I met with the "expanded" team from Save Our Sonics and Storm last night and it was a good meeting. Storm and Sonic fans getting together to talk about where things are at the moment. It is sad to see that the movement has had to take an antagonistic stance against the team, but the ownership team has backed SOS&S into a corner.
Recently comments were made by minority Owner Aubrey McClendon in the press stating that the owners bought the teams to bring them to Oklahoma City and never intended to be in Seattle. This week the NBA fined McClendon $250,000 for the comments. Clay Bennett keeps telling everyone that Seattle isn't interested and hasn't made any "reasonable" offers, but the Governor, the Mayor, the City Council and representatives of the State Legislature have all made public statements and private gestures that have been rebuffed. On his part he has done NOTHING since his demand for $300M in public money was denied last winter. He did offer to meet with the Mayor but then bailed when he learned that buying a way out of the lease so he could relocate was not on the table.
When past behaviour by Bennett and his team are viewed in light of McClendon's comments, my perception leans toward a strategy of bait and switch, subversion, lies and underhanded dealings. SOS&S was very open and tried to work together with Bennett from the start. He was taken at his word and there was, on the surface, a spirit of cooperation between the ownership and SOS&S. That turned out to be honest spirit on the part of former ownership and pretense on the part of current ownership. SOS&S was told to hold off repeatedly on fan events and anything that might draw attention or press to the local fans and away from the arena proposal. In hindsight that is EXACTLY what you want if you intend to propose something ridiculous to an elected body. If you don't want it to pass, make it ridiculous and make sure there is NO VISIBLE FAN SUPPORT! Then you can make sure to use words like "apathy" when discussing local support. You can complain about lack of letters to the editor and radio talk show callers. Of course you don't have that if you tell your fan organizers NOT TO ORGANIZE! Give people "access" to make them overlook the fact that what you are asking them to do makes no sense and lull them into a sense of complacency. Then when the gig is up and you have been called out, be sure to cut them off immediately.
I no longer believe that Bennett is genuine. I think the man is a savvy business owner that is willing to walk on both sides of the ethical line to get what he wants. As a corporate person myself, I know the type. They seem genuine and honest and ethical until the final trap is sprung. I have seen the tactic played to make a sales opportunity look realistic enough to get me to compete only to find in the end that I was just a tool to leverage the incumbant to lower their pricing. The excuse is always realistic when the sale is lost, but it is never aligned with the guidance or coaching provided during the sale. Bennett is the kind of businessman that I would work with, but I would never feel fully comfortable with. I would be looking for coaching from his board of directors, his administrative assistant or disgruntled staff whenever I was dealing directly with him.
I would love to be proven wrong. I don't know the man. I have never dealt with either the man himself or his staff (other than my ticket reps who are GREAT.) These OPINIONS are formed purely on external observation of behaviour. Frankly, if Bennett cared what anyone in Seattle thought he could take steps to improve his public image. I suppose it is hard to ensure a positive image without action in a town where your wife's family doesn't own all the media outlets. Perhaps he is new at this from that perspective.
Here are five steps I think Bennett could take to improve his image in Seattle.
1) MEET with local officials, in person and actually TALK to them.
2) Publicly provide a list of requirements to quantify the term "reasonable" with regard to a new or modified arena.
3) Hold a "town meeting" with fans where he takes responsibility for mistakes made by the ownership team and presents a plan to move forward.
4) Add a prominant local owner to the ownership group.
5) Come to a Storm playoff game and address the crowd. Thank them for standing by the team all season and congratulate Karen Bryant, the players and the coaches for consistently putting top quality professional basketball in this city year after year. Acknowledge Lauren Jackson for the OUTSTANDING performance she has given this year. Finally, promise to bring the same level of passion the player and fans bring to each game to finding a solution that keeps the Storm in Seattle. This of course requires the Storm to WIN Round 1.
I had to spew my thoughts on this, but I promise, I will be back to basketball now that I have that off my chest.