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Piccinini couldn't pass on Warriors
[March 25, 2011]

Piccinini couldn't pass on Warriors

Mar 25, 2011 (The Modesto Bee - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Bob Piccinini admits he's a sports junkie.

"I can't think of anything I don't like," he said this week. "Badminton, maybe." Piccinini, the chairman and CEO of the Modesto-based 241-store Save Mart Supermarkets empire, can't get enough of sports. He's been involved in a little bit of everything -- baseball, track and field, and stock car racing among other exploits.

The NBA is new turf, however, for Piccinini, 69, a member of the new four-person governing board of the Golden State Warriors.

He was brought on board by Joe Lacob, who -- along with partner Peter Guber -- bid an NBA-record $450 million and won an auction for the franchise last July. An investment banker representing Lacob tapped Piccinini on the shoulder last October, and the Save Mart boss added hoops to his resume.

"It was a reasonable proposition, and I said, 'Yes.' It looked like an opportunity," Piccinini said. "Sports franchises continue to go up in value. Golden State is one of the premier franchises in the NBA based on market value." Today, Save Mart remains one of the major sponsors of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR race at Sonoma. Piccinini owns a portion of the San Diego Padres -- Downey High and Modesto Junior College graduate Jeffrey Moorad is the Padres' CEO -- and still retains a small share of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Save Mart also provided stewardship for the final decade of the Modesto Relays. Fresno State's Save Mart Center was the result of a group of vendor-investors assembled by Piccinini that provided much of the money for the indoor sports arena.

His latest move surprised observers, however, given the fact the graduate of Manteca High always saved some of his best sports passion for baseball. He's owned minor-league franchises over the years in Modesto, Stockton, Fresno and Sacramento.

In 1999, he pulled together an investment group to buy the Oakland Athletics. Guber, former A's executive Andy Dolich, Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson and Joe Morgan (he eventually backed out) and Men's Wearhouse Owner George Zimmer among others were positioned to meet the asking price of then-A's owners Steve Schott and Ken Hoffman.

Piccinini's team was rejected, however, by Major League Baseball and Commissioner Bud Selig. Six years later, Lew Wolff purchased the ballclub for $165 million, about $33 million more than Piccinini's bid.

"You can play the what-if game with anything in life. I choose not to," he said. "We did everything we could to make it go forward. It didn't. On to something else." Nearly 12 years later, that something else became basketball, Piccinini's eventual sports ticket to the Bay Area. Then again, Albertson's stores in the Bay Area were purchased by Save Mart in 2007, and Piccinini now can cross-market with the Warriors.

To no one's surprise, Piccinini attends many Golden State games these days. He frames his latest move as a business opportunity and rejects the theory that his Golden State connection is a get-even for his disappointment a decade ago with the A's.

"If somebody buys a Burger King or something like that, it's not big news. But a sports team? That's big news," he said. "I like basketball and I go to the games when I get the chance. Do I follow it as close as baseball? No, I don't." Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at [email protected] or 578-2302.

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