SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Business and political leaders in Sacramento have another chance to persuade the NBA that the Kings should stay in town, and they'll put a full-court press on league officials this week.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA star, said Tuesday that the city had feared the Kings' move to Anaheim might be a done deal. But he said at least some of the NBA owners at last week's league meetings appeared impressed when the city presented $7 million in commitments for new advertising, ticket purchases and other financial support from local businesses and other backers.
On Tuesday, the tribe that operates Thunder Valley Casino northeast of Sacramento agreed to commit an additional $1 million to back the Kings in Sacramento, bringing the total to at least $8 million. None of that money would go toward the multi-million dollar cost of building a new arena, the repeated sticking point in years of efforts to keep the team happy in Sacramento.
"The fact that we're here and we bought two more weeks, that is a big, big deal," Johnson said at a City Hall news conference, his first since returning from the meetings in New York City. "We get a chance to put our best foot forward."
Commissioner David Stern said last week that the league wanted to "do a little bit more fact-finding" and the NBA granted the Kings' owners another extension until May 2 to file paperwork requesting a relocation. The original deadline passed April 18.
The NBA will send two representatives to Sacramento on Thursday, including relocation committee chairman Clay Bennett, chairman of the ownership group for the Oklahoma City Thunder. The franchise was the Seattle SuperSonics until 2008, when Bennett relocated the team amid calls for a new arena.
Besides giving the Maloof family, which owns a controlling interest in the Kings, more time to formally request league approval for a move, the extension also gives Sacramento more time to make its case to keep the Kings and show how it could build a new arena the team wants.
Local backers want both the Kings and the Maloofs to stay in Sacramento, Johnson said. Failing that, they'd like to keep the team with new owners, or attract a different NBA franchise. The emergence of supermarket tycoon Ron Burkle as an interested buyer for the team created a buzz last week, but Johnson said he may not be a factor in the discussion if the city can make the case that Sacramento is a viable market for the Maloofs and the Kings. The Maloofs have insisted they won't sell the team.
To make their case to the NBA, Johnson said, local backers will stress the strength of the fan base, the fact that Sacramento is in a top 20 media market with no other pro sports team, and the new surge of support from businesses.
While a full financial and feasibility analysis of a sports and entertainment complex in Sacramento won't be complete by May 2, Johnson said he hopes to present some preliminary data on alternatives and revenue streams to the NBA by that date.
Johnson kept beating the drum for the local effort Tuesday. His visit to the tribal council of the United Auburn Indian Community won a commitment of $1 million, said Doug Elmets, spokesman for the tribe and Thunder Valley. The tribe, he said, "sees value not only in keeping the Kings in Sacramento, but in being part of the business community commitment that Kevin Johnson is seeking." The tribe already pays for a luxury box at Power Balance Pavilion, and expects the $1 million would largely go for advertising and sponsorships, Elmets said.
The mayor also was working out the details for a meeting Wednesday with political leaders around the Sacramento area to present a broad regional appeal to the NBA.
The mayor declined to identify what businesses were involved in the $7 million in new commitments of support, but said he hopes to disclose them after they've been discussed with the league.
Johnson said he didn't know much about an effort to collect signatures in Anaheim to force a public vote on $75 million in financing for a Kings deal, not expected until June 2012. "I'd be dishonest if I didn't say I was glad that was going on" because it may buy Sacramento more time, he said.
Rob Stutzman, a Sacramento political consultant who is organizing the signature drive, said the effort is in its final stages and could be wrapped up by the end of the week. The signature drive has been backed by many small contributors, he said, and has not worked with the Burkle group. Among the backers and organizers of the Committee to Save the Kings are former city councilman Robbie Waters, real estate investor Ethan Conrad and steel company executive Steve Ayers.