BY Art Thiel 04:10PM 10/18/2018

Thiel: Next Seahawks owner will follow a top act

Paul Allen was the ideal sports-team owner — smart enough to know he wasn’t smart enough. He hired the best and backed off. Carroll/Schneider have to wonder if good times are over.

The new boss for GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll will follow “the best.” / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

For a sports marketplace that lost an MLB team in 1970, an NBA team in 2008, and lost temporarily its NFL team for a couple of weeks in 1996, the theoretical threat of relocation of the Seahawks in the wake of the death of owner Paul Allen provokes an understandable twitch. Especially given the random ruthlessness that appears to drive the business of American pro sports.

But no. Not happening. Fuggedaboudit.

Neither of Allen’s prime sports properties, the Seahawks and the NBA Portland Trail Blazers, are going anywhere.  It’s simple: They are hugely popular in their markets, where they make money in lucrative buildings.

But as to the franchises’ operations, that’s another story. If I were Pete Carroll and John Schneider, I’d be a little worried.

Only a small number of people in Allen’s inner circle know his succession plan, although the NFL asks its team owners to provide confidential information about it. Absent a spouse or children, his principal heir is his sister, Jody, who has been active in some of Allen’s enterprises, including the Allen Family Foundation. She took what was termed a “sabbatical” in 2014 during rumors of tension between the siblings, returning recently to some tasks.

While her ambitions are publicly unknown, speculation by some who know brother and sister suggests that a sale is more likely than maintaining the sports operations. It’s also possible that the Allens already have designated purchasers.

In the event that the teams go on the market and are sold to the highest bidders, they will fetch premium prices — the most recent sale for an NFL franchise was the Carolina Panthers in July was for $2.3 billion, a U.S. pro sports record — and potentially significant changes in operations, simply because the football empire was a one-man show built around Allen’s wealth, personality and idiosyncrasies. It is unique.

Without him, no matter what is said by leaders at Vulcan Inc., the 32-year-old company that oversees his vast holdings, things will be different.

At an estimated value of $21.7 billion,  Allen was the richest owner in the NFL, by a factor of two or three. He had the same status in the NBA until 2014, when his former Microsoft teammate Steve Ballmer ($38.4 billion) bought the Los Angeles Clippers in 2014.

Stupendous wealth frees up such owners to do anything they want to gain a competitive edge. For example, it allowed Allen to buy an industrial remnant of Lake Washington shoreline in Renton and build, for about $70 million, a team headquarters and practice facility that is the envy of the league and a recruiting tool.

Similarly, Ballmer wants to get his Clippers out of being the third pro sports tenant in Staples Center downtown and build his own hoops-only palace in Inglewood, funded privately.

Regarding their sports passions, Ballmer and Allen answered to no one, which can be good or bad, but at least eliminates the headaches of squabbling among heirs and/or boards of directors.  Nor did either tycoon need to take distributions from annual operations to satisfy creditors, families or minority owners.

In the case of Allen, his Seahawks head coaches were thrilled with his stewardship, Mike Holmgren telling 950 KJR radio Monday that Allen was “the best owner I’ve ever worked for.”

Tuesday, Carroll echoed the sentiment.

“You couldn’t ask for a better guy to support what we’re trying to do here,” he said. “Paul had a great thought about (how) he wanted to put people in charge and give them what resources they needed and then he wanted you to go for it. He wanted, at all times, to be pushing ahead. That’s always what you hope for.

“He was not a hands-on owner. But his spirit was on everything that we’re doing. That’s why John (Schneider) and I were in such concert from the beginning. You couldn’t ask for a better format and a better set-up. That’s why I wound up finding my way here.”

Now, it’s anyone’s guess as to what’s in store long-term for the franchise, Carroll and Schneider. The 21 years of stability under Allen was a huge asset, and such a contrast to the nine years of mayhem, incompetence and palace intrigue under the previous owner, Ken Behring.

Change was inevitable, of course, but Allen’s relatively early death at 65 comes at a time when Carroll and QB Russell Wilson, the franchise cornerstones, are in the next to last years of their deals. Since the virtues of Allen’s wealth and hands-off leadership are no longer in the Seattle picture, they can’t help but stare into the void and wonder.

Regarding the pool potential buyers, on the 2018 Forbes list of global billionaires, there’s a couple of sports-mad West Coast billionaires richer than No. 44 Allen — No. 10, Larry Ellison (Oracle software, $58.5 billion) and No. 28 Phil Knight (Nike, $29.6 billion).

And of course, the top two guys on the list are from Seattle — No. 1 Jeff Bezos ($112 billion) and No. 2 Gates ($90 billion). Honorable mention at No. 924: Investment banker David Bonderman, pending majority owner of Seattle’s National Hockey League expansion franchise, at $2.6 billion.

Speculation in the coming months will be endless, particularly with Seattle’s prosperity and its rise in global technology eminence. What seems more knowable is that the franchise won’t end up with a better fit for the task than the son of of a librarian and a teacher, who grew up in the Wedgewood neighborhood loving hoops, Hendrix and code.


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YourThoughts

  • Archangelo Spumoni

    If/when a sale happens, I think I understand that the NFL recently deleted its prohibition on franchise “cross ownership.” The recent sale of the Panthers would have been for more $$ if certain other franchise owners had been allowed to bid.
    For example, Ballmer could buy the Seahawks. Think about it for a sec–when Ballmer overpaid for the Clippers per all the talking heads, did it really matter? When you have $30 Billion, what’s the difference if you only have $27B? For us tiny turtles, when we go out for dinner and the tip should be $19, does it really matter if you leave a $20?
    Mr. Thiel: Did I understand this cross ownership thing right?

    P.S. What would J. Michael Kenyon be saying about this?

    • Chris Alexander

      The cross-ownership rule is on the agenda for the upcoming fall ownership meetings. It hasn’t been eliminated yet. I think it’s a reasonable expectation that it will be though since, as you mentioned, it would help drive up the prices paid for teams and the owners won’t view that as a bad thing.

    • art thiel

      The ban against some cross-ownership ended in 1994. What the owners rescinded this week was a ban on owning other sports teams in a town that already had an NFL team. Originally, they didn’t want NFL owners competing against each other for sports dollars in the same town. They now realize that was old-school, since competition comes from everywhere digitally.

      J Michael would have railed against God letting Allen go, and would have interviewed both personally.

  • WestCoastBias79

    What about Howard Schultz??? (throws up in mouth)

    • art thiel

      He’s the perfect example of a guy who thought his skills that made him rich would translate to sports ownership.

  • Theyfinallyfiredcable

    I thought I saw the name Mark Cuban bantered about out there in the world wide web ..

    I say we elect Art for the owner and start a GoFundMe page to help him buy the team . If I don’t go to the Packers game for Thursday Night Football , I could probably save around $200 and throw it his way to get started . Use it for a deposit to extend Frank Clark or something ..

    • art thiel

      If nominated, I shall not run. If elected, I shall not serve (Lyndon Johnaon, 1968).

      • tor5

        “I like the job I have, but if I had to live my life over again, I would like to have ended up a sports writer.” (Richard Nixon, 1969)

      • Husky73

        Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective noon tomorrow.

      • Archangelo Spumoni

        Mr. Thiel.
        Pretty sure that’s the great William Tecumseh Sherman. A great American and my 2nd favorite Civil War general.
        But we understand that you are merely holding out for a better compensation and benefit package once you are running the Hawks.

  • tor5

    Good insight, Art. Many rich folk think they’re geniuses in all things. Allen was a true genius because he knew he’d never know as much about running a football team as Pete and John. Some rare humility in a billionaire.

    • art thiel

      Every coach in Dallas has wished for humility from Jerry Jones, Hah!

  • jafabian

    I wonder if Steve Ballmer would be interested in either purchasing the team or being part of an ownership group? He seems like someone who’d love to take over a brand like the Seahawks. I’m not sure about Ellison because when he was approached about the Sonics he said he’d only be interested in them if he could move them to San Jose. But then maybe Drew Carey and Jerry Bruckheimer could sell him on the virtues of Seattle. I don’t know if NFL owners would be comfortable with Uncle Phil but he might enjoy being in the Huskies back yard. Especially after the PAC-12 dumped Nike.

    Facebook has over 2000 employees in Seattle. Mark Zuckerberg is ranked fifth richest in the world. He doesn’t seem to be interested in sports but you never know. Too bad Hiroshi Yamauchi isn’t still with us.

    • art thiel

      Regarding Yamauchi, he did a great deed for Seattle, but a completely absentee owner is not good.

      Ballmer likely would say he has enough to do with LAC.

  • Husky73

    Art….You left out the soul-crushing folding of the Sea-Port Cascades.

    • art thiel

      They didn’t leave. No one wanted them or the Tacoma Tides.

      • Husky73

        I went to a couple of Tides games! The legend of Stan Naccarato.

  • 3 Lions

    RIP Sir Paul Allen.

  • Warchild_70

    Great write Art, My thoughts are that Mr. Gates would pass he has his foundation to run, my view is Ellison over Knight (Nike?? Really!) Oracle is running well and maybe the Seahawks might be tempting for him to bite. Set the hook me hearties there be plenty booty who catches the fearsome Hawks!