Monday, April 21, 2008

David Stern, I know your secret

It looks as though it is inevitable that the Seattle Super Sonics are moving to Oklahoma. If not this season, then next season, or the season after that when the Key Arena lease expires. One thing that surprises me is the number of articles on how Clay Bennett has tricked David Stern, or the articles on how Stern should step in and help save the Sonics. This is where Stern has everyone fooled. Everyone thinks it is Clay Bennett's idea to give his beloved hometown of Oklahoma City a pro franchise, when that's not really what this is all about. What this is really about is a power struggle, so that professional sports franchises can give sports fans a big Fuck You. I think somewhere down the line, Stern, and perhaps several other owners and professional sports league commissioners, became tired of fans whining and demanding concessions. After all, from Stern's point of view, having a pro sports team was a privilege that any city should be proud to have, and the fact that fans weren't appreciative enough ticked him off. This move from Seattle exemplifies a power struggle, and the struggle is that if a city isn't willing to subsidize a sports team whenever an owner demands it, then the city could lose all it invested in a team no matter how rich the tradition, how loyal the fan base, or how profitable the team had been.
Think about it, is there any other business where a group of businessman can just come in, buy a piece of property and then claim that it is no longer suitable for business within the year. I mean really, how can someone complain about a lease and the way it is structured, when they knew when they bought it that the lease was overpriced. It's like trading for an aging superstar player with a backloaded contract, then complaining about it. This should have figured into their calculations when posting a bidding price. Of course once the team was purchased, Bennett and friends somehow made it seem reasonable that an arena that was once lauded for how state-of-the-art it was, now suddenly 12 years later is totally unsuitable for business, and the only way the business can continue, is if the local government forks over half of a billion dollars, which by the way is an unheard of amount for an NBA arena. I mean really, why would you buy a business, if you immediately needed a new facility that you weren't willing to pay for at all? How can you just buy a team for $350 million dollars and then just expect the good city of Seattle to fork over $500 million, especially when you are simply asking for $150 million or so in renovations to your current non-professional basketball arena in Oklahoma City? I'll tell you how they have the gumption to do this, because David Stern asked them to do it.
Why? Would would Stern risk alienating a loyal fan base? I'll tell you why, Stern wanted to send a message to fans, and that message is that to have the privilege of an NBA franchise in your city, you must ensure that it is profitable at all times. In fact, I'd be willing to say that Stern loves the fact that Seattle is a much bigger market than Oklahoma City. He loves the fact that the Sonics have been in Seattle for 41 years, and that they have the only championship that the city has experienced (that hockey one way back when doesn't count, and neither does the Storm one, sorry ladies). He loves this because he's showing that tradition doesn't matter and that he's willing to move a team to a worse situation financially if it means the new city is footing the bill. I was reading recently about the cruise ship industry, and how they were so profitable in the beginning because the Scandinavian countries were having such a hard time with unemployment that they paid for 50% of the costs of cruise ships just so they could have more business for the dockworkers. Imagine running a business where 50% of your fixed costs are paid for, it doesn't seem too hard to make a profit when governments are willing to do whatever it takes to have your business does it? Well this is exactly what the NBA is doing now, they're saying, pay for my fixed costs, then you can enjoy our services. This is so baffling, I don't understand it. I know this happens in normal businesses sometims, such as the city of Tacoma paying Russell Investment to not move to Seattle, but not quite to this extent. I mean, think about how profitable owning a sports franchise is. Not only have franchise values gone up drastically in the last 30 years, but revenues have increased from tv deals, from a broader global presence, and from the fact that cities end up having to pay for $300 million dollar arenas when the teams themselves are only worth $300 million themselves.
What can fans do in this situation? Not much actually. I for one am never watching the NBA again. I know, the NBA this season is probably it's best ever. The west is 8 deep (9 actually), and it will probably be a classic Celtics Lakers finals showdown, but I don't care. I don't want any part of this league and I sincerely wish that other fans did the same. It's kind of like a strike in that this is a power struggle where not watching the playoffs is not really what fans want to do, but for the greater good down the road, I think it would be great if fans united and boycotted going to games. This would get Stern's attention, and that lying rat bastard would have to concede defeat. Unfortunately, I don't see this happening. Fans will continue to watch the playoffs, owners will continue to get even richer, and fans will always be on the short end of the bargaining stick.