More than 44,000 pledges for full-season tickets were received when Chris Hansen made the ask of the region’s basketball fans to help bring back the Sonics, as well as pledges for 268 suites. Nearly a thousand businesses said they were interested in sponsorships. No money backed the pledges, but the expression of sentiment provided more ammunition as the Seattle native pleads his case Wednesday to NBA owners for approval of his purchase of the Kings to move them to Seattle.
Figures were released on sonicsarena.com Tuesday afternoon, on the eve of Hansen’s presentation to the finance and relocation committees in New York Wednesday morning. Hansen described the results of his two-week marketing strategy as “nothing short of stunning.”
He said more than 32,000 of the season ticket requests came in the first 24 hours of the website-only campaign, including a rate of 6,000 hits per second for a short while that knocked the site offline.
The response created the PR effect Hansen was seeking: Sending “a very clear message that all Sonic fans know in their hearts . . . that Seattle has and always will be a GREAT basketball city.”
In the absence of cash, how influential such numbers will be can’t be known. But every bit of stagecraft is being deployed following Sacramento’s robust response to the threat of losing its only major league sports franchise.
The California capital, led by its mayor, Kevin Johnson, will make a similar presentation to save its team in what has become virtually an auction for a free agent franchise that is unprecedented in NBA history and perhaps in all of major league sports.
Usually a team vulnerable to relocation has exhausted most options for remaining in its market. But Sacramento, with a long history of support for the Kings, has found three wealthy California investors, Ron Burkle, Vivek Ranadive and Mark Mastrov, to create a counteroffer to Hansen’s agreement in January to buy the Kings for a valuation of $525 million. He has deals to buy 72 percent of the club’s shares for $394 million.
Burkle, a co-owner of the NHL Pittsburgh franchise, has spearheaded an ultra-hasty effort to build a new arena downtown. He completed a similar deal to build an arena for the Penguins. The term sheet for the$448 million arena plan, including $258 million in public assets, was approved 7-2 by the city council last week.
But the Sacramento plan is a year behind Hansen’s plan, which was green-lighted by the Seattle city and King County councils in October after a six-month period of vetting. He was given the OK to pursue an NBA team while the $490 million arena project for the SoDo district works its way through litigation and an environmental review that won’t be completed until fall. That is well after the scheduled sale and relocation vote by the NBA owners April 19.
So while both bidders appear to have the wherewithal to purchase the team for an NBA-record price, neither will have an arena plan completed before the vote. So the committees will be tasked with recommending either keeping in place or moving a franchise despite the fact that neither bidder can publicly guarantee the completion of its arena proposal.
That uncertainty favors Sacramento, because the NBA and all sports leagues view a move as a last resort. Working in Seattle’s favor is a larger TV market — the nation’s No. 12, compared to Sacramento’s No. 20 — and a more robust economy with a more diverse business base of wealthy companies. But it is also a busier sports market, with NFL, MLB, MLS and big-time college football fighting for the sports dollar, and potentially an NHL franchise that Hansen is committed to pursuing.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine, who have backed the arena plan in Sodo since it was disclosed 14 months ago, will be with Hansen in New York to help the pitch. It’s unknown yet whether Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will join them. NBA commissioner David Stern has long expressed a desire to have Ballmer join the lodge brothers.
But Sacramento has an intriguing figure now heading the purchase in Ranadive. A minority owner in the Golden State Warriors, he is considered by some an influential figure in the NBA’s next big target in globalization — Ranadive’s native India. A report over the weekend by nba.com reporter Scott Howard-Cooper suggested that Ranadive’s capacity as a door-opener may play well among owners.
But since relatively little remains known publicly about the details in both bids, Wednesday’s meeting may provide the first real insights into the strengths and weaknesses of the Sacramento bid, since most aspects of the Seattle offer are known.
Hansen’s confidence remains high. He is talking with city officials about funding upgrades of up to $20 million for KeyArena this summer to prepare it for hosting the Kings starting in November.
And he’s now in receipt of 44,000 pats on the back.