I bet the Maloof brothers wish they had spent that extra $500,000 now.
That number is the most they could have lost, from all accounts, by keeping the Sacramento Monarchs afloat for the summer of 2010, and given the multi-millions at risk in the high-stakes poker game of Move That Franchise, $500,000 looks like chump change.
But why do the Monarchs matter? After all, they didnt draw that well in their declining days -- a dull, mediocre team in a dull, mediocre arena -- and their existence will have no direct bearing on whether the NBA Kings stay in Californias capital or shuffle on south to Anaheim. Indirectly, though, the demise of the Monarchs could play a pivotal role in whether the Maloofs survive in Sacramento or merely get a stay of execution.
The reason is politics.
The only way the Kings can compete in the NBA is with a new arena. The Maloof fortune is tied to the Las Vegas economy, which has plummeted further than confidence in Glenn Becks conspiracy theories, and so the brothers cant come up with the cash to build it themselves. Their plan all along was to have Sacramento pony up the cash, but that city, like Las Vegas, has seen its economy crater, and its voters have shown absolutely no inclination to fund a building that will help the Maloofs make a lot of money and pay the salaries of young multimillionaires.
The new arena plan, which was announced early last week and will keep the Kings in Sacramento for at least one more season, sounds suspiciously like the old plan, but theres a hint that the $350 million will come not just from Sacramento proper, but from the region as a whole. Thats nice, but its hard to believe that voters outside the city will be any more enthusiastic than voters inside the city about an arena that will really only benefit Sacramento.
But lets just say that Mayor Kevin Johnson, various regional officials and everyone who has any influence supports the new arena. Thats charming, but remember, the 2006 vote was 80% against raising the sales tax, and 71% said even if the sales tax passed, spending half the money on the arena was a bad idea.
Now just consider how hard it is to get 80% of the voters to agree on anything less controversial than something like water is wet, and you can see that theres a very big mountain to climb in Sacramento if money for a new arena is going to come from the public trough -- which is where the Monarchs come in.
First, lets acknowledge that the Monarchs were not a civic treasure, and the city didnt hold its breath waiting for the results of the games. But they did win a WNBA title, and they did have a solid group of supporters. When the Monarchs played the L.A. Sparks, back in the day when both were good, nine or ten thousand people would pay the $12 parking, buy a ticket and suck down a $6 beer or two in order to cheer for Ticha and boo Lisa.
But when the Maloofs abruptly shut down the Monarchs, the WNBA fans were angry and bitter, and still are. They remain a solid anti-Maloof pocket of voters, and though its hard to say what percentage of the electorate they comprise, a new arena needs every single vote it can get -- remember, it was 80-20 against just five years ago, and the economy was a lot better then. A lot better.
Its possible the Maloofs might win some of those fans back by promising to bring another WNBA franchise to Sacramento, but even if its the Chicago Sky or Tulsa Shock, both of which could be on the move if attendance doesnt pick up this summer, it still wont be the Monarchs. And if its an expansion team, its hard to imagine fans who are used to success warming up to whatever dismal group of retreads and rookies the league would foist on the city in 2012.
Still, thats probably the Maloofs best chance to woo disgruntled Monarchs fans, and whats ironic is that it will wind up costing a lot more to bring in a new team than it would have to just keep the Monarchs going for another year. And you know, its just possible that the 2010 Monarchs might not have lost $500,000, or $300,000. They might have come close to breaking even, which they have done in the past.
But the Maloofs, like all casino owners, prefer sure things to gambling with their own money so they shut the doors. This is one time they should have rolled the dice.