What is in this article?:
In his first lengthy interview since becoming part-owner of the Sacramento Kings, Mark Mastrov of New Evolution Ventures talks to Club Industry about becoming an NBA owner.
Landing the Kings
Club Industry: What was this whole process like to obtain the Kings?
Mark Mastrov: It was a very crazy process, of course. Lots of twists and turns. A lot of drama. A lot of politics. The deal came on very fast, and we had a very limited amount of time to buy an NBA franchise at an all-time record high. And we had to close it in a short window and perform. We had to do everything in a 30-day window. I don't think any deal in the NBA's history has been as complicated and interesting. I think David Stern, the [NBA] commissioner, would say that what we were able to pull as a group and put together in that window—led by [Sacramento] Mayor Kevin Johnson and the partnership—was not only amazing but probably a miracle.
CI: Did you go through the roller coaster of emotions amid the reports of the team's staying or going?
MM: There's no doubt it was a roller coaster ride, but no different than anytime you've been in the fitness industry whether you were trying to acquire a piece of real estate to build your club site on and you were competing with other realtors or other club groups and the roller-coaster ride you go through on that, or whether you were trying to buy a chain of clubs to add to your portfolio or grow into a new country. For us in this industry, it was a very similar process of competing for something that you desperately wanted to win on. The only difference is you were competing with one of the wealthiest men in the world in Steve Ballmer and a very strong group led by Chris Hansen trying to move into Seattle. We put together a phenomenal group ourselves led by Vivek Ranadive, a good friend of mine, who is just a phenomenal businessman and leader, and then the Jacobs family out of Qualcomm, and then Raj Bhathal and his family and many others, such as Chris Kelly and Andy Miller. We put together a very good core group of people who are passionate about basketball, who are business leaders up and down the state of California, and we fought for the right to keep the team here in Sacramento for the overarching cause of goodwill towards the community and not moving the team. And that gave us a little bit of an edge over Seattle, and eventually we prevailed.
CI: How influential was Kevin Johnson in the process?
MM: If you step back, it's not common today that you can see a city step up and pledge money for a new arena. And for the mayor of Sacramento to do that not only once but several times to keep the Kings in Sacramento was huge. But on top of that, [for Kevin] to be a former All-Star, an NBA player who had connectivity to the league, the owners, the commissioner, adds a lot of credibility and value to what we're all trying to achieve. I think you have to tip your hat to the mayor and say that he probably was one of the biggest chips that we had on our side to help keep the team in Sacramento. Without him, it probably makes it very difficult for us to have had a chance to do so.
One of the big criteria from the NBA to Seattle and to Sacramento was building a new arena, and the mayor was instrumental in helping us achieve that, as was, in the early days, Ron Burkle (an early investor candidate who backed out during the process) in helping us craft a stadium opportunity in the downtown core, leveraging off of his experience in building a stadium in Pittsburgh for the [NHL's] Penguins.
CI: What was it like to step back and not be the lead owner of the team?
MM: I don't think there's any ego issue involved. The way the NBA works is you have to have a general partner, so there's one partner who speaks for the partnership group. Vivek is a good friend of mine but made it very clear in the early stages that he was one of the leading investors in the Warriors, and he really coveted being in that lead spot [for the Kings]. And as much as I or others would have coveted being in that lead spot, Vivek stood up and said, "I really want to be the lead owner and be the general partner." Stepping in behind him is not an issue for me. He's a good friend. I still have a significant stake in the team and will play a significant role with him and others going forward, so it will be a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to it.
CI: How do you compare the disappointment of not landing the Warriors to the excitement of now owning the Kings?
MM: Obviously, I learned a lot through the Warriors process, and I think that helped a lot through the Kings process. You've been there and kind of understood some of the things you needed to do to get to the end. Joe [Lacob] did a phenomenal job winning the Warriors, and I took my hat off to him. He put a big number out there at the time, and he prevailed. On the Kings, obviously we put an even bigger number out there, and we prevailed.