Reno Bighorns confident Sacramento Kings partnership is a slam dunk |

Reno Bighorns confident Sacramento Kings partnership is a slam dunk

Duane Johnson
Reno Bighorns and Sacramento Kings executives meet with Reno City Councilmembers during the Bighorns/Kings Celebration Day on Nov. 2.

Even as the 2016-2017 Reno Bighorns basketball season has just dawned, a considerable amount of excitement has already been generated around the organization.

The National Basketball Association’s Sacramento Kings announced on Oct. 24 that they have purchased controlling interest in the Bighorns, taking over full operations of Reno’s NBA D-League club.

With the acquisition, the Kings can now lend their vast resources and expertise to the Bighorns, hoping it will create more buzz around the Reno-Sparks and neighboring northern Nevada communities.

Phil Horn, vice president of ticket sales and service for the Kings, who was in Reno for a Celebration Day, said the synergy was a great opportunity for both organizations.

“This gives us an opportunity to marry our business resources and make it a complete picture,” Horn said. “It allows us to bring our resources that the Bighorns didn’t have before to enhance the fan experience here in Reno. Any way we can help or assist the Bighorns, we want to take advantage of that.”

Keenan Polan, president of business operations for the Reno Bighorns, is eager to utilize the Kings’ marketing power to the D-League club’s advantage.

“What (the Kings) want to do is provide us support, provide us resources such as more staff, some different sales tools, or different marketing ideas,” Polan said. “What we want to do is bring the things they do really well and bring them to Reno.”

The synergy already was evident when the Kings hosted a Celebration Day on Nov. 2 to promote the new partnership. A contingent of more than 100 Kings personnel made the trek from Sacramento to Reno to assist existing Bighorns personnel with the day-long event at various locations around Reno. It began with a morning session at PF Chang’s parking lot, then meeting with local delegates and Reno City Council members and culminating with an evening event at Whitney Peak Hotel, which was attended by a few hundred people.

“We started out at 7:30 a.m. giving out coffee, bagels and Kings swag bags. We also went to a couple of elementary schools, dropped into local businesses and provided lunch, as well as a select-a-seat event at the Reno Events Center.”

Kings and Bighorns staff also touted a new season ticket plan for fans called Club 135, which signifies the distance along Interstate 80 between Reno and Sacramento. It also indicates the number of memberships available in the plan. Benefits include courtside seats and complimentary valet parking at REC for Bighorns games, invitations to networking events in Reno, and tickets and bus transportation to a Kings game or show at Sacramento’s brand-new downtown arena.

“There are some different opportunities to get our fans down to Sacramento to experience their new Golden 1 Center, the new gold standard in NBA arenas,” Polan said. “With Club 135, its really about the access you get between Reno and Sacramento. We want to provide them a who’s who of Reno, the business and civic leaders of our community every single night and bring together businesses who otherwise may not have a chance to come together.”

He added that anybody who buys a season ticket for the Bighorns will receive two tickets to one Kings game in Sacramento.

The Bighorns front office staff will expand with the acquisition.

“We’re looking to add two more sales associates to the team, game and sponsorship positions we want to fill. “We’ll have a sales staff member from the Kings come and bring the sales culture to Reno to our sales staff. In addition, we’ll have a sales staff of four to sell tickets for Bighorns games in Sacramento.”

Polan stressed the focus now is to get in front of more local businesses and community leaders to grow the Bighorns brand.

“We want to have events similar to (the Nov. 2 event) at least once a month, where we want to meet business leaders, or individual companies and share the Bighorns experience,” Polan said.

The Kings and Bighorns have been affiliates for several seasons. Previously, the two organizations assumed a ‘hybrid’ affiliation, where the Kings managed and funded the Bighorns operations while Reno still maintained a local ownership group to handle business matters and community relationships.

The partnership marked the 15th NBA franchise to buy controlling interest in an NBA D-League team.

Herb Santos, Jr., a Reno attorney who had served as managing owner of the Bighorns since 2011, will retain a minority interest in the team and assist with some aspects associated with the team.

Polan indicated ticket sales are on the upswing for the upcoming season, particularly in group sales, which have gone up exponentially from the same time a season ago.

The Bighorns first game was on the road at Rio Grand Valley on Sunday, Nov. 13, and the first home game is slated for Saturday, Nov. 19 against Oklahoma City. For more information on the Reno Bighorns or the NBA D-League, go to


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