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Bill Virgin: Seattle arena and TV streaming both have local ripple effect on businesses

If Seattle’s City Council agrees to the revised proposal and Hansen builds his arena, then we’re back to the question of what becomes of the Tacoma Dome, and if there’s enough sports, concert, entertainment, trade-show and convention business to keep all the venues (including KeyArena) in operation.
If Seattle’s City Council agrees to the revised proposal and Hansen builds his arena, then we’re back to the question of what becomes of the Tacoma Dome, and if there’s enough sports, concert, entertainment, trade-show and convention business to keep all the venues (including KeyArena) in operation. Staff file, 2013

We present a roundup of news items happening elsewhere that will affect life as we know it in Tacoma:

▪ A long time ago at a newspaper far away, your columnist did a stint as a movie reviewer, but as part of a tandem with others who refused to see mad-slasher horror movies — so I got stuck with them.

Thus the saga of Chris Hansen’s Seattle arena is a familiar movie — no matter how many times it’s seemingly killed for good, it always seems to lurch back to life.

In the latest edition, Hansen is proposing to build the Sodo arena without financing from the city (the bonds issued for construction would have been paid off using tax revenues the facility generated). He is asking for a street vacation and for waiver of admission taxes, a favor also granted to the Mariners and Seahawks. He’s even willing to contribute money to projects to ease congestion in the area.

The Hansen arena was given up for dead when Seattle’s council voted not to grant the vacation of a street that is, depending on who you ask, either a transportation link vital to the Port of Seattle or a little-used alley. But Hansen has continued assembling parcels of land, and now is back with a new proposal.

Why should anyone in Tacoma care other than those pining for the lost Sonics? Two reasons.

Reason No. 1: If Seattle’s City Council agrees to the revised proposal and Hansen builds his arena, then we’re back to the question of what becomes of the Tacoma Dome, and if there’s enough sports, concert, entertainment, trade-show and convention business to keep all the venues (including KeyArena) in operation. Tacoma had bought some time with the apparent demise of the Hansen arena. Now it’s back, and those long-term debates about renovations for the T-Dome and how to pay for them might not be so long-term.

Reason No. 2: The Port of Seattle has strenuously objected to the arena’s proposed location, saying it would damage the port’s ability to move cargo in and out. Never mind that the port already was being squeezed by deindustrialization before Hansen showed up, or that other factors such as labor disputes have been far more disruptive, or that the port itself has been talking about how much capacity it will need long term on Elliott Bay, or that the port has somehow managed to coexist with the other two sports venues. Because of the tie-up of maritime operations through the Northwest Seaport Alliance, the Port of Seattle’s participation in the fight is also the Port of Tacoma’s.

Seattle City Council’s five-member majority had a long list of reasons for voting down the last proposal, including its involvement in financing and the port’s objections. Now things get interesting. If even one of those five decides this is a good-enough deal — and remember, that one council member gets to publicly crow “see how smart we were to hold out” — the arena gets approved.

Or all five could say, “Nope, still not good enough,” setting the stage for a sequel. If we’ve learned anything from horror movies or stadium/arena fights, there’s always a sequel.

▪ While Tacoma’s city government and utility officials and consumers and ratepayers and competitors fight over what to do with or about Click, the industry continues to dramatically restructure itself.

Google, according to news accounts, has signed a deal with CBS to carry the network’s programming on what’s being called a “skinny” pay-TV service delivered via the internet rather than cable or satellite. It’s talking to other content generators, but so are a lot of other would-be players in this new market.

It’s tempting to view the emergence of a new form of competition as a wash for outfits such as Click or Comcast (parent of NBC). If they can’t get you with cable, they’ll still get you through increased use of the internet to your home, either directly or from the service providers that, in Click’s case, contract to use the infrastructure connected to homes and businesses.

But it’s not as simple as that. Cable systems have fixed costs whether the customer count is one or in the thousands. Pricing power on TV-via-internet will be limited by the number of competitors and their size; Google and the others won’t be getting into this if the cost to the consumer for both the programming and the connection wind up costing more than conventional cable.

What it means is that those debating Click’s future need to be aware of where the industry is going, lest they wind up “fixing” a problem that industry has replaced with an even bigger one.

Bill Virgin is editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News. He can be reached at bill.virgin@yahoo.com.

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