Wednesday, July 02, 2008

On the Ground: Steven Pyeatt

Photo: Steven Pyeatt of Save Our Sonics. [Photo from].

As part of the preparation for Judge Pechman's decision [Greg Johns, Seattle Post-Intelligencer] later today on the future of the Sonics, here's the next installment of On the Ground, featuring an interview with Steven Pyeatt, the co-founder of Save our Sonics. Steven has been one of the most influential figures in the fight to keep the team in Seattle, working with co-founder Brian Robinson and the impressive team they've pulled together (including former Sonics star Slick Watts). He's helped organize rallies (including the one I covered), e-mail and letter-writing campaigns, and much, much more. If the Sonics do survive in Seattle, his efforts will be a large part of the reason why. There's an excellent Seattle Times profile on him by Ashley Bach. Anyways, here's my questions and his answers.

Q: What’s the mood like in Seattle? Do people still feel there’s a chance to keep the franchise, or are they resigned to losing it?

A: The mood is mixed. A segment is so upset with the NBA that they will stop following the NBA if they abandon this market, a large segment is still focused on doing whatever it takes to keep a team here, and some still don’t realize that the relocation approval was conditional and for this year only. That segment doesn’t realize that this isn’t a “done deal” but when they learn that they tend to get back on the “Save Our Sonics” train.

Q: Do you think the rallies and popular expressions of support will make any difference in the end?

A: Going into this deal, Brian and I honestly thought the fan movement was a valuable piece of the puzzle but in the end would have little effect on the outcome. What has amazed us is how much the “Save Our Sonics” effort has impacted the situation. We have flooded elected officials with emails whenever this issue is on someone’s plate, gathered more than 300 people to travel to the state capital with just a few hours notice, taken over the Governor's campaign kickoff event, and had over 3000 people come to the rally at the courthouse to start the trial (we were hoping just to break 1000). The people have stepped up so much it is humbling to be a part of this movement. The claims by Bennett that no one cared couldn’t be heard over the chants of “Save Our Sonics” echoing through our downtown.

Q: What do you think was the city’s strongest argument or piece of evidence presented during the trial?

A: The testimony by Virginia Anderson (former director of Seattle Center) and the people in charge of running Key Arena did fantastic jobs in their testimony. They destroyed any claim that Key Arena was not a viable facility, that the relationship between the team and the city was dysfunctional, or that there would be no way they could continue “business as usual” through the end of the lease. This is a key part of the case because the judge would not want to continue the relationship if it looked like the next two years would be nothing but bickering over what kind of hotdogs to sell or how often to sweep the floors.

Q: What do you think was PBC’s strongest argument or piece of evidence presented during the trial?

A: PBC’s legal team was amazing. Considering they took on a client that had no case they actually were able to at least present something that would cause people to think. They did an excellent job of embarrassing the Mayor, and the private parties that were working to keep the team here, but in the end they had nothing that showed that the city did anything to undermine the ability of PBC to perform on the lease. Coupled with Clay Bennett compounding his lies by piling on more unbelievable statements it is going to be very hard for a judge to find any reason to let PBC out of the lease.

Q: Is there anything you think the city could have done better during the process leading up to the trial? If so, what?

A: I was very impressed by the effort of the city in this case. They left no stone unturned and really did a great job of “getting the dirt” on Clay Bennett, David Stern, and the rest of PBC. We all wanted to see Stern on the stand but the court in NYC blocked it saying that the city got the information they needed from others and in the end they had so it wasn’t that they could have done better, but we sure wanted to see him come unglued on the stand.

Q: What about during this trial?

A: I would have liked to see them follow a line of questioning with Nick Licata, the President of the City Council when the city adopted our Initiative [ed's note: Seattle Initiative I-91, which strictly regulated the public funding of sports arenas] as an ordinance, that showed that the ordinance was a result of public pressure and a complete change in the level of support from the city. It was portrayed by PBC as an attempt to lock PBC in so they could bleed them when in reality it was the people demanding that the city enforce the lease to buy us time to get a deal done to keep our team. In the end that is nothing but nit picking on my part. The key to winning the case was showing that the lease was clear in its terms, that Bennett knew those terms before he bought the team, agreed to honor those terms when he bought the team, and that the losses would not cause him undo harm if required to honor the contract. The city did a fantastic job of getting the important parts into evidence and defended the lease well.

Q: If Judge Pechman rules in favour of PBC buying its way out of the lease, do you think there is still any hope for keeping the team (i.e. appeal, the Schultz lawsuit, or something else), or will that mean they’re definitely gone?

A: Yes, there is still hope. There does not seem to be any way this team gets to move for this upcoming season without a negotiated solution and that requires a team named the Sonics in Seattle long term. If the legal process continues to play out this team will not be moving before the end of the lease no matter what happens. If that road continues there is a significant risk that Clay could lose the team and no smart businessman would ever take that risk when there are options for “Win/Win” deals out there.

Q: If the city is allowed to enforce the "specific performance" clause, do you see the Sonics remaining here any longer than 2010?

A: Yes. We think that two years of “lame duck” status is more than just losing $60 million, it is hard to the league and their revenues and supporters that they cannot endure. In January we will have a funded Key Arena expansion package and with local ownership ready in the wings we see no way the NBA wouldn’t want to resolve this for everyone.

Q: If the team leaves, do you see Seattle ever getting another NBA franchise? If so, what timeframe do you think is likely?

A: Eventually, but that means building an arena on spec and having a lot of work to find a team and a deal that a local ownership group is willing to do. We are very proud in Seattle of having all “home grown” teams. We never “took” a team from another city and see that as a point of pride. Expansion would be preferred because we wouldn’t have to put a another city though what we have just dealt with.

Thanks to Steven for taking the time to answer these questions in such detail: there's obviously a lot on his plate at the moment. Here's his bio paragraph:

Steven Pyeatt is a Kirkland area businessman who was born and raised in the Seattle area. Steve has been active in his community in both grassroots political and charitable organizations including 15 years as a Football Official. He was a candidate for King County Council in 2005 and has served on commissions for King County and the City of Bothell. In addition Steve was active in the regions effort to keep the Seahawks in Seattle in 1996. During this successful 14 month campaign, Pyeatt organized more than 950 members and coordinated significant lobbying of our local business and political leaders.

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