Would you be happy to see the Sacramento Kings move to Seattle?
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The story sounds familiar. NBA Owner cries poverty, and says the team needs a new arena. Team attendance is dwindling and speculations swirl about moving the team.
But this isn't Seattle, it is happening in Sacramento.
When Microsoft Owner Steve Ballmer sold off more than a billion dollars in company stock last week, plenty of people speculated that he was about to make a move to buy a team. Ballmer has never been shy about his love for professional basketball, and led an effort to renovate Key Arena before the Sonics left for Oklahoma City.
Is he now interested in the Sacramento Kings?
"I don't put much stock in it," said Bob Graswich, a spokesperson for the Sacramento Mayor's Office. "We know there are guys out there like Mr. Ballmer. We know those guys can write a check, but will they?"
Sacramento has had an NBA Franchise since 1985, when the Kings left Kansas City. They've played since 1988, in Arco Arena, outside the downtown core. After only 22 years, the Maloof family which owns the Kings, and Arco, says it's not up to current standards and a new arena is needed to keep the team in the arena.
The city agrees.
"It was built on the cheap, for $40 million dollars,” Graswich said. “There is no club seating level. The restaurants are all serviced by an antiquated kitchen."
That's why Sacramento Mayor and former NBA All Star, Kevin Johnson has been actively attempting to find a solution. On Tuesday, he was out of town, meeting with a Chicago developer about mixed use arena project at the city's downtown rail yards.
But building an arena may be a tall order. 80 percent of Voters rejected an arena tax levy, and a complicated land swap deal also recently fizzled out. Plus, California has a 13 percent unemployment rate, and the real estate market is in rough shape.
"We've done everything we can, except write a check, and we can't because we're broke," said Graswich.
The Maloofs have been coy about their future intentions. Fans say they have not attended as many games as they have in the past. George Maloof admits he did meet with Former Sonic Part Owner Wally Walker in Seattle earlier this year, but claims it was to talk about financing ideas and not about moving the team.
Walker also acknowledged the meeting took place, but told KING 5 "I'll let the Maloofs talk about what was discussed."
Maloof told the Sacramento Business Journal he has never met Ballmer and the team is not for sale.
"It concerns me a little bit," said Blake Ellington, who recently started a grassroots fan campaign to save the team called 'Here We Stay'. Ellington is a lifelong Kings fan, who also runs the blog 'Bleed Black and Purple', and says he's confident Johnson will make a difference. "He has connections with the NBA."
But others aren't so sure, and believe the Maloofs patience is wearing thin.
"Man up and ask people if they want to pay for it," said Mark Harris, a Sacramento businessman who is serving on Johnson's Arena Task Force. He believes Johnson needs to stress what the economic impact would be with, and without a team.
"If I can't see it, don't placate me," said Harris, who also said he is a huge supporter of Johnson and of the Kings.
Harris said Arco can't be renovated, to appease the Maloofs.
"The suburban stadium model doesn't work for Sacramento. It needs to be downtown, near mass transit. Arco is outside the city, surrounded by a huge parking lot, with empty buildings all around it." Harris said the Arena area was hit hard by the real estate crash, and the economic downturn.
"If you can't do it [downtown], you gotta let them fly," said Harris.
But Ellington said Sacramento has one thing going for it that Seattle does not, "Seattle has, or had 3 big franchises. We have one."
Graswich agrees, “Being a one team in a one horse town is a good thing."
"This is a great market. They wouldn't be the 3rd or 4th buy, as they would in Seattle. In Seattle, there is baseball, football, and the UW."
Ellington said he understood the speculation will ramp up in Seattle and elsewhere.
"That's just gonna happen. I know Sonics fans were disappointed about losing their team,” he said. “But I also know a lot of fans that I talked to up there say they are not interested in stealing another city's team."