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.
“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.”