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A Sacramento King’s Ransom: Local Tax Dollars and an NBA Owner’s Wealth

It was an historic first of local, national and global scope. The Sacramento Kings NBA basketball team played an exhibition game against the Indian Pacers in Mumbai, India recently. Reporting in a flagship U.S. newspaper is instructive.

Sopan Deb, a culture reporter for the New York Times, in his laudatory coverage of that game, deftly sidestepped the financial role of Sacramento taxpayers in subsidizing the Kings to accumulate wealth for Vivek Ranadive, owner of the Kings. What is it by the numbers, according to a critic? I asked Craig Powell, an attorney and head of Eye on Sacramento, a fiscal watchdog group.

“Based on current valuations of NBA franchises, Ranadive and his partners stand to make a windfall profit of nearly $1.5 billion on their $534 million purchase price for the Kings,” Powel said in an email. “It can be accurately characterized as a “windfall” profit because it was made possible by the $330 million city taxpayers’ subsidy of the construction of the Golden 1 Center, the sports palace where the Kings play their games.”

The NYT’s reporter described Mr. Ranadive as a believer in social justice. I read that and thought of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, awash in corporate greenbacks, who opposes the Green New Deal and single-payer Medicare for All health care, calling herself a “progressive.” Oy vey.

“If Mr. Ranadive truly believes in “social justice issues” and that the Kings’ franchise “belongs to the city” and its “fans,” as he so piously claims,” Powell said and then suggested a different course of action. “He could and should rectify the palpable injustice of his pocketing a third of a billion dollars in taxpayer subsidies by now granting the City of Sacramento and its beleaguered taxpayers a one-third ownership stake in his $1.5 billion financial windfall. Now that would be true justice.”

Pigs will fly across the morning sky first without organized resistance to the current fiscal priorities in Sacramento. Dissidents are up against the usual suspects, the financial and real estate interests that demand and get public dollars. In the case of the Golden 1 Center and Mr. Ranadive’s wealth, the economics of global sports such as the NBA begins with local politics.

Meanwhile, the Kings can continue to miss the postseason playoffs in the competitive Western Conference of the NBA and the team’s market valuation will continue to rise. One need not have a Ph.D. in economics to understand this upward trend.

The anticipation of the future audience growth from bringing NBA teams such as the Kings and Pacers to play in India, the most populous nation on planet Earth with scores of actual and potential fans to watch games and buy NBA-related goods and services, is driving up the market valuation of the Kings. Mr. Ranadive, born into a well-heeled family in Mumbai, is sitting pretty to deliver fellow Indians into the tender clutches of moneyed interests set to grow their investment capital. This is not rocket science, folks.

Securing tax dollars from working class pockets as an NBA investment policy is a win-win for the owner of the Kings. It is nice work for those who can get it. Just ask Mr. Ranadive, unlike an NYT reporter.

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Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com

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