22 August 2006

Six Degrees of Lew

NBC11's Raj Mathai ended the sports section of the tonight's late newscast with a mention of a Merc article about the Sharks' pursuit of a pro hoops franchise. Mathai noted that the Sharks' failed bid for the Seattle Sonics involved one particular big-money guy at the end: Oracle's Larry Ellison. The Sonics have already been sold to business interests from Oklahoma City, who last season played gracious and enthusiastic part-time hosts to the Katrina-displaced New Orleans Hornets. New owner Clay Bennett sounds diplomatic so far but just about everyone sees the skids being greased for a hasty exit.

The Sharks' initial bid appeared dead a few weeks ago, but now it appears that the Sharks will go to the City of San Jose looking for upgrades to HP Pavilion, which could make the Tank more attractive for an NBA team. The actual request is to authorize a study to see what improvements would be required, similar in scope to the ballpark study - though precluding an entirely new arena. While some technological upgrades would be welcome - particularly in the form of upgraded video boards, fascia boards, and HDTV monitors - I sincerely doubt that mere upgrades will make a NBA team leap to SJ. To make a deal attractive for a non-Sharks-owned team, the NBA team would be looking for a large piece of the Pavilion's current revenue stream, a piece that the Sharks would be loathe to give up. This would apply to the Sacramento Kings should their efforts to build a downtown Sac arena wither. If the Maloof brothers were to show interest in selling the team to San Jose interests, it would be a different story. There are problems with the Warriors, who aren't going to take a new competitor to their market lying down. Then there's the overlord himself, David Stern. From a strategic standpoint, it makes little sense to use SJ as anything more than a stalking horse. Stern has been more vociferous in his complaints than Sonics ownership, which tells me that he's actually interested in keeping them there. If he simply wanted a stress-free arena deal (market notwithstanding), the Sonics, Kings, or Hornets would already be signed long term to OKC, Vegas, Anaheim, or ahem, San Jose.

Speaking of the Warriors, they and the Coliseum Authority still haven't gotten a naming rights deal in place for the Oakland Arena. There isn't officially a naming rights sponsor for the new Arizona Cardinals stadium, but there is at least one suitor who has been turned down: hip mexican restaurant chain pink taco. pink taco is not some mom-and-pop taqueria. It's run by Harry Morton, son of Hard Rock Cafe/Hotel/Casino and Morton's Steakhouse proprietor Peter Morton. They're apparently serious, according to a press release and an article in The Business Journal of Phoenix. The Morton family just sold off the Hard Rock brand for some $700 million.

Interestingly enough, a Morton's location is scheduled to open in downtown San Jose as part of a huge refurbishment of Park Center Plaza. The complex, which was once a major part of Lew Wolff's portfolio, could soon spawn a big name competitor to Wolff's existing restaurants. And on the morning of August 30, Wolff will speak about the future of downtown San Jose a block away from Park Center Plaza at Adobe.

(Yes, I could've mentioned Wolff's previous stint as a part owner of the Warriors, but I chose the more circuitous route.)