Pro Bono Campaign Aims to Keep the Kings in Sacramento

Pro Bono Campaign Aims to Keep the Kings in Sacramento

BILLBOARDS that went up in Sacramento recently say “Game Over,” with a deflated basketball representing the “O,” and, below that: “If the Kings leave, we all lose.”

The billboards direct Sacramentans to a Facebook page,, where an online campaign aims to retain the N.B.A.’s Sacramento Kings, whose owners reportedly are contemplating a move 400 miles to the south, to Anaheim, Calif.

Pro Bono Campaign Aims to Keep the Kings in SacramentoTypically pro bono advertising campaigns like this one arise from a groundswell of citizens that persuades an agency to volunteer its services, but in this case a Sacramento firm, the Glass Agency, is heading the effort.

“Our goal is to provoke the community and make them pay attention,” said Amber Williams, president of Glass, which is owned by the employees. “We want to give them a reason to step up and take action, and a platform to do that.”

The deflated basketball in the ad, of course, is meant to signify how deflated many fans will feel if the team flees.

A Kings spokesman, Darrin May, did not respond to a request seeking comment.

The agency estimates the value of the campaign, which consists of four billboards and eight digital boards, to be as much as $200,000. The outdoor ads, which began Feb. 22 for a 30-day run, were bought at a discounted rate from billboard owners who were sympathetic, Ms. Williams said.

“We’re not actually spending that much,” said Ms. Williams, who declined to reveal out-of-pocket costs. “We have a lot of great community partners and colleagues.”

If the Kings, the city’s only professional franchise, were to leave, the city will lose cachet and that could hurt Glass when bidding against agencies from Madison Avenue and elsewhere, Ms. Williams said.

“For us, being from a city that has that legitimacy of a professional sports team is so critical to being taken seriously when we enter a room,” Ms. Williams said. “The Kings leaving could be detrimental for how Sacramento is received, and ultimately for how we are received as an agency.”

The idea for a billboard campaign was inspired, fittingly, by an earlier retention effort led by the Kings’ owners, the brothers Joe and Gavin Maloof. In 2001, when the star forward Chris Webber also was contemplating a move to Southern California, in his case to play for the Los Angeles Lakers, the Maloofs bought space on a billboard on Interstate 80 in Sacramento, where Mr. Webber could not miss it when driving home from games at Arco Arena.

In the ad, Joe Maloof sat on a riding mower while Gavin stood nearby and promised, “Chris, Joe will mow your lawn if you stay.”

Mr. Webber did stay, until 2005, but the Kings, featured in 2001 on a Sports Illustrated cover with the text “The greatest show on court — Sacramento Kings: basketball the way it oughta be,” have struggled in recent years.

The team has not qualified for the playoffs since the 2005-6 season and has won only 26 percent of its games this season, one of the worst records in the N.B.A.; last season, the team won 31 percent of its games, and the season before, just 21 percent.

As for attendance, the team sold virtually all its seats in the 2002 season, averaging 17,317 fans per home game, but so far this season has averaged sales of just 13,494, leaving 22.1 percent of the seats empty, according to data on the ESPN Web site.

The Maloofs have long argued that Arco Arena is outdated. Although new stadiums and arenas for professional sports teams often are publicly financed, Sacramento voters in 2006 soundly defeated a measure that would have raised local sales taxes by a quarter cent to help finance a new arena, with 80 percent opposing.

In accordance with N.B.A. rules, the team was required to seek permission to move to Anaheim by Tuesday, but on Monday it filed a request to extend the deadline in order to discuss the matter with the N.B.A.’s board of governors, which will meet April 14.

“The Kings are a big deal here in many ways, not just economically but in terms of the nice warm glow they give the city,” said Stan Atkinson, a longtime news anchor in Sacramento who retired in 1999. “But those good years went bye-bye with the team losing its mojo.”

Mr. Atkinson, who has worked actively for local charities since retiring, said companies were most likely to support nonprofits in their backyards, and that the Kings helped such causes by getting “the kind of attention that makes Sacramento a lot more interesting for a national company looking for headquarters.”

While he lauded the Glass agency for the campaign, saying, “it’s terrific they stepped up,” Mr. Atkinson had little doubt that the Kings would depart.

“We’re all going to feel the loss,” Mr. Atkinson said. “The harsh reality is that the Maloofs feel frustrated and more than a little angry about the way things have gone.”

Since appearing on Feb. 20, the campaign’s Facebook page has gained hundreds of followers daily, to about 5,000 on Tuesday. The initial effort championed on Facebook was to rally residents to buy every ticket for the Kings Monday home game against the Los Angeles Clippers.

The effort was successful: the game sold out, and the Kings won, 105 to 99.

During a courtside interview from the game posted on the Web site of News 10, the Sacramento ABC affiliate, Joe Maloof said, “It’s an honor to see this place finally filled up again.”

When the interviewer asked, “It’s not too late, right?” Mr. Maloof looked around awkwardly with a pained expression and said nothing for several seconds. Finally, an off-camera handler for Mr. Maloof thanked the reporter, and abruptly ended the interview.

Billboard Connection

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