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Volume 21 No. 2
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Looming lame-duck status crimps the Kings

The pending sale and possible relocation of the Sacramento Kings to Seattle is throwing the team’s marketing efforts into a lockout-like mode at a time when the club, like all NBA franchises, is rolling out its season-ticket renewal efforts.

A final decision on the Kings’ fate for 2013-14 likely won’t come until April, yet team officials plan to begin their season-ticket renewal work on March 1, just as they have in past years. To retain some semblance of a season-ticket base during the upheaval, the Kings are considering asking fans this year to pay only a nominal, and fully refundable, deposit of between $100 and $250 to retain their season tickets for 2013-14 should the team stay in town. An exact deposit price was still being decided.

During the lockout before the 2011-12 season, NBA teams similarly sought deposits on season-ticket renewals conditioned on the uncertain status of the coming season being resolved at a later date.

The strategy for the Kings comes as a group led by Seattle hedge fund manager Chris Hansen waits for league approval of a sale agreement to buy 65 percent of the Kings from the Maloof family for a reported $341 million. Hansen intends to bring the NBA back to Seattle and play in KeyArena until a new arena is built. The deal must be approved by the NBA’s relocation committee by March 1 and then win approval from NBA ownership. That action could come during the league’s board of governors meeting in mid-April.

Meanwhile, as the NBA studies Hansen’s agreement, another effort led by a group of local business leaders and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson was emerging last week seeking to counter Hansen’s offer and keep the team in Sacramento. Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle and Mark Mastrov, founder of 24 Hour Fitness, also have been associated with the effort to keep the Kings in Sacramento.

Not all team operations have been affected by the Kings’ looming lame-duck status at this point. The team’s sponsorship renewal efforts, for example, typically don’t begin until after the regular season ends, and suite leases at Sleep Train Arena run through September.

Kings officials, citing the pending ownership change, declined to comment on any strategies related to the franchise’s possible sale and relocation.

What is clear is that the team’s uncertain future, along with its 16-27 record as of Thursday, hasn’t helped at the gate. It stood last in the 30-team NBA last week, averaging 13,153 fans per game compared with a leaguewide average of 17,121.

Marketing a franchise facing possible relocation also isn’t new to the NBA. The former Seattle SuperSonics relocated to Oklahoma City two years after Clay Bennett bought the franchise. Bennett, an Oklahoma City native, closed on his purchase in October 2006 and, after failing to land a new arena deal in Seattle, gained approval to move the club to Oklahoma City for the 2008-09 season. In January 2001, the former Vancouver Grizzlies were sold to Michael Heisley and relocated to Memphis in time for the 2001-02 season.

“You first must be respectful of the season-ticket holders, fans and sponsors that are doing business with the team every day,” said Andy Dolich, who ran the business operations for the Grizzlies when the team moved. “There is the fog of moving around the franchise, but you also market who is coming to the arena, whether it is LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, because people love the game and they still want to see it. But [running the business operations] becomes more triage than long-term care.”