Steve Ballmer on bringing the Sonics back to Seattle: It’s a real estate problem

In a high-energy talk at the Seattle Rotary Club Wednesday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer covered everything from Windows 8 to Kinect to Bing to cloud computing. And, as we previously reported, he even boisterously took on a question about whether he’s fit to be CEO. But many in the crowd wanted to hear Ballmer’s take on another important topic: What’s it going to take to get the Seattle Supersonics back in Seattle?

Ballmer is a huge basketball fan, and has flirted with the idea of bringing an NBA franchise back to Seattle. (The software mogul sold $1.3 billion worth of Microsoft stock late last year, fueling some speculation that he might be positioning to buy a team).

But, based on his remarks Wednesday, don’t hold your breath for the return of the glory days of the Sonics.

Ballmer speaking at the Seattle Rotary Club

“I think the challenges there are real estate challenges, honestly,” Ballmer said. “I am not talking about where the location has to be, or anything else. But the building that is Key Arena would not be able to have an NBA team in it that would be competitive. The simple economics are: If you don’t have a nice enough building, you can’t sell enough of the right kind of tickets at the right kind of prices. And if you can’t do that, you can’t pay the players the right amount of money to compete. And if you can’t compete, you can’t fill the seats.”

Ballmer said Key Arena — the former home of the Sonics — is a “fine” facility. But it isn’t good enough to compete against what other cities have built in Dallas or Oklahoma City. He estimated that an arena would cost $350 million to $500 million to either build or renovate, and that it would likely take active involvement of local and state government.

“If someone can solve the real estate problem, I am quite sure it would be easy to solve the basketball problem,” Ballmer said.

He then called on those who worked in the real estate industry to tackle the issue, suggesting that he didn’t necessarily want to get engaged in that battle.

“Real estate is a great area of innovation and invention … for those of you in the real estate business,” he said to laughs from the crowd. “And when somebody comes up with a solution, whether the guys I was involved with last time or other people get involved, I am sure we will some day wind up with that problem solved and with a basketball team back here in Seattle. Certainly, as a fan, I’d be all-in. You want to get on that problem, I’ll offer to buy the first season ticket.”

  • Guest

    Thank you, Steve, for rallying the troops to bring professional men’s basketball back to Seattle where it belongs! $1.3 billion will go a long way to turn the KeyArena into the Microsoft Arena.

  • Allen

    OKC renovated their old arena to make it NBA-ready.  Why is a new one required in Seattle?  What’s wrong with the Key that it can’t be renovated…. we’re talking about a building barely 15 years old!

  • Allen

    OKC renovated their old arena to make it NBA-ready.  Why is a new one required in Seattle?  What’s wrong with the Key that it can’t be renovated…. we’re talking about a building barely 15 years old!

  • Allen

    OKC renovated their old arena to make it NBA-ready.  Why is a new one required in Seattle?  What’s wrong with the Key that it can’t be renovated…. we’re talking about a building barely 15 years old!

  • Guest

    Doesn’t sound like a real estate problem. It sounds like a business model problem. Ballmer essentially said that an NBA franchise can’t succeed without hundreds of millions in taxpayer subsidies.

  • guest

    we need the sonics bring kobe

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HNA4NMQ5NW6GMG7RICRY7UMC4Y Nick

    Get Paul Allen and just rebuild the damn thing.  It makes me sick to drive through lower queen anne and see all the closed shops.  We needith basketball in Seattle.  You can say all you want about the 12th man for the Seahawks and the sounders attendance.  But all in all Seattle is a BASKETBALL city.  

    • Senoviodeluna

      I agree lets get this thing going already and guit stalling