VA Beach mayor: Team first, arena deal second

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this is a new position for Virginia Beach officials:

With the start of the General Assembly session looming, city officials are waiting to see if the company that would operate the estimated $346 million arena can reach a deal with the NBA team targeted as the building’s anchor tenant. Sources have said since August that the team is the Sacramento Kings.

If an agreement is reached, city officials can make the pitch to state lawmakers for $150 million to help build the 18,500-seat arena. If there’s no deal, the project is dead.

Mayor Will Sessoms said he hopes to hear this week from officials at Comcast-Spectacor, the company negotiating with the team, about which way it will go.

“It’s critical,” he said of an agreement. “I can’t go to Richmond and plead for money if we don’t have a deal.”

Okay, so now the owners of the Kings — sorry, of the “unidentified NBA team” — need to commit to moving to Virginia Beach before the arena plan will proceed? As much as I always warn against building arenas on spec, since then all you end up with is an empty building and no leverage to acquire a team, there’s pretty much no way that any team is going to commit to a move — especially to a smallish market like Virginia Beach — until they see what the arena deal is going to look like. So nice try.

Of course, Sessoms has been the #1 booster of this deal, so it’s always possible what he’s doing here is sending a message to would-be arena developers Comcast/Spectacor: “Please, throw me something about the Kings moving here so that I can take it to the state, because otherwise they’re going to tell me to get lost again.” And it’s always possible that the Maloof brothers would be willing to sign off on a vague “If you build it, and we like it, then we will come” kind of commitment. Doesn’t seem bloody likely, given the Maloofs’ track record, but if this is the only way to get the state legislature interested, no harm in asking, right?

13 comments on “VA Beach mayor: Team first, arena deal second

  1. So all VAB needs to take the arena proposal to the State Capitol is an agreement from the Maloof brothers and the belief that the Maloof brothers will follow through on said agreement.


  2. Well, I guess I’m ever the contrarian, but to me, this sounds exactly like something the Maloofs would do. They’ll only sign a deal with about 100 out clauses in it.

    I think it makes some sense to VB, too. This seems like it’d put more pressure on the Virginia state government to come up with something. “We have a team in hand, and you guys are the last hurdle.”

    You first score a team, then tell the last group that they’re the only thing between VB and world-class city status. (No, I don’t buy the world-class crap either — but a lot of nitwits, er, people do.)

    I think this is beyond being a great tactic. And I hope it works, because I’m tired of my Sacramento City Council being the suckers. Let someone else suck for a change.

  3. What about the possibility that instead of $150M in cash from the state, that $150M is from bonds that the State would sell (to be repaid mostly by cities and towns near VB, and to a smaller extent from areas farther away)?

    I can see the governor accepting that as a compromise situation.

  4. The state has no “cash” so much as anticipated income (from taxes, etc). To hand a big chunk like that over it always involves bonds, either from the general fund or some defined revenue stream (even if that’s a sales tax hike). Any other solution would not generate the sort of “money first” hand off that stadia seem to need.

  5. I guess I should have been more specific, ChefJoe. My point is, I think there’s a lot of room for compromise here. If VB would sell off its parking, heck, maybe the State only needs to sell $100M in bonds.

    Kidding about the parking thing.

  6. I think Neil is spot on here in that last paragraph. I’m guessing the Maloofs don’t want to kill their ticket sales until they absolutely have to and this seems like a way to pressure them into announcing an intent to move.

  7. Their ticket sales are already dead. I think they’re 29th in attendance now.

    I figured there was no way they’d announce anything before January 1. There’s a sort of magic time frame (called March 1) looming. Some sort of public statement cannot realistically come after about mid-February, but knowing the Maloofs, that’s probably about when it’ll come. This gives Virginia about 6-7 weeks to publicly hash all this out.

    If you ask me, all the ducks are lining up in their row with about the timing I’d expect them to.

  8. Have to agree with MikeM. I think this is exactly the kind of deal the Maloofs would sign up with provided they have their outs in the event it doesn’t happen. The basics of the deal, where VA pays everything, is exactly what the brothers are looking for as is the beach adjacent location. As for killing ticket sales, no need to worry about that. They’ve already killed Kings ticket sales and wouldn’t stand to lose much in attendance or sales if they did announce a move.

  9. Article in the Bee just appeared… VB Mayor Sessoms is now saying that if there is no agreement with a team by Monday, the arena deal is dead for this year.

    We all know how these deadlines end up being pretty soft, but there you go.

    I won’t post a link; I hate comment moderation. Link to this story is on sacbee’s home page.

  10. Mike:

    Could be. For the Mayor, this is classic ham n eggs play… he doesn’t really know about “anything”, including the team or arenas viability in his market. So rather than doing any real work, it’s easiest to put a deadline on someone else. That way, if he doesn’t get ham n eggs and the fans notice, he can point to someone else.

    I’d guess the Maloofs would like it too. Someone else creating leverage for them (arguably in more than one market too) and they don’t have to do a thing except stand back and see how many people line up to give them money. I’d say it’s as easy as being a casino owner, but in their case, that wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing…

    What a bunch of maroons.

  11. “The basics of the deal, where VA pays everything, is exactly what the brothers are looking for as is the beach adjacent location.”

    I don’t see how “beach adjacency” is a benefit to the team. The planned location is at the absolute eastern edge of the market. If they want to make access as easy as possible for the maximum number of potential fans, they should’ve chosen a spot closer to the western edge of the city. It’s not like the team is going to benefit from resort-goers, the seasons don’t overlap much. A beach location might occasionally help with some convention business, but not an NBA franchise.

  12. Well, okay, but I don’t think too many people would categorize the VaBeach oceanfront was being very “it” any time of the year – and especially in the dead of winter.

    There’s really not much “it” in the entire region. Which, I suppose, is part of the desire to gain some “major league city” cred by bribing a team to relocate there.

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