Sacramento's Front Office Shake-Up a Sign of the Times
And for those of you (translation: almost all) who had never heard of Thomas, all you need to know is this: this is a sign of the times.
He was an old-guard business executive in a new NBA frontier, one where leaving money on the table is no longer an option and creativity in marketing and branding is not only desired but expected. Especially in a small market locale like Sacramento.
Thomas, who joined the team in 1999 after serving as the Houston Rockets team president, had long been known as a stubborn obstacle to necessary change. He hesitated to offer innovative ticket packages or promote the presence of high-level opposing players -- like a "Come see LeBron James!" ad in the local newspaper, perhaps -- for fear of "devaluing the product," as he would often say.
He catered to a high-level corporate clientele that has long been in short supply in the Sacramento region, for years insisting that the Kings had only one chosen sponsor per respective niche (e.g., soda, bank, local TV channel) as opposed to doing business of varying levels with all interested parties. At a time when public perception mattered most -- especially in light of the continued attempts from Kings co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof (pictured above) and the NBA to gain support for a new arena in Sacramento -- he refused to speak with the media and earned a reputation as someone who often sidestepped accountability.
All the while, the Maloofs saw their organization losing value by the day. Arco Arena, where a sellout was once a near-guarantee every time out, was the least-populated building for home games in the NBA last season and is 29th this season. The perceived mismanagement on the business side was compounded by the losing, as the Kings haven't been to the playoffs since 2006 and had a franchise-low 17 wins last season.
While this regime change was formalized Tuesday, it began back in October. That's when the Maloofs -- who also own the Palms Casino in Las Vegas -- called on family friend and Las Vegas sports marketing consultant Kevin Kaplan to drive suffering ticket sales in ways Thomas had long been unwilling to.
With Kaplan's methods enthusing the team's owners, they held events like "Dollar Beer night," rallied any and all local businesses to not only sign on but to take part in numerous public signs of support that aided the image front. They promoted rookie Tyreke Evans in any and all ways imaginable in attempt to drum up interest, the latest of which was the "Reke-ROY" campaign at a March 10 game against Toronto. They bent in ways that Thomas wouldn't bend before, lifting the sort of business-model sanctions that stymied much-needed financial aid in the years before. The Maloofs were the driving force behind it all, hands-on in ways they weren't last season when they were so often absent from their own team's games.
Those were trying times for the brothers Maloof, who at one point early last season were projected to lose more than $20 million for the 2008-09 campaign. Relief first came in the form of the financially-driven flurry of trades in February 2009, then was followed by the December sale of the family's beer distributorship in New Mexico in December that resulted in a serious and impossible-to-pass-up windfall. Before those welcome developments, however, there had been internal talks of adding minority owners to help with the increasing strain.
Thus, a new approach was born. Even the Maloofs will receive new titles with the regime change, as Joe Maloof will serve as Chief Executive Officer and Gavin Maloof as President of Maloof Sports & Entertainment. Matina Kolokotronis is now the president of business operations, John Rinehart the senior vice president for business operations and assistant general manager/general counsel Jason Levien will also assume duties as senior vice president. Kaplan will remain as the team's marketing and sales guru and will be a senior advisor to the Maloofs.
Thomas, of course, is no longer on the list. A sign of the times indeed.