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Old 18 Jul 2006, 06:13 PM   #1 (permalink)
Dan Snyder
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Default Sonics sold to a OKC group

Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Sonics, Storm sold to group from Oklahoma City
ESPN.com news services

SEATTLE -- The Seattle SuperSonics confirm the team is being sold.

Majority owner Howard Schultz says the Sonics and the Seattle Storm of the WNBA are being sold to the Professional Basketball Club LLC, a group led by Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett.

A source with the Sonics indicated the new ownership group plans to keep the Sonics and Storm in the Seattle region.

Marianne Bichsel, a spokeswoman for Seattle mayor Greg Nickels, told the Seattle Post Intelligencer that the city plans to hold the Sonics to their lease, which expires in 2010.

Bennett, who was previously on the San Antonio Spurs' board of directors, was instrumental in the temporary relocation of the New Orleans Hornets to Oklahoma City following Hurricane Katrina and emerged as a potential investor in the Hornets. He did not immediately return telephone calls for comment Tuesday afternoon.

In February, Sonics majority owner Howard Schultz threatened to move or sell the city's oldest major-league professional sports franchise, saying the team has lost about $60 million in the past five years.

Team officials have blamed a revenue-sharing lease at KeyArena with the city of Seattle that lasts until 2010. The lease was called the worst in the NBA by commissioner David Stern.

Following an April 5 meeting of the team's ownership group, team president Wally Walker said the organization would retain advisers to examine different options. Those choices included possibly building a new arena in the Seattle region -- most likely in the eastern suburbs of Bellevue and Renton -- or selling the team.

Potential suitors from outside the region included Oklahoma City, San Jose, Calif., and Kansas City, Mo. In February, Schultz said an unidentified city offered the team a "blank check" to move the Sonics.

The Basketball Club of Seattle purchased the Sonics and the WNBA's Storm in 2001 for $200 million. The current owners said they have no interest in owning a franchise that doesn't play in the area.

The organization unsuccessfully lobbied the state Legislature, asking for an extension of taxes that helped build the Seahawks' Qwest Field and the Mariners' Safeco Field.

Gov. Chris Gregoire tried to help broker a deal with the Legislature earlier this year, but lawmakers adjourned in March without taking action on the Sonics' $220 million proposal.

In April, the team told city officials the franchise would contribute at least $18 million toward arena renovations and called for a resolution by the end of May. That deadline passed with no action taken.

The team said if improvements were made, the Sonics would enter a new 20-year lease with the city; would manage and operate the arena and pay rent to the city at no less than $1 million per year; and would take on all operating risk of the arena, including all operating costs and routine maintenance. In return, the organization would keep all revenues.

Nickels and the Seattle City Council responded with a letter saying that any public contribution to an arena remodel must be put to a public vote and that the public share come from visitor taxes collected countywide.

Seattle-area residents appear frustrated with repeated appeals for taxpayer support of professional sports franchises. A group called Citizens for More Important Things recently announced that it had enough voter signatures to put a measure on this fall's city ballot opposing the Sonics' push for stadium improvements and a new lease.

The Sonics will begin their 40th season this fall.

The Hornets received strong support from Oklahoma City after being displaced following Hurricane Katrina. Half of the Hornets' 36 games at the Ford Center were sold out and average attendance was 18,717 -- the 11th-highest total in the league and about 500 less than capacity.

Michael Thompson, the Hornets' director of corporate communications, said season ticket sales are projected to exceed last year's totals and the team is working on extending agreements with sponsors in the city, which is hosting a major-league sports franchise for the first time.

"That's the mark of a major-league market, is to step up year after year," Thompson said. "Oklahoma City is starting to prove that."

During a visit to a Hornets game in November, Stern said Oklahoma City was "at the top of the list" if an expansion team became available.

The Hornets will play 35 games in Oklahoma City and six in New Orleans this season. Stern has said the Hornets will return to New Orleans for the 2007-08 season.

"It doesn't change anything," Thompson said. "Our goal, our plan from Day One has been to return to New Orleans."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/print...944&type=story
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