My old newspaper, the Sacramento Bee, has once again gone into full panic mode over the rumors that a Seattle group may be trying to buy and relocate area’s National Basketball Association franchise, the Sacramento Kings. Dare I suggest that what the Bee’s readers need at the moment is less panic and more insight?
Marcus Breton assures readers that “whether the Kings ultimately move or stay, it's time that Sacramento embraces an undeniable truth: None of the turmoil surrounding the team is the fault of this community.” It’s all the fault, the ham-fisted local columnist tells us, of the team’s owners, the equally ham-fisted Maloof family. If that is so, why did the Kings fail to prosper, either on the court or as a business, during the tenure of the prior two owners?
Should the Kings leave, Phillip Reese reports, Sacramento would be the second largest metropolitan area in the nation without a major-league sports franchise, after only the Inland Empire area of San Bernardino and Riverside.
That’s a nice factoid but it raises the obvious question: Why? Pro sports teams are businesses. Leagues locate their franchises in the places where they are likely to yield the greatest revenue and profits. Is there something about Sacramento that explains why it has such a hard time supporting the Kings?
The Bee used to know and report the answer. NBA franchises draw a large share of their arena revenue from corporate sales. But Sacramento, its economy dominated by state government, is the weakest market when measured by the number of local firms able or willing to shell out for season tickets and luxury boxes. The area’s median household income is far below that of metropolitan areas on the coast, home to California’s other pro sports teams, or of Seattle, and its growth is hampered by its mediocre level of educational attainment. Those weaknesses, which have plagued the franchise since it moved to Sacramento in 1985, have been compounded by the effects of the Great Recession. The popping of the housing bubble and cuts in state government dealt a double blow to the region, which lags far behind most of the country in recovering lost jobs.
The uncomfortable truth that Breton and others at the Bee evade is that the Kings story is part of the larger story of Sacramento’s economic shortcomings and leadership failures. The area is a lousy market for delivering revenue to an NBA team, and its governments are in deep fiscal trouble and in no position to subsidize the franchise. A newspaper devoted to tough journalism would be telling that story, not whining and pointing fingers.