January 29, 2013

Sacramento's buyers for Kings coming into focus

Mark Mastrov, the founder of 24 Hour Fitness, met Monday in Sacramento with Mayor Kevin Johnson and local business leaders to discuss his interest in buying the Kings and keeping them in town.

Sacramento's "dream team" is coming into focus.

Mark Mastrov, the founder of 24 Hour Fitness, met Monday in Sacramento with Mayor Kevin Johnson and local business leaders to discuss his interest in buying the Kings and keeping them in town. The meeting, held in an office overlooking the downtown railyard, instilled renewed confidence in area investors committing $1 million each to buy the Kings that their mission would be a success.

Meanwhile, billionaire Ron Burkle, another so-called "whale," has made overtures of his own. Burkle met Thursday with NBA Commissioner David Stern to discuss his desire to anchor a potential Kings ownership group and to advocate for construction of a new arena at the Downtown Plaza site. Burkle met with Johnson in Sacramento last week.

Burkle and Mastrov are in serious discussions about partnering on a bid for the Kings and a plan to help finance a new downtown sports arena. While Burkle is focused on Downtown Plaza, the pair have not ruled out endorsing a previous plan to build a facility in the downtown railyard.

Johnson called the meeting with Mastrov "another positive step forward in our work to save the Kings." "I am very impressed with him," the mayor said. "He is someone with a clear commitment to the Sacramento region, a vision for its future and an understanding of the strength of the Sacramento market."

The Maloof family, which has controlled the Kings since 1999, has what is described as a binding agreement to sell the franchise to a Seattle group led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer. But that sale – and the team's proposed relocation to Seattle – requires approval by the NBA's other owners.

Johnson plans to present ultra-wealthy investors and a concrete arena-financing plan to the NBA's board of governors in April as a counteroffer to the Maloofs' deal with Hansen and Ballmer. Those investors would be paired with the group of 21 local business partners with whom Mastrov met Monday.

"I feel much better about this than I did," said developer Larry Kelley, one of the area business investors who met with Mastrov. "Before, it was a possibility. Now there's a person, a real person, putting his time and energy into it."

Mastrov has already played at this level. He originally bid $350 million to buy the Golden State Warriors in 2010, but increased that number to $420 million, a source close to Mastrov said. The team was eventually sold to Joe Lacob for an NBA-record $450 million.

The Maloofs have reportedly agreed to sell their share of the Kings to Hansen for $341 million. For his part, Mastrov, who lives in the Bay Area city of Lafayette, is "extremely serious" about competing with Hansen, the source said.

"He is very competitive and for him, the idea of not only owning a team but being a part of something in Northern California is very important," said the source, who requested anonymity because Mastrov's talks regarding a potential Kings purchase are ongoing.

Mastrov declined comment. Frank Quintero, a spokesman for Burkle, could not be reached for comment.

Folsom technology entrepreneur John Stone, who attended the meeting with Mastrov, said the session gave him "a lot of confidence" that Sacramento is organizing a legitimate shot at acquiring the Kings. "Mark has been through this before. He clearly understands the landscape" of the NBA, Stone said. "He's committed to not just keeping the team here, but making them a title contender. You could sense a real winning spirit from him."

Mastrov "created lots of optimism in the room," said another investor, El Dorado Hills businessman Kevin Nagle. "He's just like us – there's a great sense of hope."

Kelley, a part-owner of the Kings in the 1990s, said he got the feeling from the meeting that Mastrov "is the guy who is really going to put time in and be the managing partner of the franchise."

"He is going to be the face," Kelley said.

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