Saints Owner Benson Buys NBA Hornets; Kings’ Arena Deal Stalled

The owner of the National Football League’s Saints has agreed to buy the New Orleans Hornets from the National Basketball Association, while an arena deal to keep the Kings in Sacramento collapsed.

NBA owners, meeting in New York, also had their first lengthy discussion about selling advertising on uniforms, and approved a move by the Nets to Brooklyn from New Jersey.

New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson will buy the Hornets, which the league’s 30 owners purchased from George Shinn in December 2010. The deal is worth $338 million, according to a person with direct knowledge of the transaction, who was granted anonymity because the NBA didn’t make the sale terms public.

“The Hornets are so important to New Orleans, I would support them without the ownership of the Saints,” Benson said. “It’s a very, very important part of our community.”

The deal fulfills a league commitment to New Orleans in the wake of Hornets woes including a two-season evacuation to Oklahoma City after Hurricane Katrina, poor home attendance, revenue streams reliant on government subsidies, and most recently, a public relations headache stemming from the trade of All-Star Chris Paul.

“We funded losses last year and this year the team was a break-even proposition,” Commissioner David Stern said. “As we constructed the purchase price, it included making us whole, so we feel pretty good. We weren’t in it to make a profit. We wanted to hold it together for the perfect purchaser.”

Paul was traded to Los Angeles Clippers on Dec. 14, six days after the NBA rejected a deal that would have sent him to the Los Angeles Lakers, who share the same arena.

Trade Veto

Stern’s decision to veto the trade to the Lakers, which came one day after the league ratified a 10-year labor deal with its players’ union, drew criticism from people who said the commissioner was succumbing to pressure from team owners who didn’t want to see Paul on the large-market Lakers, who won consecutive league championships in 2009 and 2010.

With the league playing a lockout-shortened 66-game schedule this season, the Hornets’ 17-42 record is the worst in the Western Conference and the third-worst in the NBA.

The Kings’ owners, the Maloof family, and the city of Sacramento announced on Feb. 27 that they had reached an agreement on a $400 million arena that would keep the team from relocating. The city would contribute about $250 million for the arena, which would open in 2015, Gavin Maloof said at the time.

The Maloofs and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA player, have disputed terms of the agreement in recent weeks, leading to its collapse yesterday.

‘Killed Deal’

“If the mayor says he’s not negotiating, then he’s killed the deal and it’s over,” George Maloof said at a televised news conference in Manhattan after making a presentation to the league’s owners yesterday.

Johnson responded at a news conference that followed a two- hour meeting between the two sides.

“They are now saying they don’t want to do the deal which is essentially saying they don’t want be in Sacramento,” Johnson said.

Asked where they go from here, Johnson said, “I don’t really have that answer right now.”

The agreement was non-binding and Stern -- while applauding the city’s efforts -- said it was always the Maloofs’ right to walk away from it.

“I think it’s fair for the Maloofs to say they don’t want to do it,” Stern said. “If they had done that a little simpler, a little earlier and a little more directly it could have saved a lot of angst and trouble.”

The collapsed talks leave the future home of the franchise in doubt. Stern said the team is scheduled to stay at Power Balance Pavilion in Sacramento next season.

No Move Planned

Maloof said he’s not planning to move the franchise, and also suggested renovating Power Balance Pavilion, rather than financially strapping the city and ownership with a new arena.

Johnson said the Maloofs’ sudden interest in renovating their current venue contradicted what they have said over the past several years, and it would be up to the team’s owners to complete renovations themselves if they chose that path.

“If it was up to me, there was absolutely no way that we, as a city, would invest in that building,” Johnson said, pointing out the amount of work that would be needed and the arena’s location. “I want Sacramento to remain an NBA city. I don’t want our city to lose its leverage and I don’t want our city to be held hostage.”

Jersey Ads

The league owners yesterday also discussed allowing ads on team jerseys, which no major sports league does in the U.S. It is common elsewhere in the world.

Included in the presentations were ad mockups on jersey- clad mannequins and an examination of how other sports leagues, such as those in Europe, profit from the revenue stream.

“We told our owners it was not something we would consider doing for next season but something we should consider for season after next,” said Adam Silver, the league’s deputy commissioner.

Owners also approved the New Jersey Nets’ move to the Brooklyn borough of New York next season, and their name change to the Brooklyn Nets.

To contact the reporters on this story: Mason Levinson in New York at mlevinson@bloomberg.net; Scott Soshnick in New York at ssoshnick@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

Press spacebar to pause and continue. Press esc to stop.

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.