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NFL will recognize what NBA didn’t: Moving a team out of a booming Seattle economy is just bad business

The late Paul Allen owned the Seahawks for over 20 years. (AP)

For the first time in 21 years, the Seahawks are facing an uncertain future in ownership.

Which Seahawk could be seeing an extension soon?

Since 1996, the team has been owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, whose purchase of the team two decades ago saved the franchise from relocation.

When news of Allen’s death broke on Oct. 15, the immediate response from fans, coaches and players was, understandably, one of grief. As Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll put it, Allen was as good an owner as a team could ask for — hands-off and supportive. He was well-liked, as opposed to more polarizing owners, and better-known for his philanthropy than for any postgame comments.

In the days that followed the news, shock from fans has warped into worry, a reasonable reaction given this city’s heartbreaking history with team relocation.

But should relocation be a real concern? It’s unlikely, says 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny O’Neil.

“I certainly have questions or concerns if the Seahawks were to be sold,” O’Neil said Thursday. “And I guess I should start there. We don’t know what’s going to happen with any of Paul Allen’s assets, let alone what’s going to happen with the football team.”

O’Neil noted a recent quote from NFL columnist Judy Battista. During a Tuesday interview with NFL Network, Battista said all NFL teams are required to file a succession plan with the league. Presumably, the league would have the plan Allen put forward, though what that plan entails remains undisclosed.

One possibility is that Allen’s sister, Jody, would assume ownership of both the Seahawks and Portland Trailblazers. Allen was unmarried and had no children.

“The second thing would be if the team were to be sold, and if you were to have a new owner,” O’Neil said. “My bigger fear or concern would be that you would get a meddling owner or a bad owner, as opposed to an owner who would move the Seahawks out of town.

“Seattle’s been blessed, for a lot of reasons, to have Paul Allen. One of the reasons is because he’s about as good a sports owner as you can possibly have. He’s not cheap, he gave them every resource imaginably, and he’s not a meddler. The Seahawks with Paul Allen had the absolute best-case scenario of a well-funded team without an egotistical, meddlesome owner.

“Almost any person that I talk to outside of our station, the first question they ask is: Is it possible the Seahawks would move out of town? I think it’s feeling vulnerability, and I think that it’s Seattle being not quite certain of its current status as a destination point.”

That feeling of vulnerability is more than fair, said O’Neil. Seattle has faced the treat of relocation with each of its sports franchises. In 1991, there was fear former Mariners owner Jeff Smulyan would sell the team to a group of investors in St. Petersburg, Fl. Five years later, former Seahawks owner Ken Behring was prepared to move his team to Anaheim 1996 before Allen stepped in. And in 2008, Seattle did lose a franchise when the NBA approved the relocation of the Sonics to Oklahoma City.

“People need to realize that Seattle right now is not what Seattle was in 1996 when Paul Allen bought the team, or in 1992 when Smulyan was threatening to move the Mariners to St. Petersburg,” O’Neil said.

“If you look at the Seahawks franchise strictly as an asset, they’re an asset here in Seattle. They’re most valuable here in Seattle. They’re not most valuable as a lever to move something or to get something else done. They are most valuable in Seattle. You think about the success they’ve had here on the field, you think about the season ticket waiting list that they have, and you think about the lease that they have with the stadium that is one of the best places to watch a football game. This is a valuable business assett… and the next person that’s buying it isn’t buying it with the idea that’s it’s going to be more valuable somewhere else. It’s most valuable here. It’s in the upper quarter of the league in terms of the value of franchises. And I think people in Seattle need to wrap their head around it, and also to understand that the NBA has missed out on this specific local economy for the past 10 years. And nobody in the NBA will sit and admit to it, but they would much rather have a franchise right now in Seattle than in Memphis.

“From a business perspective,” O’Neil said, mentioning the development of Seattle as one of the nation’s largest (and most affluent) tech hubs, “it would make no sense.”