The Sacramento Kings And Virginia Beach: A Lesson In Taxpayer Extortion

Recent reports that the National Basketball Association’s Sacramento Kings were considering — and set to announce — an imminent move to Virginia Beach, Virginia appear premature. The report, which came initially from Inside Business, sent shockwaves around the sports world, given that Virginia Beach has never appeared on the list of possible destinations for the Kings, a franchise that has listed nearly every other city in North America as a potential suitor.

Virginia Beach, as Matt Yglesias noted, may not be a bad future destination for an NBA franchise. Connecting the dots in the roll-out of this story, however, makes it look like little more than a coordinated attempt to get Virginia Beach’s city council to finance an expensive arena project for a hypothetical NBA franchise that may never come to the city.

There are the corporate giants who want a new arena in Virginia Beach and already had a plan in place to build one — they were so excited by the “news” that the Kings were considering Virginia Beach, they were able to schedule their pitch to the city council for tomorrow, less than a week after the initial report. They have already enlisted a respected economics professor from a local university to study the economic impact an arena would have on the city, an element any good pitch needs.

What the corporations were missing were the major franchise they promised would move. Enter the Kings and their billionaire owners, the Maloofs, who are so desperate to extort a state-of-the-art arena from someone that they seem willing to move virtually anywhere on Earth to do it. And the “news” was mutually beneficial: it sent Sacramento, the city that promised the Kings a new $391 million arena only to watch the Maloofs walk away, into a tizzy.


The way it has all played out would seem enough to make Virginia Beach take a step back and realize that it is a pawn in the corporate welfare chess match that has become professional sports, but it wasn’t. So lest Virginia Beach think it has an exclusive date to the arena-extortion prom, a quick reality check: the Kings have reportedly considered moves to at least three cities, including Anaheim, San Diego, and Las Vegas, and at least three others — Louisville, Seattle, and Kansas City — have been widely mentioned as potential landing spots if the franchise decides to move. A few of those cities already have a taxpayer-financed arena, others, like Virginia Beach, would have to shell out public money to build a modern-day Colosseum that is enough to satisfy the Maloofs, at least for the next decade or so.

Virginia Beach could certainly use an infusion of taxpayer dollars into its economy, though they’d be better spent if the city were to restore the millions of dollars in education cuts that jeopardized junior varsity sports, the jobs of hundreds of teachers, and the futures of thousands of students earlier this year.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), an ardent opponent of government stimulus that actually works, is now throwing his weight behind corporate welfare that doesn’t, using a spokesperson to say that the arena will “benefit the local and state economy and spur job creation in the region.” Recent studies, however, have shown that NBA arenas don’t create jobs and don’t provide a path to economic development; in fact, it’s likely they do the opposite, diverting government resources from projects that would actually help local economies to provide a massive corporate welfare check to billionaires like the Maloofs and corporations like Comcast-Spectacor, the $30-billion-a-year behemoth that wants to build the Virginia Beach arena.

That diversion has taken place in cities like Atlanta, where public schools are weathering millions of dollars in budget cuts even as the National Football League’s Atlanta Falcons are asking for a new stadium. And it would happen in Virginia Beach, which slashed its public education budget this year, jeopardizing the jobs of hundreds of teachers and the futures of thousands of students.

There’s only one piece missing from the typical arena story, and that is that the Maloofs will eventually get their Taj Mahal, whether from Sacramento, Virginia Beach, or another city willing to sign its taxpayers onto an arena project that will leave them drowning in debt without any of the promised economic prosperity. And then, while that city isn’t looking, it will become tomorrow’s Sacramento: a town doing everything it can to help greedy billionaires who are looking for their next handout from any city that will give it to them.