No matter what some opponents claimed, the new arena in downtown Sacramento was never only about the Kings.
Proof positive arrived Monday with the announcement that the arena will host the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in March 2017, about five months after it opens.
The return of “March Madness” to Sacramento for the first time since 2007 is validation for arena supporters. The first- and second-round games on March 17 and 19, 2017, will give the new facility more national prominence. The tourney will draw thousands of out-of-town fans – and their money.
Kings owner Vivek Ranadive promised fans “something totally unique and exciting,” saying in a statement that the announcement “marks another significant moment in our effort to make Sacramento a global destination for sports, civic and entertainment events.”
Sacramento fell short in previous bids for the NCAA men’s tournament, in part because of aging Sleep Train Arena.
Mayor Kevin Johnson recalled Monday that the disappointment of another rejection five years ago was the impetus to start seriously talking about a new arena. He called Monday’s announcement a seal of approval from the NCAA. “It’s great,” he said. “I’m excited.”
It is also a win for the revamped Sacramento Sports Commission, which led the bid effort, along with the Kings and Sacramento State, which will be the host school.
The commission also hopes the arena will soon host other NCAA championships, as well as an NBA All-Star Game. Besides big-time hoops, the arena’s supporters predict that it will attract concert acts that now bypass Sacramento and other marquee events.
Under the revised financing plan for the arena, it’s not as essential to taxpayers that it post a profit. The city will get a guaranteed rent check from the Kings to help repay the bonds that make up most of the city’s $255 million share of the $477 million arena.
It is, however, crucial for the Kings and for the city that the arena stays busy year-round. That will boost the economic impact and civic vibrancy, especially for downtown Sacramento, that are the real return on the city’s investment.