Seattle Center sent the Storm packing.
Seattle will play its first home playoff game away from KeyArena due to a private Microsoft event on its home court this weekend. Sounds strange since Microsoft executive Lisa Brummel is also the basketball team’s co-owner and her company’s search engine, Bing, has its logo emblazoned across the chest of the players’ jerseys.
However, Microsoft was able to offer more money to the Seattle Center to hold its event from Sept. 18-28. “Economics does play a role as well,” confirmed Deborah Daoust, a spokeswoman for the Seattle Center.
In a settlement reached through mediation on Aug. 29, it was determined that the fourth-seeded Storm will host Game 2 of its best-of-three opening-round series against top-seeded Minnesota at the Tacoma Dome on Sunday.
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“We’ve never not had our building,” said Karen Bryant, the Storm’s president and CEO. “We fully expected we would be in the playoffs this year, so this was a source of surprise and frustration and disappointment.”
In the Storm’s lease, which runs through 2018, the city pays the team $300,000 annually to be the primary tenant. Force 10 Hoops, the Storm’s ownership group, in turn pays $100,000 in rent each season.
The belief was the Storm could bring Seattle Center about $750,000 per season in revenue, although the Storm’s attendance has dipped this season, to an average of 6,980 fans per game.
The contract the Storm has with Seattle Center lays out a process for negotiating date conflicts so the city went through that process with a mediator. In the end, they settled the dispute “within the bounds of the lease agreement with the Storm,” according to Daoust.
The Storm could not give Seattle Center exact playoff dates until the WNBA set its schedule, but knew of the conflict last fall. Bryant said the ownership group fought for about six months to secure KeyArena for its possible playoff dates.
After the determination was made to play at the Tacoma Dome, the race was on to prepare the facility. (The Storm played an exhibition game there in 2002.)
Other WNBA teams also have been moved from their home court for playoff games. Los Angeles played a 2006 Western Conference finals game at Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, Calif. San Antonio held Game 2 of its WNBA first-round series at Freeman Coliseum last season due to a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert.
The difference for the Storm is timing, according to Bryant. Since the ruling was made three weeks ago, seating configuration wasn’t finalized until Thursday night. For ticket sales, a diagram of Tacoma Dome seating was sent to season-ticket holders to select their playoff seats. General ticket sales began Monday.
Seattle Center marketing and communications employees are helping to promote the game. On Wednesday, those who’ve previously purchased tickets to events at KeyArena and/or McCaw Hall received a “CenterFlash” e-mail about the Storm playoff game. Signage on the Seattle Center also advertises the Tacoma Dome game.
“We’re just really supportive of the Storm and we want them to be successful,” Daoust said.
The Storm front office spent Thursday making the final tweaks to the Tacoma Dome, deciding on a floor plan that allows a 9,000-seat capacity. KeyArena has a 9,686-seat lower-bowl capacity. Parking is $15 at the Tacoma Dome. Tickets prices begin at $21.04.
The Tacoma Dome court will be situated off-center, utilizing about three-fourths of the floor space. The KeyArena court surface was transferred and black curtains will help create a setting on grounds often suited for monster truck shows.
“It’s a dome,” Bryant said emphatically.
Storm coach Brian Agler held a practice at the facility Tuesday. Players posted their excitement via Twitter, encouraging fans to attend.
“Obviously we have a special connection in KeyArena,” Storm co-captain Tanisha Wright said. “But at the end of the day, life goes on. We’ve all played in plenty of different arenas. As long as Storm fans come out and support us, we’ll be satisfied with that.”
Seattle Times reporter Emily Heffter contributed to this report.