First and foremost, Sacramento and Seattle both deserve, without a doubt, an NBA franchise playing in their cities.
I am a Kings fan and I desperately want the Kings to stay in Sacramento. That doesn't mean that I think Sacramento is the better choice in every respect. In most respects I believe what the City of Sacramento and the City of Seattle can offer the NBA is nearly equal.
There are two main differences, however, that Seattle fans and Sacramento fans point to which each group of fans say should be the deciding factor in the decision. These two differences each determine the precedent that the Board of Governors wishes to set in the future.
Curiously, the choice that better serves the owners' future well-being between these two factors also turns out to be the choice that is the more morally unselfish of the two.
How can that be, you ask?
First off, lets get some stuff out of the way that most reasonable people would, after consideration, stipulate the BOG might consider rather equally compelling between the two offers, or at least wouldn't consider to be game changers. You can skip this rehash of arguments and counter-arguments if you have been following along the various fans and media on Twitter, as they have been debated ad nauseam.
The Seattle group consists of a group of highly qualified driven owners with plenty of money to finance a championship team. The Sacramento group also consists of highly qualified diverse owners with plenty of money to finance a championship team.
The Seattle group is willing to pay much more than what was previously believed to be the market value of the Kings. The Sacramento group is willing to pay whatever the BOG decides they must pay to be an equally compelling bid for the team. The NBA has declared that the bid amounts are not a factor.
The Seattle group points to a top 12 TV market and a possible lucrative future regional sports network. The Sacramento group points to a top 20 TV market where the Kings are the only local major league sports team, and an owner with both the desire and wherewithal to make the NBA a priority in India, a market the NBA strongly desires to make inroads into.
The Seattle group points to potential sponsorship revenue of Fortune 500 businesses located in the Seattle area. The Sacramento group points to current pledges of sponsorship money and the fact that, regardless of "potential" sponsorships, the Sacramento Kings actually made more revenue many years than the Seattle Supersonics when that team was still a part of the NBA.
The Seattle group proudly points to a strong fanbase that fully supported the Supersonics right up until it became clear the team would not stay. They also point to an interest list of 44,000 current fan inquiries in support of a new team in Seattle. The Sacramento group proudly points to a strong fanbase that fully supported the Kings with two of the longest sellout streaks in NBA history (17 of 26 seasons fully sold out) up until it became clear that the owners were actively trying to disengage the fans instead of being simply naive or unlucky. They also point to a season ticket pledge list that is nearly 11,000 strong in support of a new ownership group in Sacramento.
The Seattle group has a plan for a state of the art arena with full support of the Seattle City politicians. The Sacramento group has a plan for a state of the art arena with full support of the Sacramento City politicians.
The Seattle group points to the fact that they have more planning and preliminary work done on their arena since they were able to start the process sooner. The Sacramento group points to more favorable timeliness in the legalities of the review process in California allowing them to catch up and perhaps pass the Seattle group.
Seattle has some lawsuits and obstacles pending objecting to the building of the arena, but none should seriously effect the final outcome. Sacramento has a couple lawyers representing an invisible group saying they will try to gain signatures for a referendum but again it should not effect the final outcome.
So basically, both groups, offers, arenas, financial potential and fan bases are desirable. Again, I exclaim to the NBA gods, please let these two cities each have a team!
But David Stern, who is the prophet of the NBA gods, has written on his stone tablet that there shall be only one happy city at this time.
So what is the big argument that each group says should be the defining difference?
Seattle adherents point to the fact that the Seattle group already has a signed deal with the Maloof group. Their very compelling argument is that the other NBA owners will feel that an owner should have the right to sell to whoever they desire and that they will not want to set any precedent limit on who they might want to sell to on themselves. They admit that the NBA BOG has in fact denied a sale in the past in regards to Minnesota, but rightly point out that the reason for that denial was because the ownership group that was trying to buy the team had questionable assets which eventually came to light after the denial. Nobody could question the billions in assets the Seattle group controls. The fact that accepting the Seattle deal would also mean an relocation fee is really a non-argument because the entire purpose of the relocation fee is not to line each owner's pockets with a paltry million or two (heck, Aaron Brooks made $2,400,000), but to make up costs involved with the changing of an NBA city.
Sacramento supporters point to the fact that the NBA owners frequently ask an NBA city to partner in the building of a new arena and other improvements and there has never been a case where a city has done all that the NBA has asked and the team then moved away. As Stern himself recently reiterated, when the Sonics left Seattle a reason for allowing that given by the NBA, whether valid or not, was that Seattle politicians refused to authorize a partnership subsidy again after renovating Key Arena ten years previously. The current Seattle politicians have obviously admitted their earlier mistake as a key part of the Seattle group's current plan now includes a large public subsidy.
Both of these arguments are compelling. So which should be chosen and which should then be disregarded in this case?
Both of these help an owner. One allows an owner to sell to whoever he wishes, perhaps allowing a greater sales price.
The other helps an owner convince their own cities to give public dollars when they see the NBA was truly committed to keeping the team in town. And there are lots of owners who may be looking for a new arena in the non distant future.
Although some of these have had some renovation work done during the following years, thirteen NBA arenas were built before or within 10 years after Sleep Train Arena (though one of those is Madison Square Garden which will probably never be replaced.)
Notably of those, The Bradley Center in Milwaukee and the Palace of Auburn Hills in Detroit were built the same year as Sleep Train in 1988. The Target Center in Minnesota was built in 1990, Energy Solutions Arena in Utah in 1991, US Airways Center in Phoenix in 1992 and Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland was built in 1994.
EDIT: As David Piper points out below, it is not necessarily the age of the arena that matters, but the size. Many arenas are large enough now that they may not need to be totally replaced. I still believe that owners will be seeking future public subsidies in order to renovate and update structures as time passes, so the basic argument stays the same.
With these facts in mind, there are at least three reasons that I can see why one of these choices is the better of the two.
1. Seattle's argument that an owner not being able to sell to a person of their choice could hurt the sales price, at least in this case, is moot, because the Sacramento group in this case would be required to compensate the owner (the Maloofs) in an amount which would ensure their take home profit is just as much as they would get from the Seattle group. In fact, one might argue that by accepting the Sacramento deal they set a precedent that a secondary offer must at least be as good as the first offer thereby protecting their right to money. They also are breaking none of their own rules because all original deals are contingent on BOG approval anyway. UPDATE: With the latest news that Burkle has agreed to distance himself from the team operations portion of the ownership group, now the Maloofs can't even use the excuse that they will not sell to Burkle.
2. Selling to whoever the owner chooses helps only the owners. Keeping the team in a city that does everything asked helps both the owner AND the people of the city partnering with the NBA. The second is the more moral choice. The fans of Seattle want their Sonics back, but the people of Sacramento NEED their Kings in order to rejuvenate the city. Seattle people will enjoy having a basketball team to watch again in their city already with low unemployment rates and financial stability. The people of Sacramento will gain financial stability and much needed jobs from the addition of a new arena while they enjoy watching the NBA team.
There is also the fact that this is not the first time the City of Sacramento did everything they were asked to do for the NBA and an unscrupulous owner acted in their own perceived interest instead of the NBA's. The deal, sanctioned and approved by the NBA last year, between the City of Sacramento and the Maloofs was actually a better deal for those owners than either the arena deal now in Sacramento or the deal now in Seattle. More money and amenities were promised to the Maloofs. The Maloofs, it has been reported, negotiated in apparent bad faith and apparently never intended to follow through with the deal they handshake agreed to. Therefore, there is only one choice here that is clearly of higher moral quality in fixing the damage to the reputation the NBA took when the Maloofs showed all of the other NBA cities that NBA owners can not necessarily be trusted. By rewarding once again a city doing all it is asked to do the NBA keeps alive their ability to make subsidy partnership deals in the future in their own individual cities.
Of course, folks may argue, "That is all well and good in your sunshine and lollipops world. But when has the NBA ever been about morality? The NBA is about money, and what is best for the owners."
That brings us to reason number three. Why Sacramento's point is not only equal in monetary value and more moral... but better for current NBA owners.
And this is the most compelling and logical reason of all.
3. Sacramento's point helps NBA owners now, while Seattle's point only helps people who no longer want to be NBA owners.
Being able to sell to whoever one wants only helps when one actually wants to sell.
So tell me, which of the current NBA owners are looking to sell their team? Going through this list teams seem to be mostly split into two groups. Those who have been fairly recently already sold to groups unlikely to sell, and those with owners who have owned their team for years and are unlikely to sell. Not to mention the fact that nearly every other team owner has a long term lease in their current city so wouldn't sell to a group trying to move the team, like the Seattle group, anyway. Surely all of these owners are interested in money given to them by the cities they are in now and getting to stay owners, however.
So even though I still believe and hope with all my being that both Sacramento and Seattle will have teams when this is all said and done, it is this Sacramento fan's belief that one package makes more sense not only for a city that desperately needs to keep it's team and for a selling ownership group who will end up with exactly the same amount of profit, but for all owners in all current NBA cities that will benefit more from cementing the bonds between a city and it's team.
Disclosure: I am a Sacramento Kings fan foremost so if this seems slanted to you, it probably and unapologetically is so. As always, I reserve the right to fix any errors you kindly point out in the comments. ;)
Dave Lack was the longtime webmaster of the Bleacher Mob and Kingsfanclub websites way back when before real life became too hectic.
You can follow him on Twitter at @davelack
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