Greg Jayne: Arena deal is overdue good news for Seattle

Commentary: Greg Jayne

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Editor



They were due for some good news. Goodness knows, they were due.

Seattle sports fans have spent the past couple years feeling like the early worm that has an unfortunate encounter with the early bird. The Seahawks, Mariners, and Huskies have ranged from dreadful to bland; the Sonics have been relegated to the dust bin of history.

What more could possibly go wrong?

Oh yeah, ESPN recently ranked the ex-Sonics as the best franchise in all of sports. Yes, the Oklahoma City Thunder stood No. 1 in something called the Ultimate Rankings — as if Seattle fans needed just one more punch to the gut.

About the only indignity remaining for The Emerald City would be to turn Pike Place Market into a 72-lane bowling center. So, when the city took a big step last week toward the construction of a new arena near Safeco Field, one designed to attract an NBA team and perhaps an NHL club … well, the people of Seattle deserved it.

Whether or not the arena ever gets built — and whether or not the city can attract a basketball and/or hockey team — remains to be seen. But last week’s financial deal was important for Seattle and, because it breaks the mold for public-private partnerships, it could be important for every major-league city.

The King County Council reached an agreement with principal investor Chris Hansen, embracing the seemingly outdated notion of compromise. In an era of strident inflexibility, both sides managed to give a little in order to gain a lot.

Hansen agreed to personally provide the safety net should the revenues fall short of projections, a move that might get him blacklisted from the exclusive Billionaires Who Own Sports Teams Club. The city and King County won’t be on the hook for subsidizing the business while the owner reaps the profits, which tends to be the model for most arena deals.

Heck, it tends to be the model for all big businesses, which have taken to holding cities hostage in the name of providing jobs. Seattle is a city, remember, that not long ago saw its signature company — Boeing — pick up and move its headquarters.

Despite all that baggage, Seattle managed to work out deal.

And so, once again, Seattle has shown itself to be an mp3 file to Portland’s 8-track tape. While Seattle was forming a plan for a nearly half-billion-dollar arena, Portland was arguing about putting fluoride in the drinking water.

Portland: “The Big City of Small Thinkers.”

And light rail.

“The Big City of Small Thinkers and Light Rail.”

All of this, of course, takes place before Seattle has secured an NBA team. It takes place before an NBA team is even available. But considering how the league was complicit in the fleecing of the city when the Sonics left, it would seem that the NBA owes one to Seattle.

An NBA team would appear to be a given. The addition of an NHL club as a fourth major league — not to mention soccer’s Sounders — might seem a bit of a stretch to some. But Denver has teams in all four major leagues (plus the Colorado Rapids of MLS), and it is smaller than Seattle; Phoenix has four major-league franchises, and it ranks one spot ahead of Seattle at No. 14 on the list of the country’s biggest metropolitan areas.

So while we applaud Seattle for its foresight, we lament the fact that it is positioned to have an NHL team before Portland, which should have had one 15 years ago.

That makes for some good sports news for the people of Seattle. Goodness knows, they could use some.

Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at Follow him on Twitter @col_gjayne