Sacramento Kings arena funding plan to be released Sept. 8

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We don’t know the specifics of how the city of Sacramento plans to pay for the proposed $387 million Entertainment and Sports Complex (ESC), but we do know when they plan to announce those plans.

According to Ryan Lillis of the Sacramento Bee, a menu of funding options will be presented to the public on September 8, with a more detailed report being released on September 13 to both the public and City Council.

According to Lillis:

While precise details of the financing plan are still unknown, Chris Lehane, the chair of the task force, said in a new release this morning that it will include “contributions from both the public and private sectors, including the Kings ownership group, arena developers and operators.”

He also added:

It’s also expected that an arena operator – a company such as AEG – will be approached to help with the construction costs.

While the city of Sacramento’s efforts to keep the Kings have appeared at times to be as desperate as a 55-foot game-winner, the framework for the proposed funding options has been a relative constant, and has always been envisioned to be a mix of private and public funds.

Hotel and airport taxes have been discussed, but more recently the pencil has been sharpened to include user fees such as ticket surcharges and parking fees, in addition to the sale of city-owned properties, corporate sponsorships, and revenues originating from cell phone towers and electronic billboards placed on the ESC.

In short, every dollar will count as they tally up the funds, and the inclusion of a company like AEG to both fund the project and operate the arena sounds like a must at this point. That their name continues to come up in on-the-record and off-the-record discussion is a great sign for Kings fans.

And as we posted in June, the Maloofs liquidated most of their interest in the Palms to enhance their financial flexibility. While they could have done that simply to free up money for their continued involvement in the Palms, as George Maloof said was the case at the time, it stands to reason that being relieved on a $400 million note will help them be able to pitch in.

So where does the rubber meet the road here?

First, the Think Big Sacramento coalition, which includes 70-some odd politicians, businesses, community leaders, and the original grassroots leaders such as Carmichael Dave and Here We Stay — they will need to procure support within the Sacramento City Council, and then also have enough public support to marginalize attacks from any opposition groups. Attacks could come in the form of lawsuits seeking injunctive relief, most likely on the grounds that the use of public funds will require a public vote. The Kings arena effort would likely come up short if a vote is needed, so avoiding such a challenge will depend on the exact nature of the public funds being used and the appetite for opposition groups to go through a costly legal and political fight.

A lot of that appetite will be derived from what the folks in the Sacramento region actually think about this public subsidy. Losing the Kings will necessarily be a blow to the area, and most believe they will not be able to get an NBA team back should they lose this one. In the battle to attract businesses and the new-age worker that values a city’s identity, this could be a defining moment for the entire region.

And that is where the battle for public opinion is taking place. The Think Big Sacramento group is doing a commendable public relations job, with interactive campaigns targeting not just Kings fans, but folks that may be more inclined to see Disney on Ice than five shooting guards and one basketball. Between the town hall meetings, the dominant social media work they’re doing, and local events featuring non-basketball types such as world-renowned artist David Garibaldi (seriously, check out his work) – it’s safe to say that they’re not making the mistakes of the ill-fated arena tax campaign from 2006 that was easily rejected by the voters.

But as with anything else, you have to follow the money, as public funds come with questions about tax allocations, economics, and the like. Today, I spoke with leading sports economist Brad Humphreys (and expert witness in the Sonics vs. Seattle case no less), who has been outspoken about the problems with sports stadium subsidies (as are most of his colleagues), and the takeaway is that this isn’t just a Sacramento issue – it’s a United States issue.

Due to the artificial lack of supply (teams) in the major sports leagues, a De facto monopoly, teams have the leverage to demand public subsidies. If the city of Sacramento wants to belabor the point, the Kings will have a new address in Orange County – and that scenario has played itself out a number of times.

I’ll be scratching together another post about my conversation with this economist, which covered everything from sports subsidies to the Kings to the lockout. Interestingly, he said he wasn’t against the Kings’ arena subsidy, and in one (not yet peer-reviewed) white paper he wrote,

A new state of the art facility integrated in a comprehensive urban redevelopment program and located in the heart of a large city might be expected to generate increases in residential property values in the vicinity of hundreds of millions of dollars within a mile of the facility, if the location, planning, construction, and development are carried out carefully.

While most economists are mostly aligned in saying that no empirical evidence has been found to show that the presence of sports teams and so-called big sporting events (i.e. the Super Bowl) actually bring in additional tax revenue, let alone to cover the cost of the subsidy — it doesn’t mean that the proof doesn’t exist.

Sacramento County had a $40 million reduction in budgetary revenue this year due to the drop in property values in the area, which is money that they’re not getting back. That loss of revenue comes from the fact that people aren’t willing to pay as much to live in the Sacramento region.

So assuming, annually, the county gets the 1% property tax revenue on a theoretical ‘hundreds of millions of dollars (of increased property value) within a mile of the facility,’ this unexplored area of sports economics could answer the question as to why cities continue to ignore economists’ clamoring. While people may spend their entertainment dollars elsewhere (the substitution effect) if the Kings are not in town, they won’t necessarily pay as much to live there. The intangible benefits of living by your favorite sports team or having the option to go to an A-list show – those benefits may be being capitalized in ways economists have yet to find (or in this case, may be on the precipice of finding).

Humphreys took great care to point out that the case of Sacramento is unique, and that cities with downtown revitalization projects have had both success and failure. But in the world of data that economists live by, one thing is clear – they’re simply not ready to buy the economic impact reports that teams are selling, but they’re also not ready to rule out that the sports subsidy could be a good thing.

After all, everybody is doing it.

Suns use youngest starting lineup in NBA history

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The Suns have shut down their veterans or been shut down by their veterans with two goals in mind – developing young talent and tanking.

Incidentally, Phoenix also made history.

Against the Nets last night, the Suns started:

ESPN:

Elias on ESPN:

The previous youngest was the Clippers’ starting five consisting of guards Eric Bledsoe and Eric Gordon, forwards Al-Farouq Aminu and Blake Griffin, and center DeAndre Jordan, who averaged 21 years and 143 days old in a matchup with the Nets on November 15, 2010.

The young Suns gained quality experience – and helped their team to an important loss, 126-98 to Brooklyn.

Phoenix is still 1.5 games “behind” the Lakers for the No. 2 seed in the lottery, but the Suns are within striking distance in case the Lakers screw up and win too much down the stretch.

Georgetown considering alum, Hornets assistant Patrick Ewing as head coach

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Georgetown fired John Thompson III – a totally reasonable move considering the program’s fall, but also a stunning decision considering a Thompson had led the Hoyas 40 of the last 45 years.

John Thompson Jr. still holds influence at Georgetown, and there will be desire to limit the radicality of this shakeup. That’s no easy task in what had become a family program.

A possible solution: Hire Patrick Ewing, who starred under the elder Thompson, excelled with the Knicks and is now associate head coach of the Hornets.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Georgetown officials plan to consider the head-coaching candidacy of the university’s most legendary basketball alumnus, Patrick Ewing, sources told The Vertical.

Ewing, 54, has long been committed to pursuing an NBA head-coaching job and moved closer to getting one with the Sacramento Kings in the spring. Only the sudden availability of Dave Joerger, whom Memphis fired, stood between Ewing and a formal offer, league sources said.

Ewing – who has worked under Steve Clifford in Charlotte, Stan Van Gundy with the Magic, Jeff Van Gundy with the Rockets and Doug Collins with the Wizards – has long coveted an NBA head-coaching job. He had an illustrious career and put in his time as an assistant. Not long ago, that would have gotten him a top job. Now, it merely gets him interviews, and Ewing has yet to close.

Will that change? His close call with the Kings is a positive indicator, but they were desperate with established coaches avoiding them. It doesn’t mean other NBA teams will pick Ewing over a bevy of options.

Georgetown would give Ewing a chance to prove he can lead an entire program after being pigeonholed as a big-man coach. If he wins there, NBA teams would become more interested. His deep professional experience, playing and coaching, means he won’t risk being labeled just a college coach. Plus, returning to his alma mater could be fulfilling.

But the Hoyas could look elsewhere rather than handing the job to someone with no college-coaching experience. As Ewing surely knows by now, there’s no easy path to the top for him.

PBT Podcast: Former Bull B.J. Armstrong talks Jerry Kraus, triangle, Derrick Rose, more

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Three-time NBA champion — turned agent and podcaster in his own right — B.J. Armstrong joins me in this latest podcast and we get into a lot of different topics: late Bulls’ GM Jerry Kraus, the triangle offense in today’s NBA, his being an agent for Derrick Rose heading into free agency, his time in the elite eight with Iowa, and there’s even a Luc Longly story.

We also get into how Armstrong is busy post playing days, both as a Wasserman basketball agent and as a podcaster, he has a new show with Ric Bucher. He’s also working with a company called Cycle where he gives 24-second talks on NBA topics.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Courtside seats you can afford: NBA ventures into world of virtual reality

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Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams is banging on Houston’s Clint Capela — elbows extended, using those arms, his strength, and his backside to seal off like it’s a box-out. It’s the kind of surprisingly physical off-the-ball pick (with a little hold) that only those wealthy enough to have courtside baseline seats usually get to appreciate up close.

Adams’ pick works, it keeps the lane open — and Russell Westbrook explodes into that space for the kind of slam you can feel in those courtside seats.

Except you’re not courtside. Not even close.

You’re sitting on your couch, wearing the virtual reality headset that transports you to the baseline to Oklahoma City, via a camera attached to the stanchion behind the basket.

It’s a new view, a new way to experience an NBA game that the league is embracing, and while it’s still a work in progress it’s also something that shows a lot of promise.

“A lot of people see the (NBA virtual reality) commercials and think it’s cool, which it is, but until you experience it you don’t know,” said Bruce Bowen, the retired NBA champion who is now part of the virtual reality broadcast team on NBA games. “You don’t get the opportunity to experience things like this, when it comes to basketball and the best players in the world utilizing their athleticism, utilizing their grace, and seeing it come to life quite as it does.

“It just so happens that we did a game in Dallas, and Michael Finley — a friend of mine as well as a teammate of mine in San Antonio (Ed. note: he’s now in the front office in Dallas) — he watched the rerun. So after his game, he went and watched it and he was raving about it, about how this is truly special, and that you don’t think it’s going to turn out the way it does but it’s truly remarkable.”

The NBA is embracing virtual reality — and we’re not just talking about training referees, or teaching point guards to make better decisions. The NBA has become the first major professional sports league to broadcast weekly games that can be watched in virtual reality from a headset in your home. They did the same thing at the All-Star Game with the All-Star Saturday night events.

“It’s an unreal experience where you can put the VR headset on and look around and feel like you’re there,” Stephen Curry told NBCSports.com of his experience with the NBA’s virtual reality. “I know that technology is only going to get better and more impactful in the game of basketball, and sports in general.”

“I think our sport has some innate advantages,” says Jeff Marsilio, the Vice President of Global Media Distribution for the NBA. “We sometimes joke around that if we were to start over and build a sport for virtual reality, it would end up looking a lot like what our sport does today. …

“We’ve got huge players who are so incredibly athletic and you can get close to them with virtual reality.”

The league has partnered with NextVR to bring that courtside experience to fans. NextVR is a company that has experience broadcasting live events in virtual reality (including The Masters, among many others). I got the chance to test the technology at All-Star weekend. Like a lot of virtual reality tech, it is a work in progress in terms of smoothy watching the game, but it also new perspective that few fans get to experience. It is immersive; you feel like you’re much closer to the action than with a traditional broadcast.

It works like all VR does — if Westbrook drives and kicks to the corner to Victor Oladipo, you can turn your head to follow the ball and the field of vision pans with you.

To watch requires a virtual-reality headset and a Samsung phone with the NextVR app downloaded, or Google’s Daydream (which has other features from the NBA we will get to soon). If you have League Pass you can jump right in. If not, the cost is $6.99 per game, and there is about one game available per week.

NextVR puts together that broadcast, which has its own announcers and graphics.

“The adaptation in the broadcast is ‘look left, look right,’ really having to direct your audience, whereas in a regular telecast somebody is watching the game, you don’t have to say ‘look left at this,’” Bowen said. “What you’re doing now is directing the viewer to certain things that catch your eye. ‘If you look right you’ll see there’s a dispute going on between two players,’ or ‘this guy is coming right at you.’ Just helping them in certain situations.”

“It’s very similar to a live broadcast. The signal is produced in a truck (on site),” said David Cole, co-founder and CEO of NextVR. “The difference is there’s outbound signal from all of the available cameras, and that gives us the ability to allow you to choose the camera position you want.”

Soon, if fans want to watch from the courtside camera in the middle of the court, you’ll be able to have that view all game (even if a player checking in blocks your view for a while, just like people in actual courtside seats deal with). There are eight cameras usually at each game, and a handful will be set up by the end of the year so that you can stay just with that camera. If you want to know what it’s like to sit in courtside baseline seats — and you don’t have five grand to blow on one game — this is almost like being there.

“When we started experimenting with David and NextVR, we thought the ultimate was just the pure courtside seat experience,” Marsilio said. “And what we discovered in this experimentation phase is that’s a great core to build upon, but you really need to pull in some of the more traditional elements from things like television.”

Things such as having the score easy to see, or having replays of a dunk or block.

However, this presents a challenge. If a graphic pops up on your television at home while watching a game, you don’t think twice about it. However, if you are in an immersive environment where the goal is to make it seem like you’re in a courtside seat, then a graphic starts to take over that field of vision, it can take you out of that experience.

Which leads to the next challenge for the VR experience — social media. For many fans watching an NBA game is a two-screen experience, one with the game on and one — a phone, tablet, or laptop — with Twitter or another social media platform open. That has become part of the NBA community, almost like watching a game at a bar 20 years ago (but smarter and funnier… usually).

“We’ve demonstrated a number of different social integrations into the experience … you can opt to receive messages right now, so you can opt to text and that kind of thing in the environment right now,” Cole said.

“But it’s something we’re being incredibly studied and measured about right now because we can blow your sense of presence, that covenant with the view that says ‘this is just like being there and this is real.’ If you choose to have that different kind of information inserted and knock yourself out of that, that’s one thing. But when it just happens because someone sends you a message or a Tweet pops up or something that blows you out of the experience, it’s very disrupting. And we may not get you back.”

It’s a fine line to walk, and with the NBA on the cutting edge, the league is treating these experiments as a learning experience.

“That sense of presence you’re in danger of disrupting, it also gives it the potential to be the most social platform, because if you can give people the experience of being present together, you can give them the sense of watching together,” Marsilio said.

The NBA also partnered with Google Daydream for another way to integrate VR into the sport. Daydream has set up several experiences where a famous NBA player — the one I watched had Robert Horry — was sitting in a comfortable leather chair with a comedian/host in another chair, both in a loft-like environment, and on the big screen behind them is a classic NBA game. Throughout the experience, Horry and the host joke and talk about the action, telling stories and giving insights on the game.

“The chief opportunity for us is our live game, no question, but a close second is just getting our fans closer to our players,” Marsilio said. “Letting them experience that sense of presence of these players they admire so much. And you can feel like you’re hanging out, kind of watching the game together.”

Of course, the NBA will eventually look to sell advertising through these broadcasts — never forget that this is a business first. The key is to make those ads immersive and part of the experience, not just something to be watched passively.

“There is a huge amount of potential,” Cole said. “Whether they are cutaways (during breaks in the action) or insertions in another way — sponsored instant replay, sponsored graphics — there are options. …

“The one difference between us and a traditional linear broadcast is we have a 360-degree world to sell ads into.”

The NBA seems well positioned to bet on VR as the NBA’s demographic skews younger than the other major American sports leagues and is filled with early adopters. According to NextVR, the addition of mobile capability has already broadened the platform’s audience by a wide margin, proving there is potentially a large group for the NBA to reach.

“NextVR does not disclose viewership numbers however, we have seen an increased amount of time spent in headsets immersed with NBA content since the beginning of our partnership,” Cole said. “We also continue to receive extremely positive feedback.”

That feedback has the league pushing to get more people to put on the headsets and sit courtside. At a much more affordable price than the actual seats.