It was 1974, and Uncle Lloyd Nordstrom came to the Nordstrom family asking to split 51 percent of $12 million for an expansion Seattle Seahawks teams.
It was the midst of a stock market crash that dropped Nordstrom department store’s stock from $24 per share to $8 and John Nordstrom was building a house for his young family.
In a wide-ranging interview with KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson, John Nordstrom explained how he ended up owning the NFL team and why he decided to let it go.
“It was a perfect storm and he wanted us to pledge $750,000 each — to a football team,” Nordstrom said. “I said, ‘No I don’t want to do it.’ The other seven said yes. Our family tradition is we always do things together. So I was the outlier and I said, ‘OK. Sally and I think we’re crazy but let’s go.’ And so that was the good news. The bad news is about 30 days later they said, no, no, no, not $12 million, you’re going to pay $16 million.”
Despite the $750,000 morphing into $1 million, the NFL offered to help Seattle’s owners pay rent on their then-stadium, the Kingdome.
“The league saw that we had a 10 percent rent, by far the highest in the league,” Nordstrom said. “Of our ticket sales, we had to pay 10 percent to the county. So the league said we don’t want to have unequal teams coming into the league financial. So you have eight years to pay for it at no interest. So we had eight years to pay for it. So that meant we would only have to borrow maybe $150,000 initially, and then each year $150,000 more.”
Then something else happened: The league negotiated a national $2.2 million per year per team TV contract.
“So we had a guaranteed $2.2 million coming in without any ticket sales or anything,” he said. “Well, we found out about a month later that that was going to go to $5.5 million per team. That just kind of came out of blue, which meant that we really didn’t even have to go to the bank and borrow any money.”
So, basically, the team was free?
“Embarrassingly, I have to admit, it was pretty close,” he said.
Why is that embarrassing?
“It didn’t seem right,” Nordstrom responded.
So why did the Nordstrom family ultimately decide to sell the Seahawks in 1988?
“We really, really enjoyed owning the team until we had two work stoppages; two player strikes,” he said. “You’ve got to remember we have a great relationship with our sales people and the people that work in our stores. I don’t want to say it’s a love affair, but we just think they’re fantastic. Well, we just loved our football team and all of a sudden you’re fighting with guys you think are great and it was really unpleasant. And of course, then the bumper stickers start to show up: Cheap Nordstrom owners. (The strike) happened once, that was fine. Then it happened again and our group just said we don’t want to go through another one of these.”
Nordstrom sold the team for $80 million to real estate developer Ken Behring, who Nordstrom says gave him his word that he wouldn’t move the team from Seattle. That, ultimately, turned out to be a lie, though a potential lawsuit kept the team in place. Dori asked why Nordstrom didn’t have Bearing codify his keeping the team in Seattle.
“Maybe because I didn’t think it was necessary; he was so positive it wasn’t gonna happen,” he said. ” … Looking back, yeah, maybe that would have been the smart thing to do, but I didn’t do it.”
“It was the bottom,” Nordstrom added. “I felt so badly that I’d sold the team to that guy. I mean I felt like a real jerk. Oh, my gosh, how could I do that?”
And now, with the Seahawks valued at an estimated $1.87 billion, does he regret having sold the team?
“We probably should not have sold the team, that was probably a mistake,” he said. “But you have to remember that we knew the Kingdome had to come down … and having gone through the player’s strikes, we didn’t want to go through a public … try to get the vote to build a new stadium like Paul (Allen) did.”