Ron Burkle: Oasis or Mirage?

I’ve never met Ron Burkle, and I don’t know him personally. From what I’ve heard and read about him, I can tell you this much: He’s no Wally Haas or Mark Cuban. He’s a lot more like John Fisher. Like Fisher, Burkle is a middle-aged billionaire. Burkle tends to run in the Hollywood and pro sports circles more than Fisher, but his ownership “style” is similarly hands off as he is not a managing partner and he tends to defer decisions to the front office, based on his decade-plus tenure owning the Pittsburgh Penguins.

There’s also little chance that Burkle gets involved in the Kings-or-other-Sacramento-team business unless some new arena deal is part of it from the get-go. Burkle gritted his teeth along with Mario Lemieux as the Penguins plugged away season after season in the decrepit Civic Arena. They came close to selling the Pens to RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie, who most assuredly would’ve moved the team north to Hamilton, Ontario. That deal didn’t happen only because Balsillie backed away when he felt that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman interfered with the process. A deal to publicly finance what would eventually become CONSOL Energy Center happened thanks in part to visits by Burkle-Lemieux to Kansas City and Las Vegas, which scared Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania officials into acting. Burkle definitely wasn’t afraid to play hardball in the venue game. If Burkle is going to get involved in Sacramento, he probably doesn’t want to repeat that constant headache. If he does, well, he must be a masochist, especially considering Sacramento’s pledge of zero dollars towards a new arena.

The Pens aren’t Burkle’s only dalliance with major pro sports. When the NFL was looking to add its 32nd team, Burkle and Ed Roski (of City of Industry stadium fame) pledged a $300 million expansion fee for what everyone in the media assumed would be a new LA NFL franchise. Another consortium featuring Eli Broad and Michael Ovitz pledged $400 million. Then both groups were blown out of the water by Bob McNair’s $700 million bid, and the expansion team went to Houston. Burkle doesn’t appear to be attached to either of the competing LA bids this time around, so naturally he could devote some attention to keeping or resurrecting NBA hoops in Cowtown.

In 1988, four arenas opened around the NBA: ARCO Arena, The Palace of Auburn Hills, Charlotte Coliseum, and Miami Arena. At $70 million, the Palace was the most expensive to construct and has retained its value and ever since. ARCO’s flaws have been readily apparent to anyone and everyone. Charlotte Coliseum was too big and lacked forward-thinking amenities, whereas Miami was far too small. Miami replaced its arena barely a decade later. Charlotte lost its team and was only granted one when a new arena deal was struck. The Palace and ARCO are the only ones left standing, with ARCO the one that should be replaced. If NBA basketball is going to stay or come back to Sacramento, the biggest issue will always be the arena situation. It doesn’t matter if the hero is Ron Burkle or Ron Burgundy.

P.S. Former Kings SacBee writer Mark Kreidler notes (on that combined TV/radio revenue for the Kings is around $11 million annually. That’s terrible for a major pro sports franchise and shows how dire the arena problem is for the Kings and the Maloofs.

One thought on “Ron Burkle: Oasis or Mirage?

  1. Ron Burgundy! LOL!….Well played ML.

    The Kings are gone, the extension is simply a stall tactic to make sure KJ isn’t completely talking out his ass.

    The NBA has always been in the wrong city in Sacramento and should be in San Jose where there is a private sector to back up the team plus affluent fans.

    Time to abandon these places and move to greener pastures. Good luck Anaheim Royals!

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