With construction of their new arena moving along, the Sacramento Kings are mounting an effort to land the crown jewel of NBA events: the league’s annual All-Star Game.
Sacramento’s fledgling bid for the 2019 game, disclosed Friday by Kings President Chris Granger, comes with an unusual twist: Kings officials are proposing to partner with Napa Valley resorts to host the four-day All-Star Weekend. The Napa connection is an attempt to address the NBA’s concerns about Sacramento’s shortage of upper-end hotel rooms to accommodate the thousands of fans, team executives, media and advertisers who would attend.
The NBA generally insists on at least 5,000 hotel rooms in the proximity of the arena to host the game, Granger said, far more than what is available in downtown Sacramento.
Sacramento has never hosted the All-Star Game since joining the league in 1985. The event is arguably a bigger economic boon than even the NBA Finals; besides thousands of visitors, the game brings worldwide attention as the host city is flooded with international journalists.
Kings executives have had informal discussions with NBA officials about the idea in New York, host of this weekend’s All-Star Game. Team Chairman Vivek Ranadive was expected to bring up the topic in a meeting with Commissioner Adam Silver this weekend. League executives have been receptive so far, said Granger, a former NBA vice president.
“We have a lot of work to do, but it’s raised some eyebrows,” Granger said. “We think that the Napa Valley angle, coupled with what we believe will be the best arena in the league, starts to make the package more interesting.”
The $477 million arena at Downtown Plaza is scheduled to open in October 2016.
NBA spokesman Mike Bass declined comment on the Sacramento bid. He said the league is focusing on awarding the 2017 and 2018 games, and “the process for the 2019 All-Star (Game) has yet to begin.”
The commissioner makes the selections.
Typically the games are awarded about two years in advance. Toronto was awarded the 2016 game in September 2013.
While in Sacramento earlier this month, Silver said the league “would stretch to try to bring an All-Star Game” to Sacramento.
“At the end of the day, we need to accommodate all our guests,” he said.
There are 1,300 hotel rooms in the central city, plus another 2,000 rooms within three miles, according to the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Three of the hotels downtown – the Sheraton, Citizen and Hyatt Regency – are 4-star facilities.
The Kings received the approval of the city’s Planning Commission on Thursday to begin construction of a 16-story tower at the arena site that will include a 250-room hotel. While the team and its development partners have not identified an operator for the hotel, Granger has said the team will likely seek a 4-star hotel brand.
Meanwhile, a developer is planning to convert the former Hotel Marshall just east of the arena site into a 130-room Hyatt Place.
But even with those projects in the works, Sacramento would have far fewer rooms than other cities that have recently hosted, including Houston and Orlando, Fla. While the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau says there are 11,000 hotel rooms in the region, most of them are “lower end and mom and pops,” said Anthony Dimond of hospitality consulting firm HTL Horwath in Sacramento.
Partnering with Napa Valley is the Kings’ proposed answer to that issue. “It helps us spread our radius a little bit and figure out how we can do something creative,” Granger said.
Yountville, in the middle of the Napa Valley, is about 70 miles from downtown Sacramento. Travel times can be problematic.
“You might be able to do it in an hour, but traffic would have to be perfect,” Dimond said.
Granger said the Kings may talk to Caltrans about ways to speed traffic to and from Napa, including the possibility of dedicating special freeway lanes for All-Star guests. Some All-Star Weekend receptions could be held in Napa, he said.
“We’re going to need to be creative in expanding the footprint of Sacramento to ensure we can meet the NBA needs,” said Steve Hammond, head of the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Napa certainly could be a part of that, but it would be in Sacramento’s best interest to try to keep as many of the functions and hotel rooms as close to Sacramento as possible.”
Clay Gregory, president of the Visit Napa Valley tourism organization, said he hadn't heard about the Sacramento plan but believes hotel operators would be receptive. February is slow season in Napa and the timing “is perfect,” Gregory said.
The Napa Valley has about 5,000 rooms, mostly at small independent inns. He said the region's major hotels include the 450-room Meritage Resort, 400-room Silverado Resort, and the Marriott and Embassy Suites, with about 250 rooms apiece.
Even with some guests and activities in Napa, Sacramento would still see a significant economic impact, Granger said. Houston officials estimated the 2013 game pumped $60 million into their city’s economy. Besides the game itself, the NBA hosts a multitude of events over four days, including a giant “fan fest” in which fans can shoot free throws, watch players practice and soak up other experiences.
“There are so many different elements to an All-Star Weekend, it would not be hard to have a dramatic impact,” Granger said.
Call The Bee’s Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at www.sacbee.com/citybeat.