The NBA should keep the Kings in Sacramento.
Bottom line, that's the message league owners meeting today in New York need to hear and recognize. City officials, business leaders, fans and others have done all they can to demonstrate the Kings have a bright future in Sacramento.
Mayor Kevin Johnson has helped recruit a group of California billionaires to bid for the team, with backing from about 20 local investors. Two dozen companies have pledged a total of $50 million in sponsorships. More than 10,000 fans have pledged to buy season tickets.
Last week, the City Council signed off on the outlines of a deal for a new $448 million arena downtown that includes $258 million in property and bonds backed by city parking assets. While some say the city is giving away too much and taking on too much risk, there's also a risk particularly to downtown's prospects without a new arena and related infusion of investment.
The speed of this deal, the wealth of the investors and the public commitment should send a clear signal to the league that with the right owners, the Sacramento market can be a lucrative one. It shouldn't be a matter of whose billionaires have more money but rather which deal, overall, offers a better payoff for the NBA. As the only pro franchise in a growing metropolitan region of 2 million people, Sacramento offers some market advantages over Seattle. Sacramento is the second largest TV market with only one big league team. The NBA had higher attendance in Sacramento than Seattle in 20 of the 23 seasons before the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City in 2008.
Mayor Johnson and his team will need to counter a Seattle bid that set a record sales price for an NBA team. They will have to address arguments that Seattle is a bigger media market, with a stronger corporate base and a wealthier population. Their case should include the point that Seattle also has multiple big league teams that already compete for attention and disposable income. And the league shouldn't forget the political connections it has forged in California's capital. It could secure those, and enhance them, by keeping the Kings in town.
All those points should get consideration from the owners who will be reviewing the two cities' proposals. They will make a recommendation to the owners of all 30 teams, who will make a final decision in mid-April.
If owners reach an impasse, they have an alternative. They could broker a sale of the Kings to the Sacramento group, and either work to move another team to Seattle or award it an expansion franchise.
That latter solution may be a long shot. NBA Commissioner David Stern said in February that he doesn't think expansion is an option, noting that during the contentious negotiations with the players union in 2011, owners were talking about reducing the number of teams, not adding any.
Nonetheless, the owners shouldn't rule it out. An expansion fee close to the purchase price could more than make up for having to share TV and other revenues with a 31st team. In 2004, the NBA charged $300 million to the most recent expansion franchise, the Charlotte Bobcats.
Stern has long been in Sacramento's corner. He set up today's meeting to give the city a fair shot, and Sacramento has more than responded. Clearly, it's in the NBA's best interests to keep the Kings here.