Marcos Breton: There's more than the Kings at stake in Sacramento arena drama

Published: Sunday, Apr. 22, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 18, 2013 - 7:45 pm

Have you checked out the calendar of upcoming events at the former Arco Arena? It's a vast wasteland of empty dates, with no shows scheduled for the entire month of July and only a Neil Diamond concert set for Aug. 27.

From the time "Sesame Street Live" leaves Sacramento after a June 24 show, there is nothing scheduled until Diamond and his rhinestone shirts arrive two months later.

Meanwhile at HP Pavilion in San Jose, the list of events is packed with Bruce Springsteen, Coldplay, Van Halen, Nickelback, "Batman Live," Jason Mraz, Madonna and Andrea Bocelli.

Oracle Arena in Oakland will have Van Halen, a collection of country music stars that includes Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw, Aerosmith and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

This is no accident.

The Sacramento region, with a population of roughly 2.4 million, has been increasingly starved for entertainment options that don't include a drive to the Bay Area.

A host of music industry and economic factors cannot be blamed on the Maloof brothers, the Kings owners who operate the former Arco Arena.

But it is their fault that the Sacramento region will remain an entertainment ghetto for the foreseeable future.

By rejecting a proposed deal to build a new Sacramento arena in the abandoned downtown railyard, the Maloofs are ultimately denying Sacramentans a chance to see the top shows and concerts they are missing.

That's because if Sacramento got a new downtown arena, the Maloofs wouldn't operate it anymore. It would be run by AEG, the Los Angeles-based arena and stadium operators with properties worldwide.

AEG also is one of the world's largest concert promoters and is staffed with an elite management team.

"Within the industry, AEG's reputation is golden," said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Pollstar, the leading trade publication of the concert industry. "They are very aggressive and help steer shows into their buildings."

Until now, the focal point of a failed arena deal between the Maloofs and Sacramento has centered on the Kings. Many Sacramentans have opposed the arena because they didn't care about basketball and were sick of the guys who owned the team.

I hear you. But this narrow perspective – the "let them leave town" argument – fails to account for the bigger picture.

Even if the Kings left town next year, the Maloofs would still own the former Arco Arena and a lot of land around it – provided they paid back $70 million or so in loans to Sacramento.

If you think the building is a vacant dump now, imagine the picture with the Maloofs as full-fledged absentee owners.

Or, if they stay put while refusing to sell or make an arena deal, the status quo remains.

No new arena. No catalyst for the railyard. A shoestring, bargain-basement sports and entertainment operation "run" by the Maloofs in Natomas.

It was a major coup when Mayor Kevin Johnson helped get AEG interested in Sacramento. The planned arena operators own the Staples Center in Los Angeles, The O2 futuristic entertainment district in London, and many other facilities. They are expanding into China, are large investors in Major League Soccer and their holdings, investments and operations are too numerous to cite here.

Contrast that with Maloof Sports and Entertainment. We know the Maloof brothers are the descendants of hardworking people who built a lucrative beer distributorship, until "the boys" sold it. We know the boys were riding high running the Palms Casino in Las Vegas, until they lost control of it to their lenders.

We know the Maloofs inherited a franchise on the rise by taking majority interest in the Kings in 1999. They rode that wave until brains and business acumen were required to keep it rolling as key Kings players were injured or got old.

How did they do? There have been six straight losing Kings seasons, a diminishing concert and show schedule, and one public relations pratfall after another.

These guys thought it was solid business to put the name of a wristband company on their arena. Now that company is in bankruptcy protection.

Meanwhile, Fresno can attract Madonna and Sacramento can't. A huge Sacramento market made for country music and classic rock has to go to Oakland to see Chesney and Aerosmith.

Maybe Maloof Sports will get a few more concert dates for the summer. That's not the point.

The point is that Sacramento is worse off culturally with these guys entrenched in their old building.

Given the track records of AEG and Maloof Sports, it's beyond ironic that the downtown arena was scuttled because the Maloofs don't believe AEG's revenue projections.

Yeah, the people who brag about having $300 million in Wells Fargo stock – the Maloofs – scoff at the billionaires.

Think of that as you try to stay awake on that long drive back from San Jose after seeing Springsteen.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Marcos Breton



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