On Wednesday, the Phoenix City Council was originally supposed to vote on a hastily prepared proposal to authorize $150 million in funding for renovations to the Phoenix Suns’ arena. Already smelling like bullshit since Talking Stick Arena had received a renovation in 2003, the proposal, which was unveiled only a week ago, involves the city paying $150 million while the franchise pays $80 million. As part of the deal, the Suns would agree to stay in downtown Phoenix until 2042 or pay a $200 million fine.
My new hero Greta Rogers dunked all over Robert Sarver 😳 pic.twitter.com/MbpEyIBO8V
— Andrew Joseph (@AndyJ0seph) December 13, 2018
As you might imagine, many of the good people of Phoenix wondered why Robert Sarver, an owner worth north of $400 million, needs so much taxpayer money to renovate his reasonably well-off arena. And while it seemed as though the city council was ready to approve the deal, one presumed yes-voter publicly changed his mind following the pushback. That led to the vote being delayed until January 23 so more information could be made public.
In the meantime, Sarver seemed to make it clear that if his deal wasn’t approved, he was going to take his Suns elsewhere.
— Laurie Roberts (@LaurieRoberts) December 12, 2018
“Sarver’s talking about moving,” an anonymous council member told AZCentral’s Laurie Roberts. “He basically told me the team will go (if they don’t get a renovated arena). Vegas and Seattle were the two he talked about.” After that quote blew up, that council member then said that “Sarver didn’t mention Seattle or Las Vegas by name during their conversation but that he did make it clear the team wants to leave if the deal is not approved.”
Facing a PR backlash so many greedy owners have dealt with before him, Sarver released a video via the Suns’ official Twitter account on Wednesday afternoon, attempting to smooth things over and make it clear that his threats aren’t, you know, actual threats.
A message from Managing Partner, Robert Sarver: pic.twitter.com/f2YLC0woYG
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) December 13, 2018
Hello Suns fans. I hope you take a minute to listen to an important message that I want to share with you. First and foremost, the Phoenix Suns are not leaving Phoenix. I am 100 percent committed and have been for the last four years to find a solution to keep them in downtown Phoenix, where they belong. I am a strong proponent, as evidenced by the term sheet that I signed last week, that we should renovate the Talking Stick Resort Arena and once again restore it to a world-class facility. In addition, it is important for the PHoenix Suns to build a first-class practice facility, so the players of hte Suns and the Phoenix Mercury can continue to develop. I am 100 percent all-in in keeping this team right here where we stand. And I want to make sure that message comes across crystal clear to every single one of you. Thank you.
That’s all well and good but surely Sarver knows that no one believes words when they come out of the mouths of sports franchise owners interested in taxpayer money. Fans have been burned so many times that this video might as well have been a parody sketch. Even the statement itself, while claiming the team won’t leave town in one sentence, clearly leaves the door open for that possibility in vague terms just a few sentences later.
There’s no real PR-friendly way out of this when you’re a millionaire asking for city money so you can make more money for yourself. The days when people just let it slide without consequence are over. And Sarver may still get his deal approved since we all know how politics work, but friendly videos and statements on Twitter won’t undo the lost trust between him and Suns fans. The only way to ever earn that back is by staying put and putting a winning basketball team out there.
Unfortunately, neither of those things seem to be easy for him.