Sonic Boom? Why the tech industry should care about Seattle’s efforts to revive its NBA team

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A revamped Key Arena is one proposal to bring the NBA back to Seattle. A separate group is pursuing a plan to build a new arena south of downtown. (Flickr Photo / Colin Whittaker)

Editor’s Note: Jeff Shulman, a University of Washington Foster School of Business marketing professor, hosts Seattle Growth Podcast. His second season explores efforts to revive the Sonics in Seattle. He’s also our guest on this week’s GeekWire podcast, below.

Seattle’s tech companies and workers are facing an event that would likely have an impact on their future: a return of the NBA franchise Seattle Supersonics, or at least an arena capable of welcoming the team home.

“You ask any major employer how they recruit their talent, these other amenities are a part of their business proposition,” Brian Surratt, director of Seattle’s Office of Economic Development, said on Seattle Growth Podcast. “So many firms at the bottom of their job descriptions talk about why Seattle is so special. These cultural assets that we support, and can add onto, only help all of us.”

Bringing the NBA back to Seattle can also inspire future leaders.

“When you are a young person, having that pro team here helps feed the dream,” said Pete Nordstrom, co-President of Nordstrom, on another episode of Seattle Growth Podcast.

“I ended up in retail, and it’s been great for me, but I am pretty sure there are no young people…when you ask them what career they want in life, that they would say something like ‘I want to be in retail.’ My answer at that age was, ‘I want to be a basketball player.’”

The question facing our city, however, is not whether or not to bring back the Sonics. Such a question appears to rest squarely in the hands of the NBA. Instead, the city is in the process of determining where to allow development of a sports and entertainment arena that could one day be home to a professional basketball team and also serve as a home to professional hockey and marquee entertainment events.

At the moment, multiple private groups are competing for the opportunity. One group is targeting a SoDo neighborhood location and others are focused on Seattle Center.

According to Surratt, the mayor’s office believes “this market can only handle one facility.” The competition is heating up and the outcome won’t just impact sports fans.

The arena, wherever it is located, is expected to host 200 event nights. Currently, Key Arena draws roughly 13,000 spectators for marquee concerts. However, a SoDo arena or renovated Key Arena could play host to a combined 82 NBA/NHL games with 17,000 spectators or more, in addition to drawing more big-name musical talents.

Many tech companies will see an impact of the chosen arena location on their ability to acquire and retain top talent because their workers will find quality of life affected by the city’s decision. Whether the effect is positive or negative depends on how many of the events one plans to attend.

There is clearly an increasing concentration of tech workers in the area surrounding Seattle Center. With Expedia relocating to an Interbay campus and companies such as Google and Facebook rapidly expanding their South Lake Union presence, there are an expanding number of commuters through an already stressed corridor.

A Key Arena location could be bad news for the evening commute, according to Seattle Transit Blog editor Martin Duke. “People trying to commute out of the Seattle Center area … that’s already a really bad car environment. I think it will get worse with people coming into games.”

However, a Key Arena location can be a boon to South Lake Union tech workers hoping to attend events themselves or entertain clients at the arena. Scott Kubly, the director of SDOT, believes that those visiting the arena from Westlake station or South Lake Union offices will find “a lot of places to eat and drink as you are walking through.” Though workers can access the proposed SoDo arena location via light rail, both Kubly and Duke noted the half mile walk from the station to the arena could deter some.

Ultimately, the impact of an arena on your life depends on where you work, where you live, and the events you would attend. I devoted an entire season of Seattle Growth Podcast to bring richer insight into how a return of the Sonics and the location of their home arena would affect you and life in this city.

Seattle City Council is in the process of holding monthly meetings to determine which arena proposal to support. Their decision will affect how you and your employees access premier concert and sporting events. For many of you, the arena location will also affect your evening commute. These two aspects of quality of life can influence talent acquisition and retention, which are the lifeblood of successful organizations.

Get informed about how their decision will affect you. Then have your voice be heard on Sonic Boom Day, April 17. The time is now to join the conversation about the future of Seattle. Your company’s success is tied to the attractiveness of Seattle as a place to live and work.

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