Monday, November 13, 2006

Does the NBA have a clue on reality?

Last week as part of the election, Seattle voters rejected an extortion demand from the owner of the Seattle Supersonics to give them yet another shot at public subsidies. Clayton Bennett, the Sonics' Chairman commented "Seattle turned its' back on the NBA.' He went on to say that "I'm not saying it's the most important thing or the only thing, but I think professional sports are an important component to the overall economy and quality of life in any marketplace."

Seattle you may remember was the place that got badgered into building a new sports arena about four years ago. But now there is a group called Citizens for More Important Things got something called I-91 on the ballot. It required that the city would receive a return "at or above fair market value" for any taxpayer investment in KeyArena or another facility leased to "for-profit professional sports organizations. Fair market value" is defined by I-91 as "no less than the rate of return on a 30-year U.S. Treasury Bond." The measure passed by 75%. Key Arena was constructed in the mid-1990s for $92 million with about $72 million in bonded indebtedness. The team payroll for the Sonics grew by almost 50% last year. What was most interesting about the story is that Mr. Bennett is from Oklahoma City. So he was asking for a subsidy in a place he did not even live. An independent analysis of the Seattle deal concluded "Questions remain about the long-term sustainability of the NBA model for host cities/venues."

Sacramento had the same kind of situation. Absentee owners demanded an unreasonable deal where they would end up spending about 9% of the arena cost for the hypothetical benefits of having a mediocre sports team in the town. The voters made the same sane decision that the citizens of Seattle made.

As Ailene Voisin, the Sacramento Bee Sports Columnist pointed out before our election, the NBA owners are not the picture of health. The Sonics previous owner bailed after five seasons. The Memphis team's owner is also bailing after a few years. Ditto for Portland and Milwaukee's owners.

In the last 10 years the NBA has seen the price of having a team or attending a game escalate even faster than the price of college or health care. Finally the voters are realizing that all the hype is just that, hype. I suspect that if the NBA teams continue to demand outrageous subsidies to compensate these private businesses they will find it increasingly less possible to find cities stupid enough to take their offers. Sacramento could benefit from a group with the same purpose.

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