Share “Seattle rests its case in Sonics trial”

By Chris Casteel Modified: June 19, 2008 at 3:09 pm •  Published: June 19, 2008
SEATTLE -- This city’s attorneys rested their federal court case against the SuperSonics this morning after seeking to show that relocating the NBA team to Oklahoma City would deprive fans of a unique experience and cost a two-county area nearly $200 million a year in economic activity.

Using an economic consultant and a long-time season ticket holder, the city wanted to persuade U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman that the 41-year-old franchise has a value beyond the two years of lease payments the team would owe the city if allowed to relocate before the lease expires. The point is crucial to the city’s case since the law allows many landlord-tenant disputes to be resolved with a financial settlement.

The team’s Oklahoma City-based owners want to pay about $10 million for the last two years and relocate to Oklahoma City for the next season; the city wants to hold the team to the terms of the lease, which expires in September 2010.

Lon Hatamiya, an economist who once served as commerce secretary for the state of California, said he relied on an economic model that is widely used by public and private entities to gauge economic activity and determined that the Sonics have had an impact of nearly $1 billion over five years in King County and one adjoining it. Under cross examination by an attorney for the owners, he said the money spent by fans would not necessarily be spent on other activities.

“If your first choice isn’t available, you’re not necessarily going to spend it on your second choice,’’ Hatamiya said.

As their first witness, the owners’ attorneys called an economist who has spent the last several years studying the impact of sports franchises on metropolitan areas to counter Hatamiya’s testimony.

Brad Humphreys, an economics professor at the University of Alberta, said the departure of a professional football, baseball or basketball team has “no detectable’’ impact on a city.

“The Sonics clearly generate economic activity,’’ he said.

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