How the Maloofs Ruined Sacramento Kings Basketball

May 16, 2012 24 Comments

I never thought it would come to this. I never thought that my relationship with the Sacramento Kings, a franchise that I’ve become thoroughly invested in as a fan, would reach a breaking point. However, on April 16 I contacted my Kings sales representative to request a refund on my 2012-2013 season ticket deposit, ending more than 10 years as a staunch season ticket holder (through good times and bad).

But before diving into why, you’re probably thinking, “big deal…so you’ve decided to walk away from an expense that most consider a luxury.”

While that’s true to a certain degree, being a Kings season ticket holder was always a dream of mine growing up in California’s Central Valley. Like many young sports fans who pick their teams at an early age, I fell in love with the Kings at 10 years old, even in the face of constant ridicule from my friends who rooted for more successful teams like the Lakers, Bulls or Celtics. I had nothing against that – but following those teams never interested me. I wanted to support the underdog, the local team.

At the moment that I renounced my commitment as a season ticket holder,  a flood of memories rushed over me. I reflected back on attending countless Kings games by myself in high school because none of my friends wanted to go.  Witnessing Magic Johnson record his 10,000th assist.  Feeling the pain from the stands in 2002 when the Kings lost to the Lakers in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals because they couldn’t make free throws. And of course I recalled making my first deposit on season tickets shortly after graduating college with my credit card (yes, I actually did that). As a passionate supporter of the only major professional sporting franchise in Sacramento, it all made perfect sense to me.

My decision to become a season ticket holder was reinforced shortly thereafter when by chance I sat next to Kings owner Gavin Maloof on a flight from Sacramento to Las Vegas. To my surprise, Gavin willingly engaged in conversation with me, treated my girlfriend (now wife) and I to lunch at the family’s original boutique casino, offered free tickets to a game, and posed for a picture with me in the airport. Gavin even took my call when I phoned his office to confirm the basketball tickets. He struck me as an owner interested in going the extra mile for fans of the Kings.

An opportunity arose to work for Maloof Sports & Entertainment in 2002 in a media relations role for the now defunct, Sacramento Monarchs of the WNBA only strengthened my allegiance to the organization, owners, and team.

So where did it all go wrong? Why now did I decide to walk away?

Ultimately, what led me to canceling my season tickets were the undeniable signs that the Maloofs had turned their back on Sacramento and Kings fans.

Arco Arena (now Power Balance), the site of countless fond memories for Sacramento Kings fans. Photo By Jocie SF

When the owners walked away from the most recent $390 million arena deal, one in which they agreed upon and characterized as a “fair deal” in Orlando at the All-Star game, it left the NBA, City of Sacramento, business leaders, and fans puzzled.

The NBA thought it was such a good deal that they agreed to loan the Maloofs the $70 million needed for their share. AEG, the largest arena operator in the world thought it was a good deal, agreeing to invest $53 million and the City of Sacramento guaranteed $260 million. The NBA then took it a step further agreeing to pony up an additional $7 million to close the gap to get the deal done. But none of this was good enough for the Maloofs.

There is no other way to say this – the Maloofs have just become bad owners. The team recently finished a sixth consecutive losing season, they have had the lowest payroll over the past two seasons, their arena is sponsored by Power Balance (a company that is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy) and what I think is the worst offense – they hired a group of attorney’s, public relations professionals and an economist to undermine the arena deal in the eleventh hour.

Their behavior and actions over the past month have been reprehensible. Pulling out of the arena deal in the manner in which they did was equivalent to giving everyone involved the middle finger — the NBA, the City of Sacramento, sponsors, business and political leaders, season ticket holders, and fans.

In April 2011, when the NBA gave Sacramento one more year to put a financing plan in place – in what essentially blocked the Maloof’s request to relocate to Anaheim – Sacramento stepped up in ways unimaginable. A documentary, “Small Market Big Heart” was filmed to show the passion and love for the Kings. People filled City Council meetings dressed in purple and black to speak and show support, rallies were held, fans came to games despite such a poor product on the floor and social media was leveraged to generate wide-spread support. This was all done in the face of slim odds of actually getting a new arena plan financed.

In many ways, I think the Maloofs underestimated Sacramento’s ability to come up with a feasible financing plan in the one-year timeframe, and when it actually happened, they had to find a way out of the deal because they simply didn’t have the equity to hold up their end of the bargain.

They are millionaires playing in a billionaire’s game. The model for NBA ownership has changed dramatically from when they purchased the Kings in 1999 and they have been unwilling or unable to adapt. Couple that with their well-publicized financial problems (selling of their lucrative beer distributorship and sale of the Palms Casino Las Vegas), and they simply don’t have the resources to compete anymore.

So now we’re back to square one. No arena deal on the horizon, the Kings are only contracted to play one more season in Sacramento, at which point they could technically file for relocation next April (though it’s unclear whether they can financially).  Sacramento, the fans, and NBA are all stuck with the Maloofs for the foreseeable future, unless by some act of God they decide to sell (although they have been adamant about their intentions not to do so).

Sacramento Kings fans and the city deserve better. Sacramento is a proven NBA market and the NBA knows this. Ownership change seems unlikely since the NBA can’t force the Maloof’s to sell, but everyone who is not an employee of the Maloofs are holding out hope.

Until then, I refuse to continue to support owners that don’t support this city. Owners who run a bottom-of-the-barrel franchise that makes former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt look like a saint and owners who stuck it to Sacramento and Kings fans in the worst way.

Will I attend a game or two next season? Perhaps.  But my loyalty to the Maloofs is gone.

I have been one of their most tried-and-true customers for over a decade. Yet the Maloofs actions over the past years left me so alienated that I decided to give up my tickets. And if a former season ticket holder is feeling this way, how do you think the average fan or customer will react when it comes time for the franchise to sell tickets? It’s a question I know they’re deeply concerned about, which explains why Gavin Maloof left me a voicemail after I let them know I was canceling my season tickets.

Gavin, while I appreciate you encouraging me to continue as a season ticket holder, a personal phone call from you cannot unravel what you have done. At some point, enough is enough and you’ll never know how much it broke my heart that it had to end this way.

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24 Responses to “How the Maloofs Ruined Sacramento Kings Basketball”

  1. ChrisHumpherys (@SportsChump) says:

    Great piece, Krash.

    That’s the good thing about being a season ticket holder. It gives you the right as a fan, even if only one, to speak your mind, to let your voice be heard.

    Unfortunately, as you suggest, the Maloofs, despite their phone call, probably don’t give a damn as they already have one foot out the door.

    Ten years from now, a kid in the Northwest will ask his father why there’s no professional basketball in the Pacific Northwest.

    Twenty years from now, a kid in the Pacific Northwest will ask his father what the NBA is.

    Thirty years from now, the Maloof brothers will still be rich.

    • Krash Davis says:

      Thanks for the nice comments Chris. Your points are spot on. If the Maloofs are still rich in 30 years, l hope their wealth has nothing to do with owning and operating an NBA team.

  2. The Mom Chef says:

    This breaks my heart. I’m so, so sorry that it’s come to this for you and the Kings. It sounds to me that they’ve got some deal going that makes them money if their team is losing. Could be?

    Just so you know, I’m a Bulls fan, but since I’m from Chicago, it’s support of a local team. I just got lucky that before ’95 when I stopped watching basketball because of the players’ strike, the Bulls had the most amazing group of guys ever.

    • Krash Davis says:

      Thanks for your comments. Yep — those Bulls teams from the 90s were incredible. Fun basketball to watch. I had a lot of friends growing up who loved the Bulls because of Jordan, Pippen and crew.

  3. sportsattitudes says:

    Excellent, heartfelt piece. Sorry it came to this, but more and more sports fans everywhere are taking stock of “where they are at” for all sorts of reasons…and moving on.

    • Krash Davis says:

      Well said. I think as each year passes, I grow more and more distant from professional sports. There are a lot of reason for that, as you’ve mentioned, but a lot of it has to do with what professional sports has become. That’s a whole another article! Thanks for reading.

  4. Alan aka tophatal says:

    It’s not just the Maloofs who are to be distrusted here but the inane idiocy shown by Kevin Johnson and the council members on the city council in Sacramento . What is it that they haven’t learned after the antics of Stern , Clay Bennett after he uprooted the Sonics and moved them to Oklahoma City ? There’s a lesson to be learned from that and it obviously hasn’t yet come into focus here concerning the Kings . Simply watch the actions of David Stern over the coming months and see if he doesn’t end up siding with Joe and Gavin Maloof . Just sayin’ that’s all !

    Johnson wants to use public funds in conjunction with private enterprise to build a venue for the Kings. Meanwhile his city’s decaying infrastructure is a mess , and he’s laying off hundreds of city employees . Just another day in the life of a bone headed politician !

    • sportsglutton says:

      I have to disagree with you viewpoint here Alan. Sacramento is the 25th ranked metro region in the US and bigger than ten other NBA market. The league is the sole professional franchise in the area with a loyal basketball fan base. I doubt that Stern or other NBA owners want the team to relocate from Sac…hence why they blocked the move to Anaheim last year. I thinks it’s reasonable to think that Stern will continue to side with the city and force the Maloofs hand…unless they propose moving to a better more viable market and not Anaheim.

      As for Johnson’s use of public funds to build a new arena, it is the right move for the city. If you’re familiar with the city of Sacramento at all, it’s hard to argue against the construction of downtown arena simply on the grounds of the health of the city itself. Simply stated It removes the blight of the old railroad yard and represents the opportunity for the city to develop a core downtown district that is a pull for residents and businesses.

      Whether or not the city correctly plans and develops the area is another matter entirely.

      • Alan aka tophatal says:

        Yeah then how is that the Kings have been hemorrhaging money left right and center over the past five years ?Never mind that they were one of the 22 teams that have received in excess of $450 million as part of David Stern’s form of a bailout 2009 and 2010 .

        Stern sides with the city ? Are you kidding ? Simply see his actions chronologically as it related to how Bennett relocated the Sonics to Oklahoma City for your answer ? He sided with the city of Seattle only to renege` and then side with the owner . In the end all it cost Bennett was a $25 million settlement with the city of Seattle , which he has since recouped in Oklahoma .

        Johnson just like any other politician is either naive or simply an _ss !

        The Maloofs are just as dubious as the Vikings’ Zygi Wilf has been in Minnesota . See the details concerning the new stadium deal ($900 million) there . The state has a $5.6 billion deficit but somehow they’ll finance that deal by using public funds while they’ve fired state workers at a rapid pace .

        .

      • sportsglutton says:

        Having lived a majority of my life in the Sacramento area, I believe I have a solid understanding of the city, politics there, the fans base and perceptions of sports in general. Sacramento is a great basketball area, but poor ownerships and a terrible product will always effect attendance…especially after years of having one of the best teams in the NBA.

        While you may not care for Stern you may want to give credence to the fact that the situation is Sacramento is not Seattle all over again.

        Obviously we differ on the use of public funding in stadium/arena projects. All I will say is that knowing first hand the potential of what a downtown arena holds for the city of Sacramento (specifically revitalizing and refocusing the functioning/orientation of the city and its citizenry) people should be in support of Mayor Johnson’s actions.

        Additionally speaking as a native Californian the State’s deficit problems are entirely another issue.

        As always thanks for commenting and enjoy your weekend.

  5. stockspyder says:

    Terrific piece Krash, having worked in pro sports myself your words resounded with me on multiple levels. While I’m not a huge basketball fan anymore, I have heard of the Maloofs and their horrible managing of the Kings.

    Hopefully someone will save the Kings, the fans and the city deserve better.

    • Krash Davis says:

      Thnaks for your comments. Yes, Sacramento deserves better. Hopefully change is around the corner.

  6. chappy81 says:

    Great post. I have a few friends like yourself that are lifelong Kings fans. They were so upbeat when it looked like they were going to get a deal done, now they’re so pissed I doubt they’ll go to another game.

    Sadly I can’t root for Durant and Westbrook even against the Lakers because of what Presti did. Looks like I won’t be rooting for the Kings to succeed anytime soon…

    • Krash Davis says:

      Thanks for reading Chappy. I must admit, I didn’t mind seeing the Lakers blow the game last night to go down 3-1 in their series. :)

  7. Alan aka tophatal says:

    sportsglutton

    So we continue with the asinine belief that using public funds to bail out millionaire and billionaire sports’ franchise owners is always the best thing to do ? Especially when the these sports ‘ hierarchies browbeats these municipalities repeatedly year in and year out ?

    It’s not Seattle all over again ? Watch , listen and learn . Stern isn’t as altruistic as he at times makes himself out to be . If that were the case he’d be doing far more as an intermediary in this situation. It’s simply the same maneuver used prior to Bennett leaving Seattle . One minute he’s being diplomatic , the next he and Bennett are riding off into the sunset leaving the city of Seattle with egg on their faces . Let me pose this question to you ……. do you believe that Joe and Gavin Maloof have been sincere and honest in their dealings with the city of Sacramento throughout this whole situation ?

    tophatal ………..

    • sportsglutton says:

      To be clear I never said that using public funds was always the best thing to do. However, being familiar with urban and city planning as well as some of the issues that the City of Sacramento are facing it is far from asinine to use public funds to construct a downtown arena in this case. That arena is not a bailout for the Maloofs, but rather an investment in the health of the city, especially the downtown area.

      Again we’ll disagree on Stern and I’ve never thought that the Maloofs have been sincere and honest in their dealings with the city. I suppose that makes it difficult for many to still support a new arena. But even with the Maloofs disrespectful actions, the upside of what the arena can do for the city overrides their stupidity.

  8. Alan aka tophatal says:

    It’s an investment for the Maloofs . So how much of their own money are they (Maloofs) said to be putting in to ease the burden on the city and local businesses there ? And what of the attendance there for Kings’ games ( 2011 , 2010 , 2009 , 2008 ) ….. how’s that working out ?

    • sportsglutton says:

      Since you hold that opinion then I suppose you can be extremely happy that you are not a resident of the Sacramento area. And what of the attendance of for Kings’ games? Seems that you conveniently left out all the years prior to 2008 when the city and fans regularly sold out the small and decaying Arco Arena.

      • Alan aka tophatal says:

        Selling out is one thing but profitability trumps that . And when was the last time the Kings turned a profit ? Have the Maloofs at any time shown an intent to do the right thing at all ? Leave out all the years prior ’08 or we can go peruse those figures as well but it won’t hide the fact hat the Kings have been mismanaged . And that’s what you have failed to indicate succinctly in this piece . The NBA is literally filled with bone headed owners (Maloofs probably sit atop of that list at present ) ______ who have simply _hat on their fans repeatedly but but rarely do the fans do anything about it .

      • sportsglutton says:

        Nobody is disagreeing with the fact that the Kings have been a poorly managed franchise and that the Maloofs are poor business men. Since “Krash Davis” was the author of this article I’ve failed in nothing, nor do I think the article failed in anything. It was a passionate response to the ever changing and disappointing situation in Sacramento from a Kings fan who actually, along with many others, decided to take action.

  9. William Paxson says:

    Do you think the main reason the maloofs do not want a deal is because they do not want to lose parking and event monies????Are they projected to earn more in the new arena?these two questions seem to me why the maloofs are balking.

    • Krash Davis says:

      Hey William — it’s definitely part of the reason, but not the main reason. In fact, as I understand the deal, the Maloofs were still going to collect 100 percent of all the money from kings games and a portion of all the other events held at the arena. But as you kind of alluded to, right now they control all of that, so you can see why they’re resistant to give it up.

      Bottom line, there were a lot of reasons. They didn’t like the 30 year lease with the city, they didn’t believe they should pay for police to direct traffic before and after games, they thought they shouldn’t pay for up-front costs to get the project off the ground, and more.

      All signs pointed to the fact that they would have been more profitable in the new arena. Better sponsorship opportunities, more luxury suites, better quality of events, naming rights on the arena, and so on. All of this is currently a problem at Power Balance Pavilion.

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