Contract the Kings? Stern says not so fast Bill Simmons.
If you missed Bill Simmons podcast with NBA Commissioner David Stern on Friday, you need to sit down for an hour with an iced tea and a pair of noise cancelling head phones. There is a lot of information to go over here but since this is a Sacramento Kings blog, let us focus on the critical items pertaining to this team.
Let me just put the word out there- contraction. It’s an ugly word and even uglier when you understand the economics of the NBA and how they apply to the Sacramento Kings. While Bill Simmons peppered Commissioner Stern with a myriad of questions, contraction and the Kings was a major topic of discussion. Stern was as candid as he could be and certainly open to the subject, which should scare the tar out of Kings fans.
More after the jump…
Knowing that even the most ardent of sports fans rarely have an hour to sift through an amazing podcast, and wanting to represent both Simmons and David Stern correctly, I have transcribed a small portion of the interview that is most relevant to the Kings and that hideous contraction word.
Simmons.: What if they came to you (the players union), and suggested contraction as a possible way to fix this mess? That’s something that’s never happened under your watch.
Commissioner Stern: Well actually, it’s not a subject we are against. In fact, when you’re talking about revenue sharing, a number of teams have said that if you have a team that is perpetually going to be a recipient, aren’t you better off with the ability to buy them in because between the split of revenue sharing and the split of international and the TV money, we could almost buy them in with their own money. And the players have actually been heard to suggest that as well which is interesting because that means that they are suggesting that we eliminate thirty jobs or the potential for thirty jobs. And so we have said to the players, give us the right to contract. Lets agree on what the basis will be and lets make this deal and then lets continue to look at that subject. That’s going to be driven as much by, I think teams that are going to say that revenue sharing is inefficient in some markets. But then again, if you look for volunteers, there aren’t many teams raising their hand and that’s an interesting subject.
Simmons: Yeah, but I mean, that makes the most sense to me. I think that solves…listen. I hate the thought of losing basketball teams in one or two or three cities, or whatever it ends up being but at some point, if the Lakers are going to be funding the bottom five teams in the league to keep them afloat then that just doesn’t make sense to me economically.
Commissioner Stern: It’s a source of some heated discussion, internally and across the table with the players. And we understand it and I understand your view of it that commissioners try to keep things the way they are, but remember, I do represent thirty owners and so the conversation- “Knock-knock, oh hi Mr. Owner, I’ve come to tell you that I think you should go out of business and no longer own a team”, it’s sort of something that needs to be done pursuant to a plan, and we’ll see how it works after we make a deal and the revenue sharing deal.
Simmons: To be fair, New Orleans doesn’t have an owner, and Sacramento, those guys barely have enough money to make payroll. Like there are two candidates right there or you could merge two teams.
Commissioner Stern: To be fair, New Orleans is actually going to be a top 15 grossing team, that when it has its 10,000 season tickets and the like, together with the expression of support from the state, it’s going to be an interesting team that I’m not sure is a candidate for contraction. And we’ll see. I just don’t want to get involved in a discussion of individual teams because right now we are working very hard with Mayor Johnson who is putting together a plan that seems to suggest that a new arena would be a huge economic incentive- seven billion dollars over thirty years for Sacramento and (Johnson) has been able to generate support for the project from the entire region. So lets see how that goes before we start talking about contraction.
Simmons: And he’s done some great legwork with that and I think he’s earned the right and the Kings fans are great. They’ve done enough to deserve at least one more year to try to figure things out but…
Commissioner Stern: (interrupts and emphatically states) You bet. You bet. The Kings fans have been terrific.
Simmons: Isn’t there a time limit on that though? Shouldn’t they have like 12 months to figure that out or else you guys have to move on?
Commissioner Stern: That’s what they have. Dating back to April.
First up, bravo David Stern for acknowledging Mayor Johnson and the incredible fan base who has put it all out there in an attempt to keep the Kings in Sacramento. Normally when it is announced at mid-season that a team might be relocating, you see attendance go in the tank. Add to this that the Sacramento Kings were finishing off a third sub-30 win season in a row and you would expect to see only five or six thousand of the most loyal fans show up to see off a lame duck franchise. That is not what happened in Sacramento. Fans showed up in droves to see their team one last time before the season ended, even when hope seemed all but lost. Those are the same fans that sold out 19 of 26 seasons for a franchise that only had a winning record 10 times over that stretch.
As for Simmons, kudos for asking the tough question and then having the fortitude to back it up with some great follow up questions. I don’t believe in the premise that contraction “makes the most sense” like the Sports Guy, but I can see a world where there isn’t a Sacramento Kings or an Anaheim Royals. It’s a sad world, but a logical one. The Kings need a new building. If that doesn’t happen, the Maloofs are going to want to leave. The NBA still has the ability to make a move to Anaheim cost prohibitive because they don’t want to parcel out their second largest media market. So if Anaheim is a no go and Sacramento has no hope of an arena, contraction might be something on the table.
My personal view on owning a professional franchise of any kind is that it shouldn’t be inherently profitable. I know that sounds crazy but when a guy goes down to a Ferrari dealer and orders up some obnoxious red toy, it isn’t for the gas mileage. It’s so he can grow a mustache and drive around town wearing a Hawaiian shirt and Detroit Tigers hat. It’s about status. It’s about sitting at a stop light and having the guy next to you know that they have no chance of beating you to the next stop light. Do you think Mark Cuban cares about profitability?
I also don’t believe that the Maloof family bought the Sacramento Kings as a money making venture back in 1998. They made a mistake in the early 80’s when they sold the Houston Rockets and they missed being one of 30 people in the world that could say they owned an NBA team. They also needed a promotional tool for their brand new casino in Las Vegas. Who was cooler than Joe and Gavin Maloof in the first five or six years of the new millennium? Stars flocked to their casino and the Kings were the most exciting team in the world. Now, instead of building a new entertainment and sports complex in Sacramento to capitalize on a great basketball awakening, they chose to build a new luxury tower at the Palms. Clearly they had their priorities- business first, toys later.
So here we sit. The Maloofs now own 43% of the Sacramento Kings and only 2% of the Palms Casino (with an option to buy back up to 20%). The Kings are no longer the toy, but a primary business. The City of Sacramento has until March 1st to have a funding mechanism to build a new entertainment and sports facility in place. Apparently, the Maloof family might be on the same clock. So maybe it’s time to change the oil in that Ferarri, shave the mustache, wear a purple polo and throw on a Kings hat because this might be a bigger fight than we first thought.
So I guess the question should be asked to all the Kings fans out there- If a new entertainment and sports complex plan fails, would you prefer contraction or watching your Sacramento Kings playing under a different name in a different city?
Again, this entire interview by Bill Simmons is packed with incredible information on the lockout. I highly suggest listening to all of it.