Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has signed on as an investor in a bid to build a new sports arena in Seattle, aiming to attract NHL and NBA franchises to the city.
Chris Hansen, the hedge-fund manager who is leading the effort, disclosed Ballmer’s name in an interview a few minutes ago on KJR sports radio. Also part of the group are Erik and Pete Nordstrom, two of the brothers behind the Seattle-based retailer.
All three of them are great people — not only are they big basketball fans and big NBA fans, but more importantly they’re big supporters of the community,” Hansen said on the Mitch in the Morning show. “It’s about doing something great for the city. I think their interest speaks for itself. … They’re just supportive owners and we want to have a low-key ownership group.”
The Sonics were moved out of town in 2008 and renamed the Oklahoma City Thunder — a team currently leading the Miami Heat 1-0 in the NBA Finals. On the show this morning, Hansen talked about how satisfying it would be for fans to see a new Sonics team take on the Thunder at a new arena.
Hansen has been acquiring property south of downtown Seattle and seeking approvals for a proposed multipurpose arena.
Ballmer, known for his intensity on the basketball court, has long been rumored to be interested in backing a bid to bring NBA basketball back to Seattle, but his role as Microsoft CEO would probably prevent him from being the primary leader of such an effort. Speaking at the Seattle Rotary Club last year, Ballmer made it clear that he had studied up on the issue.
“I think the challenges there are real estate challenges, honestly,” Ballmer said at the time. “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.”