Speaking at the Geek Wire Sports Technology Summit at Safeco Field, Steve Ballmer said there have been no talks about NBA expansion at the owner level and Seattle’s quickest arena hope might involve bringing hockey here first.
Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer said Wednesday he doesn’t see Seattle landing an NBA franchise “within the next year or two years” to facilitate public funding for an arena.
Speaking at the GeekWire Sports Tech Summit at Safeco Field, Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft, said there have been no talks about NBA expansion at the owner level and that Seattle’s quickest hope for an arena might involve bringing hockey here first. Ballmer had partnered with entrepreneur Chris Hansen on his Sodo District arena project but left that group two years ago to buy the Clippers for $2 billion.
“It’s just not likely to happen,” Ballmer told those attending the conference. “There has been no discussion about expansion since I have been involved with the league. So, I don’t think that will happen. The league has really moved to favor teams staying in their current markets. You’d have to find a team that’s at the end of their (arena) lease, where it looks hard to build an arena and where they’ve tried really hard to build an arena.
“And you’d have to show that an arena can get built in Seattle,” he added. “Because unlike most other cities that build an arena before they have a team, I don’t think an arena is going to get built here before a team comes here unless it gets done in the context of hockey.”
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A Memorandum of Understanding between Hansen and the City of Seattle and King County provides up to $200 million in public bond funds for an arena, but only if he can land an NBA franchise. The MOU expires in November 2017, and NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said that it’s unlikely the NBA will expand within that timeframe.
Two months ago, the Seattle City Council voted 5-4 against giving up part of Occidental Avenue South to Hansen in order to make his arena plans “shovel ready” and potentially facilitate landing a team. Several council members expressed reservation about giving up the street when Hansen had no team for his project to proceed.
Some council members, including president Bruce Harrell, expressed concern that Hansen might try to extend his public funding deal beyond November 2017 had his Occidental request been granted.
Ballmer did say he feels an arena will eventually get built in this city. “In my own case, I’m 60 years old and I wasn’t prepared to wait five or 10 years,” he said of his decision to leave Hansen’s group and buy the Clippers.
Ballmer added he is committed to keeping the Clippers in Los Angeles and has no plans to ever move them here.
“The Clippers are not going anywhere — ever,” he said. “I will die owning the L.A. Clippers.”
As for hockey, the NHL has announced expansion to Las Vegas for the 2017-18 season. But with that league now at an uneven 31 teams — with 16 in the East and only 15 in the West — there’s speculation of a second Western-based expansion team being added within a couple of years.
That would appear to leave a door open to Hansen bringing in a hockey team first in order to build the arena — albeit with private funds only since the MOU has no “NHL first” provision. That would require a private financing deal between Hansen and any potential NHL owner to make up the difference of the $200 million in bond funds that would not be forthcoming.
Such a deal has yet to materialize.
Ballmer said he’s been to one hockey game in 40 years and has no interest in becoming an NHL owner.
“I think hockey’s a great sport, but it’s not my sport,” he said.