Why would the Thunder owners sell if the downtown arena doesn’t pass? There are 3.05 billion reasons

Why would the Thunder owners sell if the downtown arena doesn’t pass? There are 3.05 billion reasons

Billionaires who have no ties to Oklahoma, no loyalties to keeping the Thunder in OKC will start offering ridiculous sums of money to the current Thunder owners if Oklahoma City voters decide not to build a new downtown arena.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Dec 11, 2023, 6:00am CST

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Dec 11, 2023, 6:00am CST

If someone mentioned the Dallas Mavericks to you, a few names might pop to mind.

You might think of the current Mavs, guys like Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. Or Mavs of the recent past, such as Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash. Or maybe you go to the more distant past with Mark Aguirre or Derrick Harper.  

But pretty much everyone would think of Mark Cuban. 

The Mavs’ owner has been the face of the franchise for more than two decades. Always sitting courtside for games. Ever present in team business. The first few years after he bought the team, he was more entertaining than the games were.

Cuban is Mr. Maverick.

Or he was.

A couple of weeks ago, we learned Cuban is selling his majority share in the team to casino magnet Miriam Adelson, controlling shareholder of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. Soon, the Mavs will be owned by someone with absolutely no ties to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Oh, it sounds as though the Adelsons would like to have ties — many believe the family’s long-term goal of building casinos in Texas is part of its motivation to buy the Mavs — but this fact remains.

An owner who was synonymous, symbiotic even, with his franchise agreed to sell.

Why?

Cuban had 3.5 billion reasons.

That’s been the reported sale price, $3.5 billion. It may be a bit higher or lower, but either way, that’s still a ton of money, even for someone who’s already as rich as Cuban.

Which brings us to Tuesday’s vote in Oklahoma City to build a new downtown arena. Voters are set to decide whether a one-cent sales tax will be extended, funding a new arena and securing the Thunder through at least 2050. But if voters say no, there’s a very real chance the Thunder could be sold and relocated elsewhere.

When I’ve written about this possibility before, some have accused me of being a fear monger, a pedaler of gloom and doom.

I am actually something else: a truth teller.

And here’s the truth: the Thunder leaving Oklahoma City is likely if residents vote against a new downtown arena.

Why?

Because billionaires who have no ties to Oklahoma, no loyalties to keeping the Thunder in OKC will start offering ridiculous sums of money to the current Thunder owners. Even though those owners are extremely civic minded and want to keep the NBA in Oklahoma, the sums that will be offered to them will be difficult to turn down. 

Let’s crunch a few numbers, shall we?

Back in 2006, Clay Bennett and an Oklahoma-based group of businessmen bought the Thunder when it was still the Sonics for $350 million. As with all NBA franchises, the value has skyrocketed in recent years, and according to Forbes, the franchise is now valued at $3.05 billion.

Let’s say a buyer came calling and offered to pay that amount. A few years ago, it was reported the Thunder has four primary owners who have 19% shares each. The remaining 24% is split between a group of eight investors.

A $3.05 billion sale would mean each of the main four owners would receive $579,500,000. 

Over half a billion dollars.

That’s way more per owner than the entire group initially paid for the Thunder.

That type of return on investment is almost impossible to say no to. A few members of the Thunder ownership group might turn it down, but a number of them wouldn’t. Even for rich folks, that’s transformational money.

But if Oklahoma City voters say no to a new arena, that is the type of money the Thunder owners will be offered. And if the voters say no, the owners are likely to say yes.

Think that won’t happen?

Two words: Mark Cuban.

Oh, two more: Howard Schultz.

Schultz, you’ll remember, was the one who sold the Sonics to Bennett and Friends. (Oh, the irony!) He was Mr. Seattle, the owner of Starbucks, the face of the Pacific Northwest, but in the face of revenue shortfalls because of an aging arena (more irony!), he sold the franchise.

Less than two years later, it relocated to Oklahoma City.

Here’s a bit more irony: the Thunder owners would actually benefit more financially from the vote failing than from it succeeding. What they would make in revenue with a new arena would be dwarfed by the money they’d make from a sale of the franchise.

So, if you’re preparing to vote no on Tuesday because you figure there’s no way these owners would sell — look at the loathing and contempt they endured in Seattle to get the team to OKC in the first place — just know you’re in good company.

I’m sure Seattle voters thought the same thing about Howard Schultz.

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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