Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: A new beginning jump-starts Kings' ticket sales

Published: Tuesday, May. 21, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Tuesday, May. 21, 2013 - 9:04 am

For the better part of three years, they had one of the most thankless jobs in the industry, trying to sell season tickets when their franchise was forever on the move?

Good luck. Good night. And break out the suitcase.

So imagine how the remaining members of the Kings' depleted ticket sales department felt Wednesday when NBA Commissioner David Stern announced the team was staying in Sacramento and negotiations were under way to transfer controlling interest to a deep-pocketed investment group headed by software entrepreneur Vivek Ranadive?

There was relief, and disbelief.

There were high-fives, and tears.

There were jobs, and more jobs.

"I never looked around for anything else," said senior account executive Beth Gelender, who moved here from Cleveland five years ago. "I came here for my dream job, then just kept hoping things would work out."

Though the phones started ringing immediately, staffers couldn't accept season-ticket renewals until the sale documents were signed and finalized about 3 p.m. Friday. The full season-ticket campaign begins today at 9 a.m., when staffers can begin accepting deposits for new season tickets; fans also can use Deposits also will be accepted at the NBA draft lottery party tonight at Buffalo Wild Wings in Natomas and during Thursday's 5-9 p.m. celebration at Cesar Chavez Plaza.

Seat selection takes place June 25-26 and will be determined on a first-come, first-served basis.

"We haven't seen anything close to this since the glory years, back when we had a waiting list," said longtime Kings publicist Chris Clark.

And, again, Stern is lending a hand. Approximately 12 of the league's Manhattan-based marketing and sales department executives (the group known as TMBO) are en route to Sacramento to temporarily assist with hiring about five full-time and 35 part-time sales employees.

The developments of these past few weeks – the NBA voting down the team's relocation and the Maloofs selling their majority interest to Ranadive's group – were reflected in the sights, sounds and mood inside Sleep Train Arena on Monday.

Prints and photos featuring the Maloofs still decorated the hallway near the abandoned executive suites, but except for a few trash bins and boxes, Joe and Gavin Maloofs' offices had been cleared out.

The eerie quiet contrasted sharply with the energy in the sales office at the other side of the building. While rows of cubicles remained empty, a dozen or so employees could be overheard on their phones, chatting with current season-ticket holders. When a customer renews, the employee taps a bell atop the desk.

Gelender tapped twice during a brief visit Monday, and she and her colleagues worked 12-hour shifts – characterized as a labor of love – throughout the weekend.

"About 15 or 20 of us were huddled around the TV when David Stern made that announcement (Wednesday)," she said, "and we were just ecstatic. There was a lot of applause, high-fives. People immediately started calling up and wanting to renew. We got calls from people on vacation in Italy and Spain, telling us, 'Just use my card.' "

Kings sales vice president Phil Horn said one season-ticket holder called and began sobbing.

"When one of my (salesmen) told me that, I said, 'Come on. Crying? Really?' And he said, 'Yes, and she couldn't stop.' When you hear things like that from your community, it gives you confidence. I think we're all sort of walking around with a bit of swagger, a sense of fulfillment."

And it's more than the brisk pace in the sales office: While the return flight from Dallas was delayed on the runway Wednesday because of a tornado threat, the pilot went on the public address system and congratulated his Sacramento passengers, including Mayor Kevin Johnson. Mike Tavares, a leader of the Crown Downtown grassroots movement, called the sales office Saturday and asked if he could provide lunch. Rabbi Bobby Taff of the Mosaic Law Congregation ended services last weekend with a shout-out of appreciation to Stern.

"When we were standing there looking at the TV last week, I kept saying, 'Is it real this time? Is it really real this time?' said Horn. "It was sort of like, 'Pinch me, please.' "

Account executive Brian Graves didn't want a pinch; he wanted his ring. Wandering into the break room, Graves pointed to hard evidence displayed prominently on the wall: a copy of The Bee's booming front page declaring relocation was denied. Then he took off the NBA championship ring he had received when he was with the Miami Heat in 2006.

"I never wear this to work," he said, holding up the ring, "but this is a special time. I want to remind everybody that, someday, that can be us."

Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin (916) 321-1208 and follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. She earned a bachelor's degree in political science from UNLV and a law degree from the University of San Diego before committing full time to journalism.

Her career includes stops at the San Diego Union, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and time spent as the backup beat writer for Dodgers and Angels, Clippers and NBA beat writer, sports columnist, along with numerous assignments covering international events and the Olympics. Ailene joined The Sacramento Bee in 1997.

Phone: 916-321-1208
Twitter: @ailene_voisin

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