Kings co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof spent a few hours conducting interviews at the team's media day Thursday, then agreed to another 90-minute conversation with The Bee. Sipping Diet Dr. Peppers in their offices inside Power Balance Pavilion, the brothers offered their thoughts on the improved 2011-12 roster, the status of coach Paul Westphal, their attempts to re-engage the community after almost relocating to Anaheim last spring, as well as their reasons for being "flexible" about the March 1 deadline for the Sacramento region to finalize an agreement for a new sports and entertainment complex.
So let's get right to it. After everything that happened last spring, how surprised are you to be sitting here?
Gavin: (Laugh) Yeah, yeah. We're very happy to be here. Obviously the city and the fans have meant a lot to us during the 12, 13 years of our ownership. Everything is so positive right now. We're very optimistic that something will get done (about an arena), and so right now, we're focused on fixing our team. We spent money like we said we were going to do, spent close to $67 million. We re-upped Marcus Thornton, acquired Chuck Hayes, and we're going to continue to spend if it's for the right player.
Those of us in the arena on April 13 will never forget that Kings-Lakers game, or what was expected to be the team's finale in Sacramento. The scene inside that building that night was wrenching. You were in New York waiting to discuss the team's possible relocation to the Honda Center with Commissinoer David Stern and other owners, but were you aware of what was going on back here?
Gavin: We knew, we knew. It was a real tear-jerker. It was really hard to watch. I saw bits and pieces on my phone, but later, I watched a replay. The scene afterward with Jerry (Reynolds) and Grant (Napear) crying, fans staying on the court. That was something else.
How tough was it to swallow the board of governors' surprisingly negative reaction to the proposed move? And knowing the community's passion for the Kings, you had to expect a serious backlash at your first public appearance that Here We Build rally at Cesar Chavez Plaza last May.
Joe: I was a little nervous, but everyone was great to us. People know we never wanted to leave. They want to help. People are rallying around this franchise. I can see and feel the difference. Everyone is so nice to us, everywhere we go. The Kings are a religion here. They really are. Hopefully, we can get back to the playoffs and be exciting again.
Gavin: We're trying, we're trying, and it's nice to be wanted.
Joe: We're resilient. We get knocked back, but there's no shame in falling.
Gavin: Only in not getting back up, failing to rise, as my dad (George Maloof Sr.) taught us.
Are you marketing differently now? Your former team president, the maligned John Thomas, for years targeted major corporations, when business types in comparable markets (San Antonio, Salt Lake City, Indianapolis, etc.) have long tailored their suite sales and corporate sponsorships toward law firms, restaurant chains, health care companies in essence, businesses unique to their region. In Sacramento, I immediately think about lobbying and law firms.
Gavin: Well, traditionally we've gone after bigger packages, but you have to change your thinking on everything because it's a different day and age. What we do now, we'll tailor something for our client, whatever works for them in their particular situation.
Joe: We're still calling people ourselves. When we came back, I made about 300 cold-calls to our season-ticket holders and sponsors. Gavin made about 400.
Gavin: I'd call and say, 'Hello, John Smith, this is Gavin Maloof with the Kings.' He'd say, 'Who is this? For real?' I'll say, 'Yeah, it is. I just want to thank you your support last year and hope you re-up for this year. We're going to have an exciting team, we're going to spend money and try to re-sign Marcus Thornton, and we want you to be with us.' Between the two of us, I think 99 percent of the people renewed.
Can you you give me some numbers? My understanding is that season tickets totaled just under 6,000 last year.
Gavin: Um, we really don't get into numbers, but like Joe said, tickets are definitely up over last year. They're up 10 percent over this time last year, and they're continuing to move.
Joe: I'll give you an example of how much better things are going. We sold $1 million worth of tickets last week. In five days. That's a lot of tickets. Gavin and I, we live here full time now. We're here every day, and we're still calling people.
The new collective bargaining agreement reduces the players' share of revenue from 57 percent to approximately 50 percent, reduces the length of guaranteed contracts and imposes heftier taxes on teams that exceed the salary cap. Is any of this going to really make a difference for small- to mid-market franchises?
Joe: I think it's a very fair deal for everyone involved. The players are going to do extremely well. We're going to do a lot better. In the long run, it came out great for small markets like us (20th nationally), it really did.
Can you be specific? Not everyone is convinced the system changes adequately address the inequities between, say, the Lakers and the Kings.
Joe: We can't discuss the figures, we really can't, but the revenue sharing is huge. Our market alone, it's going to be a tremendous amount of money, so the gap between the larger markets and smaller markets has really narrowed. Now we have a real chance to compete against larger-market teams, which is what the league wanted to get accomplished. And, like Gavin says, we have great flexibility with our team payroll, so we can strike at any time.
Also, if you get a great player, you can hold onto your player for four, five years, if you want. That's the perfect amount of time. Chris Webber, before the injury, he took us to another level. For four years he was one of the best players in the league.
Gavin: Then you can decide to re-sign him or whatever. We don't have those seven-year contracts that are like albatrosses holding you down.
What are your feelings about Stern? He took a lot of heat during the lockout, and more recently for getting involved with potential Chris Paul trades on behalf of the NBA-owned New Orleans Hornets. Closer to home, Stern has devoted a lot of time, energy and resources toward keeping the Kings in Sacramento. In other words, he didn't exactly endorse Anaheim.
Joe: Look, I think he did a wonderful job during (labor talks), and when (NBA vice president) Chris Granger came out here and helped us when we decided to stay and brought out the league's top people to try to garner some of the support we had in the past, it really worked. Tickets are just flying out the door. We've sold a lot of corporate sponsorships. We have more to come. And we've sold 27 of our 29 suites already.
Gavin: We really appreciate David and his staff, and what they did at the league level to get this (labor deal) done, because at the end of the day, it works for everybody. The big-market owners were willing to help, and we appreciate that, too. We really do. The fact they were willing to share was huge.
Joe: He has 30 owners he has to deal with. To come out with the deal we did, it's fair for all the markets large markets, small markets and it helps us compete with the large markets now. As I said, that gap has really narrowed. We're thrilled, thrilled!
Did you try to get involved in the trade discussions for Chris Paul?
Gavin: Yeah, yeah, but he wanted certain locations.
As an owner, how frustrating is it when superstars fixate on New York, Chicago and Los Angeles?
Joe: I don't blame the players. That's the beauty of this deal. They can go where they want. But there are a lot of great players out there. As long as you have flexibility, something will come along. Look what happened with Webber. That trade came out of nowhere. Vlade (Divac via free agency), same thing. This year and next year we have the same opportunities. Geoff Petrie has done it again. Nothing like Geoff. He completely revamped this roster, added to it. You have to have faith in his decisions, and we're going to stick with him.
Paul Westphal is in the final year of his contract. After seasons of 25 and 24 victories, respectively, what will it take for an extension?
Joe: I love Paul Westphal. He's finally got some decent talent, or some very good talent. He has an opportunity to win some games now, so let's see what he does. We're very, very lucky to have him.
What is the situation at the Palms? What's George's role now that your family only owns a minority interest (2 percent) in the casino? Also, from what I am hearing, he is not as involved in the arena discussions as we had anticipated.
Joe: The arena stuff we're letting the league handle most of that. But George is doing great. He's still chairman and running the show at the Palms, and there's a great opportunity for us to buy more shares in the future if we want. We have no debt we wiped out all our debt. We're doing great financially now. Vegas just got caught in that downward cycle. It will come back, but it will take a while.
Ever think about building a new casino somewhere else?
Joe: Well, our new partners (TPG Capital and Leonard Green & Partners) want us to expand that name the Palms and George is going to look at different cities, at smaller boutique casinos.
So where does the Maloof financial empire go from here? If Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) partners in a downtown arena deal, CEO Tim Leiwecke would run the new facility, and your Kings would be tenants. You sold your beer and liquor distributorships. What's next?
Gavin: Actually, we're getting back into the liquor business. We are working with Black Star beer, and vodka and tequila products. It's like a marketing agreement, where before, we were the distributors.
Joe: It's what we know. We've been in the business 70 years. Our grandfather, our dad and now us.
Speaking of family, what's the reaction to your sister Adrienne's newfound celebrity, courtesy of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills"? And now there's her new shoe line that is generating quite a buzz.
Joe: What's amazing about Adrienne, every age group loves Adrienne. She's a mother who works hard, who is a businesswoman, and she didn't get to where she is with a sex tape or anything like that. She has a wonderful following because of what she represents. Work hard. Stay in shape. Raise a family. People love her.
Do you watch the show?
Joe: I watch it occasionally.
Gavin: I watch it all the time. I love the show.
Does it bother you that, in the latest episodes, some of the other women are sniping at your younger sister?
Gavin: Uh, she can handle herself. (Laugh) That's probably the last thing I'd worry about.
So, opening night, the entire family will be seated courtside. Again, who knew? And how weird will that be?
Joe: It's like we tell the players. It's a privilege to play in this league. It's a privilege to own this team. It's a privilege to have it. We're very grateful about everything. We're very happy to be here.
Gavin: It's going to be incredible, very emotional.
Joe: We're not dwelling on anything. We just want to move forward, start winning games and get this (arena) thing done. I think everybody's ready for that.