Paul Allen asks for more credit than deserved for buying Hawks

Peter Callaghan; The News Tribune

Seattle, WA - 8/22/02 -One of the biggest myths in state political history is that billionaire Paul Allen wrote personal checks to Save the Seahawks for Seattle and personally helped build the new football stadium.

The myth was born because Allen and his handlers knew it would appeal to state voters.

Repeatedly he and his handlers told the public he was acting as a public-minded citizen to save the National Football League team from moving out of town. Repeatedly they said he would not only pay $200 million for the team but also cover another $100 million in losses.

And they repeatedly spoke of Allen's $130 million personal contribution to a publicly owned stadium.

Like all myths, this one dies hard. Despite the almost total lack of evidence that any of it is true, it gets repeated by politicians and reporters as the Gospel According to Paul. It gets repeated even though there is plenty of evidence that his purchase of the team just five years ago has been one of his better investments.

Thanks to Forbes magazine, we have a glimpse into the finances of the Seahawks and the rest of the NFL. A franchise Allen claims to have paid too much for in 1997 has nearly tripled in value. While Allen paid $194 million for the team, it is now estimated to be worth $534 million.

There is little to back up the claim that the team has been losing money playing in the old Kingdome and Husky Stadium while the new stadium was being planned and built. In the four years Forbes has estimated the value of franchises, it reports that the Seahawks made $4.6 million. That's not a lot, but it's not a loss, either. The new stadium will only increase the annual profits.

"Moving into new public/private financed stadium in 2002 will propel the Seahawks from being close to the bottom in football revenue into the top half," the magazine said.

I've already noted that much of Allen's alleged private contribution of $130 million for the stadium was covered by a $60 million loan from the league that will be repaid by visiting teams, not the Seahawks. Even more will be covered by personal seat licenses paid by fans, not Allen. And he keeps all revenue from the stadium - including naming rights that could bring in $60 million to $100 million.

All of this will be more than enough to quickly cover the rest of his contribution.

So Allen paid $194 million for a team that has increased in value by $68 million a year for five years. He invested perhaps $50 million - not $130 million - in a stadium that will wring money from fans at a record pace. He has made a little money on the team since buying it - as opposed to the $100 million in loses he projected. And he convinced the state Public Stadium Authority to allow him to break a significant promise made to soccer fans that the stadium have grass, not turf.

Buying the Seahawks wasn't a civic contribution, it was a savvy business deal. But that wouldn't have convinced state voters to pony up $300 million for a stadium that will make a wealthy man even wealthier. So the myth was born.

If these numbers don't tell the real story, Allen can prove them wrong by doing what state law requires him to do - publicly release an audited profit and loss statement for the Seahawks.

Allen's spokeswoman says he doesn't have to, but that's the case only because the Public Stadium Authority appointed by Gov. Gary Locke failed to enforce the law and the clear intentions of the Legislature.

I'm sure that if you or I asked government officials not to enforce a state law that burdened us, they'd be equally accommodating.

That assurance and $2.75 will buy you a 12 oz. cup of coffee in the new stadium.

Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657

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