Staff Reporter

The signing of high-scoring right wing Ziggy Palffy probably won't turn out to be the best thing to happen to the Kings this coming season. And the signing of first-round draft pick Lamar Odom is unlikely to be the best thing to happen to the Clippers.

The biggest thing that the beleaguered hockey and basketball teams which finished last in their respective divisions last season have going for them is the opening of Staples Center.

Excitement surrounding the new $375 million arena is expected to bring new attention to the Kings, who will be moving from the Great Western Forum, and the Clippers, who will be moving from the L.A. Sports Arena.

Sports marketing experts and team officials agree that interest in the arena which also will be the site of the Democratic National Convention and the Grammy Awards in 2000, as well as concerts by Bruce Springsteen and the Eagles this year will lead to higher attendance at Clippers and Kings games.

Furthermore, the purchase of premier seats and luxury suites for games by the Lakers, who attract much larger crowds than either the Kings or Clippers, will generate higher attendance at the other two teams' games. That's because those who lease the arena's 2,500 premier seats and 160 suites can attend games played by all three teams.

"I think without the Lakers, you could not have built as many suites as we built or gotten the amount of money for the suites that people were willing to pay," said Edward P. Roski Jr., co-owner of both the Kings and Staples Center.

"The Lakers are the cornerstone of the market. The Lakers will be sold out no matter how big of a place you built," he said.

David M. Carter, principal of Sports Business Group, an L.A.-based sports marketing firm, said interest in the new arena, which has received national attention, will be a draw for people who cannot afford or get tickets for Lakers games or concerts.

"The sizzle and excitement of a new facility like Staples Center is going to draw a tremendous amount of attention and, by extension, a lot of people in L.A. who have not tried hockey, and maybe basketball," he said. "(The Kings and Clippers) have a chance to capture the curiosity of a lot of people then turn them into a group ticket, a season ticket."

But that window of opportunity will be open for only a limited time. Both the Clippers and Kings whose popularity is more tied to performance than the Lakers will need to impress fans almost right away.

"I think there's a two-year honeymoon here," said Tim Leiweke, president of the Kings and of Staples Center. "But we're not counting on using the two-year honeymoon. We're coming out flying, right off the bat."

To pull that off, the Kings last month signed Palffy, who led the New York Islanders last season in goals. The Clippers signed Odom with similar hopes.

To sustain the excitement beyond the fans' short-term fascination with the new arena, "we're going to need to put a very, very competitive team out there," Roski said. "And if we do that, people will be out there."

Besides the expected attendance boost, another plus will be the additional revenue streams that will be generated at Staples Center that didn't exist at the old venues.

Staples will have 23 refreshment stands, as opposed to just four at the Great Western Forum. The new arena also will have a 6,500-square-foot retail store selling merchandise from all four teams something neither the Forum nor the Sports Arena have.

Then there are the suites, which range from $197,000 to $307,000 for the first year. The Kings and Lakers each get 25 percent of revenues from suite leases, while the Clippers get a fixed amount for each suite leased that Staples Center officials would not disclose.

Roski said the rising cost of player salaries total player costs reached $31.2 million for the Kings last season, keeping the team in the red has made it necessary to find new revenue streams, such as the retail store and luxury suites.

In fact, when Roski and partner Philip Anschutz bought the team in 1995, they did so with the plan of building a new arena. Staples Center now jointly owned by Roski, Anschutz and News Corp.'s Fox division is expected to generate enough from its various money sources to more than offset the operating losses from the hockey team.

"It could be profitable both as a business and as a service to the city and the community," Roski said. "It was one of the integral parts of why we purchased the Kings."

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