Joe and Gavin Maloof have no idea how to save this marriage. Maybe it's because they've never walked down the aisle, never stepped to the altar, but whatever the reason, they're clearly stuck in the mud.
Based on numerous conversations with family members and NBA executives, the Kings' majority owners – who attend all home games but decline to speak publicly about the arena situation – are paralyzed by a fear of stumbling into another political and public relations quagmire.
While evaluating options elsewhere – and, yes, Virginia Beach, Va., is a serious possibility – they are searching for reasons to remain and survive here financially, but their ongoing silence only furthers suspicion about the team's future and alienates a once-robust, if undeniably jilted, fan base.
It's time to talk, to spill the goods, to lay it all out there. Revealing the truth isn't a sin.
They need to offer their thoughts about the economic hit their financial empire absorbed these past few years, their dissatisfaction with basketball president Geoff Petrie, their disappointment with the team's performance. Speak up about the sharply diverging opinions within the family, particularly between Joe and Gavin and their younger brother George. Address persistent speculation about a possible relocation or sale.
But most importantly – and unless they already have their bags packed, which does not appear to be the case – they need to present a bold and new vision for their franchise. Overhaul their basketball operations department. Hire a spokesperson who knows the community and understands the complexity of arena/stadium ordeals and whose style is open and inclusive instead of aloof and antagonistic. Get rid of the paranoid, negative, we-are-victims attitude that has permeated the franchise even during the best of times and acknowledge that the attendance decline is decimating their 2012-13 economic model.
Start with that. Schedule a fan forum, elicit ideas, absorb the criticism and come back for more. You know, like the old days when they were the hottest celebrities not named Vlade, CWebb or Peja? Remember, only death is irreversible, and those who believe in reincarnation would even dispute that.
The Maloofs need to address these latest developments in a public conversation.
• Mindful of the 2013 NBA deadline to file for relocation, the Maloofs are studying all options.
George Maloof – the architect behind the near-move to Anaheim in 2011 – is particularly intrigued with a proposed arena deal in Virginia Beach that would be 90 percent publicly funded, with $195 million coming from the city, $35 million from developer Comcast-Spectator and another $150 million from the state.
Family members and/or their representatives also have had recent talks with officials in Seattle, San Diego, Kansas City, Mo., and St. Louis.
But is there an existing market preferable to Sacramento, which is 20th in media market size, has a monopoly on local major professional sports and has a history of being immensely successful, even a model franchise? Those sellout streaks are forgotten neither by the league nor sports marketing experts around the country.
Again, George is the naysayer. Joe and Gavin are attached to Sacramento, but they are unsure about how to breach the emotional and financial separation between the family and the community.
• The Maloofs are united in their refusal to sell the team, which means the folks in Seattle might look elsewhere. This should be reassuring to Sacramento, because a sale would virtually ensure the Kings' departure. (The Chris Hansen group in Seattle, for example, would outbid any investors interested in keeping the team here.)
• The team's lack of improvement and charisma have left Petrie with few allies among the owners. His contract expires at the end of the season, and if the trend continues, he could be gone within weeks. The Maloofs wholeheartedly endorse Keith Smart and are adamantly opposed to firing another coach.
• The Maloofs' preference has always been to remain at their present location in Natomas, with downtown or the railyard a second choice.
• While a number of major companies – including Jiffy Lube and Thunder Valley – have ended their partnerships because of the team's uncertain future, the number of sponsorships (at lower prices) has increased, and the naming rights deal with Sleep Train is regarded as a major achievement for the business and marketing department.
Until the Maloofs start talking again, reaching out to their public, no one wins.
Proposal developing for arena renovation
Members of a local group involved with the Kings when they arrived in Sacramento and the construction of both arenas in Natomas are preparing a proposal for an estimated $120 million to $150 million renovation of Sleep Train Arena.
Former Kings executive Greg Van Dusen – who has been working for months with architect Rann Haight and engineer Gerardo Calvillo, among others – was encouraged following a recent meeting with a top Maloof Sports executive.
"We realize that if this is to be successful, it has to include a financing plan, and benefit the city, county and the Maloofs," said Van Dusen, who added that the Kings' majority owners are interested in remaining anchor tenants but not necessarily operating the facility. "Real people with real families depend on the Kings and the arena to make a living, and we simply cannot afford to lose our city's identity as a major league city."
In recent weeks, the Kings have been mentioned as a possible candidate for relocation to other cities, including Virginia Beach, Va., San Diego, Seattle, Kansas City, Mo., and St. Louis.
– Ailene Voisin