• Villanova Sports Law Blog

Can the Supersonics Make a Comeback?

By Jack O'Connor:

On October 5th, the NBA returned to Seattle as Key Arena hosted its first professional men’s basketball game since the Supersonics left the city in 2008. Kevin Durant’s name was announced, and he took the court, opened up his warmup jacket, and revealed a throwback Sonics jersey. Unfortunately for Seattle fans, and basketball fans in general, this was just a temporary return. This event was a preseason game between the Golden State Warriors and the Sacramento Kings serving as night to pay homage to the Sonics of old and a possibly glimpse into what the future may hold.


It was a bittersweet moment for the fans in attendance, many of whom remember cheering for Durant back in 2007 when he was a star rookie for the Sonics. His tenure in Seattle lasted just one season as the team was promptly moved to Oklahoma City, thereby becoming the OKC Thunder and leaving Seattle basketball fans to imagine what could have been.


For the first time since the Sonics left the Seattle, the city has a glimmer of hope for the possible return of their beloved team. This is in large part due to the recent approval by Seattle’s City Council of a $700 million renovation of Key Arena [1]. Councilmember Debora Juarez said after the vote that, “In many ways, today’s full council vote was the closing chapter of a story fourteen years in the making” [2]. This story dates back to before the Sonics left the city. Current Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, owned the team and had a very difficult time securing funding to update Key Arena leading him to sell the team to Oklahoma City native, and current OKC Thunder owner, Clay Bennet [3]. Many viewed this move as a death sentence for the franchise in Seattle and they proved to be correct. Less than two years after the sale in 2006, Bennett announced the team would be relocating, leaving Seattle without an NBA team for the first time since 1966 [4].


The recent vote in Seattle is unique in that it has been widely regarded as a great deal for both the arena and the city. In the modern industry of stadium building, a deal which benefits all of the parties involved is rare. Just last year, Las Vegas, Nevada, approved a plan for what will be the most expensive stadium project to date. Their new football stadium will cost an estimated $1.9 billion and require county taxpayers to contribute $750 million dollars (approximately $354 per resident) [5]. The deal reached in Seattle is far different. The Seattle Arena Company and their group of investors will be funding the project with only private money. Additionally, they will be paying the city of Seattle $5 million per year while the stadium is under construction to compensate for lost revenue [6]. They will be receiving tax credits from the city in the amount of approximately $350,00 per year during construction, but the investment group will also be donating money to local youth, homeless, affordable housing and environmental groups [7].


The stadium plans are just as encouraging. Skanska Hunt has signed onto the deal as the general contractor (they previously worked on MetLife stadium in the Meadowlands) and their plans for the stadium include 18,600 more seats, individual home locker rooms for an NBA, NHL, and WNBA team, and most importantly, they will be keeping Key Arena’s iconic roof intact [8]. Although there currently are no plans for an NBA team, the city is meeting with the NHL to possible have a franchise in time for the 2020 season. These are more than encouraging steps for basketball fans in the state of Washington as the city demonstrates the capability to house a team as well as a built in fanbase that could rival those of currently existing teams.


This stadium deal should serve as a blueprint for other cities that have plans to build new stadium or renovate existing ones. Despite the long wait, the city will now have an incredible arena that does not strap taxpayers with an extra burden or leave a city in debt for years to come. I, along with many other fans, truly hope the NBA rewards this commitment sooner rather than later and Seattle gets the chance to rep the green and gold once again.



[1] Heidi Groover, Seattle City Council approves $700 million renovation of Key Arena, The Seattle Times (September 24, 2018), https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/seattle-city-council-approves-700-million-renovation-of-keyarena/

[2] Chris Thompson, Seattle Somehow Reaches New Arena Deal Without Horribly Screwing Generations of Taxpayers, Deadspin (September 24, 2018), https://deadspin.com/seattle-somehow-reaches-new-arena-deal-without-horribly-1829284068

[3] Sam Farmer, Hot the Sonics became the Thunder: A timeline, Los Angeles Times (June 16, 2012), http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jun/16/sports/la-sp-0617-sonics-thunder-timeline-20120617

[4] Id.

[5] Henry Grabar, Las Vegas made the worst stadium deal in the world, Business Insider (April 2, 2017), https://www.businessinsider.com/las-vegas-made-the-worst-stadium-deal-in-the-world-2017-4

[6] Heidi Groover, Seattle City Council approves $700 million renovation of Key Arena, The Seattle Times (September 24, 2018), https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/seattle-city-council-approves-700-million-renovation-of-keyarena/

[7] Id.

[8] Geoff Baker, Key Arena renovation takes next step with announcement of general contractor Skanska Hunt, The Seattle Times (July 31, 2018), https://www.seattletimes.com/sports/hockey/keyarena-renovation-takes-next-step-with-oak-view-group-and-nhl-seattle-announcement-of-general-contractor-skanska-hunt/