Kings sale Update #3: More players enter the fray

Does anyone remember a journeyman outfielder named Eugene Kingsale? 4th-5th outfielder type? He started out on the O’s with fellow Aruban Sidney Ponson before going to Seattle. His career ended right about the time the Sacramento Kings stopped being a good NBA team. Kingsale? Seattle? Don’t you dare call it a coincidence.

Let’s try to reset this Kings mess, shall we?

On Saturday, real estate investment firm JMA Ventures expressed in helping the Kings stay in town. Originallly, reports had JMA building an arena on the site of the mostly empty Downtown Plaza shopping mall, which JMA bought from mall giant Westfield last summer. This remains true. What does not is the idea that JMA might also bid on the franchise. That’s not happening, though there are whispers that Ron Burkle may be networked in to buy the team while JMA builds and operates the arena.

If the name JMA Ventures sounds familiar, that’s because it is the company that offered to buy Great America from theme park operator Cedar Fair late in 2011. That deal fell through, as Cedar Fair was granted some parking lot protection and other concessions by the City of Santa Clara in exchanging for dropping a lawsuit. Westfield sold Downtown Plaza because it was a heavily underperforming property. JMA paid $22 million for the mall, partnering with LA firm Downtown Properties to complete the deal.

An arena and associated development on a nice, 14-acre site sounds like a great way to turn $22 million of uncertainty around, and it can’t hurt JMA to get involved, especially since they knew that Downtown Plaza was considered as a potential arena location.

Later Saturday night, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson was seen talking to interested party Mark Mastrov courtside at the Heat-Kings game. Meanwhile, co-owner Gavin Maloof was reportedly selling his area home and everything inside it.

Over the weekend, a Sacramento-based ticket pledge campaign called Here We Buy was launched. As of this writing, the campaign has claimed 1,192 pledges for a combined $3.8 million.

Unfortunately, JMA’s involvement may end up as little more than a footnote in this saga, as Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski today filed a revealing column about the advanced state of Kings-to-Seattle sale talks. The deal points:

  • $525 million is the purchase price based on valuation.
  • The Hansen-Ballmer group would purchase 65% of the team. That comes to $341.25 million. The team’s minority partners, who are largely Sacramento based, would probably sell their own stakes sooner rather than later to other interested (and probably linked to the Seattle group) parties.
  • It remains unclear if the Maloofs will retain any stake in the franchise.

All of this sounds less rather discouraging if you’re a Sacramento Kings fan. Yet, it’s following much the same playbook used by Clay Bennett, Michael Heisley, and George Shinn on their way out of town. Bennett was able to buy out a lease for Sonics I. Heisley ran the Grizzlies into the ground. Shinn did the same with the Hornets. The Maloofs are only bound by debt to the city, but they are about to get that paid off by billionaires.

Sacramento will probably be left with the rights to and history of the Kings, going back to Tiny Archibald and Oscar Robertson. Stern might grant the city first dibs at an expansion franchise after he retires. While Stern and the Maloofs sail off into the sunset, the City drowns in the Sacramento River.

Let this be a lesson for those who seek to play hardball with pro sports franchises: You may think you have leverage. You don’t. You really don’t.

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