The Big Executive? Shaq Buys Stake In Kings, With Sacramento Arena Vote In The Balance
The NBA Kings today will introduce TNT NBA analyst Shaquille O’Neal as the newest member of the team's ownership group, a move "expected to bring the team a Shaq-sized helping of publicity and glitter, and one that could influence the looming ballot-box fight over a proposed new arena in downtown Sacramento," according to a front-page piece by Kasler, Lillis & Bizjak of the SACRAMENTO BEE. Kings Managing Partner Vivek Ranadive did not disclose details of O’Neal’s share, but said he is a "substantial investor." Ranadive said that O'Neal and his celebrity will further his "vision of turning the Kings into a global brand." Ranadive added, "He's the most iconic person on the planet." O'Neal and his "outsized personality could be used to sell Sacramentans" on the proposed $258M public subsidy for a new downtown arena, a subsidy that is "being challenged" by citizen group Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork. Kings President Chris Granger said that he "wasn't sure whether O’Neal’s role in the team would affect the arena fight." But he added O’Neal is "a big salesman." O’Neal becomes the second former NBAer to become a Kings part owner, following retired Kings G Mitch Richmond. USC Marshall School of Business Sports Business Institute Exec Dir David Carter said, "It will create an ongoing splash. It also pays dividends in terms of community relations." Carter added that O’Neal "can be a credible spokesman for the pro-arena effort only if he has some understanding of the project" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 9/24). USA TODAY's Sam Amick noted as "odd as this partnership might seem, it was the friendship between" O'Neal and 24 Hour Fitness co-Founder and Kings investor Mark Mastrov that "led to the pairing." O'Neal was a "regular at Mastrov's gyms during his playing days" (USATODAY.com, 9/23). O'Neal said that he will "remain with TNT" (SACBEE.com, 9/23).
CELEBRITY PULL: USA TODAY's Amick writes, "In this pop culture-crazed day and age, when athletes and fans alike are so easily impressed by all the endless glitz and glamour, this might be the best public-relations ploy going in the NBA." NBA players "attach added credibility to said franchise when they add high-profile friends." Fans who "wouldn't have otherwise given said team the time of day take notice." While the percentage of O'Neal's investment is not known, it "hardly even matters." These "minority moves, by and large, seem to have the desired effect." The Nets "became the talk of the hoops world" when they added Jay Z as a minority partner, while the Grizzlies last year added Broncos QB Peyton Manning and singer Justin Timberlake as minority owners. The addition of O'Neal will "surely help the Kings' battered image in much the same way after their unwelcome distinction as the worst franchise around" (USA TODAY, 9/24). But in Sacramento, Ailene Voisin writes O'Neal is "facing a hung jury in the court of public opinion." One segment of Kings fans is "delighted with his arrival and all his oversized baggage." But others "will never recover" from the '02 Lakers-Kings Western Conference Finals, when O'Neal "renamed the Kings the Queens." He also "chided the beloved Vlade Divac for flopping" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 9/24).
NEW VISION: O'Neal and Ranadive appeared together on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" this morning, with O'Neal saying the new vision for the team is "Sacramento 3.0" and becoming more of a "global brand." Ranadive noted the organization has gone "from last place to first place in new ticket sales in a matter of weeks," and the "same is true on a number of different business fronts and I've always believed in surrounding myself with people way smarter than me." Ranadive: "We're putting together a dream team of investors and executives to really build a 21st century franchise … and while we believe it's a process, the turnaround will come and it will come soon." Ranadive said the new arena is "going to pay off big time." Ranadive said of the new arena, "We're going to create this iconic structure and it is going to completely change the way that people look at this part of the country" ("Squawk on the Street," CNBC, 9/24).
SALVOS FIRED AT THE WORLDWIDE LEADER: The Kings have launched ads responding to ESPN The Magazine naming them the worst franchise in pro sports. The magazine's "Franchise Issue" ranks the Kings No. 122, and features the ranking on the mag's cover. The Kings' ads read, "Hey ESPN... Nice Airball." The tagline is featured on the team's homepage, with an image of the magazine cover and a call to action for fans to purchase tickets to the Kings' Nov. 15 home game against the Pistons, to be nationally televised on ESPN. The Kings are promoting the game as an "ESPN welcome party" (THE DAILY).