It seems like an annual tradition in the city of Seattle, rumors leak of interest in the NBA returning and everybody loses their collective green & gold minds. As time goes on however, the wound of 08 has lime applied to it as the rumors lead to nothing new and we all sit back in disappointment.
The main culprit in the cities hope and inevitable disappointment is the NBA itself. They love to dangle the Emerald City in front of teams who are struggling as a reminder that they could move them at any moment. This has lit a fire under these teams and their cities and usually results in a new stadium and an increase in fan attendance. Sacramento is the prime example of this occurring. The franchise was even purchased by Chris Hanson and Co just for the NBA board to block the sale and eventually get the Kings their shinny new arena. Why relocate to a city when having no team there actually benefits the league more?
Well, then 2020 hit the Association like a Mutombo block.
All credit goes to the NBA, and WNBA, for coming up with the “bubble” and successfully getting off a regular and post season. No matter how you feel about the competition or whether or not the season should be seen as legitimate is your opinion, but you have to admire the fact that the league was able to think quickly on their feat to ensure the season wasn’t washed away. However, despite being able to complete the season, their was still a huge loss the league had to deal with.
Without home games and ticket sales, the league was reported to have lost 10% of their projected revenue for the season. Throw in the fact that tv viewership was down during the bubble and you have a recipe for a loss of a lot of money. According to sources, the balance of the finances included an $800 million loss in gate receipts and a $400 million loss in sponsorships and merchandise. Throw in the reported $200 million net loss from the Daryl Morey / China fiasco and you have a terrible year for the league.
We aren’t even talking about what losses await the league in this new season with the pandemic still in full swing. Teams are back in their arenas but very few if any fans can attend the games in person. This current season might have a bigger loss than the previous once all things are said and done.
So, how can something so negative be a positive for Seattle?
Well according to the league, the possible expansion fee for a new franchise would be north of $2.5 billion. Not exactly enough to make up for the previous couple of seasons but certainly a nice chunk of change. That price tag also gets dispersed among the owners in the league allowing for them to get their own relieve bill in a way. In the past, the league was doing well as a whole, and revenue wasn’t an issue on average for the entire entity so expansion wasn’t something that was necessarily needed. Say the league adds 2 franchises in order to keep the balance in both conferences, now we are talking about a possible $5 billion being shot into the league.
Not to mention adding the 13th largest market in the United States would bring in significant revenue. The city of Seattle is home to many fortune 500 companies that you know would be vying for sponsorship, making it an even bigger cash cow than just their $2.5 billion entry fee. The fans will also be a big addition back to the league. Seattle Sonics gear still sells like hot cakes in the area and having a team would just add syrup to those said cakes. If you need proof, just look at the Kraken who have had the most successful launch of any NHL expansion team in history, and that was with a new team and not with one with so much emotional tie to the region.
So, if you are the NBA, Seattle now looks like a life preserver that could get you through some choppy water. The city has also done the one thing that shot them in the foot originally, which was (re)build a brand new(ish) state of the art arena that is up to the league’s standards. Sure, is it the arena most people wanted? No. But it is the one we got, and it will definitely be beautiful inside and out. There are no more excuses to continue to deny this city it’s Sonics.
For once, this might be a time where getting your hopes up as a fan might actually pay off. There is always a huge possibility that this all turns into smoke and that I will be publishing an article like this in ten years talking about how a $4 billion expansion fee would be huge for the league, but this time just feels different. Adam Silver has made comments that the league is closer to expansion than they have been since the Bobcats joined the league back in ’04. The commissioner also said that Seattle would be at the front of the line if expansion talks started to really heat up. Throw in the fact that Tim Leiweke, the CEO of Oak View Group, said that 2021 was the year to focus on bringing the Sonics back and you have a lot to be optimistic about.
Only time will tell if this turns into a reunion between Seattle and the NBA, but for the time being, hope is at an all time high.
Russell is the Content Director for the Eli Network. He studied broadcast journalism at Eastern Oregon and North Dakota State University. Mostly covers soccer and basketball in the Seattle area and is the current play-by-play voice for Seattle Redhawks basketball. You can follow him @brussbrwn.