TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Amid 100-degree heat and energy-sapping humidity, a small group of volunteers stood on a corner across from the BOK Center and handed out “Save Our Shock” T-shirts before their team’s WNBA showdown with the Minnesota Lynx over the weekend.
It could be all for naught: Shock majority owner Bill Cameron announced plans Monday to move the franchise to the Dallas-Fort Worth market as early as next season.
Cameron said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press that he hoped the WNBA Board of Governors would vote as soon as possible on the relocation, though the team will finish this season in Tulsa. He said he was proud of the effort by the community since the team moved from Detroit before the 2010 season.
“This is a very difficult decision, and I know it is particularly difficult for the Tulsa investors,” Cameron said. “From a business perspective, it was necessary to evaluate options to place the team and the organization in the best position to achieve financial success. After a thorough review, I believe the Dallas-Fort Worth area holds the greatest potential to achieve our long-term business objectives.”
In a letter to the other board members, Cameron said though revenues from the league have increased and a sponsorship from Osage Casino has been helpful, he has “willingly paid $6.2 million to ensure we covered the losses and kept the team and the organization viable.”
There is still hope for Tulsa; the league’s 12-member board needs to approve the request by majority vote.
And not all the team’s owners want to leave. Cameron holds a majority stake, as does David Box, and there are 11 minority owners as well.
“The minority owners want to keep this franchise in Tulsa because we invested in our community,” Pat Chernicky, a member of the ownership group, said Sunday. “It’s added a lot to the community, and we want to keep it here.”
One of the minority owners, Stuart Price, filed a lawsuit against Cameron on Monday in Tulsa County District Court in hopes that the team will be forced to stay.
“Bill Cameron is a huge liar,” an emotional Price said. “He’s ripping out the hearts of our children, our organizations and our community. They’ve all been there for the Shock in the good times and the bad. The timing of the loss of the Shock is so sick on many levels.”
Among other things, the suit claims Cameron did not disclose details of the relocation plans to the minority owners. It contends the ownership percentages aren’t clear, so it’s impossible to tell whether Cameron has a high enough percentage to move the team against the wishes of other group members. He also said other owners are unaware of the group’s overall financial position because requested data has been withheld.
Sheila Curley, who runs the Save Our Shock campaign, said a group of season ticketholders contacted her to spearhead the volunteer effort. Private groups paid for the shirts and signs. Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett wore one of the shirts at Sunday’s game.
“These fans have been with this team since the beginning,” he said. “They had terrible seasons for several years in a row, lots of coaching changes and all that, and they stuck with them. Last year, they improved quite a bit, and this year, they really improved. It’s just not fair, and it’s not right, to reward the fans this way.”
Bartlett had heard the rumors of a possible move and wrote a letter to Cameron urging him to keep the team in Tulsa. Cameron said in a response letter that Bartlett made him think twice.
“I want to acknowledge receipt of your thoughtful letter,” Cameron’s response read. “I appreciate your perspective and admire your leadership. I considered your letter as I deliberated on the future of the Shock.”
Tulsa thought it was bringing a winner to town, but most of the players from the powerhouse Detroit teams that won three WNBA titles didn’t move with the team, and the Shock went 6-28 in their first year in Tulsa. In the second year, the team went 3-31. The Shock went 9-25 in 2012, 11-23 in 2013 and 12-22 in 2014.
The on-court struggles were reflected at the gate. According to the Sports Business Journal, attendance has been last in the league the past four years.
This year’s team, the second under coach Fred Williams, has been the best yet, both in performance and attendance. The Shock started the season with an 8-1 record before star Skylar Diggins, the top vote-getter in the Western Conference All-Star balloting, was lost for the season with a torn ACL.
Tulsa won its first six home games before losing to the league-leading Lynx. Attendance Sunday was 5,987, one of the best turnouts yet, and the current average of 5,776 fans is the team’s highest since arriving in Tulsa.
Those who wanted the team to stay, including minority owners, pointed out that Tulsa is by far the league’s smallest market, and the fact that there are fewer people to draw from should be considered when viewing attendance numbers. They had hoped Cameron would give it a chance while the team was winning.
“I love the WNBA and all that it stands for,” Price said. “I love the Tulsa Shock and its players and its coaches and all that they play for, and all their contributions to our city. This is just a sad moment. I hope that the Tulsa Shock remain in Tulsa.”
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP