Gameplan: Sacramento

If you’re Oakland or San Jose, things could be worse. Much worse. Take the state capital. It has only one major league team whose ownership would have left already except that they’re too broke to do it. The arena is falling apart due to cheapness. And the market is a government town, among the hardest hit by the recession. Fan groups have been more energized and organized than any in the Bay Area in their efforts to keep the Kings in town, to no avail. The City spent money on studies, and business leaders spent and pledged money towards a new arena. It all nearly went away after the 2010-11 season and could go away again next April. It’s bad times all around.

When we last left off with the Maloof family, they were being lured to Virginia Beach with the promise of a new arena all to themselves, with taxes and a state subsidy paying for the Kings relocation costs. Those plans got a big stop from Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (R), who didn’t allocate $150 million in requested money to the arena in the 2012-13 state budget. McDonnell isn’t completely shutting down the arena effort, he just wants a firmer plan on how the financing is going to work.

That didn’t stop the City of Virginia Beach from moving forward, as its City Council today approved the arena plan without the $150 million state funding, expecting that a future budget amendment will take care of the need as additional studies and prep work are done.

Seattle also looms, as it has a temporary arena and plans for a future arena (which has critics in the Mariners and Amtrak). The problem is there that point man Chris Hansen would prefer to buy the team from the Maloofs instead of just being a landlord. The Maloofs, as handcuffed as they are, have shown no intention of selling the Kings.

What’s Sacramento to do? It can sue the Maloofs for defaulting on loans once the team skips town, but not before that happens. Even then, that can’t really stop the team from moving. It’ll just force the family to give up Sleep Train Arena and the surrounding land along with some sort of cash settlement. The team itself is under control of a limited partnership, which makes it more-or-less out of reach unless the family declares bankruptcy.

Arena land has some development value, though not much. Meanwhile, Sleep Train Arena remains decrepit and the market remains small. A hockey team from the south might be a good candidate (as well as a new regional rival for the Sharks), STA is not built for hockey. Yet I think hockey may be the best chance for major pro sports if the Kings leave. Fans have shown they’ll support a team 41 times a year in a 17,000-seat arena even with high ticket prices (the Kings are among the top half in the NBA). Sacramento could also get in line for an expansion NBA franchise, but it’s hard to see the city getting in front of Seattle for the next franchise unless a fully-subsidized arena is offered.

Selling old ARCO’s development rights isn’t as feasible as it was a few years ago because the death of redevelopment has removed a key financing method for new public infrastructure: tax increment. It’s a shame that if the Kings are lost to another city, the forces that will need to be marshaled to sell the public on a new arena with a large amount of public money will be an order of magnitude more difficult than what they’ve had to do the last few years. Maybe it’ll be enough that the Maloofs aren’t involved to sabotage anything.

Then again, maybe David Stern can pull one last power play to keep the team in Sacramento. Or a white knight like the Ron Burkle could come in, even though he’s proven to be not much of an activist champion type when it comes to his sports properties. It seems more likely that the team will leave, karma be damned, and life will have to go on without the Kings. It’s just as familiar as it is tragic.

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