So that's that. After three years of very public courtship from Seattle, three years of fans preparing for the worst, the Kings will remain in Sacramento. Yet it's the NBA that got everything it could have wanted from this whole ghoulish process.
A league committee voted unanimously to reject the relocation of the Kings. For months the committee had weighed both the Seattle offer and a proposed Sacramento ownership group, heroically recruited in the 11th hour by mayor Kevin Johnson, who also spiked a plan to move the Kings to Anaheim two years ago. If Seattle needs another kick in the teeth, the NBA's Relocation and Finance Committee is led by Clay Bennett, who stole the Sonics away under much less above-board conditions.
It's not clear what happens next, especially since Seattle investor Chris Hansen has already come to a binding agreement with the Maloofs (who, it can't be emphasized enough, are truly awful people). From the latest publicly available figures, Hansen's offer is about seven percent more than the competing Sacramento bid led by software magnate Vivek Ranadive, and would equate to a franchise valuation of a record $550 million. Sacramento's bid, as currently construed, equates to about $511 million.
So what's more valuable than the $39 million the NBA is passing up by turning down Seattle? Well, let David Stern tell you in his own words. Yes, it's ideal to keep a team in place. But pay attention to his second justification.
"They decided as strong as the Seattle bid was," Stern said, "and it was very strong, there's some benefit that should be given to a city that has supported us for so long and has stepped up to contribute to build a new building as well."
Franchise musical chairs is, and has always been, about new arenas. Publicly financed new arenas. A refusal to build one is why Seattle lost the Sonics the first time around. The willingness to build one is why Sacramento will keep the Kings. The city has agreed in principle to a new arena, which will be paid for with $258 million in taxpayer funds—more than 58 percent of the total cost.
Arenas are the endgame. They multiply the value of a franchise, provide outside revenue streams, and send the potential future sale price of a team through the roof. It's not cynical to assume that these past three years of pitting city vs. city, with heartbreak the consolation prize, was done solely to pressure Sacramento into propping up the value of the Kings with a new arena.
So what of Seattle, where a new arena—with $200 million from bonds—is almost a done deal? The league may have decided that the threat of relocation is, in the short-term, more useful than following through. Much like the NFL with Los Angeles, Seattle can serve as the NBA's bogeyman, to be trotted out any time a city needs a scare to keep its NBA owner happy.
And would you look at that? Even as we speak, the Bucks are pressuring Milwaukee to pay for a new home. The Warriors are proposing a new arena in San Francisco that would be privately financed, but would give the team full ownership, a long-term lease, and lucrative rent credits. There are even rumblings that the Pistons are interested in moving back to downtown Detroit. It's a lot easier to force municipal governments and taxpayers into signing off on team-friendly arena deals when the league can point to Seattle and say They'll build your team a new home. What are you going to do for them?
Sacramento keeps the Kings. It's an unreserved victory for the city and the fans, but they were winners of a rigged game they never should have been forced to play in the first place.