Chris Hansen’s Sodo arena plan: Seattle Storm should be more than an afterthought

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Originally published July 15, 2012, in the Seattle Times,

AMID all the hoopla over a potential new arena, there has been one forgotten player. No one, it seems, is talking seriously about what the addition of another professional sports franchise or two — and another sports emporium — would mean to the future of the Seattle Storm.

Failure to talk with, and about, the WNBA franchise is quite an oversight. For openers, it’s worth reviewing the team’s history. Remember that in 2008, when the Oklahomans were determined to hijack the Sonics, it looked as if they were going to drag the Storm off, caveman style, to Oklahoma City as collateral damage.

At almost the eleventh hour, a group of professional women miraculously came to the team’s rescue and managed to scrape up the millions necessary to buy the franchise. The women were steadfast, working through complex negotiations in order to keep the world champions playing in the KeyArena — even though the Sonics’ departure torpedoed many sponsorship opportunities.

Since then, the Storm has done the city proud, bringing home the team’s second world championship. Which other Seattle franchise has done that?

The Storm, in fact, is the only female-owned franchise anywhere to win a world championship in any sport. Besides bringing home trophies, the Storm has built a fan base and created an affordable sports and entertainment opportunity for families in our area.

How much more does a team need to do to get a seat at the table?

Two of the team’s three owners, Ginny Gilder and Lisa Brummel, stopped by to chat recently. (Dawn Trudeau is the third owner.) They reported that to date they had only had limited contacts with Chris Hansen, the San Francisco investor who seeks a taxpayer loan to bring an NBA team to Seattle.

The Storm owners say they were surprised — stunned in fact — to hear, at a recent Seattle City Council meeting, testimony indicating that Storm ownership desires to leave KeyArena and move to the new arena. It was all news to them.

Before that, no one from the mayor or county executive’s offices had spoken to them about the Sodo arena. The Sodo arena investment group is finally scheduled to meet with the Storm this Thursday.

In a letter to the City Council, the Storm’s owners wrote that they like playing in KeyArena, with its intimate lower bowl. They also like the ambience of the Seattle Center campus and its central location. They are rightfully concerned over Hansen’s public statements regarding potentially shrinking the size of KeyArena, the rationale being that a smaller KeyArena would serve a different niche than the new, bigger arena. Hansen also talks about possible plans to have a two-arena strategy with a single management group.

Let me be clear, the Storm is open to the possibility of playing in a new arena. And they would welcome the Sonics back with open arms. But a new arena would, one way or another, have a large impact on the Storm and other tenants at KeyArena, as well as the economics of the Seattle Center.

The Storm has been a valuable asset to our city and a great inspiration to young people — both female and male. On the 40th anniversary of the signing of Title IX, we are narrowing the gender gap in sports. Women are no longer just cheerleaders; they are also sports heroes.

Discussions about the future of sports in our community will benefit from engaging in talks with the Storm franchise. Decisions about KeyArena and the Storm’s future playing options should be made with the team at the table.

Let’s not slide into the old ways of giving lip service to women’s enterprises and women athletes. There needs to be real consideration given to securing a long-term, financially viable home for the Storm.