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Transcript of interview with Clay Bennett

Clay Bennett transcript

By Darnell Mayberry Modified: November 2, 2007 at 6:03 pm •  Published: November 2, 2007
Seattle SuperSonics chairman Clay Bennett sat down with The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry on Friday. Here's the transcript of their discussion:

Q: What does Friday's filing mean for Oklahoma City?

Bennett: It means that we will now begin to work with Oklahoma City to understand the comprehensive relationship that the team and the city will have if we relocate. What the facilities would look like, what the lease arrangements would look like, what any number of other elements of the relationship would look like. Now, timing is unknown. Timing could be upon determination of this litigation. It could be at the end of this season. It could be at the end of the existing lease term. It could be in between if there's some settlement or negotiation that we both agree to. So timing is unknown, and the process is very comprehensive. It will involve a lot of people. It will take time. The league, today upon notification, will name a relocation committee of owners. And they will help to define and conduct the process.

Q: How does the pending court case affect the filing?

A: Timing. The court case is to determine one issue and that is specific performance. That's all that's being determined. Must we play our games through 2010, or may we provide a financial legal remedy that allows us to honor the lease?

Q: What happens if the court rules in favor of specific performance and you have to play in Seattle until 2010?

A: Then we will play here through 2010, short of any other negotiated settlement that may take place.

Q: What happens after 2010?

A: We're free to relocate.

Q: Is that the plan?

A: Without a new building, that's the plan.

Q: Is there anything between now and then that can stop the team from relocating or change your mind?

A: If very soon there was a leadership driven, tangible, binding proposal relative to the development of a modern building, and we are able to negotiate acceptable lease terms in that building, we would fully evaluate that. But the timing is running out on that very quickly. If something was to begin today, it would not be ready by 2010. So the dynamics of this negotiation and this relationship will change pretty dramatically.

Q: Are there still negotiations at this point or has everything been shelved?

A: I'm generally aware of one potential concept, but we're not involved in it at all. And it would require a significant public investment.

Q: What concept is that?

A: I'm not going to speak to the concept.

Q: Are the teams for sale, and what's your reaction to the group of Seattle investors who have made a public offer to buy the teams?

A: The teams are not for sale, and the parties don't need to spend their time and energy working on that process.

Q: Why hold on to the teams if investors are willing to keep them in Seattle?

A: Because what we announced on July 18th of 2006 is that we purchased the teams, we would provide a timeframe by which we would attempt to foster the development of a new, modern arena facility. If that could be done we would certainly be very pleased to be here for a very long time. If that could not be done, then we would explore other options which include relocation. So what that really means is we hoped to build a building here. I fully expected to build a building here. I expected that, in time, we would aspire to develop an elite basketball operation and that we would thrive in this very vibrant economy. If that could not happen, then we had other options, certainly first and foremost in our minds among them would be Oklahoma City. We were successful in the Hornets experience. We have an acceptable building. We have a diverse and growing economy, and we would be the only pro sports franchise in the state. The city aspires to be a major league city and part of the national platform. And there were other markets that we contemplated at the time that would be potential relocation possibilities. That was always the approach from the very beginning. If we could be successful here with a new building we would commit to that. If we couldn't we would move on.

Q: Seattle is known as an 11th hour market. Do you feel that there is anything that can be done toward a new arena at this point?

A: I've studied both of those stadium projects very carefully and thoroughly. They're in a different time frame than we're in now. Very dynamics. Very different leadership structures. So I'm doubtful. I'm open. It seems that certainly there are committed and passionate fans. But it's a very large market. There are very broad and important infrastructure needs here. Proposition 1 (to improve streets and bridges) is a very good example. And there are others. And I understand the notion that perhaps this (new arena) is not a public investment that is a priority.

Q: A lot of people feel that you have not negotiated in good faith. What are your answers to those critics?

A: I reject them completely. We've spent millions of dollars on the development of an arena development proposition in Renton. A world-class building. HOK Sport was the architect. We felt a very reasonable financial strategy was supported by leadership and people in government. It was subject to a vote of the public, and the enabling legislation was never even brought to a vote before the legislature. So I don't think they should question my good faith. I think they should question how leadership and the relative constituencies feel about public investment in an arena. We've put a proposal out there. We've put a very attractive proposal together, a building that would be highly additive to the economic vitality of the region. And it was rejected out of hand. Even since then we've been open to proposals and ideas. We've heard very few of them. The Muckleshoot proposal was to contribute land. I appreciate that and that's an important part of the deal. But there was no relative development component. There was no financing plan. And we've never talked in any serious way about a relationship. It just seems that, again, it may not be a public priority. There's certainly no public demand for such a building.

Q: Seattle officials argue that they've offered you $100 million to renovate KeyArena and you won't return Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels' phone calls. Is that that you won't sit down and talk with him, and if so why not?

A: The comments that I've heard from the city don't relate to my experience with him. But, that said, KeyArena is not a viable NBA facility. A renovated KeyArena is not a viable modern NBA building. We've said that from the day we announced the transaction that we would look to develop a successor venue to KeyArena. And so we know that KeyArena is not viable for the NBA. It's very viable for a lot of other things. So we've not engaged in discussions about KeyArena because that's not a long term answer. And in our opinion would not be an appropriate investment if the objective is to secure the NBA.

Q: What do you say to those who say the $500 million price tag for the proposed facility was absurd from the start?

A: I'd say they need to look into the proposal more carefully. It's expensive to build these buildings. It's very expensive to build these buildings in this market. This was a world-class, state-of-the-art building, comparable to these world-class, state-of-the-art buildings in which the Mariners and Seahawks play. Why not have a world-class, state-of-the-art building for basketball and entertainment. Because this market, as I look around, is about doing things in a world-class way and setting standards.

Q: If this comes down to negotiations, what is the ownership group willing to negotiate?

A: We would enter into a negotiation in good faith. We would attempt to understand what's being put forth if it was a reasonable economic proposition for us.

Q: Would that include leaving the WNBA's Storm here?

A: Everything's on the table.

Q: Would that include the Sonics' name and history?

A: I don't know. I think everything is on the table. Clearly our partners, the other owners in the league, and the league itself will be involved with this as well on issues such as that. But I think everything would be on the table.

Q: Do you and the rest of the ownership group have a figure in mind of how much you're willing to pay to get out of the remaining two years of the leas?

A: No. What we're attempting to do is bring definition to the negotiation, and a big part of that is the legal determination of specific performance. Then we can begin to make determinations about where we want to be.

Q: What now in terms of the legal process?

A: The legal process will continue as it relates to a determination on specific performance. And of course that will be considered in the relocation application process. But primarily the legal process will relate to timing in relocation.

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