So now that the NBA’s relocation committee has recommended rejecting the move of the Sacramento Kings, the NBA owners are expected to follow along with this decision and place their votes in two weeks, keeping the 23 year tenured romance alive and well for now, for the good fans of Sacramento. However, multitudes of sports fans are wondering if this is the better fit as opposed to relocating to Seattle?
The Seattle group, led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, accompanied by Seattle mayor Mike McGinn and other officials, have steered the panel through the proposed purchase of the Kings from the Maloof family.
The Maloofs, agreed to sell a controlling interest in the team for $341 million to the group, which plans to relocate the team to the city and rename it the Supersonics in time for the 2013-14 season. Sacramento has put together its own group, led by former NBA All-Star and Mayor Kevin Johnson, and three of the investors behind a counter-offer for the team: Vivek Ranadive, Ron Burkle and Mark Mastrov. Last week, Johnson characterized the chances of the Kings remaining in Sacramento at “about 90 percent.”
In 2008 the NBA Board of Governors voted to allow the ownership group led by Clay Bennett to move the Supersonics team from Seattle to Oklahoma City. National sports pundits have generally agreed that the league erred in allowing the move because of fan support in Seattle. There is a large finger of blame being pointed at the politicians, that simply refused to bend over and build Clay Bennett a publicly funded $600 Million palace, and the NBA left. The fat cats, Schultz, Bennett, Stern and the politicians let the Sonics go.
In the years following the approved move of the Sonics, David Stern and the majority of the board, have been unrepentant in that decision citing their perceived difficulty at that time in getting the City of Seattle to fully partner with the Bennett group with a public subsidy to build a new arena. The City of Seattle now has offered up to $200M in public subsidies to assist the Chris Hansen group in financing a new arena, but the money has a guaranteed repayment as per Seattle law, so essentially it is not a subsidy with equal assumption of risk, as is commonly the practice in these situations (and IS in fact the situation in Sacramento’s $258M proposed subsidy.) They weren’t after only a loan of money guaranteed to be paid back, but an actual investment in the arena with the team and NBA which was subject to gain and loss just as the NBA’s investment.
Seattle is still struggling to get a new arena built, and it is no secret that David Stern wants to see the Kings be able to make it work in Sacramento, more than he wants to please Seattle. Is this the type of atmosphere conducive to fitting in and winning in the NBA?
Sacramento is offering the exact kind of subsidy that Stern and the NBA wanted from Seattle back in 2008. By accepting the Sacramento offer and thereby rejecting the Seattle offer the league can nix a repeat of, in their mind, the smaller mistake of moving a team away from supporting fans while reinforcing its stance on city/league partnerships. The NBA, by denying the relocation of the Kings to Seattle, can reaffirm that, in general, it is a mistake to move a team from a city with fantastic fan support while in turn rewarding a city government who is willing to become full partners, with the gains and risks inherent in that partnership, along with the NBA.
This being said, the general consensus is Seattle will not get the Kings and in the process Seattle will not be cheated again. They simply are not able to play the game within the subsidy boundaries the same way Sacramento can. Stern will not reward Seattle while he is at the helm, and he will not create an even bigger stain on his legacy by letting the Kings move.
Seattle has made some pitches to NBA owners on the corporate base in Seattle, a strong selling point to a league which likes corporate partnerships. The Seattle high ups have reportedly presented to the NBA a list of 44,000 names of people who have signed up for Sonics season tickets. This is a smart move on Seattle’s part, but can they keep that list of names moving in to the future? Seattle already has too many sports teams competing for attendance.
Also, it claims more than 10,000 Sacramento fans have already pledged to purchase season tickets for next season and that the Kings have had greater attendance than the Sonics have had in the past. The wealth of the investors and the public commitment sends a clear signal to the league that with the right owners, the Sacramento market can be a lucrative one. When you look at a 23-year period where both Seattle and Sacramento have had NBA teams, Sacramento’s market outdrew Seattle’s market 20 of 23 seasons, despite Seattle having a better record. Those are the kinds of things that show you where a team wants and needs to be.
My opinion is that this will ultimately result in the Kings moving to Seattle, and David Stern is just delaying the inevitable. However, Sacramento is “The better fit.” Stern knows that he messed up when the Supersonics moved. Now, he sees a perfect opportunity to rectify the situation.
Nevertheless, whatever happens with this whole ordeal should prove to be quite interesting, and it will ultimately end up leaving one fan base extremely upset.