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Mayor Kevin Johnson releases arena funding report, will the Maloofs and NBA bite?

Sep 8, 2011, 9:48 AM EDT

team maloof with stern

The plight of Kings fans, who came within an inch of losing their only major professional sports team, may be coming to a crossroads today, when the Think Big Sacramento coalition led by mayor Kevin Johnson releases their arena funding proposal to the public. All they have to do is come up with a plan to raise $387 million that keeps everyone happy. No biggie.

Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton got the scoop on it, and released his report in the early morning hours on Thursday:

What is the guiding principle of Sacramento’s new plan?

That’s right: A virtual split – this time in thirds – among the private interests of an arena, the public and the arena’s patrons….

What you will see in today’s arena presentation are plans for three different funding pots to generate the $387 million or more needed to get an arena built. According to people familiar with the document, the Kings, the NBA and a private developer would contribute $91 million to $156 million in lease payments, upfront money, land and other revenue to pay for an arena.

The city of Sacramento would contribute the sale of public land, a tax on hotels and taxis, and money from items such as digital advertising and parking valued at $94 million to $123 million.

And, while residents in the six-county Sacramento region will not be asked to raise their taxes to subsidize a new arena, patrons of the venue will help pay for it. The third pot of money will be fueled by ticket surcharges, naming rights and other revenue sources that could generate $90 million to $121 million.

Kings fans and those tracking how and why the NBA operates the way it does will want to watch how the parties react to this report. Much of the Think Big Sacramento campaign has been orchestrated to a presidential degree, leaving no doubt to the positions of the heavy hitters involved – including companies such as AEG, the ICON-David Taylor group, and of course, the NBA and the Maloofs.

The Maloofs appear to be impotent in this discussion, as some league insiders have openly acknowledged that their future in the NBA will be determined by their ability to get an arena deal done.

The bottom line with this report is that the Kings and the NBA have been asked to foot a third of the cost. Whether that amount will be amicable to them given the whirlwind of interests controlling the matter is entirely debatable. On one hand, NBA owners do not want to see the league telling them what to do, and on the other hand, the Lakers, Knicks, and Bulls of the league don’t want to hear that (allegedly) broke owners can move into their backyard.

And, separately, while arena subsidy opponents scream blood murder, the reality is that top-flight cities have no leverage. They can clamor for leagues and owners to pay their own bills, but the folks in Sacramento would have to do that with an Anaheim Royals press release wiping their tears.

As for the Maloofs being able to contribute rental payments and/or in general, they recently liquidated their majority interest in the Palms Casino down to 2 percent with the option to buy back another 18 percent, in a financial transaction that could easily pave the way for another (Ron Burkle) speculator to come in and take over their team if they get elbowed out. They continue to assert their leverage, albeit with more discretion than they have used in the past, but in reality, David Stern knows where the bodies are buried. And as SB Nation’s Tom Ziller points out, the NBA has been working diligently to get an arena deal done – so they’re not going to stand for grandstanding when diplomacy is needed.

My take – we’re looking at a firm but fair offer from the City of Sacramento. They’re strapped just like most American cities, and this is their first offer. If this dance plays out like every other negotiation we’ve been witness to in our lives, expect the Maloofs and/or the NBA to say that the city’s request is ‘over the top,’ and they’ll waltz to equilibrium.

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