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January 3, 2011 9:00 AM   Subscribe

Sonicsgate, the movie: How Seattle Lost A 40 Year Old Basketball Team.

The Webby-winning documentary presents a powerful case that the loss of the Supersonics was more than an accident of capitalism.
posted by Potomac Avenue (56 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Did it have anything to do with the fact that the last decent player they had was Shawn Kemp?
posted by Mister_A at 9:21 AM on January 3, 2011


TBH I don't really know of anyone here who was too upset about it - the general attitude seemed to be "screw them and their ridiculous demands".
posted by Artw at 9:26 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wait, what happened to the Sonics? First the Expos, now this?
posted by Eideteker at 9:29 AM on January 3, 2011


Sherman Alexie begs to differ.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:30 AM on January 3, 2011


You could practically see the word bubble with "Meh" in it rising from the city on that day.
posted by Aquaman at 9:33 AM on January 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


You guys want the Sixers?
posted by Mister_A at 9:34 AM on January 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Actually Art, the argument of the documentary is that the owners and the league conspired to deliberately throw the fight to build a new stadium, to the detriment of the supportive fans of the team.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:34 AM on January 3, 2011


While I feel for the Sonics fans, they can't have been surprised that a new ownership group from Oklahoma was going to do everything in its power to move the team to OKC, contracts be damned. This isn't exactly new in professional sports. Imagine that, an owner of a sports franchise negotiated in bad faith! Why, Al Davis and Bob Irsay would be SHOCKED at the Sonics ownership group.
posted by KingEdRa at 9:46 AM on January 3, 2011


There was an interesting chapter on this in Dave Zirin's "Bad Sports". That whole book does a good job of showing how mercenary many sports franchise owners are, having almost no loyalty whatsoever to the fans who love and nourish a team. It also shows how often people who would prefer not to get stuck subsidizing professional sports, which are then in turn frequently used as a platform for objectionable political purposes.

I'm glad you got to hang on to the Supersonic's name, Seattle. Here's hoping you can get an NBA team playing in your city once again, and that it will belong to the fans.
posted by millions at 9:51 AM on January 3, 2011


Actually Art, the argument of the documentary is that the owners and the league conspired to deliberately throw the fight to build a new stadium, to the detriment of the supportive fans of the team.

Well, good on them then.
posted by Artw at 9:52 AM on January 3, 2011


Capitalism? Perhaps.

Free market? No.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:52 AM on January 3, 2011


Did it have anything to do with the fact that the last decent player they had was Shawn Kemp?

I assume you are being facetious about the cause of the move, but still, the Sonics had a lot of good players during and after Kemp, including Gary Payton, Rashard Lewis, and, soon to be the greatest 3 point shooter in NBA history, Ray Allen.
posted by Dia Nomou Nomo Apethanon at 9:56 AM on January 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


It actually serves the interests of the NBA (and the NFL, NHL, MLB) to have a team move once in a while. It puts force behind the threat of moving that goes along with the never ending demands for public subsidies for areas. If cities would stop writing checks the business models of the teams would adapt, but there's always a sucker somewhere.
posted by bowline at 9:57 AM on January 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Teams should be publicly owned and traded on the NYSE. Each team has a board of directors as voted by shareholders who can terminate owners (Dan Snyder, you're gone, also, dude who owns the Clippers, you're fired). Investors share in profits. And so on. I don't know the details but isn't the situation in Green Bay similar to this? The idea that one dude (or lady) can "own" a city's team is moronic but so long as owners hold collective power that system will never change.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 9:57 AM on January 3, 2011


Dang...I don't pay attention to sports, but didn't realize that I was *so* out of touch to not realize that there wasn't even a Supersonics team anymore. Does that make Seattle the largest US city without an NBA team?
posted by davidmsc at 9:59 AM on January 3, 2011


Does that make Seattle the largest US city without an NBA team?

If you're talking strictly population, Seattle is not that big. I know that at least Columbus, Ohio and Tampa Bay, Florida are both larger, and neither have their own basketball teams. Kansas City. St. Louis.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 10:04 AM on January 3, 2011


> Does that make Seattle the largest US city without an NBA team?

Cleveland.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:04 AM on January 3, 2011 [8 favorites]


The dream candidate for a new owner is Ballmer, who sold $2 billion worth of Microsoft stock last November in order to do ... what? Ballmer has made no secret of his desire to ultimately get involved in the NBA, and the next time, he'll likely be front and center. Yet having the most money is no guarantee for success; even Ballmer's not going to overpay by millions just for the privilege of ownership.

If only for the sake of the hilarious viral videos that will ensue, I say bring it.

I wish I really understood the whole culture of pro sports franchises demanding that taxpayers foot the bills for their arenas, though. I suppose it's all supposed to come out in the wash with increased sales tax revenues making up for the initial bond outlays down the road, but does that ever really work out? I think specifically of Bush's Rangers in Arlington as a prime example of a tax-payer debacle, with Bush himself being the only person who really made out on the deal when he sold the team. Why don't sports franchises build their own stadiums?

Admittedly, I don't know a whole bunch about that historically, and if anyone has any good links to articles about the math of publicly-funded sports arenas, I'd love to read it, but is the Sonics failure to convince the city/state to build a new arena simply the general public finally getting sick of sports club owners making off with their tax dollars, and saying no to a bad deal?
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:05 AM on January 3, 2011


This really chaps my ass, but I'm a guy who's still pissed at Art Modell for taking away his beloved Cleveland Browns.
posted by brand-gnu at 10:09 AM on January 3, 2011


I am fairly adamantly not a pro-sport fan (for most seasonal sports), but I think Green Bay's model is far and away the best model for franchise ownership that exists .
posted by edgeways at 10:16 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am fairly adamantly not a pro-sport fan (for most seasonal sports), but I think Green Bay's model is far and away the best model for franchise ownership that exists.

If you're wondering why Green Bay's model is the only one of its kind (I mean, who wouldn't want to model themselves after a profitable, iconic brand that has enjoyed enormous success servicing a very small market), the answer is that even though corporate ownership of teams in the NFL is banned, the Packers were grandfathered in. The only way this system will be replaced is if a new league is formed.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 10:19 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Check me and see if I have it right:

In most cities there's a majority (though often not a large one) of people who want their taxes kept low, and aren't willing to pay a nickel more in taxes in order to keep a loyalty-free, for-profit sports team there at taxpayer expense. But they are seldom passionate about it because the absolute dollar cost per taxpayer is not that great.

There is also generally a vocal and passionate minority who want the team to stay even if it means a modest tax hike to line the owner's pockets out of the public treasury.

The teams are generally quite adept at manipulating and organizing this minority, and influencing officials so that the minority gets its way.

In Seattle, this dynamic changed because the team owners really wanted to move the franchise, and so made excessive demands.

Is that about how it stacks up?
posted by tyllwin at 10:23 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why don't sports franchises build their own stadiums?

Because they cost enormous sums of money to build, and in most cases their value depreciates like crazy almost immediately.
posted by waterunderground at 10:24 AM on January 3, 2011


I didn't realize their model was no longer allowed, so thanks for that. Still think a non-profit public corporation is the way to go, but at least I understand now how the powers that be have disallowed the option.
posted by edgeways at 10:24 AM on January 3, 2011


Why don't sports franchises build their own stadiums?

Because they cost enormous sums of money to build, and in most cases their value depreciates like crazy almost immediately.


So, it kind of is like being popular and demanding your neighbors buy you a new car, or else you'll move to another neighborhood and take your popularity with you.
posted by edgeways at 10:26 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Essentially, yes.
posted by Artw at 10:28 AM on January 3, 2011


Buy me a car, you fuckers, or I'm moving to Seattle.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:34 AM on January 3, 2011


A car is mostly a burden if you live in Seattle proper.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:36 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I distinctly remember secretly hoping they would leave so that some level of traffic congestion would be alleviated in lower Queen Anne.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:37 AM on January 3, 2011


Devils Rancher: "Why don't sports franchises build their own stadiums?"

Ahahahahahahahaha, hahahahahahahahahahohohohohahahahahaha!

Hahahaha, haha, hahahahahahaHAHAHAHAHAHAhahahahaha...

Oh, mercy!
posted by Rat Spatula at 10:38 AM on January 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sorry, sassy today. I get frustrated when I think about socialist make-work programs funded by my tax dollars, LOL. This thread is helping me to cope.
posted by Rat Spatula at 10:40 AM on January 3, 2011


I'd rather buy you a car if you promise not to move to Seattle. Traffic here is bad enough without more people coming here. Think of all the rain. You couldn't deal with that much rain. No, best to stay where you are.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:44 AM on January 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


I live in Seattle and didn't follow this closely, though I enjoyed a Sonics game now and then. The way I saw it, there was no loyalty there, and who wants to root for a team like that?
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 10:51 AM on January 3, 2011


A car is mostly a burden if you live in Seattle proper.

It seems like there are a lot of bridges... Can you ride a bicycle over them? How is riding in the rain? /honestquestions
posted by mrgrimm at 11:10 AM on January 3, 2011


Why don't sports franchises build their own stadiums?

Because they don't have to? Because they hold a gun to the head of whatever municipality they are screwing and say 'we'll take our ball and go home if you don't cave in?'
posted by fixedgear at 11:11 AM on January 3, 2011


You can ride across I-90, and Burke-Gilman goes north around Lake Washington, but you can't bike across 520. Though the new 520 bridge they are allegedly going to build may change this.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:21 AM on January 3, 2011


the owners and the league conspired to deliberately throw the fight to build a new stadium

Well, they didn't have to conspire very hard. Here in Seattle, people were already pissed that they even asked being that we'd just built one in most people's sports going memory. This wasn't like replacing Yankee stadium. Key arena opened in 95 and was built just for the sonics. So if we're going to be building a giant, city-changing stadium every 10 years, that's really going to a problem for the city.

I will never get over how many sports fan are quick to call socialism on any public program but expect the rest of us to pay for their goddamn bread and circuses. And I say this as someone who got pilloried for making an NHL post.

But really, screw the Sonics.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:22 AM on January 3, 2011


Key arena opened in 95 and was built just for the sonics.

It's more complicated than that. KeyArena was the Coliseum, which had stood since '62, and essentially is still the Coliseum, albeit with luxury boxes.

As for "built just for the Sonics," yes and no. Yes, in that the arena was built for basketball rather than hockey (killing any future NHL bid), but no in that it was built ONLY for the Sonics. The Sonics were the primary tenant, but a number of other teams and events have been based there.

Why don't sports franchises build their own stadiums?

It has happened recently, notably with the Giants building AT&T/PacBell/SBC/Whatever Telecom It Is Today Park in San Fran. In the Giants case, they've had to carry a lot of debt to pay for park construction, and even then the city and state did kick in for local traffic improvements and gave them a tax abatement.

Has it hurt the Giants? To a point, yes, but not all that much. It has meant higher ticket prices than, say, the prices the A's charge, but they also won a World Series this year, so you can't say they have been lacking for talent.

The big reason teams like municipalities to build their stadiums is so they don't have to carry debt. It's similar to the argument for leasing a car vs buying -- after X number of years, you return the car, and it's someone else's problem. You are left with nothing, but if you're in a market where people are lined up to give you another car, you won't go without wheels for long.

And that's why the teams want someone else to build the park. They pay rent, they sign a 30 year lease, but at the end of it they can just walk away and take a better deal elsewhere, and they don't have to worry about keeping the stadium up or what to do with a 30 year old park without the latest bells and whistles. And they're not saddled with capital debt, don't have to open their books for their creditors (and the public) to see (the exception being the Seattle Mariners due to their stadium deal), and never have to worry about ending up with a piece of property that has only one use and a ton of long-term depreciation.

Where leasing makes zero sense for the individual car buyer, it makes perfect sense for a corporation that doesn't want to hold on to long-term, depreciating assets.

So teams will keep demanding tax dollars for stadia, because it makes financial sense for them, and mid-size cities with professional sports teams like Oklahoma City are willing to pony up the tax dollars to make a name for themselves. Whether it hurts the overall product is an open question The Sonics were in the #14 TV market while the Thunder play in the #41 market, and the NBA will starve for capital if they lose too many top-20 markets).

OTOH, the NFL hasn't had a team in metro LA in 15 years, and they're still making money hand over fist. The NBA has two teams in LA and is having serious financial problems.
posted by dw at 11:56 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Pilots are no longer in town? Stolen by the Commissioner, no less? Weird.
posted by maxwelton at 12:08 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ahahahahahahahaha, hahahahahahahahahahohohohohahahahahaha!

Hahahaha, haha, hahahahahahaHAHAHAHAHAHAhahahahaha...


Well, Bob Kraft built Gillette Stadium.
posted by Curious Artificer at 12:35 PM on January 3, 2011


I suppose it's all supposed to come out in the wash with increased sales tax revenues making up for the initial bond outlays down the road, but does that ever really work out?

Not really, because sports stadiums aren't travel/vacation destinations that will bring many visitors from outside a metropolitan area. If a city spends X millions of dollars building a sports stadium, the people going there to spend money are more-or-less the same people who spent their money at the old stadium across town.

So, if they're actually "stealing a team" from another city, the city with the new stadium is picking up some tax revenue that the city with the old stadium has lost. Paying to build a new stadium in the same city, on the other hand, is almost guaranteed to be a loss for the taxpayers.

All of which applies at the county and state levels, too. Any state government that helps pay a for a team to move between neighboring cities is just being a sucker.
posted by faster than a speeding bulette at 12:58 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I assume city officials support building these venues with public money because doing so serves business-owners' interests, have wondered if they also simply like getting to schmooze at team events and having access to tickets that may otherwise be hard to get (though I understand that laws in most if not all places requires that they pay for them).
posted by ambient2 at 1:02 PM on January 3, 2011


Paying to build a new stadium in the same city, on the other hand, is almost guaranteed to be a loss for the taxpayers.

And it's worth noting Seattle is already losing money on two or three big stadiums down in SoDo... it's not really surprising people didn't want to lose money on another one.
posted by jeffamaphone at 1:05 PM on January 3, 2011


The Minnesota Vikings are currently angling for a publicly built stadium here in TwinTowns, and I am once again saddened that the "cut government spending" goons are strangely silent regarding this possibility.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:41 PM on January 3, 2011


Not really, because sports stadiums aren't travel/vacation destinations that will bring many visitors from outside a metropolitan area

No, they are destinations -- Safeco Field during the last decade has had varying levels of tourism from Japan along with heaps of Red Sox fans who come to Seattle from Boston.

They're just not the destinations that the stadium promoters make them out to be. Even with Red Sox games you're talking 10,000 or so people at the most coming in from outside Seattle for 3 games a year, 30,000 out of the 2 million tickets bought per season to see the Mariners. By comparison, Seattle had 866,000 cruise ship passengers pass through town in 2008, a vast majority of them bringing in dollars from out of state.

Fenway, Yankee, Wrigley, Camden Yards, they all bring in tourists. They just don't bring in anywhere near the number of tourists the publicly funded stadium proponents claim they do.
posted by dw at 1:50 PM on January 3, 2011


Is this something you have to live in Seattle to understand? FINALLY.
posted by zvs at 1:52 PM on January 3, 2011


The level of meh about the Sonics and them leaving town is ... meh.

Like most things sports-related that I've observed since moving here in 1995, for the most part, with maybe a *bit* of exception for the Mariners, this town's professional sports franchises get ignored unless there is a particularly great season, then the fair-weather fans come out of the woodwork. More people care about the UW Huskies or even the WSU Cougars.

The people who got loud and bent about the Sonics leaving were people with some financial stake in the team remaining here. Otherwise, I really don't know anyone who cared *that* much.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 3:09 PM on January 3, 2011


Potomac Avenue: Sherman Alexie begs to differ

From his post-testimony blog-entry Sixty-one Things I learned During the Sonics Trial:
18. In the days leading up to and following my testimony, my friends told me amazing and poetic basketball stories about their fathers, sons, and jump shots. These were love stories. My detractors can give me all the shit they want. I welcome their shit. But I am trying to write a love story. I did introduce "love" as evidence into a federal trial. Call me what you will. Accuse me of any and all clich├ęs. And so, yes, I admit that the "professional basketball players as Greek gods" argument might have been a tad hyperbolic, but please remember that I was not motivated by hate, rage, or condescension; I was motivated by love. God, it sounds stupid to type that and read it aloud. But, damn it, I am a silly, romantic shithead.
posted by Kattullus at 3:48 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not from Seattle, and I wasn't even a Sonics fan, but I thought it was a shitty way for the OKC group to take them out of town. There was a long history of basketball in Seattle, and, uh, the Thunder? Oklahoma? Gah. Worse, though, for any of the fans (like Alexie) that were hurt to see the team leave is exhibit a) Kevin Durant, best young player in the league, potential hall of famer, and exhibit b) since forming a loving relationship with the Thunder is likely out of the question, what team do they follow now? Portland? Seattle's biggest NBA rival? That's gotta sting.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:51 PM on January 3, 2011


Curious Artificer: "Well, Bob Kraft built Gillette Stadium."

Exception that proves the rule.

Mental Wimp: "The Minnesota Vikings are currently angling..."

Rat Spatula: "Ahahahahahahahaha..."
posted by Rat Spatula at 3:58 PM on January 3, 2011


I side with with Seattle cause I don't like the way the Thunder conjugate (s?) their verbs. It's always Thunder is/Thunder has/Thunder does/, plus they use its instead of their. Dunno if they're gramatically correct about but it sounds all wrong and drives me up the frickin wall.
posted by aerotive at 4:20 PM on January 3, 2011


Like most things sports-related that I've observed since moving here in 1995, for the most part, with maybe a *bit* of exception for the Mariners, this town's professional sports franchises get ignored unless there is a particularly great season, then the fair-weather fans come out of the woodwork. More people care about the UW Huskies or even the WSU Cougars.

part of the 'meh' could be that seattle (and portland) have so many recent transplants. i moved to minneapolis for a while but couldn't be bothered to root for the twins, vikings or timberwolves. but the blazers, man, i've been watching the blazers forever now. they're my hometown team, i want to root for them.

and here is another part of the 'meh', possibly; i don't know how it was for the sonics, or how it is with the mariners now, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to watch sports if you don't have cable, and then it seems like, though i'm not certain since i don't have cable, you need to or can or whatever, buy sports packages. i think a total of 16 games will be shown on the nbc affiliate here in portland. 16! that's shit. i love basketball, i love the blazers, but this makes it hard to follow and really care about the season. did they show many sonics games?

i have no half-assed theories on why the mariners, uw, or wsu might get more attention than other teams.
posted by rainperimeter at 6:09 PM on January 3, 2011


Not even their Presidents of the United States of America theme song could save them.

I'm glad they got to keep the naming rights. It almost always sounds dumb when a team that moves keeps its original name because it rarely makes sense; the Utah Jazz is the most glaring example, but Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams probably won't ever sound right to me.

The Minnesota Vikings are currently angling for a publicly built stadium here in TwinTowns

As a Vikings fan, I have mixed feelings about this. In my heart I dislike how the multimillion dollar teams blackmail their host cities into paying for stadiums the teams should be paying for, but in my head I realize that's how it works.

There have been rumors about them moving to Los Angeles for several years (probably spread to scare Minnesota into funding a stadium). A "Los Angeles Vikings" team wouldn't make any sense, but at least their purple-and-gold colors would match the also-from-Minnesota Lakers.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:27 PM on January 3, 2011


Those who praise Robert Kraft may not remember he pulled a "let's move the Patriots to Hartford" stunt in an attempt to extract public money for a new stadium in Foxboro. And let's not forget his abortive effort last year to get $9 million in federal stimulus funds for a pedestrian bridge to his stadium.
posted by adamg at 9:13 PM on January 3, 2011


I side with with Seattle cause I don't like the way the Thunder conjugate (s?) their verbs. It's always Thunder is/Thunder has/Thunder does/, plus they use its instead of their. Dunno if they're gramatically correct about but it sounds all wrong and drives me up the frickin wall

Oh, I actually prefer it. It is one organization, after all. If it is acting as one entity, why not singular conjugation? The problem comes with the standard plural nicknames for teams, e.g. "the Toronto Blue Jays need to sign Vlad Guerrero ..." etc. The team is a single entity, acting ("needing") as a single entity. But "the Toronto Blue Jays needs to sign ..." sounds funny. And the city name alone is not always presented with enough context to establish it as the baseball team. So you use "the Toronto ballclub" instead.

Anyway, I like "Thunder does" or "Thunder is" as long as it refers to the team acting as one entity. If it's referring to the players separately (e.g. "the Thunder received some interesting gifts in their stockings this xmas" etc.), then plural.

FWIW "Oklahoma Thunder have" outranks "Oklahoma Thunder has" on Google by 2.5:1. (For the Utah Jazz, though, it's like 5:1.)
posted by mrgrimm at 1:12 PM on January 4, 2011


make that "Oklahoma City Thunder have" and "...has"
posted by mrgrimm at 1:13 PM on January 4, 2011


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