The first rule of Fight Club is…

don’t talk about Fight Club. The same holds true for most PR campaigns. Don’t tell people that a PR consultant said that you need to be more active in the community, just do it. People will notice and focus on that and not on the “PR Campaign.”

I like the Maloofs. I like their passion in everything they do. To paraphrase the late great “West Wing,” they’re going to, “let Bartlett be Bartlett.” Be themselves, that’s what Sacramentans fell in love with.

Ailene Voisin: Maloofs alter their game in court of public opinion

By Ailene Voisin – Bee Columnist

Last Updated 12:40 am PDT Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Story appeared in SPORTS section, Page C1

It wasn’t exactly an epiphany. More like a gut check. But at some point during the offseason, Joe Maloof decided he had sulked, seethed and stressed enough following last season’s double-dip defeat — the failed arena ballot measure and the team’s playoff absence — and what he really needed to do was slip on his sneakers and jump back into the game.

Back to doing what the Maloofs do best — selling themselves. Convincing people to buy into their act and purchase their products. Cementing community roots that extend into the psyche, most importantly, here in Sacramento.

They want an arena? They want to be beloved?

Thus, and though about three years overdue — this isn’t C.C. Myers, folks — the repair work resumes. Having already asked NBA Commissioner David Stern to assume control of arena discussions currently involving Cal Expo, the Maloofs more recently began soliciting advice on how to become community darlings all over again.

And the first thing public relations consultant Donna Lucas told Joe and Gavin was to stop hiding. And the second thing she told Joe and Gavin was … to stop hiding.

“It’s pretty simple,” said Lucas, a former staff member for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “It’s an old-fashioned, get out and talk to people. We found that no matter what went on before, with all the arena stuff, people really like Joe and Gavin. Their best asset is themselves.”

Though Joe Maloof probably believes he absorbed the worst of the arena/publicity/political pummeling of the recent past, he never should have cut and run. Frankly, he should have maintained a stubborn, persistent presence at the City Council chambers as well as at the downtown pub.

Local celebrities have to be seen around town to be gossiped about. Prime-time players earn kudos for resolve and resilience when the math gets fuzzy, when politicians hide behind the latest poll numbers, when the team tumbles into a funk.

“It’s hard, man,” continued Joe Maloof, with a half-laugh. “A lot of emotional swings. But that (election) taught us a few lessons, most importantly, that you have to get your message across. It was never about moving the team. We’re here. We’re not going anywhere. But we couldn’t get that across. That was the thing that maybe upset us the most.”

Of all the Maloofs, Joe takes the public hits the hardest. He is the most emotional and impulsive of his siblings, the Maloof most attached to Sacramento. Before his feelings were bruised during a City Council meeting in July 2004, he lived and died with every Kings outcome but bled purple right here in the restaurants, in the malls, at the games. Invariably there was Joe, shaking hands, signing autographs, enjoying his newfound celebrity.

Eventually, of course, he discovered what all owners do, that running a professional sports franchise requires deep pockets and a thick skin. New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner has been tabloid fodder for decades. Jerry Colangelo saved one franchise (Suns) and purchased a World Series championship for another (Diamondbacks) yet eventually sold out under duress. Jerry Buss has presided over two Lakers dynasties and, through no fault of his own, except perhaps his gene pool, is getting scorched because one of his sons is painfully inept.

“We had a tremendous run,” continued Joe Maloof, “and we’ve had great disappointments. Last year, it was such a downer. But I tried to think back, and I asked myself, What did we used to do that the fans appreciated so much? And it was this: Take the team to the fans. They’re always coming to the arena to watch us. I said: ‘Let’s get back in there, do what we did before. Take the team to the community. Let the fans see and touch the players.’ We’ve got to get back to that.”

It was his idea to hold the Kevin Martin news conference and fan rally downtown at the Esquire Grill, with Lucas’ endorsement and with more to come. More downtown rallies. More events in the suburbs. More of the personal touch. Eight years into their ownership, in fact, this much certainly can be said of the Maloofs: They might not be as visible, but the team still stands. It isn’t leaving. Stern’s involvement virtually ensures that.

“The thing is,” said Joe Maloof, his voice reflecting his excitement, “we always connected with the guy on the street. Because we are the guy on the street. We grew up working in a warehouse and piling beer onto trucks.

“People are comfortable with us. They know we’re trying. Now, with the team we have, with Stern helping with the Cal Expo stuff … we just have to temper our expectations a little bit.”

Laughing, he added: “We’re trying to buy a racehorse, and we want to name it Sacramento King. We’re going to get another championship for Sac if it kills us.”

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