Paul Allen long ago started devising succession plans for the Seahawks and Blazers. And if the teams sell, don't expect them to move.
There would be plenty of buyer interest in the Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers if either goes up for sale, but there are no actual reasons to relocate those teams, two specialists in franchise acquisitions said Tuesday.
In fact, Charles H. Baker, the New York-based co-chairman of the Sports Industry Group at the O’Melveny & Myers law firm, said it’s entirely possible billionaire Microsoft founder Paul Allen put conditions in his will blocking relocation if the teams are sold. Baker, who recently represented hedge fund investor David Tepper in his $2.275-billion purchase of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, said he has no direct knowledge of the Seahawks or Blazers situations but such stipulations aren’t uncommon.
“You can certainly be specific with regards to the directions that you give your executor, including stipulations with respect to where an asset is held,’’ Baker said.
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Michael Rapkoch, founder of Texas-based Sports Value Consulting who advises investors on buying teams, said there could be court challenges and other means of getting around any such Allen instructions. But ultimately, he added, the NFL and NBA would have to sign off on any relocation and there simply isn’t a good enough reason to.
“You can’t just move a team without the commissioner’s blessing,’’ Rapkoch said. “You have to first make the compelling case.’’
An NBA source said Tuesday the league has no interest at all in the Blazers relocating to Seattle, shooting down one of the early rumors that surfaced after Allen died Monday of non-Hodgkins lymphoma at age 65. The Blazers’ lease with the City of Portland at the Moda Center runs through at least 2025, the team is making money — unlike struggling franchises in Memphis and New Orleans — and the league also is uninterested in repairing its image in Seattle by hurting another Northwest city.
As well, a revived regional rivalry between the Blazers and any future Sonics team is seen as something key for both franchises.
Baker and Rapkoch agree the Blazers have a good situation as the only Portland team from any of the “Big Four’’ professional leagues and owning their home arena. Also, Baker said the Blazers have room to grow their marketing outside of Portland proper, which could provide an even bigger upside to potential buyers.
Both agree there’s little reason to move the Seahawks anyplace.
“Seattle’s a great market,’’ Rapkoch said. “It can be a destination market. It’s a really good team with a good coach, a good history behind it and just a really good, solid fan base. So, all the ‘i’s’ are dotted and the ‘t’s’ are crossed in your city for football. Obviously, they own a piece of the (Sounders) soccer team, too. And they’ve done great. So, why would you want to move? You’re in a great location.’’
Baker added: “It’s a marquee name and a very well-run franchise,’’ he said. “They have a great coach who’s got a couple of years left on his contract.
“They’re in a sort of rebuilding year with one of the premier Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. They’re well-marketed and the Pacific Northwest is a great, great market. Not the biggest DMA in terms of media, but it’s a solid market.’’
Neither would venture guesses at what the teams could sell for without taking a detailed look at their financials. The most recent Forbes estimates put the Seahawks at $2.58 billion and the Blazers at $1.3 billion.
Those with knowledge of Allen’s recent activities said he long ago started devising succession plans for the Seahawks and Blazers. He knew he had no wife or children to leave the team to and that his younger sister, Jody, had little interest in owning a sports team.
Helping Allen finalize succession plans as his health deteriorated was his longtime attorney, Allen D. Israel of Seattle-based Foster Pepper PLLC. Also working closely with the billionaire was his close personal friend Bert Kolde, a senior director of his Vulcan Inc. corporate arm and a vice chairman of both sports teams.
Among final preparations last month was replacing Peter McLoughlin, whose contract was expiring, as both Seahawks team president and as CEO of Vulcan Sports Enterprises (VSE), which runs the business operations of both teams.
McLoughlin actually was replaced by two men, with Blazers president Chris McGowan assuming the CEO role for VSE and Chuck Arnold reporting to him as new Seahawks president. One sports industry source said the decision to part ways with McLoughlin, who’d moved to Seattle from the St. Louis area eight years ago, came after Allen grew concerned about how staffers related to him.
Incoming president Arnold, a Tacoma native who began as a Seahawks public relations intern and is in his 25th season with the team, was seen as highly regarded by staffers and capable of navigating them through uncertain times.
Also, the splitting of McLoughlin’s prior job — he added the Vulcan sports CEO role in 2012 — among two people could come in handy in preventing complications from any sales process from impacting the day-to-day operations of the teams.
Barring a late change of heart by Allen’s sister — whose son, Duncan Patton, works as a Seahawks data analyst — Vulcan would have ownership control of both teams for the time being, with McGowan at their business helms, overseen by Kolde, until sales to outside parties can be arranged. Though Vulcan could, in theory, keep owning and operating both teams permanently, this is not expected to occur.
Worth watching once details of the succession plans emerge is whether any additional role is given to Seahawks general manager John Schneider, who Allen was said by sources to have a great affinity for and believed was crucial to the team’s future success. Also, whether the plan provides for preference to be given any local ownership groups ahead of outside buyers in the event of a sale of either team.
Though it’s been rumored Kolde might be interested in owning the Seahawks, sources have indicated he lacks the personal wealth to control a team that could approach $3 billion in value. Instead, at least where local owners are concerned, a more realistic development would likely be a Mariners-type model featuring a consortium of owners run by a single managing partner.