Strong indications Kings may be in Sacramento next year
This isn't a half-court shot for Kevin Johnson, the former NBA player turned Sacramento mayor who's running point in his city's attempt to save its Kings. It's one of those shots from the old McDonald's commercials featuring Michael Jordan and Larry Bird: "Off the expressway, over the river, off the billboard, through the window, off the wall, nothing but net."
Johnson's full-court heave hasn't found net just yet, but it's becoming quite clear that the city of Anaheim should hold off on that first bite into the celebratory Big Mac.
While the outcome is far from certain here, there are strong indications that the Maloof family, which owns the Kings, is facing enough opposition to the move to force it back to Sacramento. The Maloofs have already been pushed into two overtimes, as the original April 18 deadline to file for relocation was extended twice and now sits at May 2.
The next two days are pivotal. Johnson will host relocation committee chairman and Oklahoma City Thunder owner Clay Bennett and league counsel Harvey Benjamin in Sacramento and attempt to prove the case the mayor made so strongly at the NBA's Board of Governors meetings last week: that his city remains a viable market. On the other bench, sources say the Anaheim presentation given at the meetings was as ineffective as Johnson's was impactful, and there is serious doubt as to whether there will be enough support to warrant the Maloofs filing for relocation (a majority vote is needed to approve a move when a team files).
Specifically, a source with knowledge of the proposal revealed that the television rights riches that had long been seen as a major motivating factor for the Maloofs aren't quite as lucrative as they had hoped. And while it had been assumed they would attempt to fill the programming void left by the Lakers at Fox Sports West due to their recent megadeal with Time Warner that starts in 2012, two sources said that is not the case.
The plan as presented in New York included a possible partnership worth $20 million annually with KDOC, an Orange County-based, independent television station that is co-owned by the very man working so hard to make this move happen. Anaheim Ducks owner Henry Samueli, who operates the Honda Center where the Maloofs' team would play and has already committed $50 million through city bonds to help cover their cost of relocation, reportedly teamed with Bert Ellis to pay $149.5 million for the station in 2006.
The length of the deal is not known, and it might merely be a stopgap solution to bridge the gap between now and the Lakers' eventual departure from Fox Sports West in 2012. Nonetheless, the fact that preliminary discussions with the more prominent cable provider went nowhere and paved the way for a partnership on a lesser platform is certainly surprising.
It would certainly help explain the perceived concern among some of the league's owners over the nature of the Samueli-Maloof partnership, with commissioner David Stern making it clear after the Board of Governors meetings that part of the incentive for extending the deadline was to investigate the Anaheim situation further while also discussing possible scenarios in Sacramento. Stern hinted at the television component as well.
"It was a discussion of certain areas having to do with the contractual relationship between Mr. Samueli's organization and the Kings, having to do with the building, having to do [with] television revenue," he said.
The NBA has to approve all media deals for its teams, and the $20 million figure would hardly impress those doing the vetting considering the league average is also believed to be $20 million and the Los Angeles area media market is the second largest in the country.
By comparison, the Kings' current deal with Comcast is believed to be worth approximately $11 million annually, not much more than the league-low $9 million annual agreement for the Charlotte Bobcats. According to sources, the Clippers' television contract with Fox Sports West is worth $22.5 million annually (although renegotiations are expected considering the team's increased relevance). The Lakers' Time Warner deal is believed to be worth $200 million annually (potentially 25 years and a combined $5 billion).
The math, in other words, just isn't adding up like the Maloofs had hoped. And while the complications continue in Anaheim, optimism is on the rise in Sacramento.
By all accounts, Johnson was nothing short of spectacular in his presentation. He revealed $7 million in recent corporate commitments as a sign that there was untapped wealth in the area, leading to natural questions about why such contributions weren't available previously.
He informed the board that Sacramento would become the only top-20 media market without a professional team should the Kings leave, and reminded owners that the team had consistent sellouts in 19 of the 26 seasons it'd been in town. With the lack of an adequate arena continuing to be the problem that must be solved in Sacramento, he must now help the league understand why -- in conjunction with the ICON Venue Group that is in the process of creating a feasibility study -- he believes a deal can finally get done on that front.
There were internal signs that the league is taking Sacramento seriously this week. Two sources said an NBA representative called on Monday to advise the Kings' business team to prepare the season-ticket packages and corporate sponsorship plans that had been on hold since rumors of the move were legitimized in February. Team employees had been in a holding pattern for months, but they were told to be ready to deliver the goods to their customers in the coming weeks should a happy ending be on the horizon. There was similar movement in other areas of the organization, with the notion of a Kings return suddenly seeming somewhere between possible and probable.
Relocation bids aren't supposed to go like this, at least if history was to be believed. The frustrated owner is supposed to make the intentions known to the NBA's Board of Governors, then promptly be given a Get Out Jail Free card in the form of an overwhelming approval like the one that was, most recently, granted to the Vancouver (now Memphis) and Seattle (now Oklahoma City).
But Johnson's shot still hangs in the balance, having caromed off the expressway and over the river and even the billboard. The window of opportunity is next, then the wall and maybe even the net.
The unlikeliest of comebacks continues. Hold on to your burgers.