Sacramento leaders, Kings fans angry at Maloofs

04/15/2012 12:00 AM

10/08/2014 10:35 AM

The Kings return home to Power Balance Pavilion today to face a city stewing in a mix of scorn and disappointment.

Despite the collapse of the city's arena plan, the Maloof family insists it has no interest in leaving Sacramento.

But will Sacramento still have the Maloofs?

Stunned fans are contemplating whether to remain loyal to the franchise. Political leaders are lashing out at the Maloofs. Corporate sponsors are taking stock of their support for the team.

"Once again," said Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, "the Maloofs have turned their back on a deal and shown their contempt for Sacramento."

The Maloof family says it tried.

George Maloof on Saturday reiterated his stance that the deal was ill-conceived for both the team and the city. And he once again challenged Mayor Kevin Johnson's assertion that there had been a deal at all, pointing to a series of letters the team sent to the NBA expressing its concerns.

Maloof said the team wanted to negotiate a number of provisions but that the mayor "shut that off" during a meeting Friday in New York, essentially killing the deal.

Now, Maloof said, he feels undermined by the mayor, whom he accused of setting up his family for a public pounding.

"You can't do a deal with somebody you don't trust," he said. "I don't trust him."

The mayor was traveling Saturday and could not be reached for comment. On Friday, he said it was the Maloofs who had violated the city's trust.

"Sacramento deserves a partner who will honor their commitment, Sacramento deserves a partner who wants to work in good faith, and I think that Sacramento deserves better than we've got to this point," he told reporters.

City officials say they thought they had a deal.

The Maloofs, the mayor and NBA Commissioner David Stern reached a tentative accord in February on the financing of a proposed $391 million arena in the city's downtown railyard.

In the weeks that followed, the City Council voted to move ahead with the city's share of that equation: leveraging downtown parking spaces and garages to raise up to $255 million. That plan was far from complete, but the council's willingness to explore the option signified political support for the project.

At the same time, however, the Maloofs say, they were expressing their concerns to the NBA about the plan, which called for them to contribute $73 million and serve as tenants in the arena. Nearly all of their contribution – $67 million – would have come in the form of a loan from the NBA, Stern revealed Friday. He said the NBA also had planned to put in another $7 million directly.

Officials on all sides declined to offer details on what information the NBA, acting as intermediary, shared between the team and city.

The Kings owners questioned revenue projections associated with the arena, balked at providing collateral on a refinanced loan to replace the $67 million they owe the city, and said they wanted more control over the design.

On Friday in New York, the Maloofs staged a press conference during which their attorneys and a prominent economist hired by the family took turns criticizing the arena plan and noting that the NBA had been aware of their concerns for weeks.

Toward the end of the 70-minute session, George Maloof suggested that the team and the city instead look into renovating Power Balance Pavilion.

On Saturday, Maloof backed off that idea.

"I have no idea" on how it might be done, he said. "It was another idea as a possibility."

Johnson and other city officials quickly dismissed the idea, saying they did not want to dedicate any city resources to a Power Balance renovation.

Councilman Steve Cohn called it a red herring.

'We'll figure it out'

The mayor's office spent Saturday assessing the events of the week and debating what steps to take next. Aides to the mayor said the office had received a steady stream of emails from ticket holders and sponsors upset that the Maloofs had pulled out of the plan.

Maloof said Saturday that the family is not interested in relocating the franchise, despite reports from Southern California that the Maloofs once again are considering a move to Anaheim.

"We're not considering any relocation," Maloof said. "We're not talking to Anaheim."

For the time being, that leaves the Kings franchise playing at Power Balance Pavilion, one of the oldest and smallest arenas in the NBA. The Maloofs and the NBA have said for years that the facility does not include the kind of amenities, such as luxury seating, wide concourses and multiple loading docks, that help make modern NBA arenas more lucrative.

Asked how the team could survive financially in that facility, Maloof replied, "We'll work it out. We'll figure it out."

In the meantime, the Maloofs face a damaged public image in Sacramento.

It's certainly not the first time.

In 2006, community leaders blamed the family for sabotaging a pair of ballot measures that, if approved by voters, would have increased the county sales tax to fund a new arena in the downtown railyard.

Then, as now, the Maloofs initially seemed supportive of the concept, but later accused the county and city of including provisions in the financing plan that they found objectionable.

Documents obtained by The Bee at the time showed that the Maloofs were making financial demands that were unusual in the world of NBA arena financing – including the insistence that they get the revenue from 8,000 parking spaces in the railyard and be able to ban food and drink competitors from a 1,000-foot buffer zone around the new, publicly funded arena.

While city and county political leaders were putting their careers on the line for Measures Q and R, then Kings-president John Thomas derided the railyard as "a toxic wasteland." And the Maloof brothers appeared in a Carl's Jr. television ad depicting them as billionaires washing down burgers with a $6,000 bottle of wine – a move that infuriated Sacramento voters who were being asked to pay more taxes to fund an arena.

After voters obliterated Q and R at the polls, Stern stepped in and took over the arena effort from the Maloofs, who were viewed as so toxic that they couldn't get a deal done here.

Over time, relations between the family and the community improved.

Will this time be different?

A call for new owners

Jack Spiegelman, one of the famous cowbell clangers at the arena, called the Kings' offices Friday to cancel the season tickets he has had for years. The team didn't call back, so he'll stew this weekend, debating whether to try again Monday.

"I cannot trust George Maloof," he said.

Spiegelman's solution? Sell the team; give someone else a chance.

Several elected officials, including the mayor, have raised that idea, as well. But the Maloofs insist they have no interest in selling.

"Sacramento deserves partners who will live by their word," said state Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. "I hope the NBA and its owners do not allow this kind of bad behavior to occur without consequences."

The failure of the arena project could also have a financial impact on the Kings.

Some local corporate sponsors who combined to spend $10 million on the Kings this season are assessing whether to continue that support. With many corporate sponsorships up for renewal for the 2012-13 season, representatives for some of those companies acknowledge that negative press aimed at the Kings will play a role in deciding future partnerships.

"If the fan support isn't there, that goes a big way toward the value of the partnership," said Rick Heron, the chief marketing and brand officer for Western Health Advantage, which purchased $120,000 worth of sponsorship and tickets this season.

Jiffy Lube, which paid for electronic billboards around the city last spring advertising the "Here We Stay" campaign, is waiting to hear from the Maloofs before making a decision.

"I'd like to hear how they're going to deal with the negative press and the backlash from the fans," said Matt Graham, marketing director for area Jiffy Lubes.

Unlike many fans, Graham said he does not feel scorned by the events of the last few days.

"We'd do it all again," he said of his company's six-figure commitment. "Am I disappointed it came to this? Absolutely. But in the end, we did the best we could for our community, and that's all we can do."

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