The Oklahoma City Thunder successfully extort its way to a new arena

The Oklahoma City Thunder successfully extort its way to a new arena

The Oklahoma City Thunder are getting a new arena and the team’s ownership group is contributing $50 million of the $900 million tab. The reputation of owner Clay Bennett, who was responsible for killing the Seattle Supersonics, preceded him, and 71 percent of Oklahoma City voters didn’t want to call his bluff, so they approved a 1 percent sales tax.

In a world where the Los Angeles Dodgers paid Shohei Ohtani $700 million, and LIV golf shelled out nearly $600 million for Jon Rahm, Bennett and his cronies couldn’t contribute more than $50 million to a new arena? The franchise is paying Shia Gilgeous-Alexander and Davis Bertans that much combined this season.

Bennett’s group bought the Sonics for $325 million and recent estimates by Forbes now value the team at $3 billion. The people of Oklahoma City voted to keep their team and ensure the continued increase of the world’s income disparity. There’s also $70 million in MAPS 4 funds that could go to infrastructure, or other community initiatives, but instead, will be redirected toward a sports building. Yay!

In the memorandum for the deal, OKC mayor and city council claim, “The new arena will be designed and constructed as a first-class, state-of-the-art facility with at least 750,000 square feet.”

Forgive me, but I don’t think they know how far $900 million goes when it comes to hoops’ palaces.

The Warriors spent $1.6 billion on the Chase Center. Steve Ballmer sunk $2 billion into the Clippers’ new digs that aren’t even opened yet. “First-class” and “state-of-the-art” might be apt adjectives to describe those self-funded projects, but whatever gets built in Oklahoma City won’t be on par with arenas that are actually “first-class,” and you wonder when the cycle will refresh itself.

There were a litany of community benefits in the deal that were used to sweeten the pot, including an expected provision for a workforce intermediary, and a “living wage” of $15 per hour. So let me get this right: The quid pro quo with the community was agreeing to pay those who help build the arena $15 per hour?

The current minimum wage in Oklahoma is $7.25, but a recent initiative was proposed to raise it to . . . you guessed it: $15. (I’m also of the opinion that $15 is a gross minimum wage, but I’m not an economist, and have lived in high cost-of-living areas for over a decade.)

We all know no one is more easily swayed by economic buzzwords and promises of community benefits than local politicians, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. Nor should this gem from Nick Singer, spokesman for Oklahoma Progress Now, the advocacy group that ran the opposition campaign (via the Oklahoman).

“Mayor [David] Holt negotiated a terrible deal, and the Chamber and their allies ran a fear-based inferiority campaign about OKC — and it worked. They scared voters and voters supported a bad deal, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a bad deal. It’s a 95/5 deal, and that doesn’t change just because you claim it has all of these positives, but the mayor was willing to go along with it.”

To his point, Singer said the Build Your Own Arena spent less than $10,000 on its campaign, while recent documents show the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce dropped at least $478,000 on pro-arena TV ad expenditures since November. The group Keep OKC Big League speaks directly to the inferiority complex that pro-arena forces sought to exploit, and voters happily complied.

“We told the nation, we told the world, that Oklahoma City is and shall remain a Big League City,” Mayor Holt said of the decision.


The Thunder are the only pro sports game in the state and that can create an overprotective yet rabid fanbase (looking at you, Portland and Utah). People love to see their cities represented on the national and, I guess, world stages, so it takes a pretty repugnant person to repeatedly extort that attachment.

Just for record, Clay Bennett is that repugnant person. 

Original source here

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.