BY Art Thiel 04:46PM 02/27/2012

Thiel: Kings stay because there was no place to go

The NBA invested too much in Sacramento and the new union agreement to let the Kings move to Seattle or Los Angeles, markets with their own sets of complications.

Barry Ackerley (left) sold the Sonics to Howard Schultz in January of 2001 / Getty Images

Memo to Howard Schultz: It took the NBA and the city of Sacramento 13 years to strike a deal for a new arena. You quit on the project after four years.

Memo to Seattle fans of basketball: Don’t quit after a few weeks.

News Monday that the Kings apparently have an arena deal to stay in Sacramento may be discouraging to some who were hoping that the franchise might be snatched for the potential SoDo arena project proposed by millionaire hoops fanatic Chris Hansen.

But it was not surprising, for those playing close attention.

The NBA devoted an enormous effort to avoid moving the Kings.

“It’s hard to overstate how involved the NBA and David Stern were in this process,” Ryan Lillis, a reporter for the Sacramento Bee who was in Orlando, where negotiators worked for three days around the All-Star Game to make the deal, told KJR radio. “They’ve been up and down with Sacramento on building a new arena probably more than any other market anywhere. I think it helped that (former NBA All-Star) Kevin Johnson was the was the mayor, and could get Stern to pick up his call.”

The fact that Stern likes to pinch Johnson’s cheek and say, “Wudgie-wudgie,” might have   been nice for Sacramento. But it wasn’t the reason for the deal.

The excitement over Seattle’s arena prospects apparently obscured the truth here for many: The Kings had no better place to go.

Seattle? There’s no NBA-certified arena here. And if ground were broken tomorrow on a new palace, it would take two years minimum to open, meaning that the Kings owners — the Maloof family or their Seattle successors — would be stuck losing millions in a temp building with no way to  substantially improve the team until the new revenues arrived. Even if the Kings were available, the proposed arena location means a long, stiff argument in Seattle will precede the shovel. So figure three years.

Los Angeles? No way Lakers owner Jerry Buss and Clippers owner Donald Sterling were going to let the Kings crowd the Los Angeles market, even if Orange County had an arena ready. It only seemed a year ago as if the Kings were about to move there. As a master monopolist, Stern used Anaheim as leverage last May and granted the Kings an extra year, then added to his leverage by Hansen’s grand gesture this month in Seattle.

As Church Lady would say, “How conVEEEnient!”

Besides, a third team in LA doesn’t increase the NBA’s TV footprint, which is where the money is, not in gate receipts. Believe it or not, Sacramento is the nation’s 20th largest TV market, only eight behind Seattle.

Which gets us to reason 1A as to why the Kings will remain where they are: The new collective bargaining agreement that required a lockout to achieve. The most significant part of the deal with the union that cost the league 13 percent of its regular season schedules and millions of dollars on both sides was to get financial help to smaller market teams.

Trimming payrolls and increasing revenue sharing, as well as increased costs for exceeding the salary cap, are the main improvements that will allow for more of the competitive balance that helps the NFL and MLB become more profitable.

After going to all that trouble and expense to strengthen the weakest links, it would have been an even a bigger failure for the NBA to walk out on Sacramento after walking out on Seattle. It would have make a mockery of the lockout’s results (that could happen anyway, but the NBA isn’t eager to see failure happen in the first three months) .

The biggest differences between franchise situations in Seattle and Sacramento are that Schultz, the main local owner, lost interest in the fight for a new arena, and sold to out-of-towners who had the place (an expandable, fairly new arena), the means (billions in oil and gas revenues) and the desire (a no-horse town thrilled to be a one-horse town) to move the club regardless of the cost in travail and treasure.

Sacramento may have been near emotional collapse on their long-running arena issue, but Seattle had already spent more than $1 billion fix or create create an NBA arena (1995), a baseball park (1999) and a football/soccer stadium (2001). Then one dared ask for seconds? Never ask again why Seattle went all Yosemite Sam on the NBA.

As much as sports fans don’t want to hear it, there’s a significant element of the region’s population that would love to again slam the door so hard on pro sports that the hinges  shatter like safety glass. Go ask the University of Washington about that, after it tried to get public money to upgrade a public building on a public campus. The F-bombs still echo in Olympia.

Having said all of the foregoing about the civic and franchise histories of Sacramento and Seattle, that doesn’t mean there will never be the NBA or NHL teams here. As much as the smaller markets have been helped by the new CBA, the NBA did not bulletproof itself against the new, bigger-picture economic realities in some markets.

Each one has different building, lease and economic condition that may make it vulnerable to predation. Hansen’s commitment here seems genuine; his $290 million in private funding exerts a powerful gravitational pull. And even though he has put down a $20 million stake in the SoDo ground, that doesn’t necessarily make it the only place for an arena.

Reasons are many for both leagues to want to be here; so too for Seattle to try to make the arena happen. As long as no one picks at the scab of public funding (which is not the same as public participation),  things heal and progress gets made.

Seattle has just been used by the NBA to get a deal for Sacramento. Since nobody died and no tax money was spent — the only dents were to media travel budgets chasing a thin story — it was, as is said often under the hoop: No harm, no foul. The Kings stay, so good for Kings fans. I just hope the city doesn’t need parking money to pay Johnson’s salary.

As has been mentioned before here, patience is required. Since things can change rapidly, so it would be healthy to check one’s sporting heart at the door.


YourThoughts

  • Grover

    “Seattle? There’s no NBA-certified arena here. And if ground were broken tomorrow on a new palace, it would take two years minimum to open, meaning that the Kings owners — the Maloof family or their Seattle successors — would be stuck losing millions in a temp building with no way to  substantially improve the team until the new revenues arrived. Even if the Kings were available, the proposed arena location means a long, stiff argument in Seattle will precede the shovel. So figure three years.”

    It will be 3 years before the Kings can play in a new arena in Sacramento.  So, what’s the difference?  Is the current Sacramento arena really any better than KeyArena, or the Tacoma Dome, for the next 3 years?

    The Kings are losing millions every year in Sacramento, and will continue to do so for the next 3 years, at least.  Then, it will be only a matter of time before they start losing money again in their new arena, whether in Sacramento, or someplace else.

    • Jim

      I totally agree with your comment. I’ve been waiting for someone with a little common sense to say exactly that. The only thing that would save them money by staying in Sacramento would be the relocation fee, but I do believe that’s still a lower price to pay compared to what they reportedly put into the new arena proposal down there.

      • Artthiel

         Jim, the Sac pols think that their one pro team in town is worth saving. It’s as simple as that. They are as desperate as OKC was and will pay the price to be a member of the big-league club.

        • Grover

          But, the public in Sacramento could not care less.

          • Jamo57

            We’ll find out when Kevin Johnson is up for re-election.   From afar, and without knowing the ins and outs of SCTO politics, I would think this arena deal will be his legacy and perhaps the central issue when he runs again.

          • Grover

            Yes, but they are not going to allow a public vote on the Sacramento arena proposal, because the public would vote it down by a huge margin.

    • Artthiel

       Grover, the Maloofs won’t have to pay a relocation fee to stay in Sac-town, and the league will save itself the embarrassment of moving just after “saving” the league with a new CBA.

      • Grover

        Those two points may be valid.  But your point that it will take 3 years to have a new arena ready to go in Seattle is not valid, because it will take just as long to have a new arena ready to go in Sacramento as in Seattle.

  • Grover

    “Seattle? There’s no NBA-certified arena here. And if ground were broken tomorrow on a new palace, it would take two years minimum to open, meaning that the Kings owners — the Maloof family or their Seattle successors — would be stuck losing millions in a temp building with no way to  substantially improve the team until the new revenues arrived. Even if the Kings were available, the proposed arena location means a long, stiff argument in Seattle will precede the shovel. So figure three years.”

    It will be 3 years before the Kings can play in a new arena in Sacramento.  So, what’s the difference?  Is the current Sacramento arena really any better than KeyArena, or the Tacoma Dome, for the next 3 years?

    The Kings are losing millions every year in Sacramento, and will continue to do so for the next 3 years, at least.  Then, it will be only a matter of time before they start losing money again in their new arena, whether in Sacramento, or someplace else.

    • Jim

      I totally agree with your comment. I’ve been waiting for someone with a little common sense to say exactly that. The only thing that would save them money by staying in Sacramento would be the relocation fee, but I do believe that’s still a lower price to pay compared to what they reportedly put into the new arena proposal down there.

      • Artthiel

         Jim, the Sac pols think that their one pro team in town is worth saving. It’s as simple as that. They are as desperate as OKC was and will pay the price to be a member of the big-league club.

        • Grover

          But, the public in Sacramento could not care less.

          • Jamo57

            We’ll find out when Kevin Johnson is up for re-election.   From afar, and without knowing the ins and outs of SCTO politics, I would think this arena deal will be his legacy and perhaps the central issue when he runs again.

          • Grover

            Yes, but they are not going to allow a public vote on the Sacramento arena proposal, because the public would vote it down by a huge margin.

    • Artthiel

       Grover, the Maloofs won’t have to pay a relocation fee to stay in Sac-town, and the league will save itself the embarrassment of moving just after “saving” the league with a new CBA.

      • Grover

        Those two points may be valid.  But your point that it will take 3 years to have a new arena ready to go in Seattle is not valid, because it will take just as long to have a new arena ready to go in Sacramento as in Seattle.

  • Jamo57

    Good analysis on our history Art.   Yes, the difference between SEA and SCTO is Howard Schultz let a fox into our hen house.  Compounding that is the fact that Greg Nickels and his crew flippantly thought Seattle could turn around and quickly bring another team back into town (or at least cynically used that as cover) in saying what a great deal they had negotiated.  Now we are realizing how difficult that will be as now we are purely leverage for other teams to use.
     
    The NHL has eyed Seattle since the late 60s and this is the best opportunity for them to get a foot in the door, before the NBA is back.   I know the Key is more problematic for hockey than hoops but maybe somehow it can be bridged.   I’ve heard the T-Dome sold off their ice plant, but since the ‘Winter Classic’ has shown that making ice is now a portable process, perhaps the league can truck one in.   And the T-Dome will hold around 17,000 for hockey.
     
    A pipe dream I’m sure but one can hope.   The league will state they are not planning on expanding but after their CBA is negotiated (and crying poverty no longer needed) look for the league to add two teams.    They’ve already floated the idea of a 4 conference realignment.   32 divides into 4 evenly.   30 does not and the union has already pointed out 4 conferences for a 30 team league gives two conferences an unfair advantage for making the playoffs.   

    • Artthiel

       Jamo, you’re right, it’s a lot harder to get back in than leave. As I wrote above, I think the NBA has to be first, because that’s what Hansen wants. That could change. The NHL still needs to be more economically stable (read: TV contract) before expanding.

      • Grover

        I thought they had to have both NBA and NHL teams lined up before any new arena would break ground.  I don’t think they will build a new arena here with just one team signed up to play in it.

      • Jamo57

        Art, the NHL and NBC reached a TV contract deal last year.   I believe it goes for 10 seasons (beginning this year).    And the NHL appears to be the cornerstone for NBC’s new cable network that used to be Versus.

        But your comment about TV and stability raises a thought in my mind that makes Seattle that much more appealing to the league.    Bettman’s model for the league (and its national media contract) is tied to having a big US footprint.   That is why they flooded the Sun Belt in their last expansion in the 90s (with mixed results obviously), chasing big US media markets.   Having Atlanta go to Winnipeg cost the league a large US market, and having another US team move to Quebec City would cost the league further.  

        Seattle has to be a very appealing market for them:  12th or 13th largest market in the US (depending on which list you quote), a northern US city with a natural rival 150 miles away.  It seems to me that the NHL and the NBC would see Seattle as extremely attractive, partially to replace Atlanta and offset Dallas and Phoenix where the ratings may be subpar.

  • Jamo57

    Good analysis on our history Art.   Yes, the difference between SEA and SCTO is Howard Schultz let a fox into our hen house.  Compounding that is the fact that Greg Nickels and his crew flippantly thought Seattle could turn around and quickly bring another team back into town (or at least cynically used that as cover) in saying what a great deal they had negotiated.  Now we are realizing how difficult that will be as now we are purely leverage for other teams to use.
     
    The NHL has eyed Seattle since the late 60s and this is the best opportunity for them to get a foot in the door, before the NBA is back.   I know the Key is more problematic for hockey than hoops but maybe somehow it can be bridged.   I’ve heard the T-Dome sold off their ice plant, but since the ‘Winter Classic’ has shown that making ice is now a portable process, perhaps the league can truck one in.   And the T-Dome will hold around 17,000 for hockey.
     
    A pipe dream I’m sure but one can hope.   The league will state they are not planning on expanding but after their CBA is negotiated (and crying poverty no longer needed) look for the league to add two teams.    They’ve already floated the idea of a 4 conference realignment.   32 divides into 4 evenly.   30 does not and the union has already pointed out 4 conferences for a 30 team league gives two conferences an unfair advantage for making the playoffs.   

    • Artthiel

       Jamo, you’re right, it’s a lot harder to get back in than leave. As I wrote above, I think the NBA has to be first, because that’s what Hansen wants. That could change. The NHL still needs to be more economically stable (read: TV contract) before expanding.

      • Grover

        I thought they had to have both NBA and NHL teams lined up before any new arena would break ground.  I don’t think they will build a new arena here with just one team signed up to play in it.

      • Jamo57

        Art, the NHL and NBC reached a TV contract deal last year.   I believe it goes for 10 seasons (beginning this year).    And the NHL appears to be the cornerstone for NBC’s new cable network that used to be Versus.

        But your comment about TV and stability raises a thought in my mind that makes Seattle that much more appealing to the league.    Bettman’s model for the league (and its national media contract) is tied to having a big US footprint.   That is why they flooded the Sun Belt in their last expansion in the 90s (with mixed results obviously), chasing big US media markets.   Having Atlanta go to Winnipeg cost the league a large US market, and having another US team move to Quebec City would cost the league further.  

        Seattle has to be a very appealing market for them:  12th or 13th largest market in the US (depending on which list you quote), a northern US city with a natural rival 150 miles away.  It seems to me that the NHL and the NBC would see Seattle as extremely attractive, partially to replace Atlanta and offset Dallas and Phoenix where the ratings may be subpar.

  • Lotta World Chaos

    In the mid-2000′s, five things happened. . .   1) Wally W. passed on David Lee, Rajon Rondo, Al Jefferson, among others for J.Petro, R.Swift & Sene in 3 consecutive drafts  2) Schultz knowingly sold the team to an OKC owner  3) D.Stern was indifferent  4) Local politicians didn’t care  5) Clay B. had no intention of keeping the team in Seattle.  

    The Perfect Storm. . .   other markets should take note.  

    • Artthiel

       Lotta, you can start with the ’99 lockout, after which suite sales never recovered. The burst of the dot-com bubble didn’t help.

  • Lotta World Chaos

    In the mid-2000′s, five things happened. . .   1) Wally W. passed on David Lee, Rajon Rondo, Al Jefferson, among others for J.Petro, R.Swift & Sene in 3 consecutive drafts  2) Schultz knowingly sold the team to an OKC owner  3) D.Stern was indifferent  4) Local politicians didn’t care  5) Clay B. had no intention of keeping the team in Seattle.  

    The Perfect Storm. . .   other markets should take note.  

    • Artthiel

       Lotta, you can start with the ’99 lockout, after which suite sales never recovered. The burst of the dot-com bubble didn’t help.

  • SUDS

    I really feel for those poor b*stards in Sacto — robbing their parking meters for change for petesakes….for 50 years. I’m surprised they didn’t re-institute a poll tax to go with it. Stern’s snively, sneering image would be complete as the modern-day robber baron.

    NHL has got to be the way to go for the new arena. It’s true the Tacoma dome could suffice for a couple years until the new arena is under way, even though it sucks as a hockey venue and the drive is even worse. I’d lump it for two seasons knowing the Sodo Center is on the way…!

    • Artthiel

       Suds, you really gotta like hockey to drive to the T-Dome for 3 (not 2) years. Not sure Hansen will go along if it’s hockey first, hoops second.

  • SUDS

    I really feel for those poor b*stards in Sacto — robbing their parking meters for change for petesakes….for 50 years. I’m surprised they didn’t re-institute a poll tax to go with it. Stern’s snively, sneering image would be complete as the modern-day robber baron.

    NHL has got to be the way to go for the new arena. It’s true the Tacoma dome could suffice for a couple years until the new arena is under way, even though it sucks as a hockey venue and the drive is even worse. I’d lump it for two seasons knowing the Sodo Center is on the way…!

    • Artthiel

       Suds, you really gotta like hockey to drive to the T-Dome for 3 (not 2) years. Not sure Hansen will go along if it’s hockey first, hoops second.

  • jafabian

    It’s time to move on from the NBA.  From Stern and the League’s actions in all this it’s painfully obvious that they have no intention of placing a team in Seattle any time soon, much less during Stern’s tenure as commish.

    It also looks like Phoenix and the Coyotes will work things out so I don’t think the NHL will be coming to Seattle in the near future as well.  I’m not a fan of building a brand new state of the art, 20,000 seat/ 90 luxury boxes suite arena on something that might never come.  So why not revamp the Key into the best arena facility in the nation and start bringing in big events?  Bring in the Final Four, NCAA regional semi-final events or Olympic qualifying events.  How about the NIT Finals?  Boxing events?   How about making a pitch for the Pac-12 tournament or even the NBA or NHL All-Star games? 

    As the saying goes, if you build it, they will come.  Instead of pining our hopes on what could happen the city/county/state needs to just-do-it and quit playing the games of the NBA and NHL.  If they build it and do it right then they can dictate on how things are to be instead of pro sports saying what has to happen.  And they need to do it right in such a way that there’s no way they can be denied.

    • RadioGuy

      Someone would have to pay for another round of major upgrades to the Key, and since it’s a publicly-owned facility on public property, I don’t see Hansen being involved.  The City of Seattle really should’ve taken up Ballmer’s partnership offer on renovating KeyArena when it was on the table.

      Well, let’s get used to this.  Seattle is now to the NBA what Tampa Bay was to MLB:  A convenient threat to use against existing league cities who won’t build new sports palaces with lots of club seats and luxury boxes.

      For now, it would be money well-spent to bring in someone whose sole purpose to promote and rent the Key for sporting and entertainment events (and my guess is that the rental fees could stand to be lowered).  As it is, the Key doesn’t even host a state high school basketball tournament these days even though the WIAA offices are in Renton.  That’s another area in which the City of Seattle has failed miserably.

      It has its shortcomings, but KeyArena is the top indoor sporting event facility in Seattle.  Might as well try getting some use out of it until something better is built, if ever.  “A bird in hand,” etc.

  • jafabian

    It’s time to move on from the NBA.  From Stern and the League’s actions in all this it’s painfully obvious that they have no intention of placing a team in Seattle any time soon, much less during Stern’s tenure as commish.

    It also looks like Phoenix and the Coyotes will work things out so I don’t think the NHL will be coming to Seattle in the near future as well.  I’m not a fan of building a brand new state of the art, 20,000 seat/ 90 luxury boxes suite arena on something that might never come.  So why not revamp the Key into the best arena facility in the nation and start bringing in big events?  Bring in the Final Four, NCAA regional semi-final events or Olympic qualifying events.  How about the NIT Finals?  Boxing events?   How about making a pitch for the Pac-12 tournament or even the NBA or NHL All-Star games? 

    As the saying goes, if you build it, they will come.  Instead of pining our hopes on what could happen the city/county/state needs to just-do-it and quit playing the games of the NBA and NHL.  If they build it and do it right then they can dictate on how things are to be instead of pro sports saying what has to happen.  And they need to do it right in such a way that there’s no way they can be denied.

    • RadioGuy

      Someone would have to pay for another round of major upgrades to the Key, and since it’s a publicly-owned facility on public property, I don’t see Hansen being involved.  The City of Seattle really should’ve taken up Ballmer’s partnership offer on renovating KeyArena when it was on the table.

      Well, let’s get used to this.  Seattle is now to the NBA what Tampa Bay was to MLB:  A convenient threat to use against existing league cities who won’t build new sports palaces with lots of club seats and luxury boxes.

      For now, it would be money well-spent to bring in someone whose sole purpose to promote and rent the Key for sporting and entertainment events (and my guess is that the rental fees could stand to be lowered).  As it is, the Key doesn’t even host a state high school basketball tournament these days even though the WIAA offices are in Renton.  That’s another area in which the City of Seattle has failed miserably.

      It has its shortcomings, but KeyArena is the top indoor sporting event facility in Seattle.  Might as well try getting some use out of it until something better is built, if ever.  “A bird in hand,” etc.