Friday, February 3
"So this is a basketball? Fascinating! "
As this site has gone on, one area in which I am proud is our reluctance to write articles concerning the Sonics’ financial picture. I don’t know about Paul or Chunky, but I root for the Sonics’ basketball team, not for Howard Schultz, Barry Ackerley, or anyone else in the front office. I would imagine most of the people who visit this site are in the same situation. The kind of statistics we enjoy are points per game, not economic indicators.
Yet this latest hubbub concerning the Sonics and their arena woes has struck me as something worth discussing. Obviously, both sides of this argument – as in any debate – are staking out their respective territories, filling the newspaper and airwaves with ridiculous rhetoric that has as much basis in fact as W’s State of the Union.
Somewhere between Nick Licata’s nonsense about sports having “no cultural or economic value whatsoever” and Howard Schultz’s diatribe about “we are ultimately not the ones responsible for selling or moving this team” lies the truth, at least what I consider to be the truth.
The truth is the Sonics are vastly overstating their economic impact upon their hometown, a trait they learned, no doubt, from all of the other professional sports teams in North America.
Take a guess – what’s the economic impact of the Sonics on Seattle? In other words, if the Sonics left, by what percentage what this region’s economy decline? By 20? 10? 5?
Try 1/10th of one percent. Or, perhaps I should put it another way, as this author did: “In every case, independent work on the economic impact of stadiums and arenas has uniformly found that there is no statistically significant positive correlation between sports facility construction and economic development. … This stands in stark contrast to the claims of sports teams and leagues who assert that the large economic benefits of professional franchises merit considerable public expenditures on stadiums and arenas.” Or, perhaps you’d like to read this article, whose authors “haven’t uncovered a single instance in which the presence of a professional sports team has been linked to a boost in the local economy.”
And for this, Howard Schultz wants the taxpayers of King County to cough up $200 million, all the while his front office is signing people like Calvin Booth to five-year, multimillion contracts, Mikki Moore to a deal that pay him $300,000 a point, Ibo Kutluay to a two-year deal that contributed all of zero points to the Sonics, and so on. All while his front office sales staff has posted the lowest luxury suite occupancy rate in the entire NBA.
Face it, Howard, you have made your mess and now you must lie in it. I for one am not interested in subsidizing his team’s idiocy. Yes, I love the Sonics, and, yes, if they win an NBA championship it will warm my heart like few other things in my life. But how does that compare to people stuck in 2-hour traffic delays, every day, every week, every month of the year because of a lack of public transit? Will the goodwill generated by Schultz’ new building make homeless people warmer at night?
No, it won’t. I have come to a shared conclusion with two very smart people who know more about this subject than me, you, or Howard. Noll and Zimbalist’s fine book from 1997 “Sports, Jobs, and Taxes: The Economic Impact of Sports Teams and Stadiums,” explains in excrutiating detail just what its title declares. Their conclusion? “Stadium subsidies facilitate building expensive monuments to sports that benefit no one and transfer income from ordinary people to highly paid players, owners, and executives.”
Sorry, folks, but if you’re asking me to cough up $200 million so that I can continue to enjoy writing for a sports blog, Ray Allen can add another bedroom to his guest house, and Howard Schultz can add another Starbucks in Tarzana, well, you’re asking the wrong guy.
Posted by PN at 9:35 AM