Daughter of Duty

So I'm in yet another city, and have tendinitis suddenly, which could very well be career- (or lifestyle) threatening. Simultaneously slow and desperate, I think it's finally time for me to make an especially obtuse plea.

I know that I'm fairly late to the "keep the Sonics in Seattle" fray, and as such am probably missing a lot of the technical, bickery pieces. I also have an intensely selfish interest in their sticking around, one that dates back only to the day my significant other decided to get a PhD there. But unlike many Sonics fans, I have had the distinct displeasure of spending time in Oklahoma City, and as such can seen the shrieking on the wall: dispatching teams to the middle of nowhere spells defeat for the NBA.

I am fully aware that franchises are businesses, and that as such, they want to be where the money is. This model has proven quite spritely in the realm of hockey, unless I'm greatly underestimating the size of Columbus and Raleigh. Of course, to plop down only where there's no competition to be had, where the unwitting fans yearn for something to do on a Friday, is like opening a booze shop in the slums. Sure, it creates its own market and feasts upon it, but it's also compromising the product--perhaps even making it invisible underneath a cloud of self-serving devices.

Some weeks ago, I put forth my argument for why the NBA should reconcile itself to specialized demographics in America. Making teams the only show in nowhere is the rank opposite of this, the illusory resurrection of the pseudo-NFL dream. The obvious counter to this is that keeping the team in blue state cities can sometimes mean dealing with dwindling takes at the gate. But long-term, marking basketball as a second-class sport, and giving up the fight to compete with the big dudes, hurts the league as a whole. And if the NBA is going to count on its ability to reach a cluster of semi-related audiences, they need more than ever for this hard core of supporters to rally under the flag.

There's also the fact that, if a team succeeds, fans are much more likely to show some interest. Obviously, exactly what constitutes "success" in the eternally top-heavy Association is a bit of a quagmire. Still, mediocre teams in captive cities have far less of an obligation to put out product than those where the novelty has worn off, or where there are other options. The new arena debate is part and parcel with this question: sure, it draws people for a few seasons, but ultimately it's decent, enjoyable play that's the most accurate predictor of fan commitment.

I'm willing to admit that this grasp might be imperfect, and that may expansion teams could be accused of what I'm decrying here. Also, arguing anything about basketball as an urban game or whatever gets thrown off by Seattle, which doesn't exactly enhance the NBA brand the way that Chicago does. It seems pretty plain, however, that a team that's been around as long as the Sonics have are part of the NBA landscape. To shift that gives the impression of instability and mercenary lust, as opposed to any kind of faith in self. Even if you don't believe that the NBA has built into it some commodified version of race, try selling the fantasy of OKC to fans overseas, or convincing them that replacing the Space Needle with a bison won't affect the game's marketability.


At 7/15/2007 4:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The bottom line is, in a decent game, the fans in OKC were reaching playoff Arco Arena levels. Don't ever attempt to deny this. It was the BEST crowd in the NBA. Say what you want about the demographics, the location, the appeal of something new in town. Chris Paul was a fucking young gladiator, and no hater of smaller-town America can change that. I don't know if I've ever seen such a... dishonest article on FreeDarko.

Support your team or loose it chumps. Fat, money-spending hicks deserve an NBA team more than your frappucino-swilling soon to be bretheren.

At 7/15/2007 4:23 PM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

The point of the post is that's not the bottom line. At least that's what I got out of it.

I'm flustered by the ICP chicks.

At 7/15/2007 4:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Salt_bagel - that is the point he is trying to make, and which I am refuting.

The people and fans of Seattle have brought this TOTALLY upon themselves.

Fuck 'em.

Sucks for Shoals because he's moving, but Shoals well-being does not = NBA well-being.

At 7/15/2007 4:29 PM, Anonymous Scott said...

this made more sense after reading the fanhouse link. good stuff.

At 7/15/2007 4:41 PM, Anonymous paper tiger said...

the point about a small (or rural) city not having the kind of cache that our urban centers have for international audiences is a good one. there are certainly places in the world where "new york" or "chicago" mean something that can inspire a rooting interest in a way that "oklahoma city" never can. and, though i can't claim one drop of knowledge about the sonic's asian market share, seattle is obviously an area for which some populations have an affinity that will not travel with the team.
these are things that i'm sure stern thinks about, but i'm not sure he could cop to them. and, they're actually much better arguments against EVERY team moving to nowhere than they are against a single one making the trek.

At 7/15/2007 4:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This has been said here before but:

Oklahoma City, Las Vegas, and St. Louis all deserve NBA teams.

Fuck Seattle, Fuck New Orleans, and FUCK ATLANTA. Yeah I said it, keep them NFL cities. Move the STL Rams back to LA to take care of that city. And the Clippers can go (back?) to San Diego.

Done and done, better than ever. See, it ain't that hard.

At 7/15/2007 4:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This can't possibly be the same Emeka Okafor...


He just got boing-boinged.

At 7/15/2007 5:05 PM, Anonymous Brendo said...

Vegas is still unaccounted-for option. A growing city with a base population of around half a million, their NBA games would likely draw high no matter how bad the teams were. Signing one star would be akin to the attraction of Celine Dion's (Kobe) or Danny Gans' (Joe Johnson) deals with whatever casino people watch them at. A Vegas team would just obviously pull large gates from the millions of tourists and otherwise impermanent populations of the town, and long after the novelty of a new team would wear off (the legit concern in the OKCs and Columbuses of the world.)

But apart from merely the bottom line profitability of such a franchise, I think we already well-established the NBA lifestyle contribution of an Association Vegas branch office in the weeks preceding last season's all-star game, and the Americana mythos of a the city itself is pretty inarguable.

Where does Vegas rest in your argument, Shoals?

At 7/15/2007 5:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll have to agree that the OKC fans were quite similar in nature to the GSW Bay fans this year.

At 7/15/2007 5:50 PM, Anonymous Jaz said...

Mr. Anonymous obviously has a strong animus against Seattle. Calm down, Mr. Bennett.

OTOH, there's a push to globalize the NBA, making it the IBA, where smaller towns in America have no place. It's as if Stern is outsourcing the fan base.

In the end, I side with Mr. Anonymous on this.

At 7/15/2007 6:42 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

I agree with Shoals on this one... if you are not careful, soon you'll end up competing with NASCAR for people's attention.

At 7/15/2007 6:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trying to get links to your site again, eh SML?

At 7/15/2007 7:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This argument that international fans will never support teams in medium-sized metropolises throughout the US is utter nonsense.

Im shocked that no one has mentioned this yet, but the Spurs are immensly popular throughout Europe and South America, despite being exactly what Shoals is railing about here (the only show in cowtown, etc.).

Worldwide popularity for individual teams stems from a variety of reasons- sustained success, style of play, country of origin for individual players, and so on, but population size (or any other social characteristic) of the city they represent is not one of them.

Kansas City's population is three times larger than Liverpool, and yet their soccer team is one of the worldwide elites and most popular clubs in their sport. Something to think about when Durant gets to play out his career in the baller new arena thats going up there as we speak.

At 7/15/2007 7:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

HYPE: http://www.nbadraft.net/profiles/ianmahinmi.asp

Like WHOA!

At 7/15/2007 7:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

People may well show up and support a team in OKC, but that is irrelevant if the club is doomed to mediocrity because they cannot retain players, nor attract free agents.

OKC is pretty much a craptastically awful city in a pretty craptastic state. So craptastic is Oklahoma that almost no one lives there--meanwhile, south of OK, 30 odd million people are content to call Texas home. You might as well have a team in Wyoming or North Dakota. Yeah, people will show up because there ain't fuck else to do there. But as soon as his contract is up, any decent player is gone to greener pastures.

Seattle can't support a team? Fine. Contract. Just get rid of clubs. That's better for the league anyway. Put all of, oh, Seattle and Atlanta's players up for grabs, have a lottery and disperse them amongst the remaining 28 teams.

Better than having a perrenially crap team in OKC because they keep getting lottery picks who will take less money to get the hell out of Oklahoma.

At 7/15/2007 8:04 PM, Blogger The Electric Zarko said...

While NOOCH certainly was something special, it seems a little disingenuous to predict attendance-based success on one year of a professional franchise existing, since the first year of any franchise is going to be the most exciting one.

I don't see much in the way of hard and fast that convinces me that Ok. City can avoid the problems of Memphis and Charlotte when it comes to maintaining interest when the team inevitably enters into a period of mediocrity.

That said, Atlanta and Seattle are good examples of how even given a large metropolitan base, consistent inability to be a contender or at least interesting can hurt the gate -- I find it interesting that along with the smaller and less basketball-oriented cities, notable hoop hotbeds such as Indiana and Philadelphia were the third- and second-to-last franchises last year in terms of home attendance.

Although, hang on, let's look at those numbers, according to the WWL attendance figures, Seattle, even with the 25th highest home attendance in the league, apparently sold 93.9% of their home tickets, .4% short of darlings Golden State and 1.7% ahead of Toronto, a huge city with a young and exciting team.

If these numbers are true (and given that some of these numbers are a little iffy, I don't trust the WWL that far), then the problem isn't the Seattle fans -- they're filling out the arena as much as could be expected, it's that their arena doesn't match up with what owners want in terms of butts in seats and more likely, luxury suites. In comparison, Atlanta is at 78%, so it would be ridiculous, as I have two paragraphs ago and as Anon did earlier in these comments, to treat these situations as if they were the same.

At 7/15/2007 8:17 PM, Blogger The Electric Zarko said...

Using the Wikipedia stats for no. of seats in Key Arena for NBA games and the ESPN stats for average home gate, Seattle sold, on average, 93.4% of available seats.

In comparison, when playing at the Ford Center, in Oklahoma City, the Hornets sold 95.4% of the available seats in 2005-2006 and 91.5% of available seats in 2006-2007 -- both of those years, the average gates were at least a 1,000 people higher on average because of the greater capacity of the Ford Center.

At 7/15/2007 8:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Give me the attendance stats since the new arena deal was voted negative.

At 7/15/2007 9:41 PM, Blogger T. said...

Are those attendance stats tickets sold or turnstile?

Two VERY different numbers. Anyways - the larger consideration for any team (unfortunately) isn't fan support, but corporate base. Either the small corporate base has to be supportive (like it has been in OKC) or it has to be large enough that there's enough money to be made via sponsorship and corporate entertainment/suite sales.

Let's take Toyota Center as a benchmark (mainly since I know it) - a little less than 100 suites, 200k per year average (actually that's low) - that's 20 million. Add in very high F&B spend in the suites - that's a big deal. Not a lot of smaller cities have the corporate pockets to support that amount of suites. Heck, even in a city as large as Houston, the suite sales haven't been as good as they've hoped (mainly because the Toyota Center was the third new arena after Enron/Minute Maid and Reliant Stadium)

Fan support is one thing, but the teams are a commercial enterprise.

At 7/15/2007 9:48 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

In the world of the niche-market NBA, it seems to me that there have to at least a handful of small-market, small-town teams, because there is a segment of the basketball-watching public that would likely prefer to root for such a team. Those teams, however, need to be white. They also likely need to figure out what it means to be an "ex-urban" team so that they can compose a roster and a team culture that's marketable. San Antonio is the nascent prototype.

The questions then become, how many such teams are sustainable in the NBA ecosystem, and which teams get moved or transformed.

To me, the reason that Seattle isn't a candidate largely boils down to history. The Sonics have made their bones in Seattle. To move them is to divorce them from their past. You only do that when you're fully committed to the complete transformation of the franchise along the lines noted above. You don't invite the old players to participate in events, you change your name, and you pretend that Seattle never happened. I'm not typically so dualistic, but in this case, trying to chart a middle course is, as a teacher once told me, the primrose path to failure. And my perception is that the League is too focused on its history to truly transplant the Sonics.

But this has me wondering what to make of Utah. Previously, I would have cited them as the nascent prototype for the NASCAR/ex-urb team of the future. But now we hear that other players around the league don't find the team nearly so white (I don't know how they get around Larry Miller, but that's just me). If Utah can become, in the eyes of the players, a potentially black, urban team, then what does that tell us of franchise transmogrification?

At 7/15/2007 10:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man, fuck you assholes, Buffalo Clippers with Bob McAdoo 4 LYFE.

At 7/15/2007 10:20 PM, Blogger The Electric Zarko said...

Man, fuck an anon. Isn't that always the way, no name, no desire to engage beyond always asking other people to do their work for them.

In any case, as T. rightfully pointed out, 'actual' attendance numbers (and there's at least 3 or 4 legitimate ways to get numbers) aren't, and almost never are, the real reason behind a proposed move. The fact that you make more from luxury suites and merchandising than ticket sales should be a given at this point considering how much it's driven corporate decision-making in sports.

Acting like it actually comes down to fan support is a kneejerk desire to view a corporate interaction through the action on the court, which is why it winds up being wildly myopic.

At 7/15/2007 11:29 PM, Blogger T. said...

On the converse, I would add that merchandising is less lucrative - or at least in the way that fans think.

Teams will keep the revenue from any arena based sales - and in limited instances, team owned stores within the 60 mile range. However, you going down to Champs Sports and picking up the Arenas adidas swingman jersey - well, it aids all teams equally - I don't believe teams are seperated out on payouts from licensing fees from licensees.

Roughly speaking, let's say the league gets $5 bucks from each sale of each $75 jersey (I have no idea of the actual amount). The league gets then a percentage of that $5 (let's say 50% - altough, again I have no idea of the actual split) - then the other $2.50 is split equally amongst all 30 teams. (I believe).

This is overly simplified, and I'm probably missing something big - the players get a licensing check too.

At 7/16/2007 12:22 AM, Blogger The Electric Zarko said...

Ah, that is how it works, I have a vague recollection of one or more of the big-market teams complaining about merchandising being a case of the big teams subsidizing the smaller teams since those sales are shared among the league.

Regardless, I don't think the difference in normal tickets sold compared to NOOCH is the reason that the Sonics would be moved out of Seattle.

At 7/16/2007 12:37 AM, Blogger Pichi Campana Aguanta said...

The Robert Swift pic is a good illustration of the complexity of the issue at hand. In this case there's no black or white, just a redheaded white kid from Bakersfield with what appears to be a tattoo of a black basketball action hero.

I don't think we need to hate on OKC -- it's not their fault they're on the verge of getting an NBA team. My complaint is with the shady ownership groups who push these things through. The Shins and Bennetts of the world are the ones who deserve our derision.

At 7/16/2007 4:25 AM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...

Off-topic but worth it: Jason at BallHype put together a YouTube of his favorite FD pictures from over the years. It's kinda a work of art in itself.


At 7/16/2007 6:12 AM, Anonymous Berts said...

I'm aware this is a generalization and doesn't take into account the complexity of a lot of the arguments presented here, but there is a frustrating presumption in this entire discussion that cities in the mid-west are by nature empty of shit to do. Hearing San Antonio compared to OKC is the clincher; SA is (I don't have the numbers in front of me) either the 7th or 8th most populated city in the country; calling the Spurs the "only thing to do in cowtown" is blatant and dimly conceived regionalism.

The Spurs winning the title was not disheartening because of the city they hail from, because of its lack of international prestige (and since when did freedarko draw its platforms from the league's supposed commercial interests?) but was disheartening because it is a team devoid of personality, built upon to a system of soul-numbing efficiency and reliant on the individual perfomances of either cheap-shot artists like Bowen or the histrionic flopping of Manu.

That being said, it would be terrible if OKC got a basketball team; sure, minor league baseball is popular in its own principalities, but a league of minor league baseball teams has only a confined appeal.

At 7/16/2007 7:27 AM, Blogger usefmony said...

free good money for google

At 7/16/2007 8:05 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...


no disrespect meant to certain highly-respected members of the fd community, but have you ever been to san antonio?

At 7/16/2007 10:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been to San Antonio. It's not worse than Buffalo. Or Memphis (tell me about what you can do in Memphis and let me call you a cracker). I'll give you that kind of town.

What on earth could be the argument against Las Vegas or San Diego?

At 7/16/2007 12:33 PM, Blogger Dr. Lawyer IndianChief said...

i went to this maritime-ass bar in memphis, the buccaneer, and heard some djs spin soul 45s on a thursday night. also had some great ribs at the controversial-among-bbq-people, jim neely's interstate bbq.

shit was dope. call me a cracker.

At 7/16/2007 12:37 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

fuck, i left a comment like two hours ago that didn't show up. but it basically said "i'll take the bait, i had a great time in memphis for four days."

At 7/16/2007 1:31 PM, Anonymous Matt said...

I know not to feed the trolls, but Anon, here it is: Seattle not caving to an addled hick businessman doesn't mean we don't support, or can't support, NBA basketball.

If you think that standing up to your pro team being ransomed for half a million dollars constitutes an insult to the game, then enjoy your village being overrun by hucksters intent on every last tax dollar.

This city would be willing to pony up the money (we've done it twice before, after all), if only Bennett wasn't an ass. This isn't about Seattle not loving our team; it's about Howard Schultz desecrating what is supposedly a public trust, and about Clay Bennett not learning the lesson and doing the same thing again.

To all would-be NBA owners, it works like this: Either your franchise is a business, in which case you fucking run it like one and I only pay when I want to see a game, or it's a piece of "essential character" of the city, in which case the public money you get makes you beholden to those pissant voices you can't stand to listen to.

So, anon: sorry you live in a decaying dustbowl, but that gives you a "right" to a team as much as my morning latte gives me a right to tell you what to do.

At 7/16/2007 1:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I know not to feed the trolls, but Anon, here it is: Seattle not caving to an addled hick businessman doesn't mean we don't support, or can't support, NBA basketball."

Yeah, but it won't be the Sonics! Get ready for the 2015 Seattle Sasquatches.

And heaven's no, I don't live in Oklahoma. I just think you guys are wrong.

At 7/16/2007 1:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's ya go:


At 7/16/2007 1:44 PM, Blogger john said...

That picture was surprising. I had no idea Laura Dern signed with the Sonics. She's really let herself go.

At 7/16/2007 1:46 PM, Blogger Kyle said...

that should read "half a BILLION dollars", matt. not half a million ;)

I understand there are other things to consider such as TV Contracts, Arena ad-signage, etc., but consider this:

According to a yearly Forbes study that shows how much franchises are making, take a look at these stats from the 05-06 season, the first season the Hornets were in OKC:

Key Arena averaged 16,198 fans per game at $40/ticket totalling $647,920/game or $26,564,720 a season.

The Ford Center averaged 18,168 fans per game at $29/ticket totalling $526,872/game or $21,601,752 per season.

So essentially, even in a year where Seattle "wasn't supporting its team" and OKC was auditioning to be the next expansion city, the average fan still brought 5M more to the Sonics than the Hornets.

imagine how lopsided the figures would be if the sonics didn't suck!

At 7/16/2007 3:22 PM, Blogger William said...

I don't really understand why, but people are moving to the crappiest cities on the face of the American map. OKC, Kan City, Vegas, Phoenix, are all huge + population centers. Phoenix was really one of the precursors. Fifteen years ago people called it nowheresville, but now it's seemingly one of the most desirable places for NBAers to be sent. The REAL truth is that NBA players generally have bad taste. They could give a hoot about the cultural/aesthetic virtues of a city. So long as there are some cool clubs and warm weather they is GOOD.

At 7/16/2007 3:56 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

This post deserves a picture of the offending douchebags

At 7/16/2007 8:56 PM, Blogger T. said...

the photo of the little girl hugging the chicken is . . .well .. . many different types of awesome.

At 7/17/2007 1:27 AM, Blogger Justin said...

Hate to say it, but NASCAR has already overtaken the NBA. NASCAR rainouts get better ratings than top NBA games (read that in an article; maybe I can find it again.)

Tangent: Anyone else notice that FreeDarko is one of the few places that likes to use the wondrous semi-colon?

At 7/17/2007 2:13 PM, Blogger joshs said...

The main argument against Vegas (and I think I read this from M. Cuban somewhere...but not sure) is that it's a service-based economy that functions at night. Therefore, in Vegas, compared to Memphis (as some have argued) there are TOO many things to do at night due to the industry, with few corporate sponsorships available due to the size of the population. Perhaps in another 10 years, this won't be a problem.

And if in Memphis, just stay around Graceland all day, and you'll find plenty of things to do.

At 7/17/2007 2:19 PM, Blogger William said...

NASCAR fanship is overrated. Yes a race might get better ratings than an nba game, but not all nba games played over an entire week. There is only one race a week so it's hard to compare the two. Additionally, many of the traditional NASCAR tracks are located in places where there REALLY isn't anything to do. People in Alabama treat Taladega like a holiday because it's literally the only thing to do for the whole year. If you have one NBA game a year in the middle of redneckville, it would have decent turnout I bet.

At 7/20/2007 3:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Oklahoma has a higher population density than Colorado, Oregon, and Arizona - all NBA states.


Per Capita income is higher than Louisiana and Utah, and equivilant to Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia, Tenessee, and Indiana.

It is so funny to see enlightened "Blue State" queers talk about backwoods USA. Like you are any different than the purported shotgun toting, sister-loving, racist people you are smearing when you make uninformed, ridiculous generalizations.

OKC would be a great home for the NBA. The only thing that devalues the NBA is treating it like it's too good for its fans.

At 7/23/2007 3:14 AM, Anonymous fidgety! said...

Big ups to John for the Laura Dern comment. Wondered why she hasn't made any movies lately what with all the practice and training and trying to get over that torn ACL and getting lots of tats and piercings (in all seriousness, though, here's wishing Swifty a great comeback season.)

Anyway, I LIVE in OKC (well, Norman which is 10 minutes away), and I DON'T want the Sonics here -- not that they'd be unwelcome, because trust me OKC is STARVED for this kind of stuff and they'll embrace anybody.

But not all of us think Clay Bennett is some kind of knight in shining armor that's going to save Oklahoma City from being just the place where they have all the tornadoes and whatever. If this was Memphis or New Orleans or some other struggling NBA market I bet you nobody would be having this conversation. But no, Bennett got into a pissing match with George Shinn (who really is the Worst Owner in the NBA) because Bennett offered to buy a share of the Hornets from him, Shinn said no, and Bennett went out and bought the Sonics knowing he could take advantage of the political climate in WA with respect to using public monies to subsidize sports venues. He actually IS a carpetbagger. And I wouldn't expect any differently from someone to whom things like being entrenched for 40 years and a generational thing for parents and children is thoroughly meaningless.

Don't think for a minute that all Oklahomans are brainwashed into marching in lockstep with Bennett. And don't think that all Oklahomans are unsympathetic to what Seattle fan is going through right now. I am terribly sorry that someone from MY state is doing this to Seattle fan. But that doesn't change the fact that Seattle fan's hostility needs to not just be focused on Bennett but also those in Seattle and WA state government that also jeopardize the Sonics' future there.

Oh yeah and Bennett's in-laws run the Worst Newspaper In America (The Daily Oklahoman), a hateful and blindly conservative rag that's helps keep Oklahoma locked into the repressive (and sickening) Bible belt mentality that keeps perpetuating the myth that Oklahoma is some kind of ignorant wasteland full of uneducated rubes. Not only am I not an uneducated rube, I'm also as Blue as Blue can be -- since some folks here want to make this a Red State vs. Blue State thing. Yeah Oklahoma's a Red State, and that sucks for us Blue-ies that actually went to the ballots and voted for people other than Bush/Cheney, Coburn, Inhofe and the rest of the idiots.

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