Originally published on February 10th, 2012
The NBA could be coming back to Seattle.
Sports radio has been on fire in Seattle all week with the speculation that a new arena deal is in the works that could bring both the NBA and the NHL to Seattle in the soon to immediate future. Fans of the Supersonics are happy, fans of the NHL are happy, and sports fans in general are excited about the prospect of two new teams joining a top 10 media market in the United States. But there has to be one team that is mortified at the prospect of the new competition: The Seattle Mariners.
Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times has argued since the baseball offseason that if the Mariners didn’t make a move for Prince Fielder, that we as fans shouldn’t expect any major spending at all. Baker has speculated that the Mariners are in a declining cost mode until 2015, when the team can opt out of their current deal with Fox… er, Root Sports. It’s hard to disagree with Baker after a Mariners offseason that included few moves and long-shot to retread player signings when there were any. The issue for the Mariners now is whether the offseason might turn into one of the biggest errors in the history of the franchise.
The Seattle Mariners biggest bargaining chip leading into 2015 was their relative exclusivity in the market. The Seattle Seahawks broadcasting rights are tied directly to the NFL, so they weren’t worried that media outlets would be choosing between the Mariners or the Seahawks. The Sounders are still so new to the equation, and the season is so short, that the Mariners weren’t worried about them either. Local major universities like UW and WSU are going to be tied to the upcoming Pac 12 network deal — So again, no competition there for bids. As far as the Mariners were concerned, they were the one player in the Seattle marketplace; voiding their deal with Root Sports in 2015 and opening it up to a bidding war was a sure fire win for the team, at least until this week. You have to wonder what impact the NHL and NBA will have on the TV bidding in 2015. How big will the pot truly be for the Mariners with two premier competitors joining the market — Certainly both teams, that would be fresh and in a new arena by 2015, are going to be a bigger draw for prospective bidders.
If the Mariners didn’t have enough to worry about, what impact will new teams have on their immediate revenue stream? Average NHL/NBA attendance per season is roughly 700,000 per year, per team. So you’re looking at almost 1.5 million people at a minimum that would be attending games. 1.5 million is probably underselling the teams since first and second year attendance are bound to be thru the roof, especially when the roof is covering a new arena. Where are those 1.5 million fans going to come from? They’re not going to come from the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks are a guaranteed sellout to near sellout every game. They have an inspiring coach and an exciting young team. It’s hard to argue against the energy that fans bring to Qwest Field. Is it going to come from the Sounders? The Sounders have created a game day experience that brings over 30,000 fans a game to Qwest to watch soccer. The Sounders are the “hip” team to watch — you won’t see me there, I’m not a soccer guy, but the fans that like it are in 100%. No, the fans are going to come from baseball.
There are a ton of things that make baseball great. I love baseball. But, I can also understand the apathy for the sport. With 81 home games a year, it’s easy to pick and choose matchups at Safeco Field. The pacing of the game is something that comes up a lot too. I don’t agree with it, but I understand why people feel that way. You’re not going to have that issue w/the NBA or NHL. How many casual fans are going to divert their money to the NHL and NBA and the effect that can have on the Mariners attendance is going to be a real concern for their front office, especially coming off of 4 consecutive years of decreased attendance.
There’s no easy way around it, the Mariners are going to be hurt if the NBA and NHL come to Seattle. If the arena is located south of Safeco Field, which is what the reports are saying, then you’re looking at a direct competitor to your regular season income. They’re new, they’re fun, and they’re right down the street. If I were Howard Lincoln or Chuck Armstrong, I would buy stock in Tums.
So how do I feel about the NBA/NHL moves to Seattle? I feel great about the idea of the NHL. The sport is gaining popularity annually and attendance continues to rise, which is surprising considering how expensive tickets can be. The game is awesome to watch live! I make trips to Vancouver a couple of times a year to see the Canucks and I’ve been to Everett and the ShoWare for games. Seattle will embrace hockey, and they should. The NBA, on the other hand, is dead to me. I haven’t watched an NBA game since the Sonics announced they were moving. Not one. When the highlights come up on Sportscenter, I change the channel. As far as I’m concerned, I won’t watch another game until David Stern is fired or dies, whichever comes first. That’s not to say I hope David Stern dies, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. If he lives to 100, great, I’ll watch it then. Overall fan interest is bound to be high, but the money won’t be coming from me. Quite honestly, I don’t know if it would come from me anyway. The NBA has gotten dull. When I’d watch games before the Sonics left town, I just wasn’t into it. The quality of the game (not just the Sonics, who were being “Major League’d right out of town by Bennett, I mean all of the NBA) just wasn’t where it used to be. The regular season games felt like exhibition. I didn’t see a lot of effort or hustle, and the tenacious defense I got used to in the 1990’s was gone. The game has changed a lot, which is too bad, because it used to be great.
The speculated arena location is a big problem. Jerry Brewer made a great comment on KJR yesterday, that putting another arena down by Qwest and Safeco didn’t add anything to the area. He was talking about the stuff to DO down there. Unlike a lot of other cities I’ve been too, Safeco is down in a corner of Seattle that doesn’t have a lot to do or see. Think about it, if you want to catch a bite to eat, what’s there within about a 6 block radius? Not a whole lot. Dropping a third complex on the edge of downtown is all good and nice, but if they’re going to do it, they need to promote and grow businesses and restaurant availability in the immediate area.
It’s going to be an interesting few weeks and/or months. How soon official announcements and campaigning will start is anybody’s guess, but I would be willing to be there isn’t anyone watching it harder, and more nervously, than the Seattle Mariners. You have to hope that the Mariners don’t go to regret their offseason, in a time that suddenly got very exciting and interesting for Seattle sports fans.