In the midst of a battle with the city of Phoenix over funding for arena renovations, Suns owner Robert Sarver has told some city council members that he’ll take the franchise to Seattle or Las Vegas if he can’t reach a deal in Phoenix, reports Laurie Roberts of The Arizona Republic.
As Jessica Boehm of The Arizona Republic outlines, the Phoenix City Council had been set to vote on a proposal that would see the city pay $150MM on a $230MM renovation plan for Talking Stick Resort Arena, with the Suns contributing the remaining $80MM. The deal would have also ensured that the Suns were committed to staying in Phoenix through at least 2037.
However, in the wake of “backlash from the community,” it appears that vote will be postponed. According to Roberts, delaying the vote will allow time for a pair of public hearings on the project, whereas if the Phoenix City Council shot down the proposal today, it might kill future prospects for a deal. There are seven city council members and at least three are currently opposing the arena renovation plan.
As Boehm explains, the Suns’ current arena lease runs through 2032, but that agreement includes a provision that would allow the franchise to opt out in 2022 if its building is considered “obsolete.” If the renovations are approved, they’d take place between 2019 and 2021, ensuring that the arena is modernized.
Given the nature of the situation, Sarver’s threats to move the franchise could simply be a way of regaining the upper hand and forcing city council members to seriously weigh the ramifications of turning down the funding plan for those arena renovations. If the Suns were to leave Phoenix, the city would have to take over operations and maintenance of Talking Stick Resort Arena, Boehm notes.
While the NBA reportedly has no plans for expansion in the next several years, there are several cities interested in a franchise, led by Seattle, which recently secured an NHL team. With relocation looking like the only viable way to get an NBA franchise to Seattle anytime soon, team owners seeking public funding for new arenas or arena upgrades may try to use the threat of a move to the Pacific Northwest as leverage during the next few years.
Taking that into account, I don’t know that we should take Sarver’s threats too seriously for now, and I wouldn’t expect the NBA to idly stand by if he attempts to move his team out of one of the country’s largest cities, but this is a situation worth watching closely going forward.