Comparing markets, attendance and ownership in Sacramento and Seattle

66 Comments

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.”

Kendrick Perkins: “Pelicans better lock Zion in the House” because of great New Orleans food

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Zion Williamson‘s weight became a discussion point during Summer League.

The general consensus going into the draft was that Williamson would ultimately want to play a little lighter in the NBA than he did in college (but without losing his strength). Since then Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski came out and said the No. 1 pick was not in Summer League shape and should not have played. Some broadcast analysts said he looked heavy. In the hallways and behind-the-basket defacto meeting space of Summer League there was a lot of talk among league watchers about the Pelicans needing to get Zion with their trainers and dietitians to prepare him for the 82 game grind.

Kendrick Perkins warns that’s not going to be all that easy in the Big Easy.

As a wannabe foodie, let me just say that Perkins is spot on about the food in New Orleans. It may be my favorite food city in America, it is home to the ultimate comfort foods, and the portions are not small. From muffulettas to gumbo to po’ boys to fried every-kind-of-protein-you-can-name, New Orleans cuisine is both undeniably delicious and not the foundation of a healthy diet.

It’s going to take some discipline from Williamson, who also can afford his own chef now to keep the meals at home healthy and tasty. Then gumbo can be a splurge-day treat.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni: ‘If the superstars want to play together, then they will make it work’

Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

James Harden and Chris Paul worked reasonably well together on the court, but they played through a lot of tension.

Now, the Rockets are going to a new star backcourt that invites even more questions.

How will Harden and Russell Westbrook fit?

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni on The Woj Pod:

If the superstars want to play together, then they will make it work.

To be able to win a title now, you have to get superstars together – and whether it’s two or three or how many else you can get. And then it becomes a chemistry. Because everybody’s ball-dominant. When you’re a superstar, you’ve been the main guy for sure. Now, you’ve got to make it work. And sometimes personalities, it doesn’t work. Sometimes, it works for a while. Sometimes, it’s hard to manage, sometimes. Again, if they’re not on the same page totally 100 percent, I think the organization has to look and see what’s best for the organization.

D’Antoni was asked about Harden and Westbrook. (Best I can tell, D’Antoni never named Westbrook on the podcast, which should allow the coach to avoid a fine.) But D’Antoni could have easily been describing Harden and Paul.

It seems Harden and Paul no longer wanted to make it work. Those two played better together than most people realized. The Rockets were one of the NBA’s best teams each of the last two years, and they had an elite offense. But Harden and Paul clearly grated each other.

Now, Harden and Westbrook will get a fresh start together. They sound eager to re-join forces after beginning their careers together with the Thunder.

D’Antoni is correct: Harden’s and Westbrook’s desire to make this work will go a long way.

But Harden and Paul were once enthusiastic about pairing, and that went south. An initial commitment to teaming up is important. It can also wane quickly.

It also can’t overcome every fit issue. Sometimes, stars just don’t match, no matter their intentions.

D’Antoni is also right about super teams generally require ball-dominant stars to sacrifice for the greater good. There are always diminishing returns on grouping stars.

But other situations have included stars with more complementary skills. So much of what Harden and Westbrook provide involves having the ball in their hands. The diminishment of returns will likely be greater in Houston.

Harden’s and Westbrook’s talent give the Rockets a huge leg up. Those two wanting to play together will push each to do his best to make it work.

It’s still far more complicated than that.

Report: Ben Simmons contract extension allows him to hit super-max triggers

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ben Simmons signed a max contract extension with the 76ers.

It could turn into a super-max contract extension.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The exact value of Simmons’ contract extension won’t be determined until the salary cap set next year. That’s when the extension kicks in. The current projection has it worth about $170 million over five years.

If Simmons makes an All-NBA team next season, it could be worth 20% more – bringing the projected total to about $204 million.

Whether Simmons gets the full bump if he makes an All-NBA team was a matter of negotiation between him and Philadelphia. They could have agreed to pay different amounts depending whether he makes the first, second or third team. (Simmons could also trigger the super max by winning Most Valuable Player or Defensive Player of the Year next season, again contingent on the terms of the extension.)

We don’t yet know the specifics of Simmons’ super-max eligibility. But they’re in his contract now.

There will be a lot riding on his performance next season. We’ll eventually learn how much

The 76ers did well to avoid a player option in the deal. That was likely an advantage of signing Simmons to an extension now rather than forcing him to wait until restricted free agency next summer. Simmons is just 22. He should provide positive value to his team six seasons from now.

Simmons’ trade kicker won’t matter now. A trade kicker can’t take a player above his max salary, and Simmons is starting at his max. But if he struggles to fit with franchise player Joel Embiid, Simmons could be in line for a nice bonus if traded in a few years.

Report: Before Paul George trade, Thunder were already preparing to trade Russell Westbrook next year

Cooper Neill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Thunder are starting over in an unprecedented way.

By sending Paul George to the Clippers and Russell Westbrook to the Rockets, Oklahoma City is becoming the first team ever to trade two reigning All-NBA players in the same offseason. The Thunder are the first team in decades to trade even two reigning All-Stars in the same offseason.

The sequence appears clear: George requested a trade. Oklahoma City granted it. With one star gone, the Thunder had less ability to win with Westbrook. So, they dealt him, too.

But if George didn’t request a trade this summer, Westbrook might have been moved soon, anyway.

Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

The clock was already ticking loudly on the Westbrook era, with team officials quietly preparing to hit the reset button next summer, per sources, after one more run.

George’s trade request was a blessing in disguise for the Thunder. They got a massive haul from the Clippers and clearance to trade Westbrook, a franchise icon. The Westbrook trade netted even more draft strong draft considerations from Houston. Oklahoma City has a great head start on its rebuild.

The Thunder had probably peaked. They’ve been good the last few years, but not good enough to win a playoff series. The supporting cast was expensive, and further upgrades would’ve likely been too costly. Westbrook is too good to tank. The four years and $171,139,920 remaining on his contract are a major liability.

However, Westbrook has meant so much to Oklahoma City. His loyalty after Kevin Durant left was so huge.

It would have been difficult to handle the politics of trading him if George didn’t ask out first. That made it so Westbrook was ready to leave. Thunder fans seem supportive of both Westbrook and the organization.

I believe Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti believes he would’ve traded Westbrook soon, regardless. That was clearly the right move for getting past this era of stagnation.

But it’s another thing to pull the trigger on moving such a beloved player. It wouldn’t have necessarily happened, especially not smoothly.