Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: No good reason to move Kings from Sacramento

Marcos Breton
Marcos Breton

With the NBA board of governors meeting this week to decide the fate of the Kings, it may seem as if Sacramento and Seattle were vying for the team on equal footing – as if the franchise were a jump ball up for grabs.

They're really not.

Any relocation begins with an acknowledgment that the franchise and its market are no longer compatible.

That is not the case here.

The relationship between the current Kings owners and Sacramento ran its course a long time ago.

But the relationship between the NBA and the Sacramento market has been strong and promises to grow stronger still with a new ownership group that would build the team a new arena downtown.

Despite Friday's move by the Seattle investors to up their bid for the Kings, there is little doubt that the Sacramento contingent will match the Seattle offer.

The Maloof family, owners of the Kings, will not lose money if the team is sold to the group assembled by Mayor Kevin Johnson.

With that established, there is no good reason to move the Kings from Sacramento after nearly 28 years of unwavering support by the region's fans, businesses and politicians.

That reality trumps Seattle's many virtues.

In deciding where the Kings will reside, NBA owners will have to make sure that the interests and desires of the Maloofs are met. They will also have to make certain that their own bottom lines are satisfied.

On both counts, Sacramento wins.

With Sacramento matching Seattle's price, the Maloofs won't lose face if a local deal is consummated – a serious consideration in an ego-driven industry.

Johnson has maintained a respectful relationship with the Maloofs in public, praising them at his State of the City address and embracing them at a recent NBA meeting in New York.

Moreover, the Sacramento group is now devoid of anyone the Maloofs can find objectionable. Ron Burkle, the Southern California billionaire who angered the Maloofs two years ago by bidding on the Kings when they attempted a move to Anaheim, is no longer part of the Sacramento group. A conflict of interest forced him to step aside. The Maloofs had felt that Burkle undercut them and they publicly rebuked him.

NBA owners also will give consideration to which city can build an arena faster and which city will bolster the earning potential of individual owners splitting revenues among themselves.

By these issues, Sacramento provides a compelling case.

The state capital has begun an environmental review of a downtown arena, a process that should take a year. Once that is complete, any legal challenges will be expedited under reformed environmental laws that were moved through the Legislature by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

The Sacramento legislator, one of the most powerful in California, was in New York recently to assure NBA owners that a Kings arena would get a timely environmental vetting without the paralysis of legal challenges meant only to delay the project.

That leaves only the question of which market will make more money for NBA owners.

The answer simply isn't clear enough to grant Seattle the team.

Seattle is a bigger media market than Sacramento, but Seattle is also saturated with other major pro sports teams. Sacramento is not.

For many years, the Kings drew more fans in Sacramento than Seattle did when it had the SuperSonics. Seattle's corporate base is larger than Sacramento's, but it's not large enough to eclipse a thriving team in Sacramento.

A wealthy and motivated ownership group in Sacramento would find revenue possibilities that the current owners have lacked the capacity to identify and cultivate.

Two years ago, it took Johnson only a week of beating the bushes to find millions in corporate partnerships for the Kings that the team's front office had not identified for whatever reason.

A new ownership group in Sacramento could also craft far more lucrative television and naming rights deals than the current owners.

All that has afflicted the Sacramento market has been a losing team for seven years and a state of franchise limbo that has lasted even longer.

New Kings owners would solve those problems and reaffirm what the NBA already knows: Sacramento is the prototype small market in the NBA.

It's the place that never stopped supporting the Kings financially, politically and emotionally.

The money and will are here to keep the Kings. The choice for NBA owners is clear.

Call The Bee's Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096. Back columns, Follow him on Twitter @marcosbreton.