There’s nothing like rich folks claiming poverty to bring out my free-market capitalist side. The owners of the Sacramento Kings have been whining for years about how they can’t make a go of things in Sacramento. They have tried to sucker local residents into paying for a new arena. Failing in that, they’ve been looking for suckers in other cities.
Come March 1, the Maloof brothers may break their recent silence and give official notice they’re heading for greener pickings. That’s the NBA’s deadline for team owners to request approval to relocate a team to a new city this year. Anaheim, home of Disneyland and other fantasies, is reportedly ready to open its heart and wallet. “I think any smart businessman has to look at options,” co-owner Joe Maloof told the Sacramento Bee back in October.
The Kings have always been about business. Back in the early 1980s, big developers touted the idea of bringing Sacramento its first NBA franchise and reaped reams of publicity for their civic-mindedness. Behind the scenes, they used the team as leverage to open thousands of acres of floodplain farmland in the Natomas area to development. Through the years, team owners have used fans’ enthusiasm and loyalty to serve their bottom line. In the years when Arco Arena was sold out every game, the fans were rewarded with ever-rising ticket prices.
Maybe a move is a negotiating tactic; maybe it’s a real threat. Who should care? If the Kings can’t make it on their own, let them go under or move to Anaheim or Mumbai. They deserve no tax breaks, no city help. A downtown sports arena would bring no meaningful economic benefit to the area, despite Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson’s contentions. As numerous economists have pointed out, a professional sports arena does not increase the overall economic pot; it merely serves to redistribute the money – at best. If the Kings depart, the entertainment dollar will go to other entities.
The Kings are also a zero-sum game in our cultural life. It was exciting and inspiring to have a winning team back in the days of Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic and Vlade Divac; it’s depressing to watch the selfishness and temper tantrums of the current crew. While the Kings put Sacramento on the national map, they don’t make us a major-league city, whatever that means. They also fail to make pro sports accessible to half the local residents, who can’t afford to pay the prices demanded at even a supposedly outmoded arena.
If the Kings’ owners can’t make their business work here, then go elsewhere. And please, take the Power Balance Pavilion name with you. Arco Arena doesn’t inspire, but better gas than bull.