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Maloofs Have Some Interest in Ducks

Three suitors emerge to buy hockey team from Disney, including owners of NBA's Kings.

November 08, 2003|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

Joe and Gavin Maloof, the owners who transformed the NBA's Sacramento Kings from laughingstock to powerhouse, have entered into negotiations to buy the Mighty Ducks from the Walt Disney Co., two sources familiar with the sale process said Friday.

And, for the first time since retaining an investment banker to sell its money-losing baseball and hockey teams 14 months ago, Disney confirmed the interest of more than one suitor for the Ducks.

At City Hall in Anaheim, the possibility of high-profile basketball owners buying the Ducks renewed cautious optimism that the Arrowhead Pond might finally attract an NBA team -- perhaps the Kings -- after a decade of flirtation and frustration with the league.

If Disney sells the Ducks in advance of a possible owners' lockout that could wipe out all or part of next season, the company might have to accept in the range of $75 million to $85 million for a franchise valued at Forbes by $111 million and valued by Disney at $150 million during initial sale negotiations four years ago. Disney sold the Angels to Arte Moreno in May for $183.5 million, far below the initial asking price of $300 million.

Despite the risk that the NHL might shut down next year and revenue might evaporate, three suitors described as "serious" have emerged for the Ducks, including the Maloofs, a source said.

"We are talking to more than one interested party," Disney spokeswoman Leslie Goodman said Friday. She declined to confirm the number of bidders or identify any of them.

The surge of interest in the Ducks coincides with the pending transfer of the Pond management to a company created by Orange County high-tech billionaire Henry Samueli, a deal that would not affect the hockey team but could pave the way toward profits for arena managers and for an NBA team that moves into the building, perhaps in partnership with the Ducks.

"The Ducks seem like a means to a final end," said Los Angeles-based sports business consultant David Carter. "The end would be greater sports and entertainment options in Orange County, maybe the NBA."

Gavin Maloof, reached in New York at Friday's game between the Kings and Knicks, declined to comment. The Maloof brothers were seated with Tony Guanci, a Newport Beach sports franchise broker who previously has done consulting work for the brothers and who worked unsuccessfully on behalf of Samueli and partner Henry Nicholas to find the additional investors necessary to resurrect their 1999 bid to buy the Ducks and Angels.

Michael Schulman, who will head the new Pond management company, said Samueli has not had any discussions with the Maloofs and would not be interested in a minority ownership stake in the Ducks.

City officials, wary of jeopardizing an arena management transfer yet to be approved in bankruptcy court and weary of NBA franchises using the Pond as leverage to secure a new arena in their home city, spoke guardedly Friday.

"If the owner of the Ducks chooses to sell their team to a prominent sports family that's committed to that team, we would only be happy about that," Mayor Curt Pringle said.

Still, under terms of the transfer agreement with the city, Samueli's company retains a greater share of revenue if an NBA franchise moves into the Pond, and millions no longer required to pay the arena debt could be redirected to attract a basketball team.

"The restructuring of the arena deal helps facilitate a second team in the Pond," said Greg Smith, who oversees arena and stadium operations for the city, "and we'll pursue every opportunity to make that happen."

The Kings would seem to be a natural fit in the Pond, with an elite team and a built-in rivalry with the Lakers as well as media-savvy owners who would not be obscured in the shadow of the Lakers and Clippers. In a 2001 interview with The Times, in discussing whether the Vancouver Grizzlies might move to Anaheim, Gavin Maloof said an NBA franchise could flourish in the Pond, and in Orange County.

"I think Anaheim would be a plus for the league," Maloof said then. "The arena is beautiful. The market is so rich. Three teams in that market, it could handle it."

A spokeswoman for the Maloofs told the Sacramento Bee last week that the idea of the Kings moving to Anaheim was "laughable."

At the same time, however, the Maloofs broke off talks for a new Sacramento arena, telling the newspaper that they had been lied to by the city manager and project developer. The Kings also lack a cable television deal, in part because they failed to interest local cable operators in a new channel for the team.

The Maloofs, who relish their status as owners of the Palms resort hotel and casino in Las Vegas and its trendy Rain nightclub, might also embrace the chance to branch further into entertainment by investing in the Pond, one of the busiest concert venues in America.

"These guys have just enough money and just enough personality to be sexy in terms of stirring the pot in Orange County," Carter said.

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Times staff writer Kimi Yoshino contributed to this story.

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