers Van Dyk has spent a decade planning life after sports for Seattle. Where are the solutions he promised when he sponsored initiative-91, the cleverly worded anti-sports legislation that passed overwhelmingly just a short month ago?

In light of the Mayor’s comments today it would seem as if Van Dyk and his political allies are the ones who are delusional. With concern over the Seattle Center's future growing perhaps they should be providing some explanations as well.

Where is Seattle City Council Chair Nick Licata who, on February 13th told the Seattle Times that “Non-Sonics options pencil out, and that’s the finding of sports-industry”? Licata has previously stated that he envisions Key Arena being transformed into a high tech gaming facility or arts museum. He chose to ignore the findings of the City’s own Key Arena Subcommittee report and instead backed Van Dyk’s solution to the problem, feeding on anti-spending sentiment and sending the Sonics packing.

The failure of Licata, Van Dyk, and others such as the Parks Department and Seattle Center's chairman David Della to anticipate a competitive Arena in the area and work towards a solution within city limits is further proof of the shortsightedness of our local government. The passage of I-91 was successful in both kicking the Sonics to the curb and restricting the cities ability to find alternative tenants or negotiate new deals for those it already had. It was in short a death warrant to Key Arena that passed through our political system without comment or opposition from the leaders who are supposed to protect our interests. Now, as the Sonics appear on the verge of making progress with other, more solution minded leaders Van Dyk and Nickels are left complaining that they no longer have a seat at the table or an answer to the problems they created.

For 10 years Chris Van Dyk has been telling us that professional sports and government are two separate entities. He professes that the city owes the teams nothing more than a fair market deal but arena opponents cannot have it both ways. If they want to tie the team’s issues with the City of Seattle’s debt then they must work towards a solution for both parties. If Van Dyk wants to demand answers then he and his cronies should first provide them for the taxpayers who supported his initiative. He should provide the financial model he used to conclude that Key Arena was better off without the teams. Licata should demonstrate that his comments regarding arena re-development had some basis in fact and some potential to be realized. At this point it appears he was simply grasping at straws rather than presenting real, thought out options.

Mayor Nickels comments today illustrated clearly that the Sonics and Seattle are tied to each other. They both have an obligation to work together to provide solutions for their mutual problems and ensure the solvency of both the teams and the Seattle Center. As the State Legislature prepares to convene in January there is still time for Seattle to ensure that it is part of the process rather than an obstacle to the teams success. To do so they need to shelve their rhetoric, push Van Dyk to the side, and work with both the team and the state legislature to ensure that their needs are addressed as well.

It is time to call upon our political leaders to stop demanding solutions from the Sonics. Instead they must change their tactics, step up to the table and work to create one.


On October 12th Councilman Nick Licata advised that he had reviewed the KAS Report’s recommendations which strongly favored retaining the professional sports teams. He advised that he felt the report was factually inaccurate and could back up this claim. As of this time he has not responded to a registered letter requesting this data.

Quotes: “Non-Sonics options pencil out, and that’s the finding of sports-industry experts.”
- Seattle City Council Chair Nick Licata, Seattle Times, February 13, 2006.

“An analysis of the finances of Key Arena indicates that it can operate at a profit with concerts and other sports events without the Sonics.”
- Seattle City Councilman Richard Conlin, via e-mail

“That citizens report can be viewed here. One thing it does say is that Key Arena is viable without the Sonics.”

“Licata envisions a remodeled Key Arena featuring multimedia exhibits, including video games and film, that would be open to children and families throughout the day. In addition, he estimates Key Arena can book eight to 15 concerts throughout the year to make up for the more than 50 game nights lost.”
- NW Asian Weekly, August 5, 2006

“I think the Seattle Center is kind of the icon of Seattle, and I fear without a good anchor tenant that we may not be successful at the Key Arena…I would hope the Sonics and the Storm stay.”
- Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire, Interview, KJR-AM, August 1, 2006.

“Key Arena is essential … to achieving the Center’s vision to bring together diverse audiences and build our collective sense of community. The City should make meaningful efforts to retain the Sonics/Storm as anchor tenants of Key Arena. We further recommend that public investment in Key Arena be at a level sufficient to make it a competitive facility for NBA Basketball”
- Key Arena Subcommittee Report, February 16, 2006

“We are not enough of a major market for many touring concerts and family shows to warrant the expense of a Northwest segment to their tour, and there are cycles in the entertainment industry where different markets are the “hotspots.” In recent years, there has been an overall decrease across all available northwest venues of touring family shows and the market in nationally touring concerts is incredibly variable. Ultimately, we don’t control what show opportunities will be available in the Northwest or which ones Key Arena will get.”
- Key Arena Subcommittee Report, February 16, 2006

“Our own economic study indicates that Key Arena could be self sufficient without the presence of the Sonics, assuming we spent maybe $20 million to update the facility, but only on the assumption that the team doesn’t build another arena in the county. Such a new facility would most likely draw most of the non-Sonics business we might otherwise get for Key Arena.”
- Seattle City Councilman Richard McIver

“The picture for former NBA arenas with a newer arena in the marketplace is dismal. Most have been demolished or converted to other uses and those operating as arenas usually do so at a deficit. The City should engage in meaningful efforts to retain the Sonics/Storm as anchor tenants of Key Arena, or risk absorbing greater losses and potential failure without them.”
- Key Arena Subcommittee Report, February 16, 2006