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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
thout a new building the team will leave. Whether they leave now or at the end of the term or somewhere in between is unknown today. But without a new building they will leave. So the litigation affects it in that regard.

Q: You're on record of saying the team is ‘hemmorging' money. Legal documents claim the team lost $17 million last season. Are you and the ownership willing to continue losing that much money until 2010?

A: We are committed to being successful in this business. We are very disappointed that we're in this position. We did not expect to be in this position. We expected to be successful in Seattle. But we are also experienced business people and able to respond to changes and understand and develop strategies to get us to a successful conclusion.

Q: What kind of support do you have from the league office, particularly David Stern? Is there some sort of an agreement that you two have that, because of what you helped do for the Hornets that he owes Oklahoma City?

A: No. There's no such agreement in place. There's support for us as there is support for the other 29 teams. We're all are working hard. We all face significant challenges in this dynamic business. And David and the league does the best they can to understand what those challenges are and provide council and support. And I would say that the league has been extremely supportive of us. We rely on their guidance and we're responsive to them. That's a large measure of why the league is so successful is because the teams work together, they work with the league and rely on David's leadership. So we'll work through this together.

Q: In your conversations with Commissioner Stern, what kind of feeling do you get from him about this team possibly moving to Oklahoma City?

A: My sense is, and I think we all share it, that it's hard to believe that we can't get a building built here. Because the market would support it, it would be financially successful, it would be additive to the economic vitality of the region and it would seem to make sense that the public would want to keep the teams here. But times have changed. They're political realities and they're economic realities, and at the end of the day, one has to do what you can to support the investment. And the business cannot survive in Seattle without a new building. And the league understands that and supports that.

Q: What is the support like from the league's other owners?

A: I don't want to speak to the other owners at this juncture except to say we all understand the economic realities of the business we're in. We understand the fundamental requirement for a building that delivers the revenue streams required to support the business. And quite frankly that supports the operating needs today of teams and players and fans and sponsors. So there is a clear understanding that this team requires a new building to stay in the marketplace.

Q: Do you understand why this market is so opposed to building a new arena?

A: I'm getting there. Mainly just through time. I'm not sure I completely understand because I'm so convinced of why this is an important investment that would provide benefit. But in the face of multi-billion dollar road and transportation propositions and public health needs and public education needs and environmental needs and all the public infrastructure requirements that are now imminent because of the dramatic growth of this region, I can understand why there are those that feel that perhaps this is, No. 1entertainment. It's private business. There are wealthy owners. There are wealthy players. There are wealthy fans. And maybe this is not an appropriate use of public money. I think that's for every market to view and make a determination on. As an example, I think Oklahoma City is at a different place in its development and where the economy is and what the public infrastructure needs are and what they aspire to be. And so I think the city leadership and the public values the opportunity to become a major league city. Seattle is a major league city. They're more than that. They're a global, important market. Ports with connection to the Pacific Rim. Boeing. Microsoft. The Gates Foundation. All the great things Paul Allen does here. The arts. Health care. It goes on and on with the assets and the quality of life that exists here. So it's in a different place with how it views another pro sports team. That's my basic opinion on the subject.

Q: How much of the ownership group's money are you all willing to put toward the cause in Seattle or in Oklahoma City?

A: At this point now it depends on the specific transaction and what the deal is and what the economics are to engage in any relationship. It's not a hard number today. It becomes a number as we understand the deal and negotiate.

Q: Has there been any input on the ownership's group thus far in terms of funding for a new arena?

A: Well we invested several million dollars in our Renton exercise as an example and additional money as we've worked through this process over 15 months. In the case of Renton, we committed to $100 million.

Q: You said at the announcement of the sale that owning a team has always been a dream of yours. Has it felt that way?

A: Half dream, half nightmare. The exercise has been first and foremost energizing. It's what I hoped that I would enjoy about being involved in pro sports. Pro Sports touches all aspects of business. It's finance. It's sales. It's entertainment. It's a social experience. It's games. It's players. It's people. It touches on everything. That's the magic of sports. That's why we connect to players and games and our teams. That is energizing. That part of it has been a lot of fun. It's a very demanding business. The league is comprised of 30 outstanding ownership groups. They've all hired the best executive talent on the business side and the very best basketball talent. The players are the best in the world. Nobody sleeps in this business. It's highly, highly competitive and very demanding, more so than I remembered from the Spurs and than I expected. But I hope I've risen to the challenge to some extent and do enjoy it. I have been disappointed in the Seattle experience. I'm thrilled with were we are with our team with Sam (Presti) and P.J. (Carlesimo) and the players. I feel our basketball side is doing great. I'm very proud of the business side. They're working hard and doing the best they can in a different environment. And I've met, in large measure, a lot of very good people who've attempted to help me and give me counsel and work with me along the way. I'm disappointed we have not been successful. I had every belief and was convinced we would be successful. Personally that's a bit of a disappointment. And the travels difficult. I've traveled not just here but all over the country, doing this and other business activities. So I appreciate my family's support. But I have good people around me who support me and are fortunately a heck of a lot smarter than I am and provide the real talent on all of this. But all in all, aside from the financial losses, which are significant, it's been a very rewarding 15 months.

Q: What have you learned and how has it changed you?

A: I've learned a lot. I've learned on every front. I think if it's changed me any, and I hope I've had a bit of this in my life and my experiences, but it certainly helped me to understand and understand in a positive way that people have different opinions. People think differently. There are different approaches to issues and different ways of solving problems. And it doesn't mean that it's personal. It doesn't mean that it's malicious or wrong. It means that we live in a very dynamic and diverse and changing world. And we need to work hard to be respectful of each other in that regard. It's been said that, well, you're just used to getting your way. That may be true. So I've learned that you can't always get your way. You have to respect people, work hard and the right things happen. I've also appreciated the work ethic that I've learned from my parents and family and my Oklahoma roots. I may get whipped, I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure that I'm not going to get outworked.

Q: What was your reaction to the home-opening crowd?

A: I thought it was a good crowd. I thought there was a nice energy in the gym, and I thought the game presentation was solid. I thought it was good, and the game was terrific. It was a better feeling than I expected. I guess I was concerned about what may shake out, but I thought it was a good night out.

Q: What were you emotions when they began chanting Save Our Sonics?

A: I understand it. I respect it. I expect it. We just need more than 15,000 of them.

Q: Can Oklahoma City be a viable long term NBA market?

A: Absolutely.

Q: What gives you hope or optimism?

A: Clearly in having a real-time test with the Hornets experience is pretty compelling. But beyond that, in our due diligence in talking to companies and talking to people who would be supportive of the team and sponsor the team, talking to local city leadership and business leadership and media about just general perspective and perceptions. Looking at our economy and its growth and growing diversity. The notion of being the only sports team in the state. I think basketball is the right sport and the NBA is the right product. It's a good fit and will be very successful.

Q: Anything give you reservations with moving to Oklahoma City?

A: No.

Q: Do you feel like the franchise could be 100 percent successful if it were in Oklahoma City?

A: I do.

Q: Where will the team play next season?

A: I do not know.