Tag: Ron Burkle


Comparing markets, attendance and ownership in Sacramento and Seattle


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.”

Future of NBA arena subsidies, market comparisons to decide Kings’ fate


As Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has been advertising for the past month, we did indeed get confirmation of the identity of his ‘whales’ at his State of the City address on Thursday.

Reiterating parts of his four-part plan that included bringing together a local ownership group, finding big equity investors (whales), putting together a downtown arena deal, and demonstrating the value of the Sacramento marketplace – Johnson would announce that 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov and billionaire Ron Burkle would put in a bid to keep the Kings in Sacramento.

“With all due respect to Seattle, I do hope they get a team someday, but let me be perfectly crystal clear, it is not going to be this team,” said Johnson.

Johnson also announced that former Kings great Mitch Richmond would join the local ownership group and that the city’s proposal would include an option to return WNBA basketball to Sacramento.

Sources close to the situation told PBT that the framework of the offer delivered to the NBA on Friday was very close to Seattle’s $341 million offer for a controlling 65 percent interest in the club. NBA spokesman Tim Frank confirmed delivery of the offer on Friday, the day of the deadline.

Over the next month Sacramento will continue to iron out the details on a public subsidy and arena deal locally with the Sacramento City Council, which will ultimately vote on a term sheet to be delivered to the Board of Governors in time for their April 18-19 meeting.

Sources tell PBT that the Sacramento offer will be conveyed by the group to the NBA’s joint committees in charge of reviewing the situation on or around April 1. It is expected that Seattle’s group will also meet with that committee around that time, though no meeting has been publicly acknowledged.

According to sources, the two issues that will drive the conversation is the league’s strategy for securing arena subsidies in the future, and the impact each market will have on team revenues and the league’s financial model as a whole. Also under consideration are timelines to deliver an arena, ownership groups, and the precedent the league could set by blocking an owner from selling to a group of their choosing.

The league blocked a sale of the Minnesota Timberwolves to a group headed by boxing promoter Bob Arum in 1994, but a well-placed source told PBT that the league views this transaction as “unprecedented,” citing that never before has the league relocated from a city that has supported its team both at the gate and with public subsidy dollars.

The Maloof ownership group reportedly has “little to no leverage” in NBA’s decision-making process. They also reportedly owe the NBA in excess of $100 million on a line of credit they’ve used throughout their ownership. If called in, the family’s financial woes could give the league an opening to use the ‘Best Interests of the League’ clause, similar to the way Major League Baseball removed Dodgers owner Frank McCourt.

Sources do not expect the Maloof family to push back on the league’s decision to back either Sacramento or Seattle, citing the prohibitive costs of an antitrust lawsuit, and the potential for the family to lose a chance to cash out in Sacramento or Seattle.

The issue of market comparisons between Sacramento and Seattle is cloudy, but sources expect Sacramento to be competitive in that area because it has one major sports team in their No. 20 TV market, while Seattle could have six major sports teams in its No. 12 TV market. We will cover this in a bit more detail later in the next few weeks.

While details about Sacramento’s ownership group are a bit hazy at this time, it has been expected that Mastrov would be the front man. The more private Burkle reportedly would focus on the development of the Downtown Plaza location. Sources indicate the duo will share in the ownership of a potential deal, though it’s unclear what those percentages will be. Both owners have been vetted by the NBA, and Mastrov finished second in the Golden State Warriors bid that recently went to the Joe Lacob group.

While Seattle’s Chris Hansen-Steve Ballmer group has enormous wealth, another well-placed source speaking to PBT under condition of anonymity said the league is happy with both ownership groups and not to expect a deal to hinge on any comparison between them.

If a showdown comes to the owners’ deciding vote, some sources hinted at a scenario in which the league tells the Hansen group that they’re going to choose Sacramento – allowing the Hansen group to bow out gracefully and avoid a divisive ownership vote.

Should the league favor Sacramento, sources say the work the city has done to fight for its team and the narrative it will give the league to sell to future cities in arena negotiations will have played a critical role in the NBA’s decision-making process.

Seattle’s deal contains a greater percentage of private funds due to local initiative-91 requiring public funds to return a guaranteed profit, which is a trend the league wants to avoid.  On the other hand, Sacramento’s deal fits the public-private model the league is selling to cities, with a larger public subsidy going toward a new state-of-the-art building in a downtown revitalization effort.

We will cover that issue in greater detail in the coming weeks.

In order to keep their team, Sacramento will need eight votes out of 29 other owners to block the transfer of ownership to Seattle’s Hansen/Ballmer group.

Lawsuits in Seattle give Sacramento head start in race to approve an arena

seattle arenas

The question of which city, Sacramento or Seattle, is ahead in the race to bring the NBA a brand new arena attached to a shiny new public subsidy is unclear at this time, but sources with intimate knowledge of the situation tell PBT that so long as Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson delivers on his promises that Sacramento will be ahead in that process.

A lot of that comes down where each city is legally within that process, and how that process is conducted in both Washington and California.

While some early media reports might have led folks to believe that Chris Hansen’s arena deal (and offer to buy the team) were a slam dunk, the documents laying out the framework of his arena proposal are under siege.

Specifically, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and Interlocal Agreement (IA) he entered into with the city of Seattle and King County have been under intense scrutiny locally, as they are currently the target of two lawsuits.  The first of those lawsuits is potentially being decided today at 1:30 PT.

The first suit brought by the International Longshoreman’s Workers Union challenges the site selection process within Washington’s Environment Impact Review (EIR) process, saying that Hansen and the local government conducted a “sham” site review process that did not provide reasonable, actionable alternatives other than Hansen’s hand-picked site.

That site, located in Seattle’s SODO district, has been the battleground of competing arguments regarding traffic and how it might impact Port of Seattle’s operations, and otherwise cause gentrification, loss of business in the area, and impact a large number of family-wage jobs in exchange for temporary construction jobs and a smaller number of low-paying arena jobs.

Arena proponents point out that most of the events at the proposed SODO site would occur after the Port’s business hours. Arena opponents say that the cumulative impact of creating a third large-scale sports and entertainment facility within their maritime industrial area, with an L.A. Live-like experience of retail outlets and restaurants, will necessarily bring more traffic to the region regardless of hour and disrupt Port operations.

These kinds of lawsuits are standard fare in any large-scale development project nationally right now, but they can have impacts on developments. In this case, opponents of the current MOU and EIR process point out that it could take “hundreds of millions of dollars” to mitigate the traffic issues a new arena would face, according to head lawyer for the ILWU suit Peter Goldman.

Hansen has offered $40 million to address traffic mitigation concerns, but in reality the question of who pays what for additional mitigation has yet to be solved because the EIR has yet to address the issue. Should Hansen have to pay for additional mitigation, it could further strap him and his group as it relates to their overall offer for the Kings, but the fear for locals is that the money would have to come from the public coffers.

The ILWU’s suit alleges a number of concerns relating to the site selection process, and asks the court to force Hansen and the local government to declare the MOU and IA “null and void” because they are in violation of the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).

It is unclear whether or not this would impact Hansen and the local government’s warranties to the NBA about its current arena situation.

(UPDATE: The judge ruled in favor of Hansen, Seattle, and King county and dismissed the lawsuit.  Hansen and governmental officials argued they did not have an arena agreement in place and that they would look at other locations.)

Goldman said that this suit was “preliminary,” and cited the broad swath of industry that is opposing the arena proposal in its current form. He pointed out that there will be more times for lawsuits to be filed down the road, but that he and his client were concerned that the site selection process wasn’t being conducted according to current state laws.

The second lawsuit relates to Seattle’s in-force Initiative 91 and the contention by its co-author Mark Baerwaldt that the current MOU does not meet the law’s criteria.

Baerwaldt is careful to point out that the courts would decide the matter. His complaints focus on the financing mechanisms that Hansen and the local government are using to meet the statute’s definition of turning a profit on public subsidies for sports arenas. This lawsuit is awaiting response from Hansen, Seattle, and King County.

I-91’s other co-author, Chris Van Dyk, has also been at the center of this discussion, being cited by many Seattle media outlets as being supportive of Hansen and Seattle’s MOU. He addressed those reports exclusively with PBT, saying he “never said it was compliant” and that “if he’s the best cheerleader (Hansen and Seattle) can come up with then they’re in trouble.”

Van Dyk also offered that “he’s looking forward to hearing the expert testimony,” because he didn’t think “I-91 anticipated meeting the type of funding mechanism that Hansen has presented.”

Whether or not the Longshoreman’s suit goes in favor of the plaintiff or Hansen and Seattle, Goldman says to expect more legal resistance down the road.  If they win, Hansen and Seattle has to start over with their MOU and come to the table with alternative sites that they may not like.  Then the city would have to choose between the site that Hansen wants, and a potential site that presents better alternatives in terms of environmental concerns and traffic.

If they lose today, he says that there is a “significant appetite” not just by his clients but a broad swath of industry including the Port of Seattle to appeal the decision and fight the EIR process at every stage. All of the potential delays and injunctions were reflected when David Stern told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle that the NBA had “no approved plan for an arena in Seattle.”

Therein lies the rub for the Seattle group. While they seek to convince the BOG that they have an actionable arena plan, they are arguing in court that their MOU and IA just lay out a process for reviewing and financing an arena proposal and do not constitute an ‘action’ under state EIR laws. Therefore, they contend that the Longshoreman’s suit is not “ripe” and are asking for it to be thrown out.

Sources with intimate knowledge of the situation tell PBT that this is a tightrope that the Seattle group can walk, and Scott Howard Cooper of NBA.com illustrated that point by saying the league isn’t overly concerned with legal issues in either Seattle or Sacramento, but the question goes back to points made by TNT’s David Aldridge about which city can get an arena deal done first.

Aldridge, who had previously reported Seattle had a “clear path” to obtaining the Kings, said on Saturday “there are questions about whether or not the Seattle deal is as airtight as they say it is.”

After Stern’s press conference on Saturday Aldridge elaborated, “We have very equal bids here. What it comes down to is the feel the owners have on ownership groups, and which arena can be built the fastest.”

The EIR process in Seattle is underway, but with two lawsuits pending and only the judges in both suits being capable of delivering an up-or-down answer to the litany of issues presented, the uncertainty over what type of delays Seattle could face and what type of mitigation will be needed to preserve other parties’ rights are huge question marks.

On the other side, it’s Johnson’s track record of delivering on promises to the NBA that has insiders optimistic about Sacramento’s chances of delivering that ‘fair and competitive’ offer that will include a significant public subsidy and downtown arena.

That effort has been underway for a while now, as the NBA negotiated the current arena deal that the Maloofs backed out of, a deal that Johnson and Sacramento have maintained is still on the table.

Additionally, proposed arena locations in Sacramento aren’t likely to have the same types of blowback being faced in Seattle, where their sizable maritime industrial economy feels threatened by Hansen’s proposal.

One source with intimate knowledge of the situation speaking to PBT under conditions of anonymity spoke about Sacramento’s pair of proposed locations:

“Both potential Sacramento sites are complimentary to the existing downtown commercial uses, and unlike the fight in Seattle the downtown proposals are being welcomed as a revitalization project. Both are efficient reuses of developed property, and both sites qualify under the expedited state AB 900 CEQA process, which limits the delay from any potential lawsuits. Having already approved a deal structure a year ago with no lawsuits filed, Sacramento has a big advantage to deliver a timely arena facility.”

That AB 900 CEQA process is an interesting wrinkle to Sacramento’s effort to keep their team, as the bill creating that process was recently signed into law and co-authored by Think Big Sacramento supporter and California Senate President pro Tem Dan Steinberg. According to law firm Stoel and Rives:

“The (bill provides) an incentive for applicants to move forward with their projects because any challenge to a leadership project Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”) under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) will be venued immediately in the Court of Appeal. The court will then have a maximum of 175 days to issue its decision on the challenged EIR”

Incidentally, the bill was passed in part to help facilitate the potential Farmer’s Field deal to bring NFL football back to L.A. The company driving that proposal is AEG, who is supporting Sacramento’s bid and being pursued for purchase by Ron Burkle, who is one of the ‘whales’ that reportedly stands behind Sacramento’s offer.

“It’s time for big thinking and big projects that put Californians back to work,” said California Governor Brown. “Projects like Farmers Field can create thousands of jobs during a tough economic time, so it is imperative for the state to cut the red tape that could delay projects like this for years. These bills strike the right balance between protecting our environment and kick-starting jobs and investment in California.”

Sources say NBA owners will be weighing the totality of the arena timelines for both sides, and in Seattle’s case how many years a potential Sonics team will have to play at Key Arena, a facility deemed by the NBA to not meet its standards when the Sonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008.

Hansen’s current plan calls for a potential Sonics team to play in Key Arena (with modest improvements) for as little as two years, while arena opponents believe that timeframe could be extended to as many as four years if lawsuits hold up the process. While Sacramento could face similar lawsuits, they didn’t face any during the 2011 arena deal, and the expedited review process and potential for less environmental concerns at the city’s proposed sites have sources pointing at the issue as a point in favor of Kevin Johnson’s expected proposal.

While Seattle’s lawsuits aren’t likely to be the defining factor in this saga – Sacramento’s production of an actionable offer will be that factor –the fact that the Emerald City can’t say with certainly how long they’ll be locked up at Key Arena could be the starting point for their bid to take the Kings to unravel.

David Stern sets the stage for final leg of the Sacramento Kings saga

NBA Commissioner David Stern listens at a news conference before the All Star slam dunk competition during the NBA basketball All-Star weekend in Houston

There is a lot to understand when it comes to the potential sale of Sacramento Kings.  As NBA commissioner David Stern laid out Saturday, the 29 owners deciding the Kings’ future home face a complex story involving a great ownership group in Seattle and a compelling story out of Sacramento.

Seattle’s ownership group already has executed a contract to buy the Kings from the Maloof family. If Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson produces a “fair and competitive” offer – including a significant public subsidy for a new arena – it would potentially give the owners two viable options.

A sale agreement would need to be approved by a three-quarters vote of NBA owners. A relocation approval must pass with a majority vote. Both issues are intertwined, as Stern has combined both relocation and finance committees to review the matter with a vote likely occurring at the Board of Governors meeting in mid-April.

The Maloofs have already filed for relocation to Seattle, and despite reports out of Seattle that the deal has already been vetted Stern said on Saturday that the committees are still reviewing the sale and relocation bid.

Early reports mirrored the efforts of the Seattle group to portray an NBA decision to allow the Kings to move to Seattle as a done deal.  Sources have told PBT that Sacramento would be given a real chance to produce a ‘fair and competitive’ offer to keep the team in California’s capitol.

Stern’s comments have echoed that sentiment leading up to this week, and on Saturday he said it was “plausible” that the Kings remain in Sacramento, and that a decision would be made on a number of criteria but that “economics” would not be the lone factor. Stern’s comments are rooted in the multitude of issues that will play a role in the BOG’s decision-making that aren’t tied to franchise price, but overlook the “economics” factor.

“I don’t think it’s a bidding war….” Stern said last week. “There’s a series of issues that are defined by our constitution that have to be considered. One of the things that our board is mandated to consider is the support for the team in the prior city. So there are real issues for the board to consider, about the buildings, about the likelihood they will be built, about the support from the cities.”

Stern also addressed the idea of expansion on Saturday, an idea that would give the league a potential out to keep both cities and potential ownership groups happy.

“I don’t see any scenario where both cities are happy….” Stern said. “There’s a large group of owners who believe that expansion as an economic matter; is a neutral thing. At least the way we’ve done it to date, you get a lot of money in and in return for that you cut the new team in for a large and growing source of revenue from national TV, national licensing, and all things international and digital. And then it doesn’t really seem to make that much additional sense as the increased revenue that demands to the gross (basketball-related income) and increased each player costs and the like.

“So it has to be parsed and analyzed but right now given that we’ve just come through an intriguing collective bargaining negotiation and coupled it with specific revenue sharing, over $200 million, I think the sentiment is to let it all settle and assess how we are doing and what the projections are for how we’ll do.”

Multiple sources told PBT that even if expansion were a possibility that it would be extremely unlikely for the league to express support for it.

This will continue as a two-city race for one team to be decided by the Board of Governors in the coming months.

Kings Arena Update: Kevin Johnson working with Ron Burkle’s right hand man

anderson kj romani

The Sacramento Kings arena saga took an interesting turn on Wednesday when it was announced that the Maloof family had given up majority ownership of the Palms Casino after a “recapitalization agreement” with their main creditors, TPG Capital and Leonard Green and Partners. The deal reduces the Maloof’s ownership from about 80 percent to 10-20 percent, but the Maloofs will continue to operate the casino.

The recapitalization agreement doesn’t come out of nowhere, however, as Bloomberg News and many Las Vegas outlets reported in January that there was a strong chance that this would happen, though the Maloofs refused to acknowledge that they would sell or that the Palms was in trouble.

Meanwhile, on Monday, Mayor Kevin Johnson announced the identities of the 70-person Here We Build committee, named after the grassroots movements created by Blake Ellington of #HereWeStay, and modified into #HereWeBuild when local radio personality Carmichael Dave created a pledge drive for the ages.

And if you’re a fan of political and financial All Star teams, you probably want to stand in line to get your briefcase autographed.

Headlining the committee as co-chairs are California Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg and California State Senator Ted Gaines, though the big heavy hitters here include the guy whose feasibility study is being used as Sacramento’s blueprint, David Taylor, and political heavyweight Darius Anderson, who presented to the NBA Board of Governors back in April when the Maloofs applied their full court press to move the Kings down to Anaheim.

As for Taylor, his ICON Venue Group is partially owned by sports facility giant Anschultz Entertainment Group (AEG), who has the money and wherewithal to quickly implement a time-sensitive, politically driven arena project, though there have been no public statements made to the effect that they are on board in an official capacity for now.

Anderson’s inclusion is the largest elephant in the room, however, since he is a close advisor to none other than billionaire Ron Burkle, who was reportedly interested in buying the Kings back in April.

It was this interest that created the most quotable moment in the saga to date, when NBA insider Sam Amick reported that Commissioner David Stern made a wise crack saying K.J. was bringing him a “used car dealer,” but upon learning that the billionaire was interested in buying the Kings he grew quiet and then said, “You’ve got Burkle?”

Burkle was recently ranked No. 347 by Forbes among the world’s richest billionaires, and he built his empire in the grocery industry, parlaying several successful deals into a massive financial empire across many industries.

When the Maloofs were confronted with news of Burkle’s interest in buying the Kings at the NBA Board of Governors meetings in April (a move they claimed to have rebuffed a month earlier), they were outwardly angry and they insisted that their team was not for sale. Stern would eventually echo those sentiments by downplaying a potential purchase by Burkle, and since then Burkle’s name has fallen out of the Kings’ news cycle.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean he has stopped flirting with professional sports. Burkle, also a part owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, has reportedly joined up with Dodger great Steve Garvey to form a group interested in purchasing the struggling Dodgers franchise. This follows his attempts to buy the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals, and if you go back to 1999, his failed attempt to bring football to L.A. with, wait for it, AEG’s Tom Leiweke.

Incidentally (or not), AEG attempted to lure Burkle’s Penguins from Pittsburgh to Kansas City, and after that failed, AEG would later help Kansas City pass a public-private ballot measure to build the now-thriving Sprint Center that returns the city significant revenue based solely on concerts and events.

And just when it appeared that Burkle was falling off the Kings’ radar, a May 18 report came out of Las Vegas from none other than Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous host Robin Leach, who wrote that Burkle “insists on re-entering the Las Vegas market.” After the company Burkle bought shares in, the Morgan Hotel Group (MHG), failed to turn around their struggling Hard Rock Café property – it was sold off to creditors in March, much to the chagrin of Burkle, apparently.

Afterward, Burkle upped his ownership stake in MHB to approximately 30 percent and installed his guy, Michael Gross, as CEO.

At least one investment banking group, Jeffries, believes they intend to grow the company rather than sell it. Leach, who may not appear on the outset to be the best source of financial news, has spent the last 10 years on the Las Vegas industry news beat, and goes on to write that Burkle and his Morgan Hotel Group have “been actively kicking the tires, examining facilities and asking tough questions of a hotel group (in Las Vegas) willing to sell off one of its properties.”

Wait. Didn’t the Maloofs just sell? Yes they did – to two separate private equity firms in Leonard Green and TPG Capital. TPG owns Caesars Entertainment and would theoretically take over the Palms, but Leonard Green has also been trying to buy up gambling entities while the gambling industry is bottoming out – so it’s still anybody’s guess what the end-game is over at the Palms.

Let’s be clear – Leonard Green isn’t Burkle, and Burkle isn’t Leonard Green, but maybe Burkle is Finkle and Einhorn is a man.

Leonard Green and Burkle’s investment firm, Yucaipa Companies, both bought large portions of the grocer Whole Foods in 2009. And in 1991, Burkle sold his Almac’s grocery stores to Leonard Green for $75 million. All the while, both have been extremely active investing funds for the California Public Employees Retirement System over the last two decades. Surely it’s possible that in the elite rungs of society, where the billionaires play Kevin Bacon’s Six Degrees of Separation game with themselves all the time, that any interaction between the two entities is purely coincidental.

But just to be sure, I may have to go down to the Palms this Wednesday when Burkle will reportedly be there to celebrate the NHL awards and ask him about it myself.

The Maloofs, for their part, are not publicly tipping their hand regarding the involvement of Darius Anderson. George Maloof recently told Dale Kasler (via Ryan Lillis) of the Sacramento Bee that Anderson’s involvement in the committee “doesn’t give me any thoughts or concerns.”

As for the state of the funding hunt taking place in Sacramento, the jury is still out whether the $400 million wiped off the books at the Palms will allow the Maloofs to bring more money to the table for a new Entertainment and Sports Complex (ESC), though that doesn’t mean they should have to. After all, as reported yesterday, Anaheim is going forward with improvements on the Honda Center and is welcoming the Kings with a shiny new credit card. Besides, it’s entirely possible the new financial flexibility could be funneled back into the Palms, though pumping up your newly divested asset with freed up funds doesn’t sound like ‘Plan A’ for cash-strapped NBA owners looking to fund an arena.

Regardless, the Maloofs have said that they would contribute toward funding the ESC, so this would appear on the surface to give them better flexibility in doing so.

The 70-person Here We Build committee, meanwhile, consists of every expert, partner, planner, lawyer, community leader, and politician that would be needed to complete an endeavor of such magnitude. According to a source close to the situation, the NBA has also “firmly planted their feet in Sacramento,” and has “sent their best lieutenants to work day and night to get an arena built.”

Numbers-wise, the commission has enlisted the services of at least three well-respected consultancies to review the economic impact of the undertaking, which according to well-placed sources will show enough tax revenue and job creation to not just justify the new Entertainment and Sports Center – but also give political cover to the various bodies that will need to approve the proposal.

What this means, the source says, is that the tenor of the discussion in Sacramento has changed from ‘we don’t want to pay for this’ to ‘we need to pay for this, as it may very well be the difference between economic revival and economic disaster.’ And while there will certainly be skeptics and opposition groups that may choose to latch onto the issue, they could be committing political suicide as the Here We Build committee continues to release positive economic findings.

What does it all mean? It’s hard to say anything definitive right now. But while Kevin Johnson orchestrates his regional dream team, the powerful triad of Darius Anderson, the ICON-David Taylor group, and the NBA are knee deep in the fight to keep the team in Sacramento. And whether or not AEG or Ron Burkle can come along for the ride, the amount of firepower in Sacramento right now is big news for Kings fans.

Update (Saturday, June 18, 2011): The Sacramento Bee reports that the Maloofs will own just two percent of the Palms, according to regulatory documents.  They could have the option to buy back a significant share, up to 20 percent, and in the meantime TPG and Leonard Green will each own a 49 percent of the company.

On the surface, this would strengthen the chance that the Maloofs are freeing up funds to contribute toward Sacramento’s proposed Entertainment and Sports Center.  As for TPG and Leonard Green, the fact that the pair would have matching 49 percent shares creates an interesting dynamic, whereby each company could have the same voting rights (with the Maloofs holding a tie-breaking vote).