|Bennett's deposition reveals new points|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 07 June 2008 00:04|
That was one of the revelations from Bennett's testimony in a 13-hour, 373-page deposition obtained by The Associated Press on Friday night. The deposition was given in advance of the upcoming June 16 trial of the city of Seattle's lawsuit that seeks to have the team play out the remainder of its KeyArena lease.
Bennett is expected to testify in the trial before U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman.
The 48-year-old Oklahoma businessman was videotaped and appeared in court transcripts to have remained composed throughout the April 23 questioning by Paul Lawrence, an attorney representing Seattle.
Testimony revealed the Sonics lost $23 million in 2004 and $29 million in 2005, when they were owned by Starbucks Corp. chairman Howard Schultz and 57 other Seattle-area investors.
Bennett and his co-owners paid $350 million for the team in July 2006. His Sonics lost $32 million in the 2007-08 season amid fan apathy, anger and also the worst record (20-62) in the franchise's 41-year history in Seattle.
Based on that, Bennett testified the team would lose $60.9 million-$64.9 million if Pechman rules in favor of Seattle and demands that the team play in KeyArena for the final two years of its lease that ends after the 2009-10 season.
``I would think so,'' Bennett said. ``Couldn't get much worse than this year.''
Bennett said that because his family is one of Oklahoma's richest, he could bear those losses without any undue financial hardship - though hours later he added, ``It's certainly no fun losing a lot of money.''
Bennett estimated that if Pechman ruled in favor of the Sonics and allowed them to move to Oklahoma City for the 2008-09 season as the league has already approved, the Sonics would make $18.8 million in the those same two seasons.
Bennett also estimated that the Sonics-related economic activity in Oklahoma City if the team were there would be $171 million annually, and that the team would generate $11 million in annual tax revenue there, including from the team's payroll.
Given that, he said keeping the Sonics in Seattle ``is a losing proposition on all sides.''
Bennett testified he thinks he should be allowed to move the Sonics to Oklahoma City now ``because in my view it's already been determined that the team will leave following the 2010 season,'' as determined by the NBA owners' 28-2 vote in April approving the team's relocation.
Bennett revealed that he was competing with Larry Ellison, co-founder and CEO of the software company Oracle Corp., and his investment group based in San Jose, Calif., as the two finalists to buy the team from Schultz.
Bennett said he and his all-Oklahoman ownership group had ``a bit of discussion'' about possibly adding Seattle-area investors to their group at some point. Bennett said he was aware that some of the partners in the Sonics' outgoing ownership group were interested in retaining shares of the team under the Oklahomans' ownership. One of those was David Sabey, a prominent real estate developer in Seattle.
Bennett said he ultimately decided that a fresh group of out-of-town owners, independent of two previous failed efforts by Schultz's group to find a new arena, would give Bennett's effort at finding a new building a better chance of succeeding with public officials in Seattle and Washington state.
Bennett's purchase of the team included a ``side letter'' agreement with Schultz over making a good-faith effort to find a new arena in the Seattle arena in the 12 months following approval of the sale in November 2006. Schultz is suing Bennett, alleging a breach in that agreement. That case is separate from the city's litigation against the Sonics.
Lawrence spent a great deal of time pressing Bennett over what he meant in an e-mail written two days before the sale of the Sonics. It stated that if a new arena deal was reached to keep the Sonics in Seattle, Bennett's group, the Professional Basketball Club, could just sell the team in a ``sweet flip,'' and still leave the ownership group ``in good shape for something in OKC.''
Bennett explained in his deposition: ``We fully expected to get a building built ... we felt that clearly we would have enhanced the value of our franchise, so it would make sense to sell it at a flip and make money at that point. ... we would have brought value to the league by being successful in Seattle (and) once again would have shown or brought goodwill to Oklahoma City. ... It would have kept Oklahoma City in a favorable position.''
Associated Press writer Jeff Latzke in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.