View Full Version : Group seeking ownership of NBA franchise

02-10-2006, 09:14 AM
Local group seeking own NBA franchise

By Berry Tramel
The Oklahoman

Businessman Clayton I. Bennett has formed an ownership group seeking a permanent NBA franchise for Oklahoma City: either the Hornets, whose success has become a national sensation, or a relocated franchise.
"The bottom line is, we want a team for this market," said Bennett, president of Dorchester Capital in Oklahoma City.

Bennett said his group would be interested in partnering with Hornets owner George Shinn, should the Hornets remain in Oklahoma City. Shinn has started seeking both local and national investors for the Hornets in an attempt to reduce a large debt incurred a year ago when he bought out partner Ray Wooldridge.

Shinn was in New York on Thursday and unavailable for comment."We would hope we could establish a local, community ownership group to own the team with George," Bennett said.

But Bennett said his group plans to be proactive in securing a franchise for the Ford Center should the Hornets return to New Orleans.

Business leaders in broad coalition
Bennett's group includes Aubrey McClendon and Tom Ward of Chesapeake Energy Corp., and G. Jeffrey Records, Jr. of MidFirst Bank. Those three and Bennett are the members of Oklahoma Professional Sports, LLC, the organization that partnered with the city and state in providing a revenue guarantee for the Hornets this season.

Bennett said he has at least four other civic and business leaders who are interested in joining what would be a broad-based group. Bennett said he also envisions a larger collection of investors, in the spirit of building a community ownership platform.

The Hornets have been a monster hit in Oklahoma City, averaging 18,622 fans per game at the Ford Center, eighth-best in the league, and Oklahoma City's home-game atmosphere has been a rage in the oft-staid NBA. The Hornets are playing 36 games at the Ford Center this season and have announced they will play 35 in Oklahoma City next season, with six games in New Orleans.

Shinn and NBA Commissioner David Stern both have said they hope to return to New Orleans in 2007-08, but have stopped short of guarantees.

"We are absolutely committed to the Hornets this year and next," Bennett said. "But we also are 100 percent committed to finding a team for this city in the long-term."

In recent days, Seattle SuperSonics owner Howard Schultz has gone public with his displeasure of that franchise's lease with Key Arena. Schultz said that unless the Sonics get a building upgrade -- extensive renovations or a new arena -- he will sell the Sonics, Seattle's original major-league franchise.

State help is the Sonics' primary hope, and the Washington state Legislature dismisses for the year on March 9, so the Sonics have a month to lobby. Washington legislators have been less than promising with their recent comments. Renovation costs to Key Arena have been estimated at $200 million.

Both Bennett and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said they have not spoken with anyone from the Sonics.

The Sonics are reported to be worth about $300 million.

Oklahoma City; Kansas City, Mo.; Anaheim, Calif.; and Las Vegas have been mentioned as possible candidates for NBA relocation.

In November, one game into the Hornets' home season, Stern visited the Ford Center and said, "I can say without reservation that Oklahoma City is now at the top of the list" for expansion or relocation.

Bennett formerly was on the San Antonio Spurs Board of Directors and Stern has called him a "great friend of the NBA."

"We want to make sure we stay first on that list," Bennett said. "For us to be on the radar screen and in the hunt is where I think we ought to be. We need to be proactive."

Bennett said the ideal for Oklahoma City is an ownership group based on the Spurs model. The Spurs are owned by a group of civic leaders and corporations that turn all profits back into the franchise and ensure its stability in San Antonio.