Kings, River Cats Have High Hopes For Bright Future As Partners
After 22 memorable seasons, the Savage family announced on Friday morning that they had reached a deal to transfer majority ownership of the Sacramento River Cats to the Sacramento Kings.
“My sons, Jeff and Brent, helped me continue what my late husband Art started back in 2000, providing fun, safe and family-friendly entertainment for everyone in the Sacramento region,” longtime River Cats majority owner Susan Savage said on Friday through a team-issued release.
“As our family looks to transition into new ventures, we identified the Sacramento Kings as the perfect strategic partner to continue this tradition while deepening the organization’s footprint in a region we all love. It has always been about the community and our employees and that will not change.”
Sacramento River Cats Form Partnership with the @SacramentoKings and Arctos Sports Partners
— Sacramento River Cats (@RiverCats) August 26, 2022
Art Savage (1951-2009) was the driving force behind bringing professional baseball to California’s capital city as the longtime sports executive purchased the Vancouver Canadians and moved them to Sacramento before the 2000 season.
It was then that the River Cats were born, a team that has resided in Sutter Health Park (formerly Raley Field) for more than two decades, a site that has provided the residents of Sacramento and surrounding areas with countless nights of entertainment in the form of baseball, concerts, and more.
After 22 years, the Savage family has decided that the time has come to turn to page on an incredible chapter as the Sacramento Kings will take over as the franchise’s majority owners.
I had a chance to speak to both Jeff Savage, current President of the River Cats, and John Rinehart, President of Business Operations for the Sacramento Kings, to discuss what this historic merger means for the future of sports and entertainment in the 916.
Jeff Savage – President, Sacramento River Cats
Was the decision to sell the team one that had been in the works for some time, or was this a recent decision?
“It had been brewing for a little bit of time. My family and I, my mother and my brother, had discussed this and we had decided to move forward with pursuing a transaction. It’s been a little bit of time that we had thought about it and, eventually acted upon it.”
You and your family have gone through so much over the past 22 years. How difficult of a decision was it to sell the franchise?
“Very difficult. It’s one of these things where you stay up at night and think about. There have been a ton of memories here. I met my wife at a River Cats game. My father did so much work to bring the team to the Sacramento region and build the stadium. Birthday parties have been celebrated here, my children have grown up coming to the games. I have been able to work alongside my mother, my brother, and my late father, so there is a lot rolled up into all of it.”
How did this transaction with the Sacramento Kings come to fruition? Did you and your family see the possibility of selling to them as a favorable conclusion?
“We identified them as a candidate, they were interested, and to be perfectly honest, they are the perfect candidate. A local group, they know the region, and they are committed to the community and continuing to make this a better place. We have a lot of the same characteristics, wanting to give back to the community and see our region thrive. They were a natural fit from that perspective and they were very interested when they were approached and very serious. That was quickly shown to us and negotiations occurred.
“[The Kings] are also ideal from the standpoint that they know how to develop. One of the reasons why we looked to move forward with the transaction is the pending development that is going to occur here in West Sacramento and The Bridge District all around Sutter Health Park. I’m not a developer, that’s not my strength, but you know who is? The Kings have done a tremendous job at development downtown. I think that if they can continue that trend over here on the West Sacramento side of the river, that would be tremendous for everyone in the community.”
How important was it to you and your family to remain involved with the organization after being at the forefront for over two decades?
“We want this to be successful for many years to come. My mother is going to still stay involved and I think that’s really important in kind of bridging to the new ownership group in a smooth transition. There is a lot of history that my mother has, and I’m sure that she’ll tap into me as well from time to time. That’s important, to keep that around.
“We want this place to continue to have that family-friendly, affordable vibe, and I think that’s really important for the community and for Sutter Health Park to be that asset, that regional asset for everyone. I know the Kings want to continue that as well, and that is very important to them, too.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected countless professional sports teams and businesses on the attendance front. A lot of teams are still in the process of getting back to where they were pre-2020. Can this new partnership with the Kings reignite the fanbase and generate some excitement to bring fans out to the ballpark?
“I think that [the Kings] will definitely do their part in helping to bring folks out and continue to get folks out here. They have a whole other fanbase to tap into. I know that they want to continue to improve the stadium–something that we have worked on throughout our history is continuing to improve the stadium and developing, adding new features to the ballpark, and they want to do that as well. I know that they’re going to do a great job.”
When you look at the partnership between the two teams, what does this mean for the River Cats fans and season ticket holders that have been coming–or would like to start coming–to games?
“I think that [the Kings] can offer more benefits to everyone. When people work together, everyone else benefits. I foresee some special offers down the road for season ticket holders, and sponsors; obviously, that’s something that [the Kings] will be working on and figuring out. Working in unison more so can only help everyone else.”
How much faith does your family have in Vivek Ranadivé and the rest of the Sacramento Kings organization to carry on what the Savage family has built with the River Cats of the past two decades?
“I have a ton of faith that they are going to continue to build on the legacy that we have built here. That’s why they were so interested in purchasing the team, based upon what we have done. They are going to continue that and add to it. I’m excited to see what they do next, and I’m going to be their biggest fan out there.”
John Rinehart – President of Business Operations, Sacramento Kings
How long has the Sacramento Kings organization been interested in purchasing the River Cats?
“The deal came to us probably around September, October when the Savage family had said that they were looking to start doing other ventures. After obviously doing such a great job over the last couple of decades, Susan, Jeff, and the entire Savage family continuing what the late Art Savage started when they brought the River Cats here, at that point we both agreed that we would be really good custodians just to continue that deep-rooted community growth that the River Cats have, given our experience and our growth in the community that we have here with the Kings, Golden 1 Center, and all of the development around it.”
After over two decades of owning the franchises, was it important to the Kings’ side of negotiations that the Savage family remain involved with the River Cats in some capacity going forward?
“It was very important to us. We are thrilled that Susan has agreed to be a strategic business advisor and a part-owner alongside of us. Everything that she represents for the franchise, she has done a great job of putting the fans and community first and that’s right up our value system. Being able to partner with her and continue that legacy was something that was very important.”
The Kings and River Cats have been such a large part of the Sacramento community for decades. What does it mean for the city and local sports fans that these two teams are now working together?
“I think that it’s great. They are two incredible brands and assets for the city, West Sacramento and Sacramento, but also the entire region. By bringing them together, we are able to expand that footprint of what word-class entertainment looks like, how we impact our community by lifting it up, and just continuing to make Sacramento an entertainment hub. Bringing that all together helps us leverage both of those assets.”
Attendance at River Cats games has been down for a variety of reasons over the past two years, with the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in the cancellation of the 2020 season and reduced max attendance in 2021. Do you expect this new partnership with the Kings will bring fans back to the ballpark and generate some new excitement?
“The River Cats in general have just been tremendous from a business standpoint, attendance standpoint, and the fans showing support of the team. We just want to build off of that. COVID has certainly had an impact on live entertainment, but we see it coming back and coming back very strongly. All of the things that we are doing here at Golden 1 Center, I think that is going to carry over to what happens out at Sutter Health Park and at The Bridge District in West Sacramento.
We feel like everything that is happening within both organizations and what the Savage family has already done will contribute to making that area thrive.”
How important is the partnership between the Kings and River Cats for the downtown area and West Sacramento’s River District?
“It’s always part of the big vision, extending what we have done here in downtown Sacramento around Golden 1 Center and really developing our downtown core, and West Sacramento is just a short little walk across the bridge in a thriving bridge district and all of the things that are happening over there, we just think that it’s a great opportunity to partner with Mayor Guerrero and the city to continue the growth that they have already started and want to continue to do. We are really looking forward to partnering with them and making that happen.”
With this new partnership, is it possible that there will be plans to develop future larger-scale events at Sutter Health Park?
“That’s what we do. We take pride in our ability to generate large-scale events, to put them on and create them. Similar to what we did with the California Classic, creating that from the ground and building that into the event that it is today. We look forward to using the ballpark and everything around it to continue to create that great entertainment experience. Whether it’s at a baseball game or a concert or some other event that we create down the line, that’s one of the great opportunities here.”