New Kings arena will be among NBA’s smallest, but built for profit

07/06/2014 12:00 AM

10/01/2014 1:09 PM

The Sacramento Kings are abandoning an arena that has among the fewest seats in the NBA. They’re building a new arena ... also with fewer seats than nearly all other NBA venues.

The $477 million arena at Downtown Plaza, set to begin construction later this month, will seat just 17,500 fans. That’s fewer than 200 additional seats compared to Sleep Train Arena, which is widely considered outmoded and inadequate for NBA use.

The Kings’ owners say their new building will be more lucrative than Sleep Train through the magic of modern arena design. There will be far more seats in the lower bowl, translating into higher ticket prices. There will be twice as many “premium” seats, including luxury suites and lofts, which will come with VIP perks and be among the most expensive tickets in the house. Those features will more than offset the relatively small total seating capacity, team officials say.

“There will be a massive change in comfort, in amenities, in concessions,” said Kings President Chris Granger, who is overseeing design and construction. “That’s why we’re doing it.”

At 745,000 square feet, including the practice facility, the new arena will be almost 70 percent bigger than Sleep Train.

But why so few seats? The designers are following a less-is-more revolution taking place in sports economics. Spacious arenas with 20,000-plus seats are giving way to cozier buildings that, paradoxically, can generate as much, if not more, profit than the big-box facilities. It’s no coincidence that the newest NBA arena, the 2-year-old Barclays Center in Brooklyn, has a capacity of just 17,732.

The beauty of smaller arenas is that they produce more consistent sellouts. Granger said that’s what often drives season ticket sales: the fear of not being able to get a seat. Season ticket sales are the foundation of any NBA organization, and Vivek Ranadive and the other new owners of the Kings are working to rebuild a base that badly eroded during the final, difficult years of the Maloof era.

“You want to make sure you have demand,” said Bill Sutton, a former NBA league executive and now a sports-marketing consultant in Florida. “Having 17,000 seats and a waiting list is better than 22,000 seats.”

Kings executives said their new arena won’t just cater to fat cats. The upper bowl will be laden with nice touches, including a bridge-like overlook that will allow fans to simultaneously watch the game while taking a peek at what’s happening outside the arena.

The arena will include “amenities for every seat in the building,” said Ben Gumpert, a Kings senior vice president. “It’s not just a premium play.”

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