Billionaire Ron Burkle and Bay Area investor Mark Mastrov are in serious discussions to team up on a bid to buy the Sacramento Kings and partner with the city of Sacramento on a plan to help finance a new downtown sports arena, The Bee has learned.
A source familiar with the negotiations told The Bee that Burkle and Mastrov are both committed to keeping the team in Sacramento and building the Kings into a contender. The teaming of Burkle and Mastrov is seen by city officials as a "dream team" counter offer to the group that this week agreed to buy the Kings and move the franchise to Seattle, the source said.
Burkle, who owns the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins, has been mentioned by both Mayor Kevin Johnson and NBA Commissioner David Stern as a potential suitor of the Kings. Mastrov, the founder of the 24 Hour Fitness chain, made an unsuccessful bid to buy the Golden State Warriors in 2010 and until now had been the only person to publicly express interest in buying the Kings and keeping them here.
Burkle's track record with the Penguins is appealing to the city, according to the source. He purchased the franchise when it was struggling and helped it secure a new arena and win a Stanley Cup.
Both men have declared that they believe Sacramento is a stronger NBA market than Seattle, based on fan attendance numbers, according to the source. They also have expressed confidence that Sacramento is a strong NBA location in its own right, with the nation's 20th largest television market and access to corporate dollars competing for visibility with elected officials from around the state.
Johnson plans to partner deep-pocketed investors such as Burkle and Mastrov with a group of local investors when he makes his pitch to the NBA seeking to block the sale of the Kings to the Seattle group.