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  • Renée C. Byer /

    The pitch: San Francisco hedge fund manager Christopher Hansen has told the city he and his investors will put up $300 million in private money to help build a new arena.
    What's needed: Basketball. Hansen is scouting for an NBA team. The Kings are reportedly on his radar.

  • Scott R. Craig / Bee file, 2002

    The pitch: An existing arena undergoing a $20 million upgrade.
    What's needed: An NBA team to join Henry Samueli's NHL Ducks. The Kings almost moved here last year, and could still do so if Sacramento doesn't build an arena.

Sacramento faces new competition in bid to keep Kings

Published: Friday, Feb. 17, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Sunday, Mar. 10, 2013 - 11:23 pm

As Sacramento races to finish its arena financing plan, the city can't help looking over its shoulder at two looming threats.

Anaheim, the rival Sacramento narrowly beat out last year, is back in the race. And a new contender, Seattle – jilted once by the NBA – made headlines Thursday by announcing a new proposal to finance an arena and lure a team.

Is either city a serious threat to Sacramento in its effort to keep the Kings? Could progress in those cities weaken Sacramento's hand as it negotiates an arena deal with the NBA?

Or could these efforts serve as a nudge for the city to fight even harder?

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson is confident his city will prevail.

"I can't blame Seattle," he said. "If we were without a team, I would be doing the same thing. But we have laser focus, we control our own destiny and we're closer than we've ever been."

The developments to the north and south are unfolding as Sacramento officials continue tense negotiations with the NBA, the Kings, an arena operator and a development team on the financing package for a $387 million arena in the downtown railyard.

City officials are aiming to complete a financing term sheet with those parties over the next week and ask for City Council approval of their plan on Feb. 28. The plan hinges on the council's approval of leasing city-owned parking to a private company, an arrangement expected to fetch as much as $200 million for the arena project.

The city is also seeking about $85 million from the team's owners and $50 million from arena operator AEG.

Political consultant Doug Elmets, who worked on the campaign for the failed 2006 tax measures to fund an arena here, said progress in Seattle and Anaheim could actually work in Johnson's favor.

"In a twisted way," he said, "(arena supporters) should use this to their advantage in the hopes that it will help the City Council and others within the community realize that other communities are eager to lure the Kings."

Daniel Rascher, president of SportsEconomics and a sports industry consultant, agrees.

"(The City Council) can't kick the can months or a year down the road," he said. "This is it. If you say, 'No,' they (may be) gone."

It became more apparent Thursday that Seattle is serious about making a run at the Kings or another NBA franchise.

At a festive press conference, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced a proposal for an arena that he said would be funded with $300 million in money from hedge fund manager Christopher Hansen and a group of investors.

Another $200 million for the project would be provided through bonds issued by the city of Seattle and King County, and backed by rental payments from arena tenants and tax revenue generated by the facility.

Seattle was home to the NBA's SuperSonics for more than 40 years, bringing the city its only major league sports title. But after several failed attempts to build a facility to replace the team's KeyArena, the franchise moved to Oklahoma City in 2008.

As for which NBA team is in Seattle's sights, McGinn said he was not speaking with the league and was leaving that up to Hansen. Officials said the arena would not be built without an NBA tenant. Media reports from Seattle have said officials there are monitoring the arena efforts in Sacramento. Another candidate could be the New Orleans Hornets, who are owned by the NBA.

Still, McGinn said, "there are pathways to obtaining a team, and (Hansen is) obviously not going to be committing time and effort … unless he feels his prospects are good."

Troy Hanson, a Kings spokesman, on Thursday reiterated past comments by the Maloof family, which owns the Kings, saying the family "is not interested in selling the team."

To the south, though, another possibility beckons. And this one doesn't involve selling the Kings.

Anaheim officials last week held a high-profile groundbreaking for $20 million worth of improvements to that city's Honda Center arena, and made it clear they had their eyes on the Kings or any NBA team interested in being a tenant in the building with the NHL Ducks.

The Maloofs had a deal all but signed with Anaheim last spring to move there before pressure from the NBA and Sacramento forced them to back off. Kings co-owner George Maloof said at the time that the deal was a good one, and he intended to stay in touch with Anaheim.

Speaking to the Los Angeles Times last week, Honda Center operator Henry Samueli said his group is still interested in the Kings.

"If they need to come to us in the future," he told the Times, "they have our phone number."

Anaheim officials declined to comment Thursday.

Several NBA watchers said the public announcements from Seattle and Anaheim could slightly strengthen the NBA's footing during ongoing negotiations with Sacramento.

"It does create that leverage, whether you want to use it overtly or not," said Larry Coon, a computer scientist with the University of California, Irvine, and an expert on NBA collective bargaining. "If you have no place to go, you are bidding against yourself. But if you can leave and go elsewhere, (the city needs to) come to the table with a suitable offer, or they will go somewhere else."

David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at USC, said Sacramento should not "underestimate the fact that these others cities may well be suitable," especially Anaheim.

"Anaheim is very legitimate, not a hollow stalking horse," he said. "Seattle is premature. They are just getting up to speed."

However, Rascher said he believes the NBA at this point prefers that the Kings remain in Sacramento. For one, "there isn't much more that needs to be done (in Sacramento)."

"They've done their homework," he said. "Now, people either want to do it or not."

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