A group led by Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive is on track to buy the city’s minor league baseball team for roughly $90 million, according to people familiar with the terms.
This would be the highest price ever paid for a minor league team. The deal, which includes the River Cats Sutter Health Park, will expand Ranadive’s real estate development in and around downtown Sacramento. The ballpark was built and opened in 2000 at a cost of $46.5 million at the time.
A Kings official did not respond when asked for comment.
The River Cats are the Triple-A minor league franchise of the Giants, who play at Oracle Park in San Francisco, about 85 miles from Sacramento. The minor league team, which was affiliated with the Oakland A’s until 2014, has been owned by the Savage family since 1998.
The founder and former CEO of software platform TIBCO, Ranadive has invested heavily in Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center, home of the Kings, and the surrounding shopping area. The River Cats’ 14,014-seat ballpark is across the Sacramento River and less than a mile from the city of West Sacramento, which was incorporated in 1987.
The nearly $90 million price tag dwarfs other recent MiLB sales, and the real estate factor is driving the asking price. Earlier this year Endeavor (NYSE: EDR) purchased three minor league affiliates of the Atlanta Braves — including the Triple-A team — for $47 million.
Ranadive and his group bought the Kings and their old arena in 2013 for $534 million, saving the NBA team from moving to Seattle. Golden 1 Center, which opened in 2016, cost $534.6 million, with the Kings contributing $284 million and the rest through a city bond issue and parking fund.
The River Cats were purchased by Art Savage in 1998 and relocated from Vancouver to Sacramento prior to the 2000 season. Art Savage died of lung cancer in 2009 and the team is in the family. Susan Savage, his wife, is the majority owner while his son Jeff is the chief executive.
The ballpark and surrounding land, including the parking lot, are owned by River City Land Holding Company, LLC, of which Savage is the sole director and officer. It was incorporated in 1999.
The River Cats averaged 3,994 fans last year as COVID-19 health and safety protocols limited full capacity until mid-June. The team has won five Pacific Coast League titles and three Triple-A championships, most recently in 2019 – in which the club averaged 7,849 for 70 home dates – before the pandemic hit and canceled the entire 2020 season.
When the ballclub moved to Sacramento in 2000, Savage built the ballpark at a total cost of $46.5 million with a mix of private money and $40 million in public bonds issued by the River City Regional Stadium Authority. They were to be repaid in the lease agreement through user fees at the ballpark on tickets, concessions and advertising. No public tax dollars have been allocated, but there has been limited revenue from the stadium over the past two seasons to repay the bonds due to COVID.
A 20-year, $15 million naming rights deal with regional supermarket chain Raley’s helped defray more than a third of the project’s original cost. Sutter Health bought the naming rights in 2019 for an undisclosed sum. The ballpark has been upgraded several times in recent years to include a party deck, the Diamond Club behind home plate, 2,798 club seats and 36 suites.
West Sacramento is surrounded by growing business and residential growth, and speculation is that the ballpark parcel could eventually be used, at least in part, for a mixed-use real estate project, according to a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office.
A spokeswoman for Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg on Wednesday dismissed the possibility of a new ballpark downtown near the arena.
A parcel of land in the area was set aside to house a potential Major League Soccer expansion franchise. Although that expansion evaporated last year when prospective owner Ron Burkle pulled his support, a scaled-down soccer stadium is progressing for Sacramento’s minor league soccer team, a spokeswoman said.