Kansas City Rumors
As for that chatter about renovating Power Balance Pavilion? The suggestion that George Maloof advanced in conversations with reporters last spring? Let’s just say it’s been a very quiet summer. Members of one prominent group advocating a Power Balance makeover are still trying to arrange a formal meeting. “We’re ready to help in any way we can in advising the ownership group relative to the arena issue, whether it’s a renovation or a new project that makes sense,” said Greg Van Dusen, who was an executive with the team when the Kings relocated from Kansas City in 1985 and currently serves as spokesman for a group that includes an architect and engineer involved with the construction of Arco Arena I and II. “We’re passionate about the Kings. We brought them here. We’ve been working on this pro bono for 3 1/2 years. That’s not a complaint; it was our decision. We just love the Kings and want the team to stay in Sacramento.”
Two people involved in the process said the same thing independent of one another last week: Seattle is going forward with its arena plan whether or not the Kings become available next month. The idea is for the NBA to have no choice the next time a team is sold or is interested in moving; with a new building, Seattle folk believe their city will vault to the top of the relocation list, ahead of towns like Kansas City that already have NBA-ready arenas built. (Kansas City’s Sprint Center was built by the arena-building arm of AEG, the mega- corporation run by billionaire Phillip Anschutz, who owns Staples Center and a share of the Lakers.) In this vein, Seattle views its opponent as Anaheim, not Sacramento.
Excerpts from The Salt Lake Tribune’s interview with NBA Commissioner David Stern on Monday at the league office in New York. Expansion into markets such as Seattle, Kansas City or Las Vegas: I don’t see it, honestly. There are franchises that might turn out to be candidates for moving through relocation. I won’t rule it out because the owners always consider it. But we don’t consider that we need to have an even number [of teams]. We had 23. But, really, economically given our prospects — which are very bright — for a new television contract, significant digital revenues and expanded international operations, what we end up doing is we take in cash but we give away a lot of our revenue stream. And so that would be looked at very, very intensely and I’m not sure there’s a majority of owners that would want to go for expansion in the near future.
Sacramento city leaders have long said the private investment would be around $130 million towards the $400 million for the total project. Sources said by using Kansas City’s paradigm, if A.E.G. contributes $50 million, that will leave $80 million for the Maloofs and the NBA to put towards the private investment portion for funding the arena. “We don’t know for sure what A.E.G. will be doing,” said Jeremiah Jackson of Think Big, the group charged with getting the project done. “It was $53 million in Kansas City, but the deal terms haven’t been finalized. However, that’s certainly the model that we’re trying to emulate.”
This means that the price tag of paying in advance to be the arena’s anchor tenant would cost the NBA and Maloofs less than $3 million a year. Where does the $80 million figure come from? According to CK’s source, the city is looking for approximately $130 million in “private financing.” AEG, the stadium operator involved for much of this process, supplied Kansas City with $53 million upfront to build the Sprint Center. CK’s source confirmed that a similar number is being floated for the rights to run a new downtown arena, leaving roughly $80 million for the Kings and NBA.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson says the ongoing NBA lockout will not deter the city from moving forward with a financing plan for a new Kings arena. In a statement Thursday night, he said, “While like many others we hope that the NBA and the players are able to come to an agreement, our focus has always been that this facility is more than just a professional basketball arena but rather, similar to what has taken place in Kansas City, an entertainment and sports complex that will generate economic activity and create jobs.”
There is proof of apathy is in the numbers, too. Weeks after Anaheim officials created a waiting list for prospective season tickets to the Honda Center, an avalanche of 1,700 signed up. No typo here – 1,700. Charlie Sheen goes through that many “Goddesses” each year. To put the 1,700 number in better perspective, consider the reaction by Sacramento when it was announced in that the Kings were indeed headed out of Kansas City and to Sacramento for the 1985-86 season. More than 25,000 people immediately jammed up the waiting list for tickets, and Sacramento and the outlining region wasn’t nearly as populated then as it is now.
Sources also told CBSSports.com there’s a feeling among representatives of at least one team that more consideration be given to moving the Kings to Kansas City, given the franchise’s roots are there and the city’s arena is more NBA-ready than Anaheim’s Honda Center. “Interesting position,” said one team representative. The issue of Kansas City, however, was not formally raised during the two-day meeting.
In a measure of the Kings’ belief in Anaheim, AEG president Tim Leiweke said his sports conglomerate would love to move the Kings back to Kansas City and the 3½-year-old Sprint Center operated by his company. “But they won’t talk to us,” Leiweke said. “I think you can pretty well assume they’re going to Anaheim. I think that’s a foregone conclusion. Anaheim is 4 million people, Orange County, and so I understand why they think that. “I know they see that as the land of dreams. I think they are inspired by being part of the Hollywood scene. But Orange County is not Hollywood, and what they’re going to learn pretty quickly is it’s the most competitive marketplace in the United States today, and it’s going to get even more competitive in the future. I think it’s unfortunate that they’re not taking a look at a place like Kansas City. But they’re not.”
Target No. 1 for Kansas City and Anaheim: The Kings. Stern acknowledged that there have been discussions between the Maloof family that owns the franchise and officials in Anaheim. As for Kansas City, there is an NBA-ready arena there, but Stern said no local ownership group has stepped forward to seek an NBA team.
The return of the NBA to Kansas City, in the form of a team moving there: “There’s been some dialogue (about a building for a team). … There’s not going to be expansion at this time or in the foreseeable future.”
Cities that have expressed interest in taking on an existing NBA team in a franchise relocation “I think maybe or maybe not on my watch, when Seattle has plans for a new building, I think it’s a very prime city for an NBA franchise. We’ve been visited or contacted by three different groups that are putting up a building in Las Vegas. & We’ve had visits from Anaheim, we’ve had visits from, believe it or not, Vancouver.” Cities that have NBA-ready buildings “Well, for sure Kansas City. … There’s a brand new building in Pittsburgh, there’s a good building in St. Louis, there’s a good building in Tampa/St. Pete. … I know [Anaheim’s Honda Center has] got some years on it but I’m told it’s a serviceable building.
Anaheim has been mentioned prominently in the most recent speculation, which is not surprising because Ducks owner Henry Samueli, who also owns the management contract for Honda Center, has for years been forthright about his interest in bringing in an NBA team as an arena co-tenant. Other cities listed as interested suitors for the Kings have been San Jose, Kansas City, Seattle, Las Vegas and Louisville.
In other words, Seattle still doesn’t have its act together, so to put a team there, Stern would have to fight many of the same battles he did five years ago. If the city doesn’t get some political backing for a new venue, it could be behind Kansas City, Anaheim, and San Jose in the relocation line. Stern assigned New Orleans native Jac Sperling to oversee the Hornets franchise and attempt to find a local buyer. The commissioner realizes that is not going to be easy, especially with out-of-town owners dangling money at the nomad organization.
With the New Orleans Hornets being bought by the NBA and the possibility they could move, Kansas City has been mentioned as a possibility. Watson believes the city, which lost the Kings to Sacramento in 1985, is deserving of another NBA franchise. “I think Kansas City is a great NBA city,” Watson said before Wednesday’s game against Miami. “It’s a city that loves sports. We have already two major franchises … with the Royals and the Chiefs and (had a third with) the Kings back in the day. Basketball in Kansas, alums from (Kansas University) and (Kansas State), they all kind of centralize in Kansas City. It’s a great city financially for many reasons and also for the new arena they just put up.”
“You’d hate to see a team leave (another) city but Kansas City, we lost the Kings,” said Watson, who means no ill will to New Orleans and would just as soon see Kansas City land an expansion outfit. “I was hurt. I was a kid.” Watson was just 6 when the Kings bolted town. But he remembers it well. “There were a couple of situations that hurt me as a kid with basketball, when the Kings left and when Larry Brown left KU after they won the championship (in 1988),” said Watson, who played for Washington High in Kansas City, Kan., before going to UCLA “It was tough. I remember the last game I went to, when they had Magic (Johnson), when (the Kings) played the Lakers. I fell asleep at the game. I was so young. But just being there was big enough for me it and really ignited my dream to play in the NBA. You hate for a team to leave a city. But hopefully Kansas City can get a team sooner or later.”
There are any number of ways to express how unlikely we are to land a major pro sports team for the Sprint Center, but two stand out. The NBA will have to approve a relocation and team up with a new owner to swipe a team from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill. More importantly, there is no apparent potential owner to make it work. This week, sources in or close to four of the wealthiest families in Kansas City told me for this column they have no interest. Neither fact eliminates us. But it does mean we’re a long way from season-ticket deposits. Also, it means that AEG is on the clock to work the connections we heard so much about when voters approved funding for the $276 million Sprint Center.
To Shinn, the Hornets were little more than a prop to celebrate him as an upstanding pillar of the community. Now Shinn sells the Hornets to the NBA and gets to make believe he did it because he cares about the franchise staying in New Orleans. Another load of garbage out of him, another con on another city. Stern made this easy for Shinn, who does a public service and cashes out of the NBA.
Truth be told, NBA commissioner David Stern told Shinn to get his fanny back to New Orleans, because Shinn wanted to relocate to Oklahoma City and never look back. He was too poor to be an NBA owner, and nickel-and-dimed his franchises to mediocrity. His sexual assault civil trial in Charlotte turned one of the best, most supportive expansion cities ever into a dispassionate fandom that would never believe in the NBA again.
There is an obvious hint to the unknown in his words, though, as no one knows just yet whether a would-be owner who would want to keep the team in its current locale exists. And according to a league source who told FanHouse of this news late Thursday, there is reason to believe the league is looking strongly at the possibility of moving the team to Kansas City and the Sprint Center that was built in 2007.
Kansas City, Anaheim and Seattle have been mentioned as possible relocation sites, in addition to Chicago, which already has the Bulls, but it is the country’s third-largest media market and could conceivably support two teams. Hornets Coach Monty Williams said before Sunday night’s game in San Antonio that he’d addressed the situation with the team, and that players asked several questions which he answered as best he could.