Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson yesterday said that he “believes he can make a compelling case to the NBA with ‘a fair and competitive’ offer” for the NBA Kings and a “financial package for a new downtown arena,” according to a front-page piece by Kasler, Bizjak & Lillis of the SACRAMENTO BEE. Although associates and business partners yesterday confirmed that Penguins co-Owner Ron Burkle and 24-Hour Fitness co-Founder Mark Mastrov are “working on a Kings bid, the mayor still wasn't willing Wednesday to publicly identify his ‘whales’ -- the deep-pockets investors who would buy the team.” Johnson said that he “expects to finalize his investor lineup next week.” However, time “isn't Johnson's ally.” The NBA is “already vetting” the Seattle group led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, and the league is “expected to make a final decision in April.” Legal issues also could “tilt the playing field toward Seattle.” A source said that Hansen has “agreed to pay" Kings Owners the Maloofs "a nonrefundable $30 million deposit.” Legal experts said that if Hansen's purchase is “rejected, he could sue the NBA, arguing that the league harmed him economically.” However, the Burkle-Mastrov group “doesn't see its effort as some kind of desperate long shot" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 1/24). Johnson said that he planned to talk to NBA Commissioner David Stern today to “update him on Sacramento’s efforts.” Johnson said that he “expected to again get city council approval for an arena plan in time.” In Seattle, Bob Condotta notes by NBA rules, the sale “has to be approved" by the NBA BOG, which is “scheduled to meet in mid-April.” Relocation “also needs approval.” The NBA has “generally approved relocations and sales of teams to viable owners” (SEATTLE TIMES, 1/24).
FAVOR THE HOME TEAM: In S.F., Andrew Ross reports MLB Giants President & CEO Larry Baer is “betting the other way" in regard to the proposed Seattle deal. Baer said, “I’ve talked to KJ, and the bottom line is Sacramento has a great reservoir of support. ... They have a group of civic-minded investors, and a new arena would be part of the deal. Besides, the league has a predilection to not move franchises to different markets if it can help it. They’re not happy situations. If Sacramento comes up with an offer anywhere near Seattle’s, I think there’s an opportunity” (S.F. CHRONICLE, 1/24).
STAYING FOCUSED: Kings coach Keith Smart said that there “isn’t much discussion among the coaches or players about the possibility the team could move to Seattle.” In Sacramento, Jason Jones reports Smart “didn’t attribute a slow start” in Monday’s game against the Hornets to the news of the Seattle deal (SACRAMENTO BEE, 1/24). Kings TV announcer Grant Napear during Monday's game noted the team “awoke to the news” of the “impending sale to Seattle." Napear: "I know it’s on their minds. I can’t say that’s the reason why the team is losing, but we must keep that in mind as well. It has to be some sort of a distraction on the day that the news broke.” The Kings were down 25 points to the Hornets at halftime in New Orleans before losing 114-105 (“Kings-Hornets,” Comcast SportsNet California, 1/21).
Suns Owner Robert Sarver said that his "confidence in the front office he's assembled has not been shaken, even with the questionable hire of Lindsey Hunter" to replace fired coach Alvin Gentry, according to Adam Green of ARIZONASPORTS.com. As of now, the Suns are "not getting the benefit of the doubt." Media and fans "seem to think the team is heading in the wrong direction, and have little faith that things will turn around in the near future." Sarver said of promoting Hunter, "If [GM Lance Blanks] and [President Lon Babby] wanted to do the easy thing and the popular thing, they wouldn't have done that. I want people working for me who are committed to doing what they think is in the best interest of moving this franchise forward. That's what they did." He added, "Whether they made the right decision or not, time will tell" (ARIZONASPORTS.com, 1/23). Sarver said, "It’s the same plan we’ve had for the last 12 months. We’re rebuilding our team. And unless you have a Tim Duncan, Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, that can be pretty tough to do.” He said Babby gives the club a "level of sophistication on contracts that we’ve never had.” He said that the "internal view on Blanks is much different than his image, which isn’t very good." Sarver: "His track record will stand for itself. He’ll have a record that he’ll be judged on." Sarver said that he has "received complaints from only 20 season-ticket holders." In Phoenix, Dan Bickley notes after the "Kings were sold for $525 million, some wondered if Sarver would look to sell the franchise, which he and his investors purchased for $404 million in 2004." Sarver said that the Kings' price tag is "misleading because Sacramento is one of two NBA franchises with short-term lease agreements, which enhances their value." Bickley notes while Sarver "concedes the Suns might be worth that, he says he’s never had an offer, and never had a single conversation about selling the franchise" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 1/24).
RISING PHOENIX: Sarver appeared on Phoenix's KTAR-AM and was asked about the "negativity" surrounding the organization. He said, "I think it's a good story for a lot of guys like you, and a lot of you guys that made up a lot of stuff that's completely inaccurate and unfactual." Sarver, when asked of Blanks' public relations skills, said, "That's not his job. Yes, I'd like him to do a little better. I'd wish he'd spend some time with some of you guys, so you can give him a fair shake. But his job is to put together a basketball team ... and I think he knows how to do that and I think he'll do a good job" (ARIZONASPORTS.com, 1/23).
The Bobcats have hired Harris Interactive "to survey both current Bobcats customers and the general Charlotte sports market" about a possible name change to Hornets, according to Rick Bonnell of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. The Hornets today will announce they are changing their nickname to Pelicans, making the Hornets name available for the Bobcats. Harris' electronic survey "takes about 30 minutes to fill out, and asks all sorts of questions about the Bobcats, the Hornets and the general perception of what would sell more game tickets and team gear." One question, "about halfway through Harris’ survey, is the crux of the issue." It reads, "If the Bobcats were to change their nickname to the ‘Hornets,’ would you attend more games than you currently do, attend fewer games, or attend about the same amount?" Bonnell writes the issue "isn’t just whether 'Bobcats' or 'Hornets' is more appealing to the Charlotte public," it is whether a name change "would actually drive sales of tickets, merchandise and general interest in this team" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 1/24).
Capitals fans entering Verizon Center for Tuesday's game against the Jets "encountered lines that they weren’t expecting," and some fans "assumed that the team’s new ticketing system was to blame," according to Sarah Kogod of the WASHINGTON POST. Each Caps season-ticket holder is "issued a plastic card, similar to a credit card, that arena employees swipe at the gate and print out small 'seat locator' slips that list the section, row and seat numbers corresponding to the fans’ purchases." The Verizon Center has been using the cards for Wizards games "since the start of the season, and so it wasn’t a new process for arena personnel, who work both teams’ games." But Caps games "draw more fans," and Tuesday night’s crowd was "sold out." Capitals Senior VP/Ticket Sales & Service Jim Van Stone said, "We have not seen any difference (in time) on our end with people bringing in paper tickets with bar codes, and a group coming in and swiping the card and having the ticket locator printing out locator slips.” He added that fans who have the swipe cards "have the option of printing their tickets at home for free if they prefer." Van Stone said, “We had 6,000 cards issued for the game, and 2,700 were used at the door." He added there "were 7,000 PDFs” used for Tuesday's game. A Verizon Center spokesperson said that 17 of the 2,700 cards used at the door "were faulty, and those fans will have new cards" before tonight’s game against the Canadiens. Kogod wrote, "Perhaps an even bigger reason for the entry delays was the use of metal-detecting wands on each fan by security personnel" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 1/23).
A Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL editorial states these are “somewhat uncertain days, given that the first major move” by the Grizzlies’ new leadership was “to cut salary.” It allowed the Grizzlies “to cut $6 million in payroll, and avoid a $4 million luxury tax bill from the NBA.” This “isn't to say” team Owner Robert Pera and CEO Jason Levien “are cheap, and are putting financial concerns above fielding a competitive team.” They “inherited a high payroll.” But former Owner Michael Heisley was “committed to the core he built around, and as a billionaire could pay the cost.” With Pera and Levien, “we're in unknown territory” (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 1/24).
WINTER'S DISCONTENT:YAHOO SPORTS’ Jeff Passan wrote, “Leave it to the Orioles, coming off their most successful season in 15 years, to spend their winter not using the newfound goodwill to recruit free agents or lavish their own players. Not with Peter Angelos, the owner who despises free agency, in charge.” Still, the “lack of anything from Baltimore this offseason … is rather surprising.” Passan: “Certainly part of the inactivity comes down to money. The Orioles are barely spending more this season than they did to end last year.” The lack of moves is “bad business, and any frustration from Baltimore fans is warranted” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/22).
THE LONG VIEW:MLS Sounders FC GM Adrian Hanauer said season-ticket renewals are “maybe slightly above our pace from last year's season-ticket renewal.” But he added, “We won't know for sure where we end up until probably early March.” Hanauer: "It would be naive of us to think that we're just going to keep growing season tickets 3,000 per year until we need to build a 100,000-seat stadium. ... For us, the way to keep potentially increasing our average is we can open up more games for the whole stadium." He noted that route might be better instead of trying to peel away "two rows of seats around the stadium" (SEATTLETIMES.com, 1/23).