The Oklahoma City Thunder and its fans have made Clayton Bennett and the other owners of the NBA team extraordinarily wealthy. Bennett purchased the franchise, then called the Seattle Supersonics, in 2006 for $325 million. He moved the team to Oklahoma City in 2008, where it became one of the NBA's most compelling franchises. The Thunder drafted two future league MVPs, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, to play alongside superstar Kevin Durant, and the trio made a run to the 2012 NBA Finals. Since 2020, the team has undergone a successful rebuild, acquiring multiple talented young players, including All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, along with a massive stockpile of future draft picks. They are, by some accounts,
We had a similar experience with a baseball stadium in Philadelphia. They put it as a referendum on an election ballot, and it was overwhelmingly defeated. "They" decided that people did not understand the question, reworded it, and put it on the next ballot. Again it was overwhelmingly defeated. At that point, they decided that people were "voting against their best economic interests" and built the stadium anyway. As is usually the case, the athletes and team owners have benefited financially. The rest of us? Not so much.
Similar story here in Atlanta with the Braves baseball franchise. Moved the entire setup in a middle of the night deal from Turner field (South of downtown) to a northern suburb (now called Truist Park) with no public transit access.
It was a sordid sad story. This country is filled with shameless little mini oligarchs.
Thanks Judd...great story and eye opening.
You should do a story on how the Illitch family (owners of NHL’ Red Wings and MLB’s Tigers) conned the City of Detroit for tax breaks to build the Little Caesars Arena by promising to build housing and offices around the place - and have done zero of that. Instead they have gone back to the City this year for more concessions to do pretty much the same work… but now on land they done own so they can continue to rake in the $$$ on the many parking lots they own.
Pulitzer investigative journalist David Cay Johnston has written extensively about exactly this topic. Wikipedia: "He was a Pulitzer finalist in 2003 "for his stories that displayed exquisite command of complicated U.S. tax laws and of how corporations and individuals twist them to their advantage." (He was also a finalist in 2000 "for his lucid coverage of problems resulting from the reorganization of the Internal Revenue Service").
The cities that make these kinds of sports arena deals do so on the backs of taxpayers, and the taxpayers are ALWAYS held up for more.
Tax dollars combine to become the Treasure of the People, and if there was any real justice, would be used for the good and benefit of the people. The wealthy, and corporations demand too much, are given too much, and there is a clear recorded history of how this doesn't work out for The People.
Great piece PopInfo!!
When Clay Bennett absconded with the Seattle SuperSonics, my first real sports love when I was 7 years old, the NBA has been dead to me. People I know in OKC have lionized Bennett as a great local hero. Turns out he’s the money-grubbing mini-oligarch I always knew he was. To make it worse, there’s no doubt in my mind that OKC will pony up, everything else be damned.
This will never end until taxpayers end it by telling the billionaire owners to "go ahead, move the team" while telling their politicians that they will vote them out if they give the billionaire one dime to stay and for taxpayers in potential landing sites tell their politicians "not one dime for XYZ team and a new arena".
WELFARE FOR THE FASCIST, TAX-DODGING BILLIONAIRES who seek to undermine this democracy--traitors.
And, while you’re at it, take a good look at the Ricketts family, owner of the Cubs. With the help of Charles Koch, they succeeded in buying a Senate seat for their son, putting Ben Sasse in charge of dismantling education at the U of Florida, and placing a hypocrite pig farmer as Nebraska’s governor, with all the anti LGBQ, anti-Women’s rights rolled up in a blanket of “children’s interests.”
Hahaha! Tell the team to pack their trash and stand by it. The Chicago Bears tried to play hardball and go to Arlington Heights, but the monied residents there were like, "HELL NO!" And now Chicago is once again falling for the okey-doke it appears.
No team rates diversion of city monies to pay for their outright avarice, but the Bears are even LESS deserving than most.
In my opinion, sports teams that try to extort their home cities out of money desperately needed for that city's obligations and activities should be encouraged to leave.
A boot to the rear works wonders towards that end.
Hey, I've got an idea. Don't go! And don't watch! Then, let's see how the city and the owners feel about things in about 2 years. If it even took that long. In its place, go to the local high school games; go to the local college games. Get your sports fix, AND stick it up the derriere's of the "swells".
<Sigh> and most of Americans are clueless that this is happening daily across our land and sports teams. We are purposefully kept in the dark about how much this would affect, or should I say adversely affects the people living in and around those sports cities. Americans need to become informed on just how much the owners of the sports teams are enriched by a city's subsidizing of a new arena or stadium and how adversely it affects other programs and efforts by the city to manage growth and continuing poverty.
What we could hope would be exciting entertainment (sports at a high level of excellence and competition) and an innocent opportunity to discharge tension appears to be being pushed into the corruption that comes from unmitigated greed. I'm reminded of the corrupt and bloody Roman arena events we've seen in movies [Ben Hur, Gladiator (Russell Crowe as Maximus)]. Juvenal in his satires understood Roman corruption summing up that "bread and circuses" would be enough to keep the populace from rebelling. ...Except that we don't have the bread (grain subsidies) and the circuses are not free!
I didn't move to Minneapolis until 2014, but I will die mad about the tax money used to build not only US Bank stadium, but a city park that the park board *owns,* but the stadium has *control* of like 100 days per year
Nothing new here. Billionaires not wanting to spend their own money...How could the ownership group only contribute 50mil?!?! That's literally nothing to them...Leave it to the Republicans on the board to vote in favor of this.
Never understood the draw in some cities to subsidize sports leagues with huge stadiums, as it's true. Only a small handful make a substantial income from this endeavor; while the jobs created for the employees that support stadium services...not so much.
Speaking of the fervor over all things sports; I live in a relatively small, rural town in NE Georgia. Sports here is worshipped, in some instances it appears to me, tantamount to God. ( Ohhhh go bulldogs!) Some neighbors would skewer me for that hint of sarcasm.
In any case, after I moved here, was dining out one night, local sports pub (one of the few local dining choices here at the time.) My server was a young, bright, attractive college student at UGA. Slow night so occasionally she'd plop down next to me & chat a bit. I asked some questions about the local school system, as I heard it was rated one of the best in the state. She went on to say to not believe all the hype. Much of what she said tracked with some things I heard from another restauranteur in town. Either case, she suggested that if you're a student that doesn't fit the " one size fits all" college track, academic program in this one high-school, they dont want their rating going down; so they push you out to go to their "non college bound" high school...basicly for farmers & "agricultural" studies. She said this town spent a million bucks on a sports stadium for the h.s. in the outskirts of town, but we're going to classes held in a dank basement floor of the school, with roaches running around. While other kids are transferred out, that don't fit in the strictest sense, the college bound student mold, if you're a young, male, successful athlete on the football or baseball team, and you're barely scraping by academically, they are going to apply subtle pressure to teachers & make all sorts of allowances for those people to get by enough grade wise, to be able to play sports. For athletes on away games, the sky $$ was the limit. I asked her how did she know. She said she dated through school a young man, who was a player & that sports was his ticket into college. While she participated in female sports, but academically needed to keep up her GPA pretty high, because that was her ticket into college. As she said, I was the daughter of a working, single mom who couldn't afford to put her daughters through college without scholarships. Kinda the age old story about sports & who gets the gravy..deserved or not...imo.
So the sports & entertainment industry appear to be the areas that many of us fixate on & not the areas in which we as a country, really need to shine. But the money is somehow always found for sports & funneled there. While in towns & cities, folks have to fight like crazy to spend more for teachers salaries, books, etc. Many school supplies are either picked up by teachers on their dime, or are the parents responsibilities now. Nevermind salaries & positions for necessary public safety staff like firemen & police, mental health counselors, city hospitals etc.. These services go begging.
In the end. You can tell a lot about a country by where their priorities lie. What does it say about us.
So sad that the "masses" will vote to short-change their own long-term economic improvement to have a few moments of feeling good cheering for the home team by agreeing to pay for stadiums for the rich. It happens over and over again. When will they smell the toast burning??
Hey Judd! So happy to see you covering OKC. A group of concerned citizens from OKC have been organizing around this subject for a couple months here are some other things folks should know:
The Mayor refuses to meet with sitting City Councilors to discuss this topic. Which is ironic, because Mayor Holt also said there has been almost two years of opportunities for "public discussions" about the stadium. But this is strategically disingenuous. What Mayor Holt means is that he talked about the stadium in a speech to the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce (at an event sponsored by the Thunder) two years ago, and therefore the stadium was publicly discussed.
Also, we have provided the Mayor with a brief outline of Community Benefits Agreement we would like to go in hand with the stadium, if the stadium is approved by voters. In the CBA are a lot of great things to help benefit the wider community, but it would appear the CBA won't be a part of the stadium conversation, because Holt refuses to host this conversation.
I hope you continue this coverage and target Mayor Holt because he is as opaque as they come, has no real critical press coverage in Oklahoma, and there is only a short window to shine a light on the stadium heist before it goes to a vote. And that is intentional. Holt knows that holding a vote in the Winter of an off-election year will lead to lower voter turnout. He applied the same tactics to the MAPS 4 vote once people started getting to democratically involved, choosing to hold the election in December of 2019, instead of waiting until one of the election days in 2020 when voter turnout would be higher. That led to the lowest voter turnout in MAPS history. But he'll tell you it was the highest "yes" vote. Wonder why that is?
There's much more to be said about the Thunder, their ownership, and the "jobs" they create at the stadium, but none of those things are possible without the assistance of the Mayor.