BY Art Thiel 04:58PM 12/31/2013

How to make Seattle a sports empire in one year

After some major personnel moves in 2013, it’s possible to imagine that 2014 in Seattle sports could have aspirations to success throughout. Even the Mariners.

No  question about fan support is in Seattle. Now it’s time for the sports enterprises to deliver. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Hey, it’s New Year’s Eve. Let’s get fun.

Things changed momentously in Seattle sports in 2013. The Seahawks, Mariners, Sounders and Washington Huskies football busted some big-time personnel moves. The most audacious enterprise — Chris Hansen’s attempt to build a basketball/hockey arena in SoDo — fell short, but remains alive. With fresh ideas, it can work.

So let’s have a little fun: Let’s imagine Seattle as a big-time sports empire.

All it takes is one deed per team.

As a hub of wealth and technology, Pugetopolis has the ingredients to be a sports success too. Such ambition is no longer such a reach because the sick man of Seattle sports, the Mariners, finally went Dennis Rodman — they tatted up, dyed blond and ear-plugged on the way to giving Robinson Cano, the off-season’s biggest free agent, $240 million over 10 years.

It’s as if Elmer Fudd twerked.

The other sports enterprises are much closer to success, but there is an intriguing possibility that most or all could peak at once with a move or two.

Here’s one guy’s imagination for transformation in 2014.

Hansen arena

By far the most complicated endeavor, because Hansen is making something out of nothing. At this point, he has to consider something he has so far refused to do: Another site.

The reason Hansen appeared to go momentarily crazy in May, upping the bid to buy and

The arena in SoDo is attracting much opposition.

relocate the NBA Sacramento Kings, was because he had MOU and MO — a memorandum of understanding for an arena plan from the city, and momentum.

But after the NBA rejected his bid, and the NHL leaks periodic cruel teases but no serious relocation ideas, momentum is gone. So is Mayor Mike McGinn, Hansen’s strongest political supporter. More significantly, opponents of the arena location have been given time to armor up — Hansen’s worst fear, and why he conducted such a stealth operation prior to the February 2011 disclosure of his plans.

Without debating the merits of either side’s claims, there is no doubt the opposition has combined forces and tactics to pick apart the funding as well as the site. Be aware that the biggest foe has the least profile — railroad interests. In the local pecking order, trains come first. And they’re not moving any rights of way.

Some in city politics want to see the arena at Seattle Center, either replacing entirely KeyArena, or on the grounds of Memorial Stadium currently owned by the school district. Hansen is opposed because he can’t own the land that would also house his real money-maker: The entertainment district he wants to create on the SoDo site.

Hansen has a lot of money behind him, and ultimately wants to create a long-term civic asset. What he needs are a lot fewer foes in a hard-to-please town.


Short of an in-house sale of the franchise to Bellevue tech billionaire John Stanton, a 10 percent owner and a man wise in baseball and the future, the Mariners should hire Tony La Russa as president. Additionally, they need to create a shop of big-data analytics for baseball personnel as well as sports consumer habits.

Tony La Russa / Wiki Commons

La Russa needs to be given full baseball/financial control, while moving CEO Howard Lincoln to emeritus status to help get the stink off the operation after disclosures by Eric Wedge and other former employees. La Russa has the baseball stature and cred Seattle long has lacked. At 69, La Russa would be a transitional figure, not a long-term guy, and that’s good because if/when Nintendo of America sells, Stanton or whomever will have a right to choose a successor.

The high-end data enterprise is a mandatory minimum to keep the slow-to-change Mariners competitive in a sophisticated consumer market where developments in technology will force strategic changes every season, if not every half-inning.


Make the Sounders Osvaldo Alonso’s team, and give him the stature to tell Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and anyone else on the pitch to shut the hell up. Alonso is the team’s best player and the club has already made him a designated player so they can pay him better.

The Sounders have ambitions to be a world-class club, but after the clash of egos in last season’s primadonna festival, a field boss is necessary if they are to make order from chaos. Getting rid of the tempestuous Eddie Johnson is a start, but another diva is just a transfer fee away.

The importing of high-end talent after the seasonal is likely going to be a regular feature. But the introduction of U.S. star Clint Dempsey produced a miserable transition and led to one of the most embarrassing late-season collapses in the history of Seattle sports, which is saying something.

After five years of financial success, the Sounders have the resources, support and cachet to be the epicenter, not a sideshow, of American soccer.

Huskies football

Big linemen who can run. Big lineman who can run. Big linemen who can run. See a pattern?

In the last year, the Huskies solved their facilities shortcomings without needing tax dollars, and reached 9-4 with a head coach still using training wheels. Both are remarkable accomplishments, and helped land the key figure in a pending renaissance — a seasoned, successful coach at the peak of his game to succeed Steve Sarkisian. It’s rare to say something like this, but it’s true — they could not have done better than Chris Petersen.

I’m not sure what kind of offense Petersen will run in a Pac-12 giving over to the spread and up-tempo. But whatever success he will have depends on finding four-star big guys who will do for the Huskies what they are doing for Oregon and Stanford. The Huskies haven’t had a road grader practically since the days of Benji Olson.

The successes of RBs Chris Polk and Bishop Sankey as two of the greatest runners in UW history suggests that matters are far from hopeless. But the Huskies are 0-for-10 against the Ducks, and Petersen was 2-0 while at Boise State. He knows something. Imagine what he might do with better-than-average Pac-12 O-line talent.

Cougars football

The Cougars busted their move a year earlier with the big-money hire of Mike Leach. Two years into his tenure, Leach is the like the ancient saw about women: Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em. Leach’s eccentric ways often devolve from charming to annoying, but he has a pass-first-last-always system that makes the Cougars competitive without needing premier players.

Imagine if he recruits something other than “empty corpses.”

Huskies/Cougars basketball

First one to hire Gonzaga’s Mark Few wins.


This one is simple. Win Feb. 2, and names will be written in the mud of the Duwamish tideflats to the snows of Rainier, and every brass plaque in between.

Then imagine a Super Bowl championship as a start, not a finish.

Happy Sports New Year!


  • giorgio547

    If anyone deserves to be on top of the Sports World it is Arthur… HNY!!!

    • art thiel

      There are many deserving. But gratuitous compliments are gratefully received. Backayya,giorgio.

  • just passing thru

    Happy New Year, Art !!

    And may all your wishes come true. :-)

    • art thiel

      Figured I’d start the year on a hopeful note, then let reality have the other 364 days.

      • just passing thru

        yeah, there’s always tomorrow. ha ha ha

      • tedsfrozenhead

        Everything is possible!

  • mdl1066

    No mention of the 2 stars returning to the only major championship team in Seattle in recent memory.

    • art thiel

      Storm don’t need to do anything different. They have done well in a niche sport.

  • jafabian

    The Seahawks winning the Super Bowl, in NYC no less, puts Seattle high atop the sports map. With players like Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman getting so much national recognition adds to it. But there really needs to be a Bob Walsh around to help that kind of recognition grow. Someone who can bring in Final Fours, PGA tournaments and other national and international events. Don’t think it’s required for the NBA to be here (the game simply doesn’t have the impact it did in the Dr. J/Magic/Bird/Jordan era) but it would help.

    So Art, with your comments regarding Mark Few, are you suggesting it may be time for the UW to replace Lorenzo Romar?

    • art thiel

      I was being facetious. Mostly.
      I don’t think Few can be pried away by a Pac-12 school — Gonzaga is a sweet gig for him. Romar has been second on a lot of top recruits, such as Aaron Gordon, and that’s hurting big-time right now. But his success has earned him some slack.

      • jafabian

        Ah. Okay. I used to think UW would be the only gig that Few would be interested in but he had an opportunity to do so and passed on it. Maybe Oregon could pry him away, I don’t know. However considering his lack of success in the NCAA tournament over the years I’m not sure I’d want him coaching in Montlake. To have a #1 ranking and get bounced in the second round last season had to be disappointing. IMO, Romar’s biggest problem isn’t that the Zags beat him in recruiting but that they leave early. Either to the pros or other schools for more playing time. The Spencer Hawes class really hurt him.

      • tedsfrozenhead

        I am wondering how much longer Romar has at the UW. Nice guy and all he has not done much with this program for a while

        • clevesside

          in year #12, a very long time compared to rest of PAC-12. Next senior is 6 years’ tenure. Move over Harsh, Lo wants mo!

      • zigzags

        I say it’s time for Romar to leave, and let’s get a coach in here who’s willing to play Gonzaga each year. Until that happens, UW will continue to be the second-best team in Washington.

  • Paul Maggard

    no mention of the Hawks being a dynasty I think they fix the Oline get a big wr or TE in the off season and this team could go 16 and 0 and win it all thats my prediction they win the SB this year and then next year and they do something no team has ever done before win 5 in a row

    • Lee Alex

      Douchenozzle alert.

  • clevesside

    Mariners: what would accelerate Lincoln’s retirement, beside his demise (!)? He seems to love his obstinancy as time goes on. Huskies: they need defense more than the Cougars do, who still can’t imagine “defense” as a concept. Hoping Petersen senses the need for front-line beef and back end flyers to go after that pesky Duck offense, and anybody else in the PAC-12. Dawg B-ball: Few is not the answer right now, and I don’t know what is…academically-eligible maybe?! All in all, 2014 SHOULD BE certainly an improvement from 2008, the sports zombie era locally. Don’t look back.

  • tedsfrozenhead

    Seattle is the Cleveland of the West as far as sports goes. At least we have the Sonics Championship even if we don’t have the Sonics.