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Public policy, the will of the voters, and the Seattle Seahawks

“Across all demographics, the 12s are contagious. It’s for everybody.”

In this quote, King County Council member Jeanne Kohl-Welles was reflecting on the role of the Seattle Seahawks as a unifying force for the Seattle community.

It may be hard to remember for some, particularly the new fans that winning has recruited over the last 15 years.

But there was a time when the moving trucks were lined up to move the Seahawks to Anaheim.

In remembrance of this time of peril for the Seahawks, the franchise celebrated the unique and special role that Paul Allen played twenty years ago to purchase the Seahawks and keep them in Seattle.  It compiled a short video showing the early days of saving the Seahawks, of building the new stadium, and of building a national model for a sports franchise.

It connects the special and unique relationship between the fans and the franchise.  But, it’s also a great reminder of how smart public policy and community engagement can create special public-private partnerships in the state, even today.

From then-King County Executive Gary Locke on the early days:

We had to go to court to keep the team in Seattle.  And so the drive was on to find an owner who would keep the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle as a resource and a treasure.

There were few interested purchasers in the Seattle of those days.  The few potential owners that existed were not interested.  The Nordstrom family had already owned the franchise, and no other owner stepped up.

Except one.

Paul Allen said ‘I will put in a lot of money, but I’m going to need the public to come in and build a stadium…’  Mr. Allen said let’s let the people of Washington decide if they want to keep their team here. I will partner with them but they’re going to have to make that commitment to help build the stadium.”  — Steve Raible, KIRO-TV anchor

As a result, the state of Washington moved to a statewide vote set for June, 1997.  Two months before the election day, a poll showed Referendum 48 down 32-57.

Advocates had to dig in, telling their story in practical terms.  Former Governors Dan Evans and Booth Gardner

“Having a new stadium here and keeping the Seahawks would help us fund our schools, would help fund our essential services.”  — Jeanne Kohl-Welles, King County Council

When ballots first came in, the referendum was failing 49-51.  By 11:30, when many of the night’s ballots were in, the referendum had pulled ahead 51-49. The referendum would go on to pass.

Without that vote of the people, Paul Allen would not have made the investment that lead to Century Link Field, that led to Super Bowl 48, and which led to “the most successful sports franchise in America.”

In honor of the 20 year anniversary, the Seahawks put this story into a short video history, something of a documentary format.  I’ve pasted it below.

If you wear blue on Fridays, it’s well worth your time to watch.