Seahawks owner Paul Allen died on Monday, leaving behind two sports franchises among other things. He’ll always be remembered fondly in Seattle sports lore, but there’s now some uncertainty as to what will happen to the Seahawks.
Owning a sports team might have paled in comparison to the many other achievements in Paul Allen’s life.
Yet, you could also argue that saving the Seahawks from leaving Seattle might have resonated with as many people as Allen touched through his long list of accomplishments.
Allen, 65, died Monday from complications of non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. But his legacy extends beyond the realms of business and philantrophy and deep into the Seattle sports landscape, and his death raises questions about what happens to the two pro sports franchises Allen owns: the Seattle Seahawks and the Portland Trail Blazers.
Paul Allen: 1953-2018
Those who recall only the Super Bowl runs of the Seahawks under Mike Holmgren and Pete Carroll might struggle to comprehend the state of the franchise in the mid-90s when Allen stepped in to prevent them from leaving Seattle.
At that time, the Seahawks were, at best, the fourth fiddle in town, with the Mariners breaking through in 1995, the Sonics going to the NBA Finals in 1996, and Washington a perennial power in college football.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, were attracting home crowds in the Kingdome of as low as 36,320 with then-owner Ken Behring not only threatening to move the team to Los Angeles, but for a brief period actually doing so.
In stepped Allen.
Behring had proposed renovating Husky Stadium into a facility both the Huskies and Seahawks could use, while also proposing a redesign of the Kingdome. When neither happened quickly, Behring tried to move the team to Anaheim, even having the team hold a few practices there in 1996.
But the NFL quickly put a stop to that, and Allen eventually bought the team and helped to get a new stadium built. What is now called CenturyLink Field was eventually completed in 2002.
Allen was a fairly hands-off owner. He financed the team, attended a few practices and games every year, and was at all the championship celebrations, but he stayed out of football matters.
Now, there’s some debate as to what the future holds for the Seahawks and the Trail Blazers, another franchise Allen is credited with helping to keep in the Pacific Northwest.
Allen had no spouse and no children to leave anything to. Allen’s sister, Jody Allen, is vice-chair of First & Goal Inc. but as of Monday, it was unclear if she wants to take over ownership of the Seahawks and Trail Blazers.
A report from SportsBusinessRadio stated that Jody Allen does not want to own and run the teams, and that Paul Allen’s estate would look to sell the teams.
However, citing an anonymous source, The Oregonian’s John Canzano reported Monday there was a chance Jody Allen might sell the Trail Blazers but retain ownership of the Seahawks because she’s a Seahawks fan, and “nobody who knows her thinks she’d be interested in wanting to run an NBA franchise on a daily basis.”
Allen purchased the Seahawks for $194 million in 1996. According to Forbes, the Seahawks now are worth $2.58 billion.
Yet, another source told the Times on Monday that it was unclear if Jody Allen would want to retain the team.
What happens with ownership of the Seahawks will impact any personnel decisions the team makes in the near future. The Seahawks have a handful of key players whose contracts expire over the next year or so — most notably, quarterback Russell Wilson, whose contract runs through the 2019 season and who might ask for a contract on par with Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ recent four-year deal that averages $33.5 million a year. Seahawks defensive end Frank Clark also has been angling for a new deal.
At the very least, most (if not all) contracts might be on hold until the ownership situation is settled.
The Seahawks recently announced that Chuck Arnold would take over as president of the team, but sources indicated that was not related to Allen’s illness. Arnold replaced Peter McLoughlin, who had been president of the team since Sept. 23, 2010.
Allen was known for investing what was needed to make the team competitive — Seattle had only three playoff victories from 1976-1997 before Allen bought the team. But under his watch, Seattle won an AFC West division title in 1999 and then clinched NFC West division titles in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 under Mike Holmgren, whom Allen lured away from the Green Bay Packers.
The Seahawks reached their first Super Bowl under Holmgren in 2005, losing to the Steelers 21-10.
After Holmgren’s tenure ended following the 2008 season and the failed one-year reign of Jim Mora in 2009, Allen helped convince Pete Carroll to leave USC in 2010 and take over the team as both coach and executive vice president of football operations.
Carroll led the team to a surprise NFC West title in 2010 with a 7-9 record, kicking off the greatest run of success in franchise history.
Seattle won the NFC West in 2013 with a franchise-best 13-3 record and then captured the Super Bowl on Feb. 2, 2014 in New Jersey, beating Denver 43-8.
The team returned to the Super Bowl the following year, only to lose to New England 28-24. But by that point, the Seahawks’ status as one of the most successful franchises in the NFL had been well sealed — the team has sold out 132 consecutive games since the 2003 season.
Carroll tweeted on Monday afternoon that he was “deeply saddened” by Allen’s passing.
“I’ll miss him greatly,” Carroll wrote in the tweet. “His gracious leadership and tremendous inspiration will never be forgotten. The world is a better place because of Paul’s passion, commitment and selflessness. His legacy will live on forever.”