by TIM BOOTH, Associated Press Writer 38 minutes ago
SEATTLE - A group from Oklahoma City has agreed to buy the
Seattle SuperSonics and the Seattle Storm, an official with the Sonics said Tuesday.
The team scheduled an afternoon news conference to officially announce the sale. The team official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the sale had not been announced.
The Basketball Club of Seattle — owners of the NBA Sonics and WNBA Storm since 2001 — would not officially comment until the news conference.
The Seattle Times reported Tuesday that Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett was involved in the purchase of the Sonics.
Bennett was instrumental in the temporary relocation of the
New Orleans Hornets to Oklahoma City following Hurricane Katrina and emerged as a potential investor in the Hornets. He did not immediately return telephone calls for comment.
In February, Sonics majority owner Howard Schultz threatened to possibly move or sell the city's oldest major league professional sports franchise, saying the team has lost about $60 million in the past five years. The Sonics will begin their 40th season this fall.
Team officials have blamed a revenue-sharing lease at KeyArena with the city of Seattle that lasts until 2010. The lease was called the worst in the NBA by commissioner David Stern.
Following an April 5 meeting of the team's ownership group, team president Wally Walker said the organization would retain advisers to examine different options. Those choices included possibly building a new arena in the Seattle region — most likely in the eastern suburbs of Bellevue and Renton — or selling the team.
Potential suitors from outside the region included Oklahoma City, San Jose, Calif., and Kansas City, Mo. In February, Schultz said an unidentified city offered a "blank check" to move the Sonics.
The team said if improvements were made to the arena, the Sonics would enter a new 20-year lease with the city, would manage and operate the arena and pay rent to the city at no less than $1 million per year, and would take on all operating risk of the arena, including all operating costs and routine maintenance. In return, the organization would keep all revenues.
Mayor Greg Nickels and the Seattle City Council responded with a letter saying that any public contribution to an arena remodel must be put to a public vote and that the public share come from visitor taxes collected countywide.
The Hornets received strong support from Oklahoma City after being displaced following Hurricane Katrina. Half of the Hornets' 36 games at the Ford Center were sold out and average attendance was 18,717 — the 11th highest total in the league and about 500 less than capacity.
During a visit to a Hornets game in November, Stern said Oklahoma City was "at the top of the list" if an expansion team became available.
The Hornets will play 35 games in Oklahoma City and six in New Orleans this season. Stern has said the Hornets will return to New Orleans for the 2007-08 season. http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060718/...rsonics_sale_4