Tag: Sports Subsidies


AEG acknowledges interest in Sacramento Entertainment and Sports Complex

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It wasn’t a matter of if, it was when.

Anschutz Entertainment Group, known better as the stadium and arena operations giant AEG, acknowledged for the first time Friday that they might provide “assistance” to Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson and the Think Big Sacramento coalition in their quest for an arena, according to the Sac Bee.

AEG’s involvement with the arena initiative was about as secret as LeBron’s hairline, but without the illusion of a headband to try and hide it.

According to sources, that ‘assistance’ should come in the form of tens of millions of dollars of up-front money, assuming of course that AEG can come to terms with the City of Sacramento, the Kings, and the NBA.

In return they would get profits from operating the arena, and using the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon they could also see benefits from the fact that their partially-owned subsidiary, the ICON-David Taylor Group, is providing the logistical backbone for Think Big Sacramento and its proposals. Taylor, whose development company David Taylor Interests would like to build the arena, has also expressed interest in buying up properties located near the arena. And with AEG, Taylor, Darius Anderson, and many other committee members also having business interests near the arena, a mini-L.A. Live type project with the Kings as the epicenter is where the smart money is heading.

This public statement from AEG is just one of many baby steps the Think Big Sacramento coalition will take, as it otherwise sprints to cultivate a $387 million Entertainment and Sports Complex (ESC) that will keep its anchor tenant from leaving for Anaheim. KJ’s coalition has a self-imposed, though painfully realistic deadline of December 30th to get a funding plan approved so the city can meet the NBA’s deadline of March 1, 2012 to have funding in place.

The next test for the Think Big coalition will come today when the Sacramento City Council will either approve, table, or reject a $550,000 request for lawyers and consultants to be used to officially vet the project and negotiate with third parties such as the NBA and the Maloofs. The city council will also be asked to vote whether to give the ICON-David Taylor Group the authority to start negotiating on behalf of the city with operators.

Here’s betting that the operator is AEG.

As for Kings fans’ chances of keeping their team, Tuesday’s vote will be the first time the city council, who will ultimately decide the project’s fate, will be asked to part with cold, hard cash. If any of them are opposed to it, saying so before the city spends a half-million dollars would make some sense. With no real public opposition being shown by the council so far it is likely that they will approve the request, and see what numbers come through the pipeline and how the public reacts to them.

If the request is approved, negotiations will commence with the aforementioned parties to determine what level of private funding can be secured, and in turn what level of public funding will be needed. Sources from Think Big Sacramento are in agreement that a public vote to generate funds for an ESC would be an abject failure, so they don’t plan on using public funds that would trigger a public vote.

Because of this limitation they’ve taken a kitchen sink approach where everything from hotel fees, ticket surcharges, cell phone towers on the arena, and the sale of city lands have all come into play. Local kids have taken to selling lemonade to raise funds, and Think Big may just need it. But finding enough money to hit the magic number isn’t their only challenge. Making sure that the city council is comfortable voting ‘yes’ for a controversial measure is job No. 1.

So far, the Think Big coalition campaign has been run to a presidential degree, with traveling town hall meetings around the region and a media awareness campaign not seen before in arena politics. While there will always be skeptics and opponents of such a measure, you wouldn’t have known it by the last city council meeting where every public commenter was in support of an arena and no dissident voices could be found.

Today we’ll see if the first one shows up.

Mayor Kevin Johnson releases arena funding report, will the Maloofs and NBA bite?

team maloof with stern
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The plight of Kings fans, who came within an inch of losing their only major professional sports team, may be coming to a crossroads today, when the Think Big Sacramento coalition led by mayor Kevin Johnson releases their arena funding proposal to the public. All they have to do is come up with a plan to raise $387 million that keeps everyone happy. No biggie.

Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton got the scoop on it, and released his report in the early morning hours on Thursday:

What is the guiding principle of Sacramento’s new plan?

That’s right: A virtual split – this time in thirds – among the private interests of an arena, the public and the arena’s patrons….

What you will see in today’s arena presentation are plans for three different funding pots to generate the $387 million or more needed to get an arena built. According to people familiar with the document, the Kings, the NBA and a private developer would contribute $91 million to $156 million in lease payments, upfront money, land and other revenue to pay for an arena.

The city of Sacramento would contribute the sale of public land, a tax on hotels and taxis, and money from items such as digital advertising and parking valued at $94 million to $123 million.

And, while residents in the six-county Sacramento region will not be asked to raise their taxes to subsidize a new arena, patrons of the venue will help pay for it. The third pot of money will be fueled by ticket surcharges, naming rights and other revenue sources that could generate $90 million to $121 million.

Kings fans and those tracking how and why the NBA operates the way it does will want to watch how the parties react to this report. Much of the Think Big Sacramento campaign has been orchestrated to a presidential degree, leaving no doubt to the positions of the heavy hitters involved – including companies such as AEG, the ICON-David Taylor group, and of course, the NBA and the Maloofs.

The Maloofs appear to be impotent in this discussion, as some league insiders have openly acknowledged that their future in the NBA will be determined by their ability to get an arena deal done.

The bottom line with this report is that the Kings and the NBA have been asked to foot a third of the cost. Whether that amount will be amicable to them given the whirlwind of interests controlling the matter is entirely debatable. On one hand, NBA owners do not want to see the league telling them what to do, and on the other hand, the Lakers, Knicks, and Bulls of the league don’t want to hear that (allegedly) broke owners can move into their backyard.

And, separately, while arena subsidy opponents scream blood murder, the reality is that top-flight cities have no leverage. They can clamor for leagues and owners to pay their own bills, but the folks in Sacramento would have to do that with an Anaheim Royals press release wiping their tears.

As for the Maloofs being able to contribute rental payments and/or in general, they recently liquidated their majority interest in the Palms Casino down to 2 percent with the option to buy back another 18 percent, in a financial transaction that could easily pave the way for another (Ron Burkle) speculator to come in and take over their team if they get elbowed out. They continue to assert their leverage, albeit with more discretion than they have used in the past, but in reality, David Stern knows where the bodies are buried. And as SB Nation’s Tom Ziller points out, the NBA has been working diligently to get an arena deal done – so they’re not going to stand for grandstanding when diplomacy is needed.

My take – we’re looking at a firm but fair offer from the City of Sacramento. They’re strapped just like most American cities, and this is their first offer. If this dance plays out like every other negotiation we’ve been witness to in our lives, expect the Maloofs and/or the NBA to say that the city’s request is ‘over the top,’ and they’ll waltz to equilibrium.

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.