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Name may soon not be the same for Seattle’s arena

What do you do when the main tenant of the arena you paid to put your name on leaves? Seattle is about to find out.There are a lot of ramifications when a pro franchise leaves a city. The recent exodus of the NBA from Seattle to Oklahoma City is still playing itself out. The rejected suitor is still smarting from losing the Sonics after four decades. Among the list of victims is the arena where the team played. As of now, it is still known as KeyArena but that may not be for long.

Key Bank was paying $1.2 million a year for naming rights in a deal that has a few years to go. Now that the Sonics are off to OKC (where they are going to be known as the Thunder), is it worth it to keep your name on a building that will be empty a lot? Rick Wirthlin, president of Key’s Seattle-Cascades region, clearly is mulling over options. He issued a statement that said the bank "has a sponsorship contract with the Seattle SuperSonics and a naming agreement for KeyArena with the city of Seattle. The agreements are active through the end of the 2010-11 NBA season.

"Both relationships have been great for KeyBank and demonstrate our commitment to this marketplace. We are sorry to see the Sonics leave town. In the coming weeks, we will be analyzing the settlement to determine how it will affect our agreements with the city and the Sonics."

That may sound like doubletalk in triplicate but it really isn’t. While there are plenty of examples of companies sticking their names on buildings in the hope something really good will happen (Ford Center in Oklahoma City is a prime example), the record is but murkier when teams like the Sonics leave. KeyBank’s deal was based on the Sonics being there. In these harder economic times, the bank’s investors might not see the wisdom of spending that much money of a basically empty building. 

Since this deal was done with the city of Seattle, it gets even more complicated. You can almost hear the lawyers lining up with their briefs in hand as a precaution.

It’s not an easy call for KeyBank. It bears watching because the arena’s future … and a possible return to the NBA down the road … could be riding on the decision.