• Villanova Sports Law Blog

Paul Allen: A Trail Blazer for Sports in the Pacific Northwest

By Joe Manganiello:

In the combined 51 years Paul Allen owned the two major sports franchises, the Seattle Seahawks played for three Super Bowls, winning one, and his Portland Trail Blazers were the eighth-winningest NBA team. Allen, who passed away on October 15 following a return diagnosis of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, sealed a positive legacy with sports fans in the Pacific Northwest simply by keeping his teams in the region.


Allen voted against the sale of the Seattle SuperSonics to Clay Bennett in 2006, but could not stop Bennett from relocating to Oklahoma City two years later.[1] Immediately, speculation ensued. Could Allen, who bought the Blazers in 1988, fill the vacancy in his hometown? Despite repeated rumors, Allen remained loyal to Portland, Oregon, which ranks among the smaller markets in the NBA.[2] It was Allen’s affinity for the Pacific Northwest that motivated him to buy the Seahawks for $194 million in 1997, thus keeping the team from moving to Anaheim.[3] Allen was among the wealthiest people on the planet, but, to his credit, the co-founder of Microsoft was willing to spend great sums of money in order to field relevant teams for the people of the Pacific Northwest.

The combined value of Allen’s sports teams, which includes a 20 percent stake in Major League Soccer's Seattle Sounders, is upward of $4 billion.[4] Beyond the obvious complexities of transferring controlling interest of not one, but two major sports franchises, there are unique variables that complicate matters.

Earlier in 2018, Gayle Benson retained ownership of the New Orleans Pelicans and the New Orleans Saints after her husband Tom, the longtime owner of both franchises, passed away. Unlike the Bensons, however, there is no immediate successor — Allen had no wife or children.[5] Allen's sports interests are part of Vulcan Inc., which is in a trust controlled by his sister, Jody.[6] She is reportedly not interested in controlling either sports franchise — although she has not spoken publicly on the matter.[7] Reports published in the wake of Allen’s death suggest that sales of both franchises could be used to fund Allen’s charitable endeavors.[8]


Assuming overwhelming demand from potential buyers ultimately does lead to the sale of both teams, what does that do to the odds that Seattle and Portland, respectively, keep their teams?


A source told The Washington Post that the Trail Blazers have a lease agreement with the city of Portland through 2025.[9] Furthermore, the NBA must approve the relocation of any team.[10] A little more than a decade removed from the controversial sale of the SuperSonics, it is unlikely that the NBA would voluntarily welcome an unavoidable public relations nightmare.

A variable yet to be determined in the evaluation of the Trail Blazers — currently at $1.3 billion — is whether or not a potential sale of the team would include all of the properties that encompass the Rose Quarter, a 30-acre sports and entertainment district which houses the Moda Center.[11] Allen’s estate owns the arena and is already factored into the evaluation; the price tag for the Blazers’ sale could jump significantly, however, if the other Rose Quarter properties came to be included: the 12,000-seat Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the 6,500-seat Theater of the Clouds, the 40,000-square-foot Exhibit Hall and the Rose Quarter Commons.[12]


Unlike the NBA, the NFL requires a structured arrangement for owner succession on file from every team. This mandatory foresight means that Allen’s plans for the Seahawks will eventually be made public.[13] It is fortuitous that the NFL owners voted on October 16 to alter the league’s policy that previously barred ownership of non-NFL franchises in markets with NFL teams.[14] League officials confirmed that the policy change was in the works for months and was made independent of Allen’s passing.[15] The timing of this change opens the door for wealthy owners in other sports — Steve Ballmer of the Los Angeles Clippers, who similarly made his fortune at Microsoft, and is also based out of the Pacific Northwest, comes to mind — as potential suitors for the Seattle Seahawks.[16]


The Seahawks will likely fetch more money than the Carolina Panthers did earlier this year when it sold for $2.3 billion — the highest enterprise value ever recorded for the controlling stake of a professional sports team.[17] Forbes reports that CenturyLink Field, which is operated by Allen's First and Goal Inc., is what lifts the evaluations for the Seahawks ($2.6 billion) and Sounders ($60 million for 20 percent ownership).[18] The Seahawks’ long-term lease with CenturyLink Field does not expire until 2029 and features options for an additional 20 years.[19]


Sports fans in the Pacific Northwest should rest assured that neither of their major professional sports teams figure to be leaving the region anytime soon. Moreover, considering that Allen was the wealthiest owner in the NFL, his estate is uniquely positioned to prioritize selling to owners invested in the region, as opposed to simply selling to the highest bidder. It will take months for every “i” to be dotted and each “t” to be crossed, but the legacy of Paul Allen as a protector of the Pacific Northwest is safe for the foreseeable future.



[1] Dave Deckard, Remembering Portland Trail Blazers Owner Paul Allen, Blazer’s Edge (Oct. 15, 2018) https://www.blazersedge.com/2018/10/15/17982076/paul-allen-death-history-eulogy-trail-blazers-memories

[2] Id.

[3] Jarrett Bell, What's next for Seahawks after death of Paul Allen? Staying in Seattle should be clear answer, USA Today (Oct. 17, 2018) https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/columnist/bell/2018/10/17/seattle-seahawks-paul-allen-death-owner/1676438002/

[4] Mike Ozanian, Paul Allen's Sports Teams Will Sell For Over $4 Billion, Forbes (Oct. 16, 2018) https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikeozanian/2018/10/16/paul-allens-sports-teams-will-sell-for-over-4-billion/#5e5a3ef52095

[5] Jenny Vrentas, Seahawks Succession: Who Might Replace Paul Allen?, Sports Illustrated (Oct. 19, 2018) https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/10/18/seattle-seahawks-succession-jerry-jones-jeff-bezos-steve-ballmer-larry-ellison

[6] Mike Ozanian, Paul Allen's Sports Teams Will Sell For Over $4 Billion, Forbes (Oct. 16, 2018) https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikeozanian/2018/10/16/paul-allens-sports-teams-will-sell-for-over-4-billion/#5e5a3ef52095

[7] Jenny Vrentas, Seahawks Succession: Who Might Replace Paul Allen?, Sports Illustrated (Oct. 19, 2018) https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/10/18/seattle-seahawks-succession-jerry-jones-jeff-bezos-steve-ballmer-larry-ellison

[8] Tim Bontemps, Mark Maske, What happens to Seahawks, Trail Blazers following owner Paul Allen’s death?, Washington Post (Oct. 16, 2018) https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/what-happens-to-seahawks-trail-blazers-following-owner-paul-allens-death/2018/10/16/d27c021a-d165-11e8-b2d2-f397227b43f0_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.1f33f8033246

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Mike Ozanian, Paul Allen's Sports Teams Will Sell For Over $4 Billion, Forbes (Oct. 16, 2018) https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikeozanian/2018/10/16/paul-allens-sports-teams-will-sell-for-over-4-billion/#5e5a3ef52095

[12] Id.

[13] Tim Bontemps, Mark Maske, What happens to Seahawks, Trail Blazers following owner Paul Allen’s death?, Washington Post (Oct. 16, 2018) https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/what-happens-to-seahawks-trail-blazers-following-owner-paul-allens-death/2018/10/16/d27c021a-d165-11e8-b2d2-f397227b43f0_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.1f33f8033246

[14] Jarrett Bell, What's next for Seahawks after death of Paul Allen? Staying in Seattle should be clear answer, USA Today (Oct. 17, 2018) https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/columnist/bell/2018/10/17/seattle-seahawks-paul-allen-death-owner/1676438002/

[15] Jenny Vrentas, Seahawks Succession: Who Might Replace Paul Allen?, Sports Illustrated (Oct. 19, 2018) https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/10/18/seattle-seahawks-succession-jerry-jones-jeff-bezos-steve-ballmer-larry-ellison

[16] Jarrett Bell, What's next for Seahawks after death of Paul Allen? Staying in Seattle should be clear answer, USA Today (Oct. 17, 2018) https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/columnist/bell/2018/10/17/seattle-seahawks-paul-allen-death-owner/1676438002/

[17] Mike Ozanian, Paul Allen's Sports Teams Will Sell For Over $4 Billion, Forbes (Oct. 16, 2018) https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikeozanian/2018/10/16/paul-allens-sports-teams-will-sell-for-over-4-billion/#5e5a3ef52095

[18] Id.

[19] Id.