Sacramento reels in another whale from Silicon Valley

The City of Sacramento was supposed to release its arena term sheet today. Hourly delays turned into postponement as City Manager John Shirey explained that the document was still being hammered out. Release has been rescheduled to Friday, and now we have a good reason for the delay: Warriors minority partner/VP and tech industry veteran Vivek Ranadive is now onboard as part of the Mastrov-Burkle group. The news is even bigger than that, since Ranadive will take over Mastrov’s role as leader of the group. If the Ranadive-Mastrov-Burkle group is approved by the NBA, Ranadive would take the CEO role and be a Governor at league meetings and votes.

My immediate reaction to the Ranadive news was that it’s good that the Sacramento group has more financial ballast to take on the Seattle bid. Ranadive is not a billionaire, but his status as a current minority owner and a guy who is in with David Stern and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis can be nothing but good for the bid. On the other hand, this is a major piece of 11th hour upheaval that fundamentally changes how the bid works. Ranadive bargained hard to become the controlling partner, and it’s likely that when Stern visited the W’s two weeks ago, the commish pushed Mastrov to relinquish that stake. That’s a huge role to give up if that’s been your goal for several years, if not longer. Maybe in the end it’ll help Stern streamline ownership approval if Seattle is denied. Regardless, it looks like some serious desperation on Sacramento’s part.

Ranadive’s emergence as potentially the first Indian-born owner of an American major pro sports franchise would be a major win for the NBA. It was Ranadive who introduced the W’s Bollywood night themed games, and I’d expect some serious South Asian outreach the same way the NBA has aggressively courted China and East Asia. Moreover, Ranadive continues a trend of the NBA bringing in tech-based owners. Consider the current list of owners with tech backgrounds:

  • Paul Allen, Microsoft (Blazers, purchased in 1988) 
  • Mark Cuban, Broadcast.com/Yahoo (Mavericks, 2000)
  • Dan Gilbert, Quicken/Quicken Loans (Cavaliers, 2005)
  • Ted Leonsis, AOL (Wizards, 2010)
  • Joe Lacob, Kleiner Perkins (Warriors, 2010)
  • Robert Pera, Ubiquiti (Grizzlies, 2012)

That’s more than the other three leagues combined and signifies what the NBA thinks of the nouveau riche tech world: they like it. The NFL and MLB have the least turnover, with plenty of multi-generational old money mixes with real estate tycoons and media companies. Now we’re seeing a proliferation of hedge funds and tech money infiltrating the ranks. Oil money has made major inroads into the Premier League. The economy has changed thanks to the internet and globalization. It’s good to see team ownership reflect that. For the most part, the days of the singular owner are over. The money’s bigger, as is the risk, so it makes more sense to team up to build an ownership group that can provide both the fun and the returns investors are looking for.

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