Latest Salvo in the Seattle Wars: Fan Lawsuit

Some Seattle season ticket holders are suing the team, as Jim Brunner of the Seattle Times reports:

Two Sonics and Storm season-ticket holders plan to file a lawsuit today, accusing the new team owners of defrauding ticket buyers who believed assurances that they intended to keep the teams in Seattle.

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, 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 people who run SonicsCentral, and Save Our Sonics & Storm, are supportive of the suit (they even say they introduced the plaintiffs to the lawyers now representing them, and are apparently recruiting more season ticket holders to join the suit). As explained on SonicsCentral:

It is our belief that through the discovery process, the public will gain significant insight as to the events that involve this ownership group and specifically the ownership's efforts, or lack thereof, to remain in the Seattle region beyond the 2007/2008 NBA season.

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.

Blogging sports lawyer Michael McCann (who is also a columnist on SI.com) says this suit, at this stage, would appear to be facing some big challenges. He emailed the following:

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.