In the last 15 years or so, NBA arenas have followed the trend of gradually making it less enjoyable, much less feasible, for regular fans to attend games. A seat to a game, even if the upper reaches of the arena, in most cases is simply too expensive for a normal dad or mom to afford to take their families to a game.
Now the planned arena in Seattle might take this a step farther and remove “seats” from the equation entirely.
In a move that predictably will be billed as being “edgy” and “forward-thinking,” the new Sonics arena would feature standing-room only areas in the balconies, according to concept art released earlier this week. The venue, which is of course in extremely preliminary stages at this time since the purchase and relocation of the Sacramento Kings still is not definite, would have several “state-of-the-art” seating features like a steep lower bowl to supposedly improve viewing angles and “flex” capabilities to increase or decrease capacity depending on the event. Luxury boxes have been lowered to just about floor level, only 10 rows from the court, and there is lots of fun stuff in news releases about reusing rain water and whatnot.
But while Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer‘s ownership group has been all about engaging with regular fans so far — and right now very few Seattleites are going to be picky about where they sit/stand for an NBA game, so long as they have games to attend — the whole thing threatens to push the average, working fan out of the picture more than ever before.
The Seattle group surely will trumpet the introduction of their balconies as a benefit to non-affluent fans. Those who cannot afford a seat, even one a hundred rows from the action, would be able to plop down a couple of bucks and catch a live game as long as they do not mind standing for a couple of hours. Initially, maybe that will be true.
Unfortunately, I worry that the “standing-room” areas will eventually establish a new price baseline. The standing-room tickets will become the price of the cheapest seats, while the price of the cheapest seats will bump upward because, hey, you’ve gotta pay a little bit more for the right to sit, right? The second-cheapest seat then gets a price increase, and so on. Meanwhile, the Sonics can still dangle that “affordable” balcony ticket as their olive branch to allow fans the privilege of leaning against a railing, paying too much for beer and chicken fingers and trying to discern why the dot that is allegedly DeMarcus Cousins just picked up another technical foul.
Perhaps this is being too cynical. Sonics’ ownership, provided it is allowed to purchase and move the Kings, could have totally noble intentions. The balcony seating (standing?) could be the greatest experience in sports at a reasonable price, and Seattle fans would fill the building for the first year or so whether they had to sit, stand or dangle.
Forgive us for not having that much faith. Finally, someone is standing up for the Sonics, but it appears that they expect fans to do the same.
Check out some concept art of the arena in the video below.