Sonics File For Arbitration In KeyArena Lease

Friday, September 21st 2007, 7:06 pm
By: News On 6

SEATTLE (AP) _ The Seattle SuperSonics have asked for an arbitration panel to rule they do not have to play the final three years of their lease at KeyArena so the team can relocate after this coming season, in the likely event it does not secure a new arena in the Seattle area by next month.

``As we approach the Oct. 31 deadline, we've seen nothing tangible,'' Sonics chairman Clay Bennett said Friday, referring to movement toward a new, $500 million building and the deadline he created after the team filed a demand for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association this week.

``It's not working at all today here,'' said Bennett, who has estimated his Oklahoma City-based ownership group lost $20 million running the team for the first time last season. ``We have significant cash loss. Our sales are way off ... just compared to what is happening with the Mariners and the Seahawks.

``The business model today, where we are, cannot continue.''

Bennett, whose group bought the Sonics and WNBA's Storm for $350 million in 2006, said he hopes to have a decision from a three-member arbitration panel by January. That would then give Seattle's NBA team since 1967 time to file for relocation with the NBA for the 2008-09 season. Teams must file for relocation with the league by March 1 for the following season.

The Sonics are likely headed to Oklahoma City if they don't get a new arena agreement in the next six weeks.

``I absolutely know the team can survive and be profitable in Oklahoma City,'' Bennett said. ``The Ford Center (there) is quite adequate _ but another building would be needed in the future.

``I can tell you there is high interest in bringing the NBA to Oklahoma City.''

In a statement, Mayor Greg Nickels said he was ``outraged at today's actions'' by Bennett and would do everything in his power to enforce the contract, which runs through 2010.

``There have always been sensible options available to Mr. Bennett if he wanted to keep the Sonics and Storm at KeyArena. Today's actions make it clear that has never been his intention,'' Nickels said.

``My door has been open, is open and remains open to Mr. Bennett but he has refused to meet. Typically, people acting in good faith engage in a conversation before seeking arbitration.''

The Sonics said they had not determined what a buyout would cost, pending the arbitrators' ruling. The figure would presumably cover revenue lost to the city should the Sonics leave before 2010.

Bennett said his Oklahoma City-based ownership will keep the Storm in Seattle for one more season, through next summer, but that his preference is to keep the two teams together beyond that.

He also said he intends to remain ``engaged'' with the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, which funded a just-completed feasibility study that said an arena could prosper on tribe-owned land in Auburn, 25 miles south of Seattle. But Bennett again said Friday that he was concerned about the site's relative remoteness and the traffic issues surrounding it.

Bennett also said he has been approached by potential investors with other proposals _ some of which he wasn't sure were earnest and valid. He said neither the Sonics or the Storm is for sale, though he acknowledged he's fielded some inquiries from Seattle-area business people about potentially buying the teams.