Hansen mulls buying Kings anyway, keeping them in Sacramento — for now

Just when you thought the Sacramento Kings saga couldn’t get any more wacky, yesterday Reuters issued an anonymously sourced report that, if true, indicates that jilted buyer Chris Hansen may be about to open a whole new can of crazy-ass:

The idea, this source said, would be for Hansen to persuade NBA owners to support his efforts to buy the team, even if they do not immediately allow him to move it.

Under the NBA’s rules, a decision to relocate a team is separate from a decision to sell a team. So under this scenario, the league could support its committee’s recommendation against moving the Kings to Seattle, while still supporting the Hansen group’s efforts to purchase it.

The league could require Hansen to work in good faith with the city of Sacramento to try to keep the team there, setting a deadline for the construction of a new arena and working to keep attendance high at the games.

But if the arena wasn’t built according to the schedule, or if attendance slipped at the games, Hansen could apply again for permission to move the team – and it could be more likely to be granted, this source said.

This gambit should be familiar to Seattle basketball fans, as it’s essentially the Clay Bennett Maneuver: Buy a team, promise a “good faith” effort to keep it in town, then when arena negotiations stall, hightail it out of town to where you really wanted to be in the first place.

USC sports business professor David Carter tells Reuters that this could be a graceful way for the NBA to avoid the public uproar over moving a team, while still getting into the Seattle market once the Sacramento arena deal hits a snag. Which sort of makes sense — except that when the entire plan is spelled out in the newspaper before it’s even started, then you end up facing public uproar over calculatingly playing a city that you don’t intend to stay in just in order to duck a public uproar. Kingsgate, anyone?

Also, Hansen would be running the risk that Sacramento would call his bluff and actually build an arena, at which point he’d be stuck with a team in a city he doesn’t want to own one in. (Though he works in San Francisco, so it’s not like it’s that far a commute.) I suppose at that point he could always sell the team and ask his new NBA buddies for a different one that he could put in Seattle. Because that’s how it works in the sports biz.

Cue the Bucks-to-Seattle rumors in three, two… oh wait, they’ve already started

Yesterday morning in my weekly appearance on KUCI in Irvine (Have I mentioned lately that I talk stadiums on KUCI every Tuesday morning at 8 am? Or that you can listen live here? Well, I have now), host Heather McCoy asked me what I thought the NBA’s ruling that the Sacramento Kings won’t move to Seattle would mean for the Milwaukee Bucks‘ arena campaign. I answered that I would be very surprised if someone, somewhere wasn’t already writing a “Now will the Bucks move to Seattle if they can’t get a new arena?” column.

And sure enough, five hours later:

The news that a group from Seattle has failed — for now — in its effort to lure the NBA’s Sacramento Kings raises the stakes for Milwaukee leaders hoping to retain the Milwaukee Bucks, Mayor Tom Barrett told The Business Journal Tuesday…

“We need to be pro-active and get the Bucks to stay here,” Barrett told me.

There actually aren’t any quotes from Barrett saying that the Bucks might move to Seattle, making it appear that Milwaukee Business Journal reporter Rich Kirchen simply asked the mayor, “Does this mean we really really have to build an arena now?” and the mayor responded with the expected “You betcha.” Which is pretty much what he’s been saying all along, but it makes for a cheap blog post, even there’s no actual news in it.

In any event, this helps make clear why Bucks owner Herb Kohl, for one, might want to vote against moving the Kings. Maintaining Seattle as a bogeyman promises to make him very, very rich. Sorry, I mean richer.

Sacramento wins Kings back from Seattle, now just has to figure out how to pay for them

As it turned out, yesterday’s early reports were true: The NBA’s seven-owner relocation committee voted unanimously via conference call yesterday to reject the proposed move of the Sacramento Kings to Seattle, where they would have become the new Supersonics. The full NBA owners’ group will now vote on the matter in the next week or two, but unless something changes dramatically between now and then, it’s pretty much inconceivable that the remaining 18 owners will buck the unanimous recommendation of the committee.

This is clearly a big win for Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who responded to the announced sale of the Kings back in January by cobbling together a makeshift local ownership group and even more makeshift arena financing plan so he could tell the NBA that they could really truly get a mostly publicly funded new arena if they kept the team in town. (KJ busted open the exclamation point budget when he heard the news.) Whether it’s a win for Sacramentans depends on whether you think it’s worth saddling your city with $258 million in arena debt in order to keep an NBA team in town — plus whether you believe the city will actually raise that $258 million with new parking revenues, or if you expect that Sacramento will have to dip into its general fund to pay the shortfall, as the arena term sheet allows and as some simple math indicates looks pretty likely.

Partly thanks to that arena funding diceyness, not to mention the supposed allure of Seattle as a bigger media market, the media have largely painted the NBA committee vote as a surprise. And it is at least a mild surprise, especially if you consider earlier reports that the only person in the room who preferred the Sacramento bid was commissioner David Stern.

But if you think about it, Stern had a good argument for his side: Just about every owner in the NBA is going to want, at some point or another, to say to his hometown, “Cough up money for a new or renovated arena, or we’re hightailing it out of town.” And just as it doesn’t make very good blackmail if you don’t follow through on your threats (though that still can work sometimes), it also hurts your case if you try to shake down a city for arena money, then when they cough it up, you yank the team away anyway. Keeping the Kings in Sacramento may mean forgoing a big cable windfall in Seattle, but it also means keeping alive an arena-subsidy business model that has helped make many rich NBA owners even richer — and on top of which, it leaves Seattle open as a threat to shake in the faces of other mayors who might be slow to produce subsidies for their cities’ existing NBA franchises.

So what the heck happens now? The spurned Seattle group is, as you might expect, not pleased: Steve Ballmer declared himself “horribly, horribly disappointed” by the news, and Chris Hansen posted a message on his Sonicsarena.com site promising to “unequivocally state our case for both relocation and our plan to move forward with the transaction to the league and owners at the upcoming Board of Governor’s Meeting in Mid-May” (good luck with that) and noting that “we have numerous options at our disposal and have absolutely no plans to give up” — which you could read as a veiled threat of a legal challenge, or you could read as just something that you type when you don’t know what else to say.

The Sacramento arena plan, meanwhile, still needs official approval by the city council, which is going to require an environmental impact statement and all that jazz, as well as clearing the threat of a referendum challenge. (Even KJ warned last night: “There is still work to be done. We do not want to dance in the end zone.”) So it’s still possible that after all this, Sacramento won’t be able to get an arena deal finalized, and we’ll be right back where we started, with the Hansen/Ballmer Seattle group waiting in the wings. For the moment, though, the Kings will stay put, and Seattle fans will have to wait for a replacement for the Sonics. Congratulations, Sacramentans: You just won yourself a very, very expensive prize.

Multiple reports: NBA relocation committee votes unanimously to keep Kings in Sacramento

This literally just in, three minutes ago:

A source told the Bee today the NBA relocation committee has voted unanimously against the Kings proposed move to Seattle.

And:

If true, clearly this means the Kings are staying put, the Seattle group is SOL for the moment at least, and Kevin Johnson’s gamble on cobbling together an ownership group and arena plan good enough for the NBA to say “Fine, at least it won’t be our problem if it falls apart” was a success.

Discuss now, more tomorrow morning.

Kings fate: No news, look at a picture book while you wait

With no news at all about where the Sacramento Kings are likely to end up, and no real way to research it since the only people who might know are the 30 NBA owners and they ain’t talking, what’s there left to write about?

  • How NBA commissioner David Stern is “anguishing” over the decision of where to place the team, though he doesn’t actually have a vote. And that Kings officials have been told to prepare marketing and season ticket plans for next season and otherwise “sit tight,” which doesn’t actually tell us anything.
  • Pretty pictures of what a new Sacramento arena might look like. Apparently it comes with its own blimp!

The NBA relocation committee is likely meeting today or tomorrow, after which we probably still won’t know anything. Sit tight, people.

Pollster says he’s gotten threats over poll backing Kings referendum

With everything else going on, I didn’t bother to mention Monday’s poll results showing that 78% of Sacramentans would like to have a referendum on a Kings arena plan, mostly because 1) I’m starting to feel like you can find a pollster willing to show anything you want these days (Chris Daniels of Seattle’s KING-TV notes that the poll was only of 300 people, and had a nearly 6% margin of error), and 2) who isn’t going to say they’re in favor of getting to vote on something, whether they’re agin it or fer it? (Those polled were just about evenly split on how they’d vote in a hypothetical referendum.)

That, though, was before pollster Tab Berg said he’s been getting death threats as a result:

“You hate Sacramento, and you’re an evil person… And make threats to my livelihood, and even a couple that have recently come through to my family. It’s extraordinarily disappointing.”

The threats are presumably from people who want to keep the Kings, though Berg himself says he supports a new arena, and thinks there would be more support for it if people had a say. (I’m not endorsing his logic here, just describing it.) It also led Sacramento’s Fox40 to reach this stunning conclusion:

Still, both sides agree that a debate shouldn’t escalate to violence.

It’s really all about finding common ground, isn’t it?

As far as actual Kings news goes, the NBA relocation committee is set to meet again late this week, at which point it will presumably make a recommendation, starting the 7-day clock at which point the full NBA owners’ group can vote on the Kings’ fate. Which means:

Unless it doesn’t. But with the Seattle and Sacramento groups no longer throwing more money on the table, it’s looking more likely that the NBA may be ready to declare the bidding war over, and decide on a winner. Or a loser, depending on how you look at it.

[UPDATE: Berg now says he never got death threats, and Fox40 misinterpreted his quotes. Which is disappointing. Or reassuring, depending on how you look at it.]

Kings relocation committee meets, says decision at least two weeks off

After the NBA sent out its announcement on Tuesday that a vote on whether the Sacramento Kings will be moved to Seattle would be delayed beyond this week’s NBA owners’ meetings, there was some speculation that this was because league bylaws require a 7-day waiting period between a committee recommendation and a full league vote. And the relocation committee couldn’t mean last week, I guess, because they couldn’t get dinner reservations?

Anyway, the relocation committee met yesterday, and afterwards league officials were more blunt than usual: Don’t count on a decision anytime soon.

Emerging from a four-hour meeting of NBA team owners charged with examining the Sacramento Kings’ proposed sale and move to Seattle, NBA Commissioner David Stern said today a final decision on the issue could still be at least two weeks away.

Stern said the owners on the joint relocation/finance advisory committee had not decided on a recommendation on the franchise’s future, but that the group has scheduled another meeting on the subject – their third – set for late next week. If a recommendation is made then, the full Board of Governors, made up of the league’s 30 team owners, cannot vote on the matter until seven days later, Stern said.

“The committee still has additional questions as they go through this in great detail,” Stern said. He said those questions still concern potential lawsuits facing arena plans in both Sacramento and Seattle, as well as financial issues with those plans.

If that wasn’t clear enough, San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt said following the meeting that the committee is “not even close” to a decision. Holt also said — I think in response to a question about league expansion, though the Sacramento Bee article that reported this was unclear — that “The world is growing. We’re focused on China and India and those kind of places.” Which if you’re in a Sacramento kind of mood could be a positive sign for prospective local owner Vivek Ranadive, who has declared that he’s committed to “making [basketball] the No. 2 sport in India” behind cricket.

Anyway, it appears that the NBA is just as confused as the rest of us where the Kings will end up, and isn’t going to make a decision until it’s good and ready. At some point this could mean endangering the possibility of relocating the team for the 2013-14 season, but for now, everybody is content to stay in “tell me more” mode. As they probably should be, when the “more” has at times meant more cash.

NBA on Kings move: Reply hazy, ask again later

Let’s set the Wayback Machine for March 26, when Sacramento had just approved a preliminary term sheet for a new Kings arena:

That was a total guess, but it’s looking pretty good after yesterday’s announcement that the NBA is postponing its vote on whether to allow the Kings to move to Seattle. The league didn’t give a reason why, or indicate how long the delay will last. Instead, two committees made up of “a select group of about a dozen team owners,” according to the Sacramento Bee, are meeting today at an undisclosed location in New York to review the Sacramento and Seattle proposals, and will make recommendations to the full league.

This could just be a procedural move designed to keep every owner in the league from having to read all the financial documents involved, or it could be a stalling measure so that the NBA can see what else the two sides come up with for upping the ante. Guess we’ll find out more after today. Or, more likely, after what happens today leaks out a week from now.

Hansen throws more money at Kings, Sacramento group calls him “desperate”

You know, when I first referred to the custody battle for the Sacramento Kings as a bidding war a few weeks ago, I meant it metaphorically: Sacramento would present a fancy piece of paper swearing that its arena plan wasn’t held together by spit and chewing gum, Seattle would counteroffer with a promise that so long as the NBA plays there all league officials will receive a lifetime supply of fresh sockeye salmon, like that. But lo and behold, what erupted over the weekend looks like an honest-to-god bidding war with cold, hard cash:

  • On Thursday, with a looming deadline set by the Maloof brothers — the current owners of the Kings who had been all but forgotten in this back and forth between the proposed new owners in Seattle and Sacramento — for Sacramento bidders to match the Seattle offer for the team, USA Today reported that the Sacramento crew was ready to raise its bid by $30 million, to cover the nonrefundable deposit that Chris Hansen had committed to in offering to buy the team from the Maloofs back in January.
  • On Friday, Seattle’s Chris Hansen countered by abruptly raising his bid by $25 million, “as a sign of our commitment to bring basketball back” to Seattle. Hansen would only be paying a pro-rated price for the Maloofs’ shares, so it’s not actually $25 million more in real dollars, but the total team value in the sale offer would rise from $525 million to $550 million.
  • The Sacramento group called Hansen’s increased offer a “move of desperation” (in the Sacramento Bee’s paraphrase), and predicted it wouldn’t be enough to sway the NBA’s decision one way or the other.
  • Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated ran an article outlining all the things that are dodgy about Sacramento’s arena plan, and the website Sactown Royalty ran a long rebuttal saying that Sacramento is really really trying here, so get off their case okay?
  • Oh yeah, and while this was all going on, a Seattle judge dismissed a lawsuit against Hansen’s proposed arena, though only because all the financing details aren’t finalized, so there’s every likelihood the suit will be refiled in a few months.

Phew. So all this certainly sounds like stuff that, on balance, would at least marginally increase Seattle’s odds of landing the Kings — except that, as I hope I’ve made clear by now, whatever process the NBA uses to determine where the team plays next year isn’t going to be nearly so straightforward as weighing two purchase offers, or even two arena deal offers, and seeing which one pencils out to be more lucrative. Both the Seattle and the Sacramento groups have come up with plans that will get them in the conversation; what happens from here really is going to come down to internecine NBA owner politics. So I expect the Sacramento Bee’s source is right about one thing: Whatever harebrained rationale the NBA ends up using to decide the fate of the Kings, a pro-rated $25 million in cash probably isn’t going to be it.

Stern, NBA at loggerheads over Kings move?

I don’t usually post here late at night, first because there’s hardly anyone around to read it, and second because I’d rather be asleep myself. But I won’t be around in the morning, and there’s way too much news — or at least reporting of sources claiming to have news — in the Sacramento Kings situation to wait on.

First came a report today by Sacramento TV station KCRA that a “source close to the [Kings] negotiations” was reporting that the Maloof brothers, owners of the Kings, had set a 5 p.m. Friday deadline for would-be Sacramento buyers to offer a bid equal to that of the Seattle group led by Chris Hansen. If such a bid was not forthcoming by then, according to a similarly sourced story in the Sacramento Bee, “the Maloofs have said any talks are off with the Sacramento group.”

That’s pretty crazy, and paints a picture of the Maloofs as either desperate to get the Sacramento “whales” to up their ante lest they get stuck with a lower bid if the NBA rules against the Seattle purchase (both sites cited the source as saying the Sacramento bid was “not even close”), or hoping to scare the league into approving the sale to the Seattle group for fear of being stuck with the Maloofs indefinitely. It’s a strange way of going about it, but then, the Maloofs are known for that sort of thing.

And as if that weren’t enough, this evening we got the long-awaited (if also anonymously sourced) leak of what went on in last week’s NBA meetings on the Kings issue, courtesy of indefatigable Seattle KING5 reporter Chris Daniels. And man, was it a doozy:

  • According to multiple sources, reports Daniels, “the second half of the Sacramento presentation [to the NBA] was ‘poor’ — based more on “vision than fact.’”
  • Hansen has estimated that a cable deal in Seattle could generate more than $40 million a year, nearly double what has been estimated for a similar deal in Sacramento.
  • Accordingly, “several NBA team owners last week indicated their willingness to move the franchise to Seattle.” Yet NBA commissioner David Stern, according to the same sources, “has been quietly maneuvering behind the scenes to propel a Sacramento counter bid,” even working to recruit new members for the Sacramento ownership group.

If true — and it’s always possible that unnamed sources are just trying to spin things toward their own ends, though somewhat less so when a story is sourced to multiple anonymous individuals — then it sounds like we’re getting every lick of the in-fighting that we could have hoped for from an NBA owners’ meeting. Daniels said that “multiple people with knowledge of the negotiations said Wednesday it is still unclear whether a vote will be taken,” which makes sense if there are two competing factions in the room. (A three-quarters supermajority is required to approve the sale.)

It certainly sounds like the NBA owners have recognized that the Sacramento bid is a tad shaky, whereas Stern, at least, is recognizing the value of rewarding cities that come up with arena deals (shaky or no) in response to move threat blackmail. All that means, though, is that NBA owners can read Twitter like the rest of us. As to how they’ll actually vote, I wouldn’t try to predict that at this point if you paid me.