Jeffrey Koewler wants more cowbell.
A corporate partner at Downey Brand in Sacramento, Koewler is leading an effort to find a new buyer for the National Basketball Association's Sacramento Kingswhose devoted fans call themselves Cowbell Kingdomin order to prevent the team from leaving town for Seattle.
An ownership group led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steven Ballmer has reached an agreement to buy a 53 percent stake in the Kings from majority owner the Maloof family and another 12 percent stake held by Robert Hernreich. The estimated $340 million deal for almost three-quarters of the Kings values the team at $525 million, which would be the highest price ever fetched for an NBA franchise. The sale of the Kings would see them moved to the Puget Sound region, where they would reconstitute the SuperSonics franchise, which left Seattle in 2008 to become the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Am Law Daily reported earlier this month that the Hansen-Ballmer group is being advised by a team of lawyers led by Covington & Burling, Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell, and Seattle's McCullough Hill Leary, while the Maloofs have turned to Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy.
Downey Brand's Koewler, a Sacramento native and lifelong Kings fan, says his firm is providing pro bono representation to a client he won't name, whose "interests are aligned" in keeping the team in California's capital. The next step involves finding a viable buyer for the Kings ahead of the NBA's March 1 relocation deadline.
"This is a very interesting transaction that involves M&A, funds work, and debt financing, all of with which I'm familiar," says Koewler, adding that he's trying to "move the pieces forward" on a competing offer for the Kings that will provide the framework for their future in Sacramento.
So far 21 local residents have pledged $1 million each to keep the Kings around, although what's missing is a well-heeled investor to add to the group to offset the deep pockets of Hansen and Ballmer. This week Sacramento mayorand former NBA playerKevin Johnson said publicly that he had "whales" ready to bolster the local bid to prevent the Kings from skipping town.
While Johnson has not identified those potential investors, numerous media reports have named grocery billionaire Ronald Burkle and 24 Hour Fitness chain founder Mark Mastrov as the most likely contenders to partner up with local investors in a bid for the Kings.
While Koewler claims not to know the details of potential buyers seeking to scoop up the Kings, he says he is working closely with Johnson, a fellow Sacramento native whom he has known "on and off" over the years. (Both Johnson and Koewler attended the same local high school and the University of California, Berkeley, although not at the same time.)
Koewler's effort to save the Kings isn't the first such rescue bid launched by a Sacramento lawyer to hold on to the team, which has had a somewhat itinerant existence throughout its history. A deal to keep the Kings in Sacramento collapsed last year after the Maloofs walked away from a handshake agreement that would have used municipal funds to finance the construction of a new home for the franchise.