Quick Thoughts on the Sonics Move to Oklahoma

Posted on July 2, 2008 by

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It looks like Oklahoma City is going to be the new home of the Super Sonics.  The name of the team will be different, but many of the current Seattle players are about to relocate to Oklahoma.  Here is what I think I think (if I can borrow from Peter King of Sports Illustrated) about this move the night it was announced:

1.  This entire scenario seemed to play out like the movie “Major League.”  The Sonics appeared to make little effort to field a winning team this past season.  And it looked like they were not going to be winning much if the team stayed in Seattle to fulfill their lease.  Unfortunately – unlike the movie – the team was not able to guess the plot and suddenly become winners on the court.

2. Expanding upon this point… Seattle may be rewarded an expansion team in the near future.  If that team arrives, Seattle fans may see little difference between the Sonics that played in 2007-08 and an expansion franchise. 

3. And expanding on the first two points…Oklahoma City in essentially acquiring an expansion franchise.  Nick Collison is the only player returning to the Sonics who was substantially above average in 2007-08.  Obviously if Collison is your most productive player, your team has problems (I will do a full post on the Sonics later this summer).  And no, Kevin Durant has not yet demonstrated that he can be a star in this league.  See the following posts if you would like more discussion on this point.

July 17, 2007: Disappointing Durant

July 21, 2007: Durant Disappoints Again

October 31, 2007: Will Kevin Durant Be the Best Rookie?

November 16, 2007: Choosing the Best Rookie in November

November 27, 2007: Evaluating Future Stars in Baseball and Basketball

November 28, 2007: The Top Rookies, Again

November 29, 2007: Re-Hashing Durant, Melo, and Stack

December 31, 2007: Should the Rookie of the Year Help His Team Win More Games?

February 13, 2008: The Assistant Coaches Choose the Best?

March 25, 2008: Horford Also Tops Durant in March

May 1, 2008: Kevin Durant was not the Best Rookie

4. One should also remember that wins are what drive gate revenue in the NBA.  As Oklahoma City fails to win, I expect the enthusiasm people have for NBA basketball in Oklahoma to fade a bit.  In other words, rooting for a Hornets team led by Chris Paul might be a bit easier than rooting for a team led by Kevin Durant (assuming Durant doesn’t improve substantially).

5. There is no evidence – contrary to what non-economists have argued – that sports teams or sports arenas generate economic growth.  This result is not from my research, but rather the research of Brad Humphreys, Dennis Coates, Victor Matheson, Robert Baade, etc…  There is perhaps no other research in sports economics where there is greater agreement.  So Oklahoma City -again, contrary to what people in Oklahoma have probably heard — is not going to be better off in an economic sense.

6. Following that same line of reasoning, the Sonics leaving is not going to make Seattle worse off in an economic sense.

7. There is evidence that hosting a sporting event makes people happier.  Stefan Szymanski (with co-author Georgios Kavetsos) found that hosting a sporting event – as opposed to seeing your team win – leads to greater levels of reported happiness.  Such research suggests that the people of Oklahoma may indeed be a bit happier (ignoring all else, of course) than the people of Seattle.  Again, people in Oklahoma are not better off in an economic sense.  But if you wished to argue for a psychological benefit, the work of Szymanski and Kavetos is consistent with that reasoning.

Okay, those are seven quick thoughts.

Just to summarize…. Oklahoma City is getting a very bad team.  This team will not generate economic growth, but it might make people in Oklahoma happier.  At least, as long as the losing doesn’t get to be too depressing.  Because, this team is probably going to lose quite a bit in 2008-09 (and perhaps 2009-10, etc…).  

– DJ