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Seattle Times reporters Percy Allen, Jim Brunner and Danny O'Neil are filing updates from the courthouse throughout the day.

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June 17, 2008 4:12 PM

Sonics' lawyer spars with sports economist

Posted by Percy Allen

Smith College professor Andrew Zimbalist, a leading sports economist, said the importance of a sports team to a community is difficult to quantify because of the intangible benefits.

He said teams provide a consumer surplus to a community, offers a boost in morale and a public good, which is a synergy between people.

Zimbalist said there have been studies examining the rent of housing and apartments in urban environments that have determined the presence of an NFL team had an intangible benefit on the rent.

A study about the Pittsburgh Penguins said the NHL hockey team offered intangible benefits of $53 million to $72 million. Seattle attorney Greg Narver asked if those figures would be comparable to Seattle. Zimbalist said he couldn't apply the data to the Seattle market or the Sonics.

Zimbalist said that despite Sonics' lame-duck status, the benefits are large and too variable to quantify.

At 3:27 p.m., Sonics attorney Paul Taylor began cross examination.

During Zimbalist's videotaped deposition, he came up with his figures from scratch or from his notes, Taylor said. Taylor said that Zimbalist "lifted" large portions of his May 2, 2008 notes for the Sonics case from his Nov. 21, 2005 testimony in a trial involving the City of Anaheim and the Angels baseball team.

Taylor introduced Exhibit 602 and Exhibit 604, which were reports from the Anaheim case and the Sonics case. Taylor showed that Zimbalist copied his notes almost verbatim on several pages.

At this point, the exchange became adversarial. Taylor clearly tried to discredit Zimbalist and portray the economics professor as witness who was not credible.

Taylor: "You even lifted the footnotes on some reports, did you not?" Zimbalist agreed.

Taylor charged that Zimbalist also used a report without giving the author credit.

Taylor asked, "Is it true the city of Seattle asked you to say that there's lots of money here?"

Zimbalist admitted he had problems getting his testimony submitted in a Kentucky Speedway vs. NASCAR Association case.

The federal district court judge in that case characterized Zimbalist as a "hired gun" expert and said Zimbalist's approach "has not been tested and has not been subject to peer review and publication; there are no standards controlling it and there is no showing that it enjoys general acceptance within the scientific community."

Taylor asserted that Zimbalist said Seattle's weather has economic value and the economist agreed. The PBC attorney asked if going to church gives a community economic value and Zimbalist agreed. This line of question was an attempt to dilute Zimbalist's claim about economic value of a sports franchise.

At 4:03 p.m., Sonics and Seattle attorneys agree to extend testimony beyond the 4 o'clock deadline. It's clear now that Zimbalist is in town for the day and neither side wants him to return Wednesday. Judge Marsha Pechman grudgingly agreed to go into overtime.

Taylor concluded by saying that TV ratings for the Sonics were below 1.0 last season.

In his re-direct, Narver said Zimbalist had not met with the Seattle attorneys before this case. Narver also asserted that Zimbalist's basic economic ideas had not changed in three years and he did not have to re-write his ideas.

At 4:08 p.m., Zimbalist was excused from the stand and the trial ended for the day. It will resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday with Clay Bennett on the stand.

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July 2008

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