Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Seattle SuperSonics Owners Face Triple Threat

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Seattle SuperSonics Owners Face Triple Threat

Article excerpt

The Seattle SuperSonics, whose owners want to move them to Oklahoma City, face at least three current lawsuits, including one filed in April by the team's former owners and one lodged by a group of fans in November.

A trial starting Monday addresses a lawsuit filed by the city of Seattle in September, which was moved from state to federal court in October.

Both sides have filed briefs for this week's trial before U.S. District Judge Marsha L. Pechman in Washington.

Key to the legal dispute is the remainder of the Sonics' lease at KeyArena.

Headed by Clay Bennett, the Professional Basketball Club LLC, the team's current owners, want to buy out the last two years of the lease, which they say are worth about $10 million. Their brief states that the team lost $30 million this season.

They said projected losses for the remaining two seasons range between $60 million and $65 million.

By contrast, Bennett's group argues, if the Sonics move to Oklahoma City beginning with the 2008-2009 season, they are projected to earn $7.3 million that season and $11.5 million in 2009- 2010.

Team owners also contend that average at-arena attendance was only 9,146 for the 2007-2008 season, with almost one-third of paid ticket holders choosing not to attend Sonics games.

They argue that leases are generally not enforceable, and that there is nothing about the Sonics' case that takes it outside the general rule.

"Both parties will be worse off financially with forced performance, and there is no offsetting benefit," they told the court.

Team owners also said that while the city relies on the interests of the public at large, the public is not a party to the lease and "has a yawning indifference to the Sonics' departure."

PBC's brief also notes that the lease ends in 2010, "at which point the Sonics can leave, regardless."

The city itself will benefit financially if the team does not play the remaining two seasons in the arena, the defendant owners contend.

"It will avoid nearly $1 million per season in 'day in game' costs that it presently incurs, including security for games and other variable costs," the owners' brief states. …

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