11 October 2009

San Jose expresses interest in Sac Kings

In its quest to attract additional sports franchises to town, San Jose leaders revealed that they are pursuing a NBA team, probably the Sacramento Kings. They're far enough along to admit that they may soon have a MOU (memorandum of understanding) to guide future machinations, just as they've done regarding the A's.

As we all know, the Kings play in what has historically been a very good, loyal market for them. Only in recent years, with ARCO Arena aging noticeably and the talent level on the Kings dropping precipitously (Beno Udrih? Seriously?), has that support dropped. Political efforts to get an arena built anywhere in the area have largely failed, with the only real hope now being the Cal Expo project - which still has no developer willing to bankroll it and won't have one for years. As loud and intimate as ARCO is, it's hopelessly outdated compared to its newer peers and no amount of refurbishing is going to make up for the simple fact that it's not big enough anymore.

What would it take to bring the Kings from the Sacramento Valley to the Silicon Valley? Let's make a list.
  • Territorial "rights" - Like the Giants grip on Santa Clara County, the Warriors have control over a 75-mile radius from Oakland, which San Jose obviously falls within. Sacramento does too - just barely - but the team was grandfathered in, making the current location a non-factor. While there is very little competition for customers between the two teams as they are currently situated, a San Jose relocation would immediately create significant competition between the two teams in the Bay Area market. It would be on San Jose and the Kings to somehow prove that a two-NBA team market could be successful. There are only two such markets in existence now: New York and Los Angeles. As large as they are, they have not proven to be great successes. The Nets play in the dated, uninspiring Meadowlands, and may prove successful if their incoming ownership can actually get the Brooklyn arena built. The Clippers are the poster child for owner negligence, making money for Donald Sterling but rarely selling out unless it's for the Lakers (who treat the two scheduled games as two extra home games).
  • Improvements to HP Pavilion - In the past, I mentioned the improvement to Ford Center in Oklahoma City as a measuring stick. That may be overstating things a bit, as OKC chose to sort of "half-bake" the arena until a team committed. Once the Sonics made the announcement, OKC put in $121 million in luxury and technology improvements. That wouldn't be the case in San Jose, which has excellent club areas and plenty of suites that may only need a little spiffing up. Structurally, it's a different story. The lower seating bowl will need to be partly ripped out and rebuilt to properly accommodate basketball sight lines. LA's Staples Center, Portland's Rose Garden, and DC's Verizon Center all have dual-rise seating which makes the transition from hockey to basketball easy for staff and fans. With as many events as the arena puts on every year, this is an imperative. The deal would also have to include some number of so-called "bunker suites," groups of courtside seats with quick access to no-view suites under the lower bowl. Additionally, some of the newer arenas have also included small club lounges at event level. All of those things take up space and I'm not even including new locker rooms and other team facilities for the Kings. HP Pavilion has a very tight footprint, I don't know where where all of that stuff will go. My guess is that should they try to get all of these items addressed, it would take $100 million - all of it public funds, which would bring on a referendum. We're talking David Stern, folks. He twisted the knife in Seattle, he made demands of OKC, he'll look for a pound of flesh in SJ too.
  • New practice facility - The Kings have been using a $9.1 million practice facility jointly with the WNBA Monarchs since 2000. A new one would have to be found somewhere in the Valley, though that shouldn't be too difficult. I suspect the Maloofs won't be happy moving into a typical Class A office building meant for a tech company - that's just not their style. Still, sites for a practice facility are plentiful especially in North San Jose. In fact, I think some other local sports team may have some extra undeveloped land that would work well for this purpose. Cost: $10 million.
So that's $110 million coming from somewhere plus whatever compensation for the Warriors has to be whipped up. I have concerns that this talk will conflate with dealings regarding the A's, making efforts to bring either team down more difficult. There's also the internal ownership question: How much are the Maloofs willing to sell of the team to make this happen? Surely they aren't looking to give away controlling interest. They love owning the team way too much even in lean times. On the flip side, there is one fringe benefit. The Monarchs would likely move to San Jose as well, and this area is a much better natural fit for a WNBA franchise given the legacy of support for women's hoops in the area (Stanford, SJ Lasers).

Taking the 50,000-foot view, it appears that any of the obstacles described above are equally likely to trip up any deal to bring the Kings to San Jose. At this point, whatever the chances are of bringing the A's south, the prospects for doing the same for the Kings have to be somewhat less promising.