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  • RANDALL BENTON / rbenton@sacbee.com

    Mayor Kevin Johnson addresses a crowd at City Hall on Friday to celebrate the sale of the Kings to a group that will keep the team in Sacramento.

  • Randall Benton / rbenton@sacbee.com

    Mayor Kevin Johnson offered a vision of a return of the Kings' glory days and the transformation of the central city.

Kings' new ownership group kicks off team's new era

Published: Friday, May. 17, 2013 - 6:42 pm
Last Modified: Wednesday, Apr. 16, 2014 - 6:38 pm

The Sacramento Kings, adrift for years and nearly lured away from the city, effectively reopened for business Friday.

As the Maloof family confirmed it had agreed to sell the struggling franchise to a group led by Silicon Valley tech executive Vivek Ranadive, the transition to new ownership got under way with a flourish.

Team employees geared up to begin taking deposits for season tickets on Tuesday, and put out a help-wanted notice for sales reps. Ranadive plans to be in Sacramento next week to promote ticket sales, and he said the NBA will send out a temporary SWAT team of marketing executives to help.

While the purchase won't close for two more weeks, Ranadive said his investor group was already scrambling to make up for lost time. Other teams have already launched season ticket drives.

"The (player) draft is coming up, we haven't sold any tickets, the arena needs to be repaired," he told The Bee. "We'll just have to move on multiple fronts simultaneously."

Though specific plans have to be worked out, he said his group will make improvements to aging Sleep Train Arena, the league's smallest facility, which is scheduled to be replaced in 2016.

There were other signs of a new era Friday. A few Kings employees mingled with fans at a boistrous City Hall press conference, which was filmed by a videographer from Maloof Sports & Entertainment. A photo of Mayor Kevin Johnson - once a Maloof nemesis - was posted on the team's website.

Johnson regaled a cheering crowd at City Hall with visions of a franchise returned to its early-2000s glory days, and a central city transformed by a proposed new arena and adjacent development. He promised that the Kings' future in Sacramento was secure after years of uncertainty that nearly landed the team in Anaheim and, more recently, Seattle.

"We've been holding our breaths for one year, two years, three - we can finally breathe," Johnson said.

He also announced a Kings rally for Wednesday afternoon at Cesar Chavez Plaza, featuring the homegrown rock band Cake.

As Johnson celebrated alongside other local politicians, fans and businesspeople, city officials said they were moving full speed ahead on the yearlong environmental review needed before construction can begin on a $448 million arena at Downtown Plaza - a critical element in the NBA's decision Wednesday to block the Kings' proposed move to Seattle.

Ranadive said he expects the NBA board of governors to approve the team purchase early next week. NBA officials declined comment Friday.

The board's approval will make Ranadive, currently the vice chairman of the Golden State Warriors, the league's first India-born majority owner. He will have to sell his stake in the Warriors sometime soon.

Ranadive leads a polyglot group of investors, hastily assembled after the Maloofs announced their deal in January to sell the team to a group from Seattle.

The Ranadive team includes two more India-born businessmen, the founding family of telecommunications giant Qualcomm Inc. and prominent downtown Sacramento developer Mark Friedman. There's a former senior executive from Facebook and a couple of tech entrepreneurs from the Bay Area. Ranadive himself is chief executive of Tibco Software Inc., a $1 billion-a-year Palo Alto company.

Ranadive said he will proceed swiftly but cautiously on personnel decisions, on the basketball and business sides of the shop.

"This is literally hours old," he said. "We're going to go and talk to everybody. Many of the people (working for the Kings) have great reputations."

'A new chapter'

The Kings' departing owners, the Maloofs, were coming to grips Friday with leaving a sport they love and a city that had grown tired of their efforts to relocate the team.

"It's a difficult day for us, but it's time for a new chapter," said co-owner George Maloof.

He added that he was happy for Sacramento.

"We hope they win it all and we hope they get their arena," he said.

While the mayor announced early Friday the deal was "signed, sealed, delivered," Maloof said it wasn't completely done until midafternoon. That's when final papers were signed and a nonrefundable deposit was wired to his family, he said.

Worn down by financial setbacks and the ever-sparser crowds at their aging Natomas arena, the Maloofs had agreed to sell their 65 percent share to Seattle investors Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer for $406 million.

That deal died Wednesday, when the NBA board of governors vetoed the proposed relocation of the team to Seattle.

That left the Maloofs to ponder a backup offer from Ranadive's group, which stood at $341 million.

A source familiar with the deal said the Maloofs agreed to sell to Ranadive shortly after the board of governors' vote at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas. That's when Ranadive's lawyers told Maloof representatives they would agree to the Maloofs' request for another $6.5 million, bringing the purchase price to more than $347 million. The two sides had been discussing the request all day.

The sweetened offer leaves the Sacramento purchase, on its face, $59 million short of Seattle's. But the true gap between Seattle's bid, and what the Maloofs will take away from selling to Ranadive, is just a few million dollars.

Why? If the Seattle deal had been approved, the Maloofs would have put $25 million of their payout toward the relocation fee owed to the NBA, the source said. In addition, although the Seattle deal is dead, the Maloofs get to keep the $30 million nonrefundable deposit Hansen and Microsoft CEO Ballmer gave them in early February.

That shaves the effective difference to about $5 million. Both purchase prices include assumption by the new owners of $140 million in debts owed by the Maloofs to the city and the NBA, which is deducted from the family's payout.

A profitable investment

All told, taking the Ranadive deal will give the Maloofs and partner Bob Hernreich a total of about $236 million. That compares with $241 million they would have gotten from Seattle.

George Maloof said investing in the Kings was profitable overall for the family.

The Maloofs paid about $66 million for their initial investment in the Kings in 1997, which gave them 43 percent. They later grew their stake, along with Hernreich, to 65 percent.

"We had a couple of years, we lost our ass," he said. "But at the end of the day, we were a very profitable operation."

Hansen's failure to secure the team likely means he will surrender the 7 percent share he purchased in a bankruptcy auction last month. Bankruptcy trustee David Flemmer said the 7 percent share, once the property of longtime Kings limited partner Bob Cook, will be auctioned off again.

Inside the Kings' front office, officials said their new season ticket drive Tuesday is the culmination of weeks of quiet planning that got under way even as the team's future was uncertain. A new marketing slogan, "Long Live the Kings," was expected to roll out next week.

Team officials said phone calls and emails from fans began flooding in when news broke late Thursday that the Maloofs had sold the team. The surge of interest, they said, raised spirits around Sleep Train Arena.

City officials rededicated themselves to the task of completing an environmental impact report, a lengthy document that must be finished before construction on the arena can begin. The work on the EIR began about a month ago in anticipation of opening the building in fall 2016.

"We had to get started in order to achieve this 2016 opening date," said Assistant City Manager John Dangberg.

The arena includes a public subsidy the city has pegged at $258 million, but which arena opponents - who are launching an effort to force a public vote - maintain is considerably higher. Most of the money would come from borrowing against future parking revenues.

The owner of most of Downtown Plaza, JMA Ventures of San Francisco, is working on purchasing one last parcel in the mall: the Macy's men's store at the east end of the plaza. Dangberg said JMA doesn't need the Macy's location to build an arena, but removing that building would improve the layout of the area around the arena.

Friedman, the developer who's part of the Ranadive group, said officials are starting to sketch out ideas for the arena and the rest of the mall, which would be overhauled. He said the whole site could turn into a miniature version of New York's Times Square or Boston's Faneuil Hall.

Call The Bee's Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.



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