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Tuesday, June 8, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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New Team Must Get Fan Base Of 5,500

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Ginger Ackerley says the Sonic organization is beginning "WNBA 101." Its first big assignment is due Oct. 15.

As one of four NBA ownership groups presented yesterday with a WNBA expansion team that will begin play next June, Seattle - along with Portland, Indiana and Miami - also was handed a serious marketing and sales challenge: secure 5,500 season-ticket holders by mid-October.

"You're going to see a campaign that absolutely makes sure that we reach 5,500," promised John Dresel, the president of the Sonics' business arm, Full House Sports and Entertainment.

Dresel and Ackerley, wife of Sonics' owner Barry Ackerley and co-chair and co-president of the team's ownership group, shared a speaker's table with Mayor Paul Schell yesterday at the Sonic practice facility to announce the acquisition.

In a separate news conference yesterday, WNBA President Val Ackerman said the four chosen ownership groups were selected from an original pool of 14 NBA franchises that had expressed interest in WNBA teams.

The moves allow the 12-team women's league, which begins its third summer season Thursday, to achieve several objectives: expand into new territory while maintaining geographic balance; showcase its games in the NBA's newest venues; root the new teams with stable, successful ownership.

For Portland and Seattle particularly, an additional incentive was to tap into a marketplace with a demonstrated interest in women's basketball. Both cities had served as home to two successful American Basketball League franchises.

The demise of the ABL last December, Ackerley said, prodded her to contact NBA Commissioner David Stern.

"I think many of us didn't know how much the Reign meant to this community until they left," Ackerley said, "or how much it meant to young women in particular, that they could aim that high and be a pro women's ballplayer. The audiences were growing, so we think it's time for the WNBA in Seattle."

The naming of a coach and general manager, acquiring players, an expansion draft and other basketball-related issues will be part of a league-sponsored round table planned in New York on Monday for representatives of all four ownership groups.

"We'll know a lot more about the rules and how we can proceed after next week," Dresel said.

Owners of two 1999 WNBA expansion teams, the Orlando Miracle and Minnesota Lynx, were required to deliver 5,000 season-ticket pledges. Orlando secured about 5,400; Minnesota more than 7,100.

"We are optimistic that we're going to reach 5,500," Dresel said. "It will be something of a challenge."

A WNBA spokesman said it is possible a franchise falling short of its 5,500 requirement could have its team withdrawn, though no precedent exists. The league's most troubled team is the Los Angeles Sparks, a charter team that averaged 7,653 fans last season, more than 3,000 below the league average. Owner Jerry Buss has even mentioned giving the team back to the league.

City Councilwoman Tina Podlodowski, who recalls a tearful farewell gathering at Seattle Center for Reign members after the team folded, believes the city can rekindle its love affair with the women's game.

"All of the women on the city council were Reign season-ticket holders, so I'm challenging them again to do that," she said. "I think there was a group of almost 100 women, different leaders in the community, who were part of the Reign's season-ticket base. This is more than entertainment. This is part of this community."

Although they are in an arbitration dispute over nearly $330,000 in unpaid rent related to the NBA lockout, the Sonics and city are negotiating an amended KeyArena lease agreement to accommodate the WNBA.

The dispute has soured relations with several key council members, including President Sue Donaldson, who spent much of yesterday testifying before the arbitrator who will decide the issue.

Seattle Times staff reporter J. Martin McOmber contributed to this report.

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Name Seattle's WNBA team.

They can't have the Reign. That name is still trademarked. So what would you call Seattle's expansion WNBA club?

Other WNBA teams have played off their NBA affiliates. The Charlotte Sting, with the Hornets. The Houston Comets, with the Rockets. The Phoenix Mercury, with the Suns.

Some don't. The Cleveland Rockers don't have much to do with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Los Angeles Sparks don't remind us of the L.A. Lakers.

So what's your suggestion? We'll compile a list and publish your suggestions. Send them in one of the following ways:

Mail: Times Sports, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111.

Fax: 206-464-3255.

Message phone: 206-464-2290.

Include your name, why you like the name and a way you can be contacted.

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. WNBA Attendance .

. Team 1997 1998 . Charlotte Sting 8,307 8,561 . Cleveland Rockers 7,971 10,350 . Detroit Shock ---- 10,229 . Houston Comets 9,703 12,602 . Los Angeles Sparks 8,931 7,653 . New York Liberty 13,270 14,935 . Phoenix Mercury 13,703 13,765 . Sacramento Monarchs 7,858 6,578 . Utah Starzz 7,611 8,104 . Washington Mystics ---- 15,910 .

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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