More fireworks in Seattle

A pair of Sonics/Storm season-ticket holders has filed suit against the team’s new ownership, claiming deception:

The lawsuit seeks class-action status on behalf of everyone who purchased season tickets between July 2006, when Clay Bennett led a group of Oklahoma City businessmen in purchasing the team, and Sept. 21 [2007], when Bennett filed a demand for arbitration to escape the final two years of the team’s KeyArena lease.

It accuses Bennett’s ownership group, The Professional Basketball Club, of breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation and violation of Washington’s Consumer Protection Act, according to a draft of the complaint to be filed today in King County Superior Court.

The Save Our Sonics group has released a statement:

Shortly after the conclusion of the 2006/2007 basketball season all Sonics’ season ticket holders were offered an “Unprecedented Commitment” should they make the decision to renew their existing season ticket package. In an enclosed letter Sonics’ Chairman Clayton I. Bennett states, “At a time when we are asking for your season ticket renewal, it is of paramount importance that we establish our commitment to you, our most passionate and supportive fan.” Within that same letter he makes an unequivocal guarantee of fixed ticket pricing through the 2010 NBA season. Since that time it has become obvious that the Sonics are not able to guarantee this products availability and have in fact taken direct action to deny it to their customers with recent attempts to breach their existing lease.

As stated in Mr. Bennett’s letter season ticket holders are “the foundation of any franchise”, as well as “the most passionate and supportive fans.” That this type of deceptive solicitation may have abused their loyalty is unacceptable and should be an embarrassment to the entire National Basketball Association.

It occurs to me that this might do more damage to Bennett’s position than the city’s suit to enforce the KeyArena lease would.

Update, 6:45 pm: Or maybe not. Sports Illustrated columnist and sports lawyer Michael McCann sent this to Henry Abbott at TrueHoop:

This claim seems highly unlikely to succeed. For one, it hasn’t been a mystery to NBA fans — and one would think Sonics season-ticket holders in particular — that the Sonics might be leaving Seattle. This has been speculated ever since the Bennett group purchased the team. Second, these fans paid to see the Sonics play in Seattle in the 06-07 and 07-08 NBA seasons. They either got or will get that. If they paid for a future season that never occurs, they would be entitled to a refund and incidental damages. But that’s not the case here. Lastly, the Sonics have not yet moved nor even announced a move; whatever “harm” that could arise has not yet done so.

In addition, case law has not been favorable to lawsuits filed by disgruntled season-ticket holders, a topic recently examined when Billy Donovan walked away from coaching the Orlando Magic and less directly discussed in relation to Tiger Woods not appearing at the 2007 Buick Open.

Clay Bennett, so far, has given no indication that he’s going to budge on his Halloween deadline.





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