On the surface, Kevin Johnson and the Maloofs agreeing on a deal to keep the Kings in Sacramento is bad news for the Warriors. If the Kings moved to either Anaheim or Seattle, the Warriors would have the northern half of California to themselves. While Joe Lacob, Peter Guber and the rest of the Warriors’ ownership group would’ve probably found a way to enjoy that arrangement if the Kings did indeed depart, there are no tears being shed at 1011 Broadway in the Warriors’ current city.
The Warriors have one reason in particular to be extremely happy, and it’s not the continued presence of the I-80 “rivalry.”
Suddenly the city of Sacramento is a Tuesday vote away from spending anywhere from $200 million to $250 million in public funds for a $387 million downtown arena. According to Marine Layer of New A’s Ballpark, “The Railyards arena plan is fragile at best.” On the other hand, Kings announcer (and team employee, let’s not forget) Grant Napear called the city council vote a “formality.” We’ll just have to wait and see.
It appears the Warriors are hoping to move to San Francisco, in a new yet-to-be-built-or-planned arena within a 5-iron of AT&T Park — maybe a 3-wood. With the current political climate (a climate that’s pretty much the same as it was 20-30 years ago), it’s prohibitively difficult for professional franchises to wrestle away public money for sporting venues in California. So it stood to reason that when Lacob and Co. chatted with Larry Baer and Ed Lee in December, they might have touched on how AT&T Park was privately financed.
It’s not that public money never goes toward stadiums anymore; the 49ers are getting an $850 million loan from the city of Santa Clara, and as SF Gate reported, “the city is chipping in $114 million, as approved by voters in June 2010.” But a $114 million taxpayer donation on a $1 billion piece of property is different than footing over half the cost of an NBA arena.
Why was Kevin Johnson so dead-set on keeping the Kings from leaving? Well, Johnson’s a basketball guy, but he’s also an ambitious politician. He was doing what the people wanted, because enough people were desperate to hold onto their city’s only major sports franchise. If the Kings fled, the Rivercats would be the only pro team left of any consequence.
(By the way, I wrote something about Johnson’s ridiculously good basketball career over at SB Nation Bay Area this morning. From leading Cal back to respectability, to averaging 20+ ppg and 10+ apg in several years for the Suns, to saving the Kings, KJ’s built quite a resume.)
The Warriors want to move to San Francisco, but they’ve kept open the possibility — at least publicly — that they could remain in Oakland. They’ve talked to Jean Quan about “Coliseum City” and everything!
The Warriors’ first choice isn’t Oakland, because Oakland is no team’s first choice. In fact, there may be a day in the next decade or so when the A’s, Raiders and Warriors all call another city home.
Would Oakland would be desperate enough to open up their wallets to keep the Warriors? Doubtful, but if Sacramento is contributing this much money, what’s to stop Lacob and Guber from holding their hats out and attempting to pit the two cities against each other in a game of “can you top this taxpayer expenditure”?
There’s no way the citizens of San Francisco will vote to give the Warriors any money toward building a new arena in China Basin, not after the Giants proved such donations aren’t necessary. And Oakland’s financial ledger won’t be confused with Dubai’s anytime soon. However, Lacob and Guber paid a huge sum for the team ($450 million), and accepted a payment of $50 million up front in their renegotiated broadcast deal with Comcast SportsNet, according to Forbes. Any businessperson worth his or her Blackberry will try to get the most possible out of any deal. With the Kings getting a sweetheart deal from Sacramento, the Warriors will look to get a comparable package — or at least cite Sacramento’s generosity in future negotiations.