The Sacramento Kings introduced their new celebrity part-owner Tuesday and pulled back the curtain on an “indoor-outdoor” concept they’re planning for the team’s new downtown arena.
At a news conference dominated by new partner Shaquille O’Neal, majority owner Vivek Ranadive dropped tantalizing hints about the design of the $448 million arena that’s supposed to open at Sacramento’s Downtown Plaza in 2016. While declining to release details, he said fans would be able to see certain events from outside the building.
Ranadive and O’Neal’s sometimes comical news conference kicked off a day’s worth of developments surrounding the Kings. Hours later, the City Council agreed to let the Kings accelerate repayment of their $62 million debt to the city by imposing a 5 percent surcharge on tickets at Sleep Train Arena, where the Kings now play. The council also OK’d a deal that would let the team reimburse the city for certain pre-development costs at the new building.
Bringing O’Neal in as an owner is sure to raise the Kings’ profile, and he promised to “make Sacramento a global brand.” He also revealed that the team plans to televise its Oct. 30 season opener live in India.
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Ranadive confirmed the broadcast plans, saying he wants to make the Kings popular in his native country and the rest of Asia. The opener is at Sleep Train Arena against the Denver Nuggets.
“There’s a billion people in India – there’s going to be a lot of people watching,” said Ranadive. “We want it to be...the biggest opening night in the history of the NBA.”
Addressing a throng of media representatives at Sleep Train Arena’s practice facility, O’Neal praised the proposed downtown arena as a massive job creator that would put Sacramento on the map. He said the facility would be the world’s “first cash-less arena,” where fans would be able to use their smart phones to buy tickets, find the concession stands and even “the bathrooms with the smallest lines.
“As long as you’ve got a phone, you can get in,” he said. “It’s all 21st-century stuff.”
Ranadive said the new facility “will be the first basketball arena that has this indoor-outoor feature to it. For concerts and other events, you could actually completely open it up and have 18,000 people inside and another 10,000 people outside.”
He gave few other details, saying, “You’ll have to wait and see the plans.”
Mark Mastrov, another minority partner, told The Sacramento Bee that the arena’s bowl could be partially viewable from outdoors via sliding glass walls. Attendees would be able to stand in an outdoor plaza and view events directly and on giant TV screens, Mastrov said. It’s possible food could be sold outside, too.
Mastrov added that the idea is to bring some of the outdoor flavor of an NFL or Major League Baseball game to the NBA, and said that top league officials have been briefed. “The commissioner is excited,” he said, referring to David Stern.
But he added designs haven’t been finalized, community input will be sought and the Kings’ owners hope to dazzle the community with arena plans. “It’s a surprise we are working on,” he said.
The clues to the arena design come as Kings’ owners and city officials brace for a possible political battle over the $258 million public subsidy tentatively approved last spring by the Sacramento City Council. A group called Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork says it is close to collecting the 22,000 signatures needed to put the subsidy question to a vote in next June’s election.
In a rare display of City Council unity on the arena issue, the council voted 9-0 to allow the Kings to impose a 5 percent surcharge on tickets for events at Sleep Train Arena that will allow the franchise to speed up payments on a 1997 loan.
The loan - issued to help previous Kings owners refinance arena debt - has a balance of $62 million after the Kings made a payment of $2 million in July. The added event fee is expected to be placed on upcoming concerts and other events, although it won’t be placed on Kings season tickets.
The council also voted 9-0 to allow the city manager’s office to sign an agreement with the Kings that will permit the city to be reimbursed by the team for costs incurred during the arena’s predevelopment stages. Those costs include environmental studies, and contracts with legal and professional consultants.
“We are on a very aggressive schedule,” said Assistant City Manager John Dangberg. “It’s important, given the complexity (of the project), that we have the resources in place to do what we need to do.”
O’Neal said he expects to be a presence in the Sacramento community. He made a point of reaching out to “all the passionate fans of Sacramento,” saying he was sorry for his infamous 2002 remark when he referred to the team as “the Sacramento Queens.” The former Los Angeles Lakers center said the comment was intended largely to hype fan interest in the Kings-Lakers rivalry.
“If you see me around town, give me a hug, give me a kiss,” O’Neal said. Minutes later, he posed for pictures holding a Kings jersey labeled “Shaqramento.”