BY Art Thiel 09:52PM 10/15/2018

Thiel: Seattle sports loses a dreamer and a doer

Paul Allen did many more important things than save the Seahawks, but his sports legacy of success has done much to enhance life in his hometown.

Paul Allen was the most impactful owner in Seattle’s sports history. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Seahawks fans returning to Seattle from London dazzled by the reception they and the team received need to know that 21 years ago, the franchise was about to be toe-tagged, the remains likely sold to swells from Hollywood. After seasons of 7-9, 2-14, 6-10, 6-10, 8-8, 7-9, 8-8 and 7-9, no local rich guy wanted to be within a mile of the stink created by the franchise’s cretinous owner, Ken Behring.

“I went from Eugene to Vancouver, B.C., looking for someone to step up, and no one would,” said Pete von Reichbauer, then and now a King County Council member. “Old-money Seattle didn’t want to touch it. Remember, the Nordstrom family sold the team because (its poor fortunes) were affecting their retail business.”

Paul Allen, a hometown kid, and his new money were the only hope.

“There was,” said von Reichbauer, “no Plan B.”

Allen was reluctant. He already had a pro sports team, the NBA Portland Trail Blazers, which he bought for a then-outrageous $70 million in 1988 after Microsoft went public. Allen had a hundred other interests and no appetite for media attention, as did bloviating team owners such as Jerry Jones and George Steinbrenner.

He also suspected Behring wanted an offer to use as leverage against a bid by Michael Ovitz, president of the Disney Co., who wanted to own a team in the empty market of Los Angeles.

But von Reichbauer and Allen’s inner circle persuaded Allen that a $200 million offer would be accepted. Allen had a condition — he wanted a partnership deal with King County that would create a stadium and events center to replace the county’s failing Kingdome. The deal included a $300 million public subsidy. Allen would pay $130 million and cover cost overruns.

King County and the state wanted cover — a public vote, a single-item special election. Allen agreed to pay for the staging expenses, as well as violate his then-extreme desire for privacy by appearing in a TV commercial touting the plan’s virtues.

Against all odds, the statewide measure to subsidize a billionaire won by a 51-49 margin. It remains one of the most preposterous stories in Seattle’s sports history.

The Seahawks are now worth $2.58 billion, according to Forbes’ annual valuation survey. They have been to three Super Bowls, winning one, and apparently have become a bit of a global darling.

“There’s not a team in the sports world that has more avid fans,” said Tod Leiweke. “It was an outpost in the NFL and now it’s one of sports’ most vibrant teams.

“He created that.”

Leiweke is a little biased. From 2003 to 2010 in Seattle, he was Allen’s sports prime minister, running the Seahawks, taking over the Blazers, launching the MLS Sounders.

He’s back now, head of Seattle Hockey Partners, about to land a National Hockey League franchise for a made-over KeyArena — another preposterous moment pending in Seattle sports. He’s back in part because he shares a thing that drove Allen — a love of Seattle.

“He has places all over the world — he could could have lived anywhere,” Leiweke said. “But this place always would be home.”

As he talked by phone Monday of Allen’s death at 65, a victim of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a blood cancer that haunted most of his adult life, Leiweke’s voice began to crack.

“Besides losing a guy who I had great affection for, we all lost a dreamer,” he said. “He was a very competitive guy who always wanted to win, and he gave his teams every resource to do that.

“He was a guy who delivered, for his partners, businesses, employees, his fans and his town, more than he was asked. And he kept dreaming — brain science, sports, music, arts.”

Allen’s reach in Seattle touched many.

“No one had a bigger impact than Paul in culture, sports and real estate,” von Reichbauer said. “I valued him as a fan and respected him as an elected official because he never abused his position.”

Allen also dreamed of a world without cancer, Leiweke said. That dream was more difficult to realize than building a national sports champion.

I’ve written before that a fundamental aspect of sustainable success in the salary-capped NFL is a high-functioning vertical alignment from owner to coach to quarterback. The Patriots have it under Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. The Seahawks have it under Allen, coach Pete Carroll and QB Russell Wilson.

That has changed. I do not know what is next.

In the shortest term, Leiweke knew what was next for him. He and Allen live on Mercer Island.

“I’m going to take out a paddleboard and go over in front of his house,” he said. “I’m going to say a prayer.”

How Seattle.

Yet now Seattle is sadly different without the hometown dreamer.


  • Husky73

    I wonder what 20 more years of Paul Allen would have done for Seattle and the world?

    • art thiel

      Do you think he would have solved for Mercer Street?

      • Husky73

        Mercer Street? That’s easy. Build a tunnel. That’s what Seattle does. The bigger question that I would have liked Mr. Allen to ponder— why does Pete von Reichbauer never age?

  • Theyfinallyfiredcable

    Oh my God , how horrible ! I’m speechless . I remember the Behring debacle like it was yesterday . The man is/was a legend among the 12’s for saving the Seahawks in Seattle , but of course his contributions to making a better world for everyone go way beyond anything I could put into words .

    When he announced the lymphoma had returned a couple of weeks ago , I had a bad feeling ; lymphoma is an especially insidious form of cancer with a 10 year survival rate of around 60% , and he was first diagnosed in 2009 . God rest his soul , the man used his fortune to create , to discover , to entertain , to help and heal . This world needs more people like him , not less ..

    I’m terrified what may happen to our Seahawks now ; he had no wife or children and his sister – although a Hawk fan – has made it clear she has no interest in running either sports franchises . Both teams will likely be put up for sale by his estate . There’s hoops to jump through of course – the owners & league have to approve the new owner – but what if another Ken Behring comes along , another Clay Bennett ?! What happens now with contract extensions ; Schneider , Carroll , Russell Wilson .. I can’t imagine any contracts being extended or offered until new ownership is in place to approve it . The entire future of the franchise sits on a razor’s edge now .

    I’m getting sick just thinking of it ..

    • Ron

      I could see Bezos being very interested in owning the Hawks.

      • ReebHerb

        Please not. Paul’s sister may do just fine.

        • Ron

          She has stated that she has no interest in it.

          • Mícheál Mac Cionnaith

            Perhaps his sister was mis-quoted yesterday or changed her mind in the last 24 hours, but at least the news reports as of just a day ago were that his sister, Jody Allen, had no interest in owning the Blazers, but no intention of letting go of the Seahawks. I’m not saying Canzano is correct; I just wanted to point out where I read it and that I wasn’t making it up.

          • Kirkland

            I read he had put a trust/succession plan in place for the teams. That will get them through the next season or two while they find buyers.

          • Ron


            Fieldgulls said she had no interest in the Seahawks according to that story.

      • Kirkland

        I’m not sure Bezos even knows the Seahawks exist. That brings up a major difference between Allen and our other billionaires, that he did things for the city when asked, even if he didn’t have a vested interest in them.

        Gates turned down buying the M’s because he thinks sports teams are bad investments, and wanted to concentrate on his foundation’s (worthy) causes. Ballmer bailed on Chris Hansen when the Clippers became available. Bezos and his company haven’t shown much public outreach, instead concentrating on their business and his space travel venture. Since they all worked very hard for their billions, you can’t really rag on them for spending their money however they want it.

        Allen, though, always was glad to lend money to causes when asked and save local institutions from folding or moving (the Cinerama and KEXP-FM as well as the Seahawks). He wasn’t a football fan then, but he realized how big of a blow losing an NFL team would be to the city, and wanted to prevent that. He did that, and turned not only the Seahawks around, but also indirectly MLS (soccer fans saved the stadium vote, and the Sounders’ success set the blueprint for the league’s newer teams to follow).

        Very happy that he stood up for the city and kept important community cornerstones alive.

        • Ron

          Buying the Seahawks would give Bezos some needed good PR in Seattle to offset the bad.

          • jafabian

            Seriously? He’s donated $35 million to cancer research. Because of that he had an entire floor named in his family’s honor at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He donated over $2 billion towards helping the homeless. He’s also funded Blue Origin because of his vision that eventually society will live and work in space. His philanthropy is very widespread. When you say he has a bad public image I say you’re gravely mistaken. If anything he’s like Bill Gates: doesn’t have much interest in any sports ventures and there’s nothing wrong with that.

          • Ron
          • jafabian

            Your links lead to stories about people and entities who more so have issues with Amazon, not really with Bezos personally. As I stated earlier I worked for a long time in the SLU area and the businesses that don’t want Amazon there would have the same complaints if it was Microsoft, Nike or Nintendo moving in: they don’t want Goliath moving into their neighborhood. As far as the head tax goes I’ve always felt businesses should be encouraged into participating in charity and not forced into it. Give them tax breaks for the more they contribute. The city shouldn’t be so draconian in their actions.

          • art thiel

            True, but I don’t think he cares much about his local image.

        • art thiel

          Among our wealthies, he was by far the most dedicated to Seattle’s best interests.

      • art thiel

        I can’t.

    • DJ

      I would believe that Mr Allen had the foresight to plan for this situation, and can’t see him leaving behind an unsecure situation for anything that he cared for so much.
      It will be interesting to see how it plays out. I’m going to trust in Paul Allen and his wisedom and vision. GO HAWKS!

      • Husky73

        Just a guess…the Paul Allen Estate will sell his sports interests, investing those funds into his Foundation or further philanthropy.

        • art thiel

          Can’t argue with that likelihood.

      • art thiel

        I’m sure a plan is in place. And there’s no kids to fight over dad’s competence (see Tom Benson, New Orleans).

    • art thiel

      Unless there’s an unexpectedly quick deal (as in, already arranged), I don’t expect much influence to be felt on the player personnel level. But I would agree that a sale to the next Howard Schultz would be worth a 3 ayem scream.

  • Chris Alexander

    Like most of us, I never met Paul Allen and yet the news of his passing hit me hard. Far harder than I expected. I can only imagine what those who knew him are feeling. For the team and the staff throughout the organization, I think the bye week is perfectly timed. For his family and friends, my sincere condolences. For fans of the teams he owned … have faith in his neverending love for the communities. Obviously I can’t say anything for certain but I’m sure he knew he was dying and have to believe that he planned accordingly. After we have mourned his passing and/or celebrated his life, perhaps there will be some happy news.

    Rest in peace, Mr. Allen. You will be missed.

    • Tian Biao

      great comment – that’s exactly how I felt. That, and the suddenness of it. Paul Allen was unusual among the super-rich: most of them seem to spend every waking minute trying to make themselves even richer. Whereas Allen turned his attention to other things.

      On another note, as every long-time Seattle sportswatcher knows, ownership is a very under-rated ingredient in a team’s on-field success. In that sense, as well as saving the team, he was a perfect owner.

  • 1coolguy

    Well done Art- Allen was a local treasure and perhaps will go down in history as the most consequential, impactful person in Seattle’s history, in terms of doing good for the city.

    • art thiel

      It’s possible. Maybe right after Arthur Denny.

      • Husky73

        And J.P. Patches

  • jafabian

    To say that Paul Allen was a pillar in the community is an understatement. As Michael Bennett once noted he was, at the time at least, the 17th richest person in the world and even went as high as sixth IIRC. He revitalized downtown Seattle thru Vulcan Enterprises, accomplished great things in science and rescue operations with his yacht the Octopus, added to the culture with his museums, inspired many with his philanthropy and thrilled the Northwest through the Blazers, Sounders and Seahawks. It wasn’t dumb luck that he achieved great success in everything he touched.

    Though I never had the honor of meeting him I did see first hand what his work did in the South Lake Union neighborhood. I started working in the area in the 80’s and at the time the area was neglected by the city. Many buildings were decades old and in dire need of repair. Some were abandoned and the area had a high crime rate. After Seattle voters declined his Seattle Commons proposal in the 90’s (which disappointed me, IMO Seattle could use a Stanley Park) he use Vulcan Real Estate to turn that into making SLU an internationally recognized biotech hub and one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in Seattle. His legacy is amazing and inspiring. I’m happy he got to experience the pinnacle of success with the Seahawks and Sounders and wish he could have with the Blazers though they did visit the NBA Finals a few times. It’s going to be sad not seeing him occasionally patrolling the sidelines in his Seahawks puffer jacket or raising the 12th man flag in the playoffs. I can see him now sitting down with local icons JP Patches, Ivar Haglund and Jimi Hendrix and enjoying a Dagilac burger and milkshake with them. RIP Paul.

    • Theyfinallyfiredcable

      Beautifully stated jaf ..

    • art thiel

      Quite the final visual there, John. I’m guessing Brakeman Bill and Captain Puget are one table over.

      • jafabian

        They probably just sat down after coming over from the Build-Your-Own-Burger-Bar at Herfy’s!

      • Ken S.

        Dang, Art. You forgot Stan Boreson! And who could forget Wunda Wunda? Well, me. Never could stand that psychotic….Oh, never mind!Ha! I forgot about Brakeman Bill. We had some pretty cool kids shows in the afternoons, eh? And JP Patches in the mornings.

  • DJ

    Thanks Art
    Thank you Paul Allen – Rest In Peace

  • woofer

    Allen’s purchase of the Seahawks to save the franchise for Seattle was as close to a purely selfless civic gesture as you’re likely to see a rich guy make. He liked basketball but had no compelling interest in football. And, unlike the coffee dude, he was smart and humble enough to understand that he should just hire competent people to run the show and stay out of the way. We will never see another NFL owner even remotely like him.

    • Ron

      $194 million to $2,580 million eliminates it as being purely selfless gesture.

      • Bruce McDermott

        True…if he were clairvoyant.

        • Ron

          Right… he knew nothing about investing. He amassed $20 billion by pure luck.

      • Kirkland

        Not necessarily. Back then owning teams was a loss-leading enterprise, with the only reasons to buy a team being to flip it later on, or just to fulfill one’s ego. (The unprofitability is why Gates turned down buying the M’s in the early ’90s, and why Nintendo was summoned.) Now, with salary caps and ginormous TV contracts, teams are pretty good profit generators.

  • David Freiboth

    Our town was blessed to be the native home of a generous rich guy who bought wonderful toys to share with all. We are also blessed to have a home town sports writer who does textured nuance and feeling as well as wry cynicism and irony … rare in the genera. Nicely done Arthur.

  • jeff acorn

    I wonder if anyone is thinking about the City buying the Hawks, a la Green Bay.

    • Ron

      If my memory serves me correctly, the NFL put something into effect to prevent another ownership like the the Packers ownership arrangement from happening again.

      • Kirkland

        Right. Teams now must be own by individual people. Companies owning teams like when the Tribune Corp. owned the Cubs are outlawed, as are public ownership shares like the Packers (and German soccer). The thought was that those groups could simply issue more stock if they needed a cash inflow, which was an unfair advantage over the single-person ownership groups.

        The Pack’s system is grandfathered in, so it’s in place until some billionaire engineers a hostile takeover of the fans’ shares, and then the league will be all-individual owned.

    • Archangelo Spumoni

      Won’t happen. GB is grandfathered in but the NFL really hates one aspect of public ownership. Because GB is technically a stock company, they have to release certain financials per SEC rules, and each year we learn how much each team gets from the national broadcasting contract. Look it up and be amazed.
      This last time we learned that the check from the networks covers the salary cap plus about 50%. So before the first dollar from the first ticket, the first seat license, the first beer, the first local broadcast contract, the first parking concession, their player wages are covered with a 50% cushion.
      The NFL would have us think the players are going to make them go broke and would just as soon have us NOT know this one.

  • Ken S.

    Without Paul Allen buying the team, and insisting on a better venue, Seattle might still have the Kingdome. (I swear, the Kingdome was designed by an arcitect that designed prisons!) That alone should be enough to remember him in some meaningful way. I loved the way he handled his sports teams, hands off, for the most part, and always willing to spend the bucks to make it work. RIP, Paul.

  • Kevin Lynch

    Paul also did a lot for the arts. He ponied up millions for a needed upgrading of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s outdoor stage, America’s largest regional theatre and one of her oldest. Paul purchased what was believed to be one of the greatest copies remaining of Shakespeare’s first folio, his first collected and complete works, for $6.2 million. One wonders what may become of this irreplaceable treasure, what many consider the greatest work in the english language. Thank you Mr. Allen.