Ailene Voisin

Ranadive and Kings owners seemed to want a WNBA team, so where is it?

Monarchs players Yolanda Griffith, right, and Kara Lawson celebrate after beating the Connecticut Sun in the WNBA Finals on Sept. 20, 2005, at Arco Arena in Sacramento. The team was folded after the 2009 season.
Monarchs players Yolanda Griffith, right, and Kara Lawson celebrate after beating the Connecticut Sun in the WNBA Finals on Sept. 20, 2005, at Arco Arena in Sacramento. The team was folded after the 2009 season. Sacramento Bee file

Nothing suggests Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive has forgotten how he won over hearts and minds to get city officials to squeeze pennies out of parking lots, to share the financial burden of that jewel of a Golden 1 Center.

The campaign featured the Kings, of course, but included the prospect of concert A-listers, mixed martial arts, “Disney on Ice,” NCAA Tournaments, high school state championships, major college double-headers, graduations, and on and on and on.

But which prominent act is missing from this list?

The WNBA and the Monarchs are generating nary a peep from the Kings powers-that-be, and, no, we haven’t forgotten. Let’s just say we were in a deep slumber until the women’s Final Four turned up the volume. Mississippi State’s upset of top-dog UConn was the alarm for the changing seasons ahead.

Consider this a reminder then, a tweak to Ranadive and the other Kings owners who lobbied for the private-public partnership that is financing the downtown arena. Week after week, month after month, they repeatedly expressed interest in acquiring another WNBA franchise, introduced former Monarchs at various functions, often mentioned their daughters and the desire for a gender balance in the area’s professional sports landscape.

Last time I perused the rosters of the local teams, all the Kings were men, as were the River Cats, as were members of Republic FC. So what gives? What about those Monarchs? What about that powerful hint – and to be fair, nothing was promised or written in ink – about the possible return of the women’s basketball franchise that captured the 2005 WNBA championship and was disbanded by the financially broke Maloofs in 2009.

Ranadive, whose group finalized purchase of the Kings in May 2013, was approached with these questions during halftime of Tuesday’s Kings-Mavericks game and responded two days later with the following statement: “Right now we’re focused on completing Downtown Commons and opening The Sawyer as part of our $1 billion investment in downtown Sacramento. I’m a huge fan of women’s basketball and we remain open to the possibility of bringing a team back to Sacramento in the future.”

Talk about dancing around a topic. If we can be so bold as to translate, Ranadive essentially is tabling the matter for another day, or more realistically, for another time. While that sentiment is not totally unreasonable given the monumental and more immediate task at hand – physically transforming the look and feel of downtown – the numbers are the numbers. Women outnumber men, and with more females becoming involved in sports by the hour, common sense suggests that if you snooze, you lose.

ESPN’s telecasts of the NCAA Tournament semifinal between the Bulldogs and Huskies drew more than 2.7 million viewers, making it the most watched semifinal in four years. The Final Four finale between Mississippi State and South Carolina attracted more than 3.8 million viewers, a 29 percent increase from last year’s championship game.

But raw data without context is a picture without a frame. While the Bulldogs were overcoming the Huskies, who arrived in Dallas riding a 111-game winning streak, social media seemed abuzz with thoughts and observations about the historic matchup. Several prominent NBA writers channel surfed between the women’s semifinal and the Golden State Warriors game, but as overtime approached, most were tweeting exclusively about the tournament.

You can sense it, feel it, see it, almost touch it: The arc is trending upward and it appears to be contagious.

“The state of the league, at 21 years of age, less than a generation old, is trending positive in every business metric that objectifies and quantifies success,” WNBA president Lisa Borders said in a phone interview Thursday. She listed successes: Viewership on ESPN, up 11 percent last season. Merchandise sales, up 30 percent. Video views on social media, up 200 percent. Attendance, up 4.6 percent at 7,500 per game.

“Our NBA big brother at 21 years of age was in the neighborhood of 6,700,” she said.

Today’s WNBA is not your mother’s league. It has 12 teams with 34 games, but unfortunately, only two West Coast teams (Los Angeles Sparks and Seattle Storm). The Monarchs, it should be noted, account for the sole basketball championship banner hanging inside Golden 1. The team that featured Yolanda Griffith, Ticha Penicheiro, Nicole Powell and Kara Lawson, among others, was one of the league’s original teams and close to breaking even financially when the Maloofs ceased operations.

Borders, who became the WNBA’s fourth president when she took over last year, refuses to say how many franchises operate at a profit. But the former Coca-Cola executive also believes that businesses, in general, are increasingly targeting women.

“This movement upward is broader than sports,” she continued. “There is a recognition that women are the key, that they are decision makers. Washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators, carnival cruise lines. All those folks are recognizing the role women play in the family and while, historically, these businesses have not targeted women, they absolutely are targeting women now.”

Will Ranadive eventually try to tap into the once-impassioned Monarchs sports market? Attempt to acquire a distressed franchise or expansion team? Perhaps preempt Golden State owner Joe Lacob, a former co-founder of the defunct American Basketball League, who figures to pursue a WNBA franchise when the Warriors’ new arena opens?

Let’s leave it at this: The Monarchs were terrific tenants, wonderful role models and an important presence within this community. We will remind Ranadive again and again. When downtown is all cleaned up and ready to go, the Monarchs should be welcomed back.

Ailene Voisin: 916-321-1208, @ailene_voisin

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