The entire city of Winnipeg shut down: Students left schools, employees left offices, and the elderly left their homes to rush into the streets. They had exorcized some of the demons that had haunted the town for fifteen years, and were finally ready to feel good again. Party streamers and confetti burst out of windows, pubs overflowed with jubilant partiers, and the pavement shook with dancing feet and the city’s cries of ‘Go Jets Go.’ After fifteen long years, hockey was finally returning to Winnipeg.
The bankrupt Atlanta Thrashers were bought and relocated back to their original home of Winnipeg, Canada just after the 2010-2011 season and will become the seventh Canadian team in the National Hockey League. The movement to get a hockey team back was spear headed by a company named True North Sports and Entertainment, which was founded in 2001 by Winnipeg millionare and childhood Jets fan, Mark Chipman, who bought the team and built the new MTS Centre stadium to house them.
In 1996, after the Winnipeg Jets, a beloved and well supported team, relocated to Phoenix, Arizona the city entered into some of the darkest days of its history. People in this hockey crazed part of the world were furious that their team had been moved to the highly illogical snowless Southwest United States and thought that hockey would never come back. People were bitter, outraged, and felt like they had been robbed of not only a team, but also their city’s identity. However they never stopped trying, “While the loss of the Winnipeg Jets in many ways had a profound effect on the psyche of our city and province,” said Chipman in an Atlanta Thrashers press conference, “I believe it also stiffened our resolve to press on and jointly move our community forward.”
To Seattleites, this should be sounding familiar. Our city has shared this same frustrating experience of losing a well supported team. In 2006, the Seattle Supersonics were sold to Clay Bennet, an Oklahoma native. Although he said he had no intention of moving the team to his hometown, after Washington officials refused to pay for a $500 million renovation to Key Arena, Bennet relocated the team to Oklahoma City. Many feel that Seattle will never be graced with men’s basketball again and think any attempt to do so is hopeless, but let history be an eye opener; Numerous teams such as the Winnipeg Jets, Cleveland Browns, and Baltimore Colts have left and later returned. Seattle must simply take note and figure out how it can do the same thing.
If the Sonics came back, where would they play? There are a few options. If the team is to be located in the city, they could either play in the Key Arena again or build a new stadium since there are no other stadiums in Seattle capable of handling an NBA team. For some, the Key Arena seems outdated and not fit for an NBA team but rebuilding a new arena would cost a huge amount of money in a time where government spending is at a minimum. David Stern, the NBA commissioner, called the arena unfit to house an NBA franchise. “I think Seattle is actually a terrific market. It just doesn’t have an NBA-ready arena of the future that’s been agreed to by all parties for many years,” Stern said, “It’s a very strong market that has, in fact, supported NBA basketball well over the years” (Associated Press.)
Before moving a team anywhere, the league and the cities involved want to know how much support will the team will draw. In Winnipeg, it was clear that the Jets were still loved by everyone in the city. Jets apparel remained popular and the city often broke out into chants like ‘Go Jets Go.’ “Our community continued to invest in itself,” said Chipman, “and as a result, has been able to move forward on many levels” (True North Sports and Entertainment press conference)
The same kind of support is seen in Seattle. Countless stores around the puget sound such as Champs, Just Sports, or Lids have started selling apparel and have been highly successful doing so. People from around the sound sport t-shirts displaying the 1975 logo with “Robbed” printed below it. The Sonics consistently drew in large numbers of fans. In 2004 the revenue generated from the Sonics earned 97,714,000 dollars, slightly better than the Seattle Seahawks. The teams ticket sales for its last ten years, never dropped below 17,000,000 for a season.
In Baltimore, the Colts football team was moved to Indianapolis, despite the cities loving support. Just before the move, the Baltimore Colts band stole back their uniforms and equipment. They continued to play as the Colts marching band in order to raise awareness of how much Baltimore still wanted a team, and even played at major national events such as the Super Bowl. Through the band and towns’ efforts and persistence, the NFL finally realized that football belongs in Baltimore.
While some Seattlites have started raising awareness, there is still a lot that can be done. The city of Seattle, along with the mayor’s and other Washington officials help need to start lobbying for an NBA team. Baltimore and Winnipeg never let the leagues forget what they had done to their teams, and continued to request expansion or relocation of another team to their city. Seattle can also pour support into their WNBA team and minor league teams to show that Seattle is a basketball city, just like Winnipeg did with the Manitoba Moose.