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Sonics Trial Blog

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 18, 2008 9:49 AM

Bennett: "We bought this team with grand visions of success"

Posted by Percy Allen

Sonics owner Clay Bennett testified he had "little hope" in April 2007 after the team's bid to gain taxpayer funding for a $500 million Renton arena failed in Olympia.

"We were concerned about next steps," Bennett said. "This was clearly an impasse."

"But were you were still trying?" Sonics attorney Brad Keller asked.

Bennett: "Absolutely."

Bennett said following the defeat in Olympia, he began formulating plans to move the team to his hometown of Oklahoma City and terminate the Sonics' KeyArena lease.

Sonics executive Terry McLaughlin, a former city employee, initially approached the city and met with Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis to discuss breaking the lease. Bennett said he spoke with Oklahoma City about available dates in 2008-09 at the Ford Center before dispatching McLaughlin to meet with Ceis.

Bennett, 48, and married with three children, has been involved in sports activities for nearly half of his adult life, he said. He also helped the New Orleans Hornets temporarily relocate to Oklahoma City.

Bennett said he has tried to move the Sonics because "We were out of options in this region. No facility. No prospects for a facility. We had become acrimonious with leadership. ... Good faith best effort, we performed on that clause. ... Ultimately we made the decision to relocate because of the response of the NBA in Oklahoma City."

City attorney Paul Lawrence objected to the line of questioning because he had not been allowed to delve into the Oklahoma City prospects on Tuesday. Pechman upheld the objection.

Despite the objection, Keller was still able to discuss the Sonics' potential in Oklahoma City.

"Studies indicate and projections indicate a $7 million profit in Year 1 and a $10 million profit in Year 2," Bennett said. "The central driver is the building."

Bennett said the difference between a potential $60 million loss at KeyArena over the next two years and a possible $15 profit at the Ford Center is directly tied to the difference in the buildings. He said the Ford Center's courtside suites are a new high-end revenue stream unavailable at KeyArena.

Amenities include higher level concessions, a competitive lease that gives most of the revenue generated by the building to the Sonics and the support of the community. The Hornets had sellout crowds, Bennett said.

Bennett said he anticipates operating challenges if he's forced to stay in Seattle.

"We're in a highly competitive business ... and each team seeks the best talent," Bennett said. "Notwithstanding our good fortune in the draft and we know we're going to attract fine players next week (in the NBA draft).

"Players can choose where they want to play, and we are in uncertainty and that is a very difficult element in developing a team. Players want to know where they are going to play. They want to know where they're families are going to be. ... The team is their second home and their life.

"It would be certain for two years, but players would say, 'I don't want to move for two years or one year and I'm going to put Seattle off the table' ... and we might be out of the mix to compete for the high-end talent."

Added Bennett: "Employees are not sure if their jobs will exist. ... We've seen retention become an issue at the senior level."

Bennett said a senior corporate sales executive recently left the team.

Keller said Sonics CEO Danny Barth will testify today, which is a slight surprise because he is not on the court's witness schedule.

Before concluding, Keller asked: "Now that you're here, is there anything about the process that got you here that you'd like to share with us?"

Bennett said: "We bought this team with grand visions of success. Did we do everything right, did we understand everything that there was to understand? Certainly not.

"Did we do everything we could ... at all cost perspective? Yes. I believed at the bottom of my heart that we would succeed and I'm personally disappointed that we did not."

Lawrence began redirect.

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July 2008

June 2008

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2007 "Poisoned Well" document (PDF)
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Bennett's e-mail to Stern: "You are just one of my favorite people on earth" (PDF)
Clay Bennett and Sonics' court filing (PDF)


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Trial coverage from | Hope (still) springs in Seattle