No one to date has ever confused Sacramento for a big market. Thanks to a promise made by potential Kings buyer Vivek Ranadive, Sacramento may be treated like one.
The Sacramento Bee’s Dale Kasler wrote today that Ranadive pledged to take the Kings off the NBA’s revenue sharing plan if he and his group were allowed to buy the franchise. It’s no small amount, thanks to terms negotiated as part of the NBA’s 2012 collective bargaining agreement. According to a 2012 Sports Business Daily article, the revenue sharing receipt for a small market team such as the Kings or Milwaukee Bucks was worth as much as $16 million per year. The scheme is similar to MLB’s plan, except that teams in the NBA share 50% of local revenues (as opposed to baseball’s roughly 40%). A ramp-up period was imposed so that the scheme won’t fully take effect until the 2013-14 season, the same time extremely punitive repeat luxury tax penalties will also start being levied.
The Kings will face their own transition to being net payers, as Ranadive has even agreed to receive reduced revenue sharing for the remaining years at Sleep Train Pavilion. The exact amount isn’t known, but even if it were 50% of $16 million, the Kings would be hard pressed to make up the rest of that revenue solely by selling out the arena for the next two NBA seasons (my estimate of increased revenue: $8.8 million). While Sacramento is a top 20 media market, the Kings don’t get TV revenue from Comcast as a bigger market should. Either Ranadive will have to negotiate seriously lucrative increases (2X at least) or the Kings will be a very revenue-limited team.
Ranadive will have one other constraint that doesn’t hamper poor baseball teams – a salary floor. In the NBA, teams have to spend at least 85% of the salary cap. For the 2012-13 season that translated to more than $49 million. The Maloof-owned Kings spent $54 million on payroll during that period. Revenues should be a good deal higher with a new arena and increased goodwill from the community, but the fact remains that Sacramento simply isn’t a big market. It’s not going to surpass Phoenix or the Twin Cities because the population is simply not big enough, and teams like the Orlando and Cleveland will continue to get the competitive benefit of revenue sharing, plus a ton of upcoming draft picks to help their rebuilding efforts. Even Oklahoma City and Memphis, playoff teams with no need for help, will benefit at the expense of Sacramento because they’re small markets.
The Kings’ roster is made up of players without the talent or leadership ability to deserve max contracts, so for the next few years this shouldn’t be a big deal. If the team can make the right moves to have a competitive team built and timed to coincide with a new arena, all will be well. If not, even the solid ticket-buying support by Kings fans will be tested. Ticket prices are sure to be a good deal higher at the new arena, and with that comes higher expectations for success. Even if the team is successful and has multiple max-deserving players, they could be more quickly stuck in a situation like the Thunder and Grizzlies, who had to give up critical players in order to keep their payroll in line.
Sacramento backers framed their argument to keep the team in the Capitol with the idea that unlike Seattle’s competitive multi-sport market, the Kings are the only game in town. By virtue of last week’s relocation rejection, the owners are taking that to heart. Sacramento asked to be treated like a bigger market, and by golly they will be, whether they like it or not.