Comparing markets, attendance and ownership in Sacramento and Seattle

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We’ve discussed the issues that will determine whether or not the Sacramento Kings stay in California’s capitol or go to Seattle, including the impact of public subsidy support in both cities, the race between the two cities for an arena deal, and what lawsuits pending in Seattle mean to the process.

Next we take a look at markets, attendance, and ownership groups for both locations.

Sources with knowledge of the league’s thinking tell PBT that neither city will have a discernible advantage in these areas heading into meetings with the Board of Governors joint committees on April 3.

Seattle enjoys the nation’s No. 12 television market but shares that market with up to six sports teams, an issue that has come under great scrutiny when comparing Seattle with Sacramento, something the Sacramento side brings up often.  David Stern pointed the issue out at All Star weekend, Chris Hansen’s group reported the same idea in its market analysis, and Sacramento’s group highlighted the same thing this past week when they unveiled their market analysis to the press.

A potential Sonics franchise would share Seattle’s larger market with the Mariners, Seahawks, Sounders, and University of Washington football, in addition to an NHL team if Hansen’s group can make it happen.

That would reportedly position Seattle closer to Sacramento’s No. 20 television market, where the NBA enjoys 100 percent market share.

Think Big Sacramento, the city’s arena task force, put out a report this week contending that they are a better market than Seattle, which is what they’re supposed to say, but when you look at a similar report put out by Chris Hansen’s group the two sides aren’t necessarily squabbling over the details.

Hansen’s report indicates that Sacramento has 1.4 million TV homes per team (NBA, NFL, NBA, NHL), compared to 937,000 TV Homes for Seattle under the current scenario of two sports teams (Mariners and Seahawks) already in town.

Under this metric, Sacramento ranks No. 2 and Seattle ranks No. 4.  Orlando is ranked No. 1, L.A. is ranked No. 3, New York is No. 5, and from there it goes Atlanta, Philadelphia, Houston, Chicago and Dallas — mostly large markets.

Should Seattle secure both an NBA and NHL team they will fall to No. 15 on Hansen’s report.  If you add the successful Seattle Sounders MLS franchise to the metrics as Hansen’s group does, then Seattle falls to No. 21 assuming they land two new pro sports franchises.

League sources say the TV Homes per team metric is one of the reasons small-to-mid markets like Orlando, Sacramento, and Seattle are coveted by the league.  Networks understand the competitive impact of multiple sports teams in a region that steal away eyeballs and ratings, and they include such analysis in their bids for rights packages and the like.

Otherwise, leagues would contend that ‘TV Homes’ never watched any of the other sporting options available to them, and instead just the games that a particular league is selling to a network.

Still, Hansen’s report states that Seattle (84) has 30 more businesses than Sacramento (54) with 1,000 or more employees, and Seattle’s household median income is ranked No. 6 ($66,500) compared to Sacramento at No. 8 ($63,618). However, if you use the 2011 federal numbers for the counties of these cities (King County and Sacramento County, and work to draw fans outside the city limits) that gap grows to more than $15,000 a household.

Just like other professional teams cut into the NBA’s TV viewership in Seattle, sources say the same issue mitigates the advantage the Emerald City has in terms of potential sponsors.  The issue was summed up by longtime Seattle writer Art Thiel, as he said in a recent roundtable discussion between local pro- and anti-arena groups that competition for sponsorships in Seattle could be a problem.

“Which team in Seattle is the sixth ticket in town? When you consider Seahawks, Mariners, Sounders, University of Washington sports and then these two new teams that might occupy Hansen’s arena … the complicated business problem in Seattle is that our major companies here like Amazon and Microsoft are either bit or ‘no’ players in the sports sponsorship scene. They don’t buy the suites, they don’t do the sponsorships at least at the same degree as you find elsewhere with Fortune 500 companies.”

At his State of the City address last week, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson revealed that he had sponsorship commitments of $50 million over five years from local businesses, which is similar to the $10 million Johnson secured when the Maloofs tried to leave for Anaheim in 2011.

It is unclear what Seattle has presented to the league on that front, as Seattle supporters have maintained that Hansen is under a gag order and cannot talk about his proposal to the press.

As for Hansen’s arena task force marketing itself or leaking information to the media about sponsorship support in Seattle, league sources do not expect the group to be public about their position.  As they put it, “when you’re trying to take a team from another city, particularly one that is fighting as hard as Sacramento is, it pays to be quiet.”

Past attendance will likely be a moot point or favor Sacramento, as Kings fans have turned out at the gate more frequently than their Sonics counterparts over the years.

Given the constant relocation threats and substandard ownership over the past five years, sources say the league is impressed that Kings fans continue to show up the way that they did, just as the league was impressed with Sonics fans when they showed up for the last two years under Clay Bennett prior to the team’s move to Oklahoma City.

Sources say the league won’t be overly critical of attendance in either city once public relations became a nightmare.  This was the case starting in 2006 in Sacramento after the Maloofs torched an arena deal and in that same year when Bennett took over ownership of the Sonics.

Ownership groups are another area in which sources tell PBT that the league is likely to conduct itself with some ambivalence.

Steve Ballmer is ranked No. 51 on Forbes’ top billionaires list, while Chris Hansen, Ron Burkle, and Mark Mastrov are not listed.  Each ownership group is “overly qualified” to own an NBA franchise, and the sports connections each group brings to the table are regarded as second-to-none.  Burkle is a finalist to purchase sports and entertainment powerhouse AEG, while Ballmer’s wealth alone is enough to make most owners blush.

Sources with knowledge of the league’s thinking said this is a great problem for the NBA to have, but pointed out that the league is highly unlikely to make this a question about which ownership group is better, instead letting the other factors decide the matter.  “There are only so many yachts these guys can water ski behind, and while Hansen and Ballmer are a dream team when it comes to ownership, it’s doubtful the NBA is going to downgrade Burkle and Mastrov.”

The source added that it didn’t make sense for the league to pit the ownership groups against one another, noting the association still wants to do business with both well into the future.

After David Stern’s press conference on Friday in which he said the Sacramento offer needed to be increased, and subsequent votes of confidence from Mastrov and Johnson that they would be able to deliver, the framework for discussion among owners is all but laid out.

Assuming Sacramento can provide the right offer, with the two cities drawing toward a tie on the issues of markets, attendance and ownership groups, the source said that with the advantage Sacramento has on the public subsidy issue, “Tie should go to the runner.”

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue on LeBron James’ heavy workload: ‘Next, he might play 48 minutes’

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) Except for his backpedaling hairline, LeBron James shows no visible signs of age.

At 32, still in his prime, and still at the top of his game, he’s defying time.

“Benjamin Button,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue called him, referring to the fictional character who ages backward.

LeBenjamin?

Following a regular season in which he averaged more minutes per game (37.8) than any player, James logged 43.7 per game during Cleveland’s tougher-than-it-looked sweep over the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs. And as James and the defending champions await either Toronto or Milwaukee in the second round, James is taking advantage of the down time.

Not that he might need it.

Lue spent much of the season defending his use of James, who in all honesty is really the one in control of when he sits or doesn’t. At this point, Lue has given up worrying about resting the superstar.

“I don’t understand why people make a big deal out of his minutes,” Lue said Wednesday. “He had a week off before the series started. We won four straight games and then he had a week off again. So next he might play 48 minutes. … Bron today just said he feels worse when he doesn’t play.”

James wasn’t available for interviews as the team gathered for the first time in two days at Cleveland Clinic Courts, and it’s likely that he won’t speak to the media until the Cavs have a second-round opponent.

But as has been the case for months, James’ playing time was one of the prime topics presented to Lue, who believes that the four-time MVP’s heavy workload during the regular season is what enables him to play at such high levels in the postseason.

Consider that James averaged 32.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 9.0 assists, shot 54 percent from the field, went 9 of 20 on 3-pointers and led the Cavaliers to the biggest second-half comeback in league history during the series against Indiana, and it’s easy to see why Lue wants to move past the minutes chatter.

“With him playing the minutes he played during the course of the regular season, it has helped him in the playoffs,” Lue said. “Now he is able to play those 42, 43 minutes. Because he’s used to it. His body can take it, so, I’m not worried about what outside people say.”

Unlike the regular season, when brutal travel schedules, back-to-backs and stretches of three games in four nights can wear players down, the postseason allows for recovery. Lue also thinks too many teams are allowing outside pressures to influence how they use players.

“Teams are suffering,” he said, “because they listen to what the media is saying about guys playing minutes” and “some teams should play some guys more minutes, and it would’ve been different (playoff) series.”

James has ramped up his minutes nearly every postseason. Now in his 12th playoffs, he averaged 39.1 minutes last year and has only twice averaged less than 40 per game.

Lue trusts that the three-time champion knows how far to push himself without reaching his breaking point.

“He knows his body better than anyone,” Lue said. “He said he feels great and he feels worse when he doesn’t play, so we’ll see how that works out.”

As for the rest of the Cavaliers, Wednesday included some competition in the team’s weight room on an aerobic conditioning machine while the team’s in-house DJ from Quicken Loans Arena spun music. After the vigorous workouts, yoga mats were dragged onto the court and the facility’s lights were dimmed for some stretching and decompression.

Namaste, NBA-style.

The Cavs had a similar, one-week break between the first and second rounds last season. Kyrie Irving said it’s imperative to make the most of it.

“The mental preparation and physical preparation starts now and hasn’t stopped,” he said. “Took a brief day off or two and now just get back to work and get ready for whichever team we’re getting ready for. The work never stops.”

For more AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

NBA fines Rockets owner Leslie Alexander $100,000 for confronting referee

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Rockets owner Leslie Alexander got up from his courtside seat, walked down the sideline and talked to referee Bill Kennedy during Houston’s Game 5 win over the Thunder.

It took less than a day for an investigation to yield the predictable result.

NBA release:

Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander has been fined $100,000 for confronting a referee during live game action, it was announced today by Byron Spruell, President, NBA League Operations.

The interaction occurred with 0:13 remaining in the first quarter of the Rockets’ 105-99 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on April 25 at Toyota Center.

Per Patricia Bender’s database, this is the NBA’s largest fine in nearly two years. The NBA fined the Clippers $250,000 in 2015 for setting up DeAndre Jordan with an endorsement deal while trying to lure him back in free agency.

The NBA rightfully keeps owners on a tight leash. Unlike players, coaches and referees, who have their own unions, the league office represents the owners. So when one crosses the line – Alexander trampled over it – the hammer comes down hard. It’s an example to keep everyone else in line, and owners know they come out way ahead in this arrangement. Alexander might not like the punishment, but he benefits from owning a share of a league that so strongly dissuades such behavior.

David Stern: ‘Shame on the Brooklyn Nets’

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Brooklyn rested Brook Lopez, Jeremy Lin and Trevor Booker for its final game this season, which had huge playoff implications. Not for the Nets, of course. They were long eliminated from postseason contention.

But the Bulls beat Brooklyn to reach the playoffs over the Heat, who also won that night.

Miami fans were obviously ticked, and they have company in former NBA commissioner David Stern.

Stern, via Sam Amick of USA Today:

“I have no idea what was in the mind of the executives of the Brooklyn Nets — none — when they rested their starting players,” Stern, who still holds the title of Commissioner Emeritus, told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday on the NBA A to Z podcast. “If you’re playing in a game of consequence, that has an impact, which is as good as it gets (you should play your players). Here we are, the Brooklyn Nets are out of the running. They have the lowest record in the sport. But they have an opportunity to weigh in on the final game with respect to Chicago. And they sit their starters? Really? It’s inexcusable in my view. I don’t think the Commissioner maybe can, or even should, do anything about it. But shame on the Brooklyn Nets. They broke the (pact with fans).”

The resting dilemma takes slightly different forms when it involves a team like Brooklyn rather than a certain playoff team, but the underlying conflict remains the same:

The team is better off resting its players.

The NBA is worse off, at least in the short term.

The league was robbed of an important competitive game that could’ve drawn higher ratings. The Nets had just beaten Chicago a days prior, but that was with major contributions from Lopez and Lin. Without them, Brooklyn had little chance and lost by 39.

The Nets weren’t playing for anything, not even a higher draft pick. They owe their first-rounder to the Celtics and already clinched the worst record anyway. Brooklyn was better off resting those veterans at the end of a long regular season.

There’s no easy answer. If the NBA bans resting, teams will sit players and assign to minor or made-up injuries. If the league shortens the season, it will lose revenue.

The best solution is to improve at the margins – provide more rest days (which the league will do next season) and schedule nationally televised games outside of grueling stretches of the schedule. That’s obviously no silver bullet, though. Bulls-Nets wasn’t nationally televised, and Brooklyn had the day off before and the entire offseason off after.

Another potential solution: Shaming teams into playing their top players. Stern is giving that one a go.

NBA looking into Rockets’ owner interacting with referee during game

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Like every Rockets fan — and, let’s be honest, every fan of every team — Leslie Alexander is convinced the referees were screwing over his Rockets.

Except that Alexander is the owner of the Rockets.

And he approached a referee during game play.

The NBA is understandably investigating this, as reported by the Houston Chronicle.

The NBA said an investigation “is underway” into Rockets’ owner Leslie Alexander’s getting up from his courtside seat to have a few words with official Bill Kennedy in the first half.

Alexander appeared to say something to Kennedy during a Thunder possession before returning to his seat. Alexander declined to give any detail beyond he was “upset … really upset.” Rockets guard James Harden said he didn’t see his owner get up. “He did that?” a surprised Harden said after the game. “He’s the coolest guy. I would have helped him.”

The NBA doesn’t let players or coaches cross a line when talking to officials, but they are at least allowed to interact and discuss calls with a ref during a game. It’s something else entirely for an owner to get in the ear of an official during game play.

I’d expect Alexander will see a fine for this.

Whatever he thought of the officiating, the Rockets won to advance on to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs.