As rumors have circulated the last few months about whether the Seattle Seahawks could be put up for sale, sources close to the situation have stated categorically that the team is not currently on the market.
Coach Pete Carroll seemed to confirm that publicly earlier this month when he was asked if team chair Jody Allen has given him any indication that the team could be for sale.
“She’s never entertained that thought at all,” Carroll said. “I haven’t heard her say that at all.”
But if that ever changes, here’s a date to watch — May 2, 2024.
That’s the day when the Seahawks would no longer have to turn over 10% of the gross sale price of the team to the state of Washington.
That provision is included in Referendum 48 that was passed in 1997 and funded the construction of Lumen Field.
The clause specifically states that if Paul Allen or his estate become less than minority owners at any time before 25 years have passed since the sale of the first bonds, that the Public Stadium Authority receives 10% of the gross selling price of the interest of the team.
The clause is public record but has rarely been discussed. A recent story in the Sports Business Journal noted its existence.
A spokesman for the Public Stadium Authority confirmed to The Seattle Times that the date of the first sale of bonds was May 1, 1999 meaning any sale before May 2, 2024 would result in the team having to give 10% of the gross sale price to the state.
The Denver Broncos have a pending deal to be sold for $4.65 billion, the first team to be sold since 2018. Assuming the Seahawks prove to have a similar value if put up for sale — Forbes Magazine last year had Denver 10th on its annual list of NFL franchise value rankings with Seattle 12th — that would mean turning over $465 million or more to the state if sold before May 2, 2024.
The money would be earmarked to improvements in the now 20-year-old stadium. Before the bonds were paid off last year, they would have gone to Washington state public schools.
With there apparently being no current interest in selling the team — and certainly no urgency — that clause seems to much rule out any thought of selling the team before that date passes.
Paul Allen purchased an option to buy the team in April 1996 but with the sale contingent on an agreement for significant public funding to help build the stadium, which ultimately turned into Referendum 48.
The referendum, which resulted in a $300 million public share of a $430 million overall price tag for the stadium, passed in June 1997. Allen’s purchase of the team was completed in September 1997 for $194 million. The stadium opened in the summer of 2002.
Allen bought the Seahawks from Ken Behring, who in 1996 tried to move the Seahawks to Los Angeles — shortly after the Mariners had narrowly avoided leaving town, as well. The 10% clause appeared to act as both a disincentive for Allen to sell, or at the least, for the state to get something out of a quick sale.
Scott Jedlicka, an assistant professor of sport management at Washington State University, noted that the referendum, “which included not just the 10% provision but also required the team to help fund construction, cover cost overruns, and contribute to youth sports development, was pretty ambitious in terms of the concessions the state was able to achieve.”
The referendum was approved by the legislature on April 25, 1997, and then sent on to voters in June just before Allen’s option to buy the team expired on July 1, 1997. According to a July 1997 story in The Seattle Times, a political action committee formed by Allen ultimately spent $6.3 million to campaign for the passage of the referendum. The measure passed by a vote of 51.15% to 48.85%.
Jedlicka said that while the provision could be a disincentive for a sale, “it could also be leveraged to drive up the asking price, as potential buyers would know that some of the cost would be reinvested in capital improvements. And, because NFL franchise values have skyrocketed over the last decade and continue to climb, a potential buyer might see value in paying a premium if some of that money is offsetting future maintenance costs.”
The last of the $300 million in bonds that were sold was paid off on Jan. 1, 2021.
Paul Allen died of complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in October 2018, and the team was passed down to the Paul G. Allen Trust. Allen’s sister, Jody, became the trustee of the trust, and in that role, became the chair of the Seahawks.
The trust also owns the Portland Trail Blazers of the NBA, and Jody Allen is also the chair of that team.
An ownership group led by Nike rounder Phil Knight made a written offer of $2 billion recently, according to multiple reports that surfaced on June 2. But later that day the Blazers released a statement acknowledging that the offer had been made but stating “the team remains not for sale.”
The news of the offer to buy the Blazers led to rumors about the future of the Seahawks. But sources have continued to state that the team is not for sale.
Talk of the future of the Seahawks also has been spurred by a report from Portland writer and radio host John Canzano last month that the trust states that Allen’s assets must be liquidated with the proceeds going to his “passion projects.” But it’s unclear if there is a specific date by which that must happen.
Jody Allen has given no interviews since taking over as chair of the team in the fall of 2018, which has lent some air of mystery to her plans for the future of the team.
But Allen has appeared more visible in recent months, releasing a strong statement in support of the decision to trade Russell Wilson and then attending the NFL draft in late April, featured in pictures and a video released by the team.
And unless she and the trust want to hand over 10% of what they might make off a sale of the team, she figures to remain in charge for at least two more years.