It could all be a political game, but Suns owner Robert Sarver told Phoenix City Council members he would move the team to either Seattle or Las Vegas if the council doesn't approve $150 million in public funds to renovate the Suns' arena.
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Robert Sarver, owner of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, is threatening to move the franchise to Seattle or Las Vegas if the Phoenix City Council doesn’t vote to approve $150 million in public funds for a $230 million renovation of the arena where the Suns play, per the Arizona Republic.
It’s certainly possible this is nothing more than a political game and Sarver doesn’t actually plan to move the Suns. Franchise relocation rumors are not uncommon, and, for quite some time, they’ve been a tried-and-true strategic leverage play toward securing public funding for new or renovated stadiums.
In reaction to the reports of Sarver’s threats, Suns president Jason Rowley refuted that threats to move had been made at all.
“I have no idea where that came from,” he told Fox 10 Phoenix.
Rowley released a statement on the matter Friday.
“As I have stated publicly during the 48 hours since the original story broke, neither Robert nor anyone else within the Suns organization has threatened City officials with relocating the Suns out of state during the course of our renovation discussions,” he said. “Further, we have not engaged in any discussions with Seattle, Las Vegas or any other city for that matter regarding a potential relocation of the Suns. To the contrary, we have been and remain steadfastly committed and solely focused on reaching an agreement that will keep the team in downtown Phoenix where it belongs.
It is unfortunate that our loyal and dedicated employees, fans, and partners have had to endure the rampant speculation and uncertainty that was created by this inaccurate story, and it is disappointing that no one at the Suns was contacted for comment before the original story was published. However, I appreciate that the record has now been set straight, and we look forward to the public discussion ahead and continuing to work with the City to keep the Suns in our downtown home for years to come.”
That said, this situation still is worth analyzing and monitoring, given Seattle’s hunger for the NBA’s return and the (privately funded) KeyArena renovation plodding along toward its 2021 opening. So, let’s break down the situation in Phoenix that could lead to the Suns’ relocation, using some questions that are sure to arise:
What are the Suns asking for?
The Suns and owner Sarver want $150 million in public money to renovate the arena where they play, Talking Stick Resort Arena, in downtown Phoenix. The arena is owned by the city. The Suns would spend $80 million of their own money to renovate luxury boxes, among other fixes, in addition to contributing to an annual fund, paying rent (currently $1.5 million per year but that will increase, possibly to $4 million, after a renovation) and continuing to operate and maintain the arena. The renovation would occur between 2019 and 2021.
Who will vote on whether they get the money?
The Phoenix City Council, which is comprised of seven members and an interim mayor, will vote on the deal. If four members vote no, the deal will fail. The Arizona Republic has more on which members are likely to provide the key votes either way. A new arena would require a public vote, but a renovation would require only council approval, so here we are.
When will they vote on the deal?
Because the deal was rushed to vote with little public input or education, among other reasons, the vote was delayed from Wednesday until likely Jan. 23.
What happens if the deal falls through?
If the council votes no on the deal, the Suns could leave Phoenix in 2022. The team signed a 40-year lease to stay at their arena in Phoenix in 1992, but a provision in the contract would allow the Suns to leave after 30 years if they play in an obsolete arena. Talking Stick Resort Arena is the fifth-oldest current NBA arena. If the Suns leave, the city of Phoenix would need to take over the Suns’ operations and maintenance duties.
What happens if the deal is approved?
The Suns would stay in downtown Phoenix through 2037 with the option to stay another five years. Under this scenario, if they left Phoenix before 2037, they would be subject to up to a $200 million fine.
What are the chances of this vote failing and the Suns actually relocating?
That question, the big one, is anyone’s guess. As of Monday, three Phoenix City Council members were “no” votes, and a fourth is possible in Michael Nowakowski. So, the deal could be in jeopardy, but the obvious, huge question is whether Sarver would follow through on his threats to relocate the Suns if he doesn’t get the public money. There’s also Suns president Rowley’s denial of such threats and whether you believe him. Regardless, stay tuned: the vote on whether to give that money to the Suns will allow more feedback from the public.
Even with all the caveats and the potential ethical dilemma of “stealing” another city’s franchise, it’s fun to picture the NBA returning to our city — and the irony of a team named the Suns moving to all-too-gray Seattle.