Ailene Voisin: Three scenarios for arena, Kings

04/29/2012 12:00 AM

04/18/2013 7:45 PM

According to George Maloof, this $391 million downtown sports and entertainment complex was a terrible deal for the city, a terrible deal for the fans and a terrible deal for his family.

So since when has George cared so much about Sacramento? Last year, when he tried to relocate the Kings to Anaheim, then had to hastily unpack his bags? The last few weeks, when he slipped his fingers out of the handshake agreement? The last few days, when the team secured another appearance at the NBA draft lottery?

The exit strategy consists of two, possibly three, paths: the high road (Maloofs sell the team to a local interest); the toll road (the NBA owners pressure the Maloofs to sell their mismanaged franchise under the "best interest of the league" clause in the league by-laws); or the most unpredictable, but not implausible, road, with powerhouse Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) dipping into its considerable earnings, picking up the $67 million tab for the sake of its civic duty, and saving the day.

Then it would be AEG's show, its crowning Sacramento moment, and the end of the never-ending arena conversation.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Let's assume someone who says he really cares, really cares.

If the Maloofs give a hoot about a community that embraces its only major league franchise like a family member, they should find a buyer who will keep the team here and partner with the city and AEG on a downtown arena. Cut their losses and move on. That would be in the best interest of the league and the city, and it would replenish the family's bank account in the process.

Joe, Gavin and George could buy another casino. They could move next door to their television star sister, Adrienne, in Beverly Hills. They could relieve themselves of the crushing burden and ongoing angst that accompanies years of poor business and basketball-related practices, along with their own chronic inability to find an arena partner in the 20th-largest television market in the country.

Where did Joe and Gavin disappear to, anyway?

Who died and made George the king?

For the record, the Maloofs are decent people who were not always awful owners. In the early years of ownership, they presided over the unparalleled success of the Kings and the ongoing success (before folding the franchise) of the 2005 WNBA champion Monarchs. They were fun, they were charitable, they were committed, and they were extremely wealthy.

Then the economy tanked, and they were forced to sell their beer and liquor distributorships to finance the Palms, which they then were forced to dump (except for two percent) because of overwhelming debt.

More recently, the red flag raised about pre-development funds was just a smoke screen. The Maloofs didn't want to do this downtown deal. They probably couldn't or wouldn't do any deal that requires an upfront contribution, their repeated actions making what is abundantly clear: they are millionaires in a league of billionaires, and frankly, they're out of their league.

"(The downtown proposal) would not have required any upfront payment by the Kings' ownership," NBA Commissioner David Stern reiterated Friday. "It was all the city ($255 million), AEG ($58 million) and the NBA (loan of $67 million plus a $7 million gift). Both loan and subsidy. All the parties stretched as far as they could."

The potential repercussions of the failed discussions are devastating. Reno-Tahoe's bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics, for instance, is surely doomed because a modern Sacramento complex was being pitched as an ideal venue for figure skating and hockey, among other sports. On Friday, a discouraged Councilman Steve Cohn said a new arena in the railyard would have added density and substantially strengthened the city's chances of obtaining federal grants for the long-anticipated downtown transit center.

Whether modern sports and entertainment facilities further economic development remains a topic of contentious debate. Visually and anecdotally, however, there is ample evidence suggesting that attractive arenas in Indianapolis, Charlotte, N.C., Los Angeles, Kansas City, Mo., and Dallas, to name a few cities, greatly enhance the image and physical appeal of urban centers.

But not Sacramento, not in our lifetimes. And now the Maloofs are taking a hard look at renovating the Pavilion for an estimated $100 million to $125 million?

Well, if they can secure private financing to clean up the old barn and make it functional for a few more years, while bolstering their depleted team payroll and providing a decent product, they should go for it. But good luck with that. The city will not – and should not – touch the place, which should leave everyone wondering about the Maloofs' next pursuit of relocation.

This, then, is where the second option in the exit strategy comes in – league intervention. It would be ugly, it would be costly, and it would be unprecedented. But under the "best interest" clause of the by-laws, the other 29 owners could decide that the continued running of the Kings franchise – especially given increased revenue sharing – was a detriment to the league.

Moving forward, too much has been invested by the city, the political leaders, the community, AEG and the NBA, which sent an entire marketing department here following the aborted move to Anaheim last April.

This is the time to breathe, but not the time to quit.


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