Suns owner Robert Sarver apparently didn’t threaten to move team to Seattle or Las Vegas

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According to a report, Suns owner Robert Sarver threatened to move the team to Seattle or Las Vegas if he didn’t receive enough taxpayer money to upgrade the arena in Phoenix.

Laurie Roberts of The Arizona Republic:

One Phoenix City Council member, meanwhile, backed away from his earlier comment to me that Suns owner Robert Sarver told him he would go to Seattle or Las Vegas if the arena deal isn’t approved.

That council member, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Sarver didn’t actually name the two cities but that he made it clear that he would leave if the City Council doesn’t approve the arena deal. This, in a conversation that came as the votes were becoming shaky.

“He said, ‘If you guys are not going to vote for this, let me go, just let me go somewhere else,” the council member told me Thursday. “He said, ‘I want out.  If you’re not going to build my stadium then I want out.’ He did not specifically say Seattle or Las Vegas but that was my understanding.”

The city official said the context of the conversation, and other conversations he has had, made it clear to him that Sarver was talking about leaving the state.

Suns:

Sarver:

First and foremost, the Phoenix Suns are not leaving Phoenix.

Suns President/CEO Jason Rowley, via Roberts:

“What he (Sarver) would say,” Rowley explained, “is ‘Let me out of it (the contract) so I can find another place here in the Valley.’ He’s an Arizona guy. He doesn’t want to move the team.”

“We would look for another home here in the Valley but if that didn’t happen, if there wasn’t any option here in the Valley, what’s the other option after that?” he said.

So we should ease off Sarver – but just a bit. Though he apparently didn’t go as far as naming faraway cities, he’s still trying to extract a lot of money from local taxpayers to fund his multi-billion-dollar private business.

This latest update really gives Phoenix more leverage to resist.

Though Suns fans would be sad to lose their team to Seattle or Las Vegas, how many would really care if the team plays in Downtown Phoenix or a nearby suburb? The net effect is minimal. Phoenix should bargain hard with Sarver, especially if the fallback is him merely moving the team down the road.

Public funding to upgrade the arena in Phoenix is massively unpopular there. The goal should be keeping taxes low and using them on only important services. A professional basketball team doesn’t qualify. Nearly every, if not every, independent study has shown local governments lose money on arena deals.

This is still up for debate, and there’s still time to bag on Sarver. But we should acknowledge he hasn’t gone as far as naming specific cities as potential moving destinations.