|Sonics owner Bennett back on stand, acknowledges mistakes|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 18 June 2008 08:28|
``We bought this team with grand visions for success,'' he said. ``Did we do everything right, and did we understand everything there was to understand? Certainly not.''
Bennett began his second day on the witness stand in a federal trial over the Sonics' lease at KeyArena under friendly questioning from team attorney Brad Keller, and didn't specify his mistakes.
He suggested he misunderstood the region's political climate, but he also testified he simply wasn't willing to commit to the things that his local advisers told him would be necessary to win government support for a new arena and keep the Sonics in town: make an out-of-pocket contribution toward the construction, and agree to cover cost overruns.
He said that if U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman forces the Sonics to honor the final two years of the KeyArena lease, it would cost the team $60 million and make it tough to attract good players and coaches. The most talented players in the league probably wouldn't be interested in moving to Seattle for two years, he said.
He also extolled the virtues of Oklahoma City's Ford Center, where, he said, the team could make $17 million over the next two years, and the enthusiastic support for the NBA there. He acknowledged he's ``not a real popular guy'' in Seattle.
Bennett is trying to move the Sonics - Seattle's oldest professional sports franchise - to his hometown of Oklahoma City, two years before the KeyArena lease expires.
In the nonjury trial, the city is asking Pechman to force the Sonics to honor their lease, which includes a clause that either side may ``specifically enforce'' the terms. Seattle lawyers say Bennett's a sophisticated businessman who knew what he was getting into when he bought the team, can absorb the losses without difficulty, and should not now be allowed to plead hardship in breaking the lease.
Bennett testified Tuesday that he was a ``man possessed'' to keep the team in Seattle - despite e-mails that show he and co-owners discussed relocating soon after buying the team. He cited his efforts to have a new arena built in the Seattle suburbs.
The city argues that Bennett's demand for a new $500 million arena - presented late in the 2007 legislative session - was so unreasonable as to have been designed to fail. The team offered $100 million in future revenue, such as ticket surcharges and parking fees, but would not commit to an upfront contribution or agree to cover cost overruns.
In e-mails to his lobbyists, advisers and others, Bennett said any team contribution would be ``nominal'' or ``negligible,'' and suggested the amount could be offset by a credit for the team's ongoing financial losses.