Mariners are asking for a public-relations nightmare by opposing Chris Hansen's arena proposal, even if some of their concerns are valid.
Rue the day.
Mariners president Chuck Armstrong exhumed that ancient cliché Wednesday as he spoke to several media outlets while attempting to do the impossible: explain why the local baseball team has a beef with Chris Hansen’s proposal to build an NBA/NHL arena in its backyard.
“Our view is that Hansen, if he built it in that location, he would rue the day he did it,” Armstrong told me, repeating a line he used on 97.3 KIRO-FM earlier in the day.
Why? Because of traffic.
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Though the Mariners raise valid concerns, it comes across as silly, maybe even petty, to listen to a sports franchise with a publicly funded stadium complain this much about another project. The Port of Seattle, which is concerned about protecting billions of dollars in maritime business revenue, has a legitimate gripe, and it expressed its view strongly in a letter to the city’s Arena Advisory Panel earlier this week. The Mariners followed Tuesday with their own letter to civic leaders, which officially outs them as major opposition.
The Mariners say they are all for the NBA and NHL coming to Seattle, but not in their ‘hood. They don’t want the congested Sodo area to become unbearable. They’re worried about hindering their “fan experience,” and because they haven’t been to the playoffs since 2001, they know a lot about hindering a fan experience. They’re using words such as “ingress” and “egress” to give their argument some sophistication.
Look at it objectively. They have a point. Problem is, it’s a molehill issue that isn’t worth it for them. The Mariners sound like stingy, grumpy old men yelling for Hansen to get off their lawn. Even worse, they risk alienating far more fans than they already have during this decadelong dry spell.
Because of traffic.
“The proposed Sodo location, in our view, simply does not work,” Mariners chairman and chief executive officer Howard Lincoln wrote in the letter. “It would bring scheduling, traffic and parking challenges that would likely require hundreds of millions of dollars to mitigate.”
The Mariners are calling for a well-thought process, which is a reasonable request. It’s what Hansen wants, too. They can work together, and if the Mariners want to get rid of the perception that they’re being selfish, they will have to be cooperative moving forward.
Adding a sports/entertainment arena that would seek to have 200 events a year would be a problem if nothing is done to alleviate traffic and parking issues. Everyone gets that. The Mariners don’t need to bark about it. It’s understood. The Arena Advisory Panel already has noted it.
The Mariners must recognize the big picture: Losing the Sonics four years ago caused irreparable damage to the city’s sports morale. Bringing them back, along with the NHL, isn’t just a nice wish. It’s a must to reinvent Seattle’s sports culture and infuse the region with a fresh spirit and hope.
Hansen doesn’t just have an idea. He has offered the best arena plan the city may ever see. His group has pledged $290 million toward the project, and the rest of the financing is clever and unobtrusive for the average citizen. If the Mariners remain objectors and Hansen’s project fails, many fans will never forgive them.
Because of traffic.
“That’s an excellent question,” Armstrong said. “In the sports business, perception oftentimes becomes reality. Yeah, there’s a risk. But suppose we just say, ‘Yeah, we support it,’ and four or five years from now that area becomes a total quagmire because we didn’t speak up? It’s a difficult line to draw, but people need to know what our concerns are. Let’s have a process and discuss them.”
Asked a pointed question about the Mariners being afraid of competition, Armstrong said, “That’s just wrong.” Asked if the team is conspiring with the Port of Seattle to ruin Hansen’s proposal, Armstrong said, “We’re not in cahoots with the Port.” Asked about the Mariners’ financial contribution to a polling of local residents that seems both anti-arena and deviously deceptive, with questions such as whether they would support a sports arena over public schools (which is as far from the issue as it gets), Armstrong said, “I have not seen any of the questions.”
The Mariners have been in the sports business long enough to know they can’t be the good and bad guy. Their take is nuanced, but they will be looked upon as an enemy of Hansen, an enemy of the Sonics revival and an enemy of the hope that many local sports fans have right now.
Is that an overstated mischaracterization? Probably. Remember, the Mariners hosted an incredible, first-class Sonics Night last season. But are overstated mischaracterizations common in our black-and-white sports world? Absolutely.
The Mariners are engaging in a fight they can’t win. Did you notice that their Sodo pals, the Seahawks and Sounders FC, have been savvy enough to take the high road? If the NBA and NHL come to Sodo, it’ll now be considered a middle finger to the Mariners. If they don’t come, the Mariners may have even fewer traffic worries than they do now because some casual fans will boycott them.
Irrational sports fans aren’t the only ones shaking their heads. During an interview on Sports Radio KJR on Wednesday, City Councilmember Bruce Harrell didn’t sound too happy with Lincoln’s letter, either.
“I was disappointed in the substance and tone,” Harrell said. “Many of the issues they raise are non-issues.”
The Mariners say they’re open to collaborating with Hansen on a resolution, and such cooperation needs to happen as soon as possible to alter their public image.
Otherwise, their days will be filled with the most rue.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @Jerry_Brewer.