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The Bills reached a multi-year deal with Tops Friendly Markets, as Tops will become the official supermarket of the Bills, replacing Wegmans. The deal gives Tops exclusivity in the supermarket category, signage throughout Ralph Wilson Stadium and a variety of media, community and Internet opportunities. Also under the deal, tickets to all Bills games will be available through tickets.com at 114 Tops locations throughout NY, PA and OH (Bills). In Buffalo, Matt Glynn notes that under the deal, Tops will sponsor a family-oriented seating area inside Ralph Wilson Stadium and a free "fanfest" before games. Bills President Tom Donahoe said that fans "will be able buy discounted tickets for a corner of the stadium, called the Tops Family Corner, that contains about 1,000 seats." Fans can buy a four-pack of seats for $120, which is 30% less than the individual game ticket price (BUFFALO NEWS, 4/16). Meanwhile, the Bills joined the Jaguars and Raiders by signing a multi-year deal with Tickets.com (Tickets.com).
The Spurs "are negotiating the purchase" of an AHL franchise that will be affiliated with the NHL Panthers, according to sources of Ludden & Scheide of the SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS. The Spurs have "reached an agreement in principle to buy one of three dormant franchises in the league, but still must seek the approval of their board of investors." The Spurs "hope to have the team play in the SBC Center" for the '02-03 season. Ludden & Scheide report that the Spurs and Panthers "would share in the purchase of the AHL franchise," which would become the 28th team in the league. An AHL spokesperson noted an AHL expansion franchise was valued at about $3M before last season. Under the affiliation agreement, the Spurs "would pay a fixed price to the Panthers for providing the players, with the NHL team responsible for paying those salaries." The Spurs would "run the business and marketing operations of the team." Meanwhile, Ludden & Scheide write that the Spurs' AHL negotiations "cloud the future" of the CHL Iguanas, whose lease agreement to play at Freeman Coliseum expired last month. Iguanas Owner Dave Elmore "has not been able to land a new agreement with the Spurs that would keep" the team at Freeman Coliseum. The Spurs also "could not reach an agreement to buy" the Iguanas from Elmore. One source said that the Spurs hoped to purchase the Iguanas for $600,000-800,000 but Elmore "initially placed the team's value at about" $2.5M (SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS, 4/16). A source told THE DAILY this morning the Spurs are in talks to purchase the dormant Louisville Panthers (THE DAILY).
LEAGUEWIDE: In Hartford, Bruce Berlet writes, "Positive vibes fill many of the AHL's nooks and crannies from Newfoundland to Manitoba, but there are still problems. Franchises in Cleveland and Norfolk, Va., are shaky. Ottawa is searching for an affiliation again. Suspect refereeing remains a sore spot even at AHL headquarters, and it was difficult at times to assess the quality of some teams with so many late-season call-ups. Still, most franchises, especially the eight newcomers, are on solid footing, and the consensus is there are more good young players in the league" (HARTFORD COURANT, 4/16).
The initial report from an independent appraiser estimating the value of the Mets has been filed, and the value of the franchise "has been established in the neighborhood" of $450M, according to baseball execs familiar with the findings cited by Waldstein & Rocca of the Newark STAR-LEDGER, who write it is a figure Mets co-Owners Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon "dispute is either too high or too low." Reps of Doubleday, whose 50% share Wilpon is looking to buy, are said to be "appalled that the value is so low and have disputed it." Other people say Wilpon is also "unsatisfied with the findings because the price is too high and he has called into question some aspects of it as well." Waldstein & Rocca write, "Considering that Cablevision [Chair] Charles Dolan offered $500[M] for the team, that Forbes magazine estimated the value at $482[M] and the Yankees at about $730[M], the $450[M] figure appears low." All that remains for Wilpon to become sole owner of the team is for payments to begin. But "there was some concern whether the process had stalled again, and when and if Wilpon will begin making the payments." A person indirectly involved in the negotiations said that MLB Commissioner Bud Selig "had asked Doubleday if Wilpon could come up with the money." Doubleday "would not say if Selig had asked him about the sale, but seemed a little surprised the process had dragged on as long as it has." Doubleday: "I don't know if it's going to happen or not. I can't say it will, and I can't say it won't." People close to Wilpon say there is "100 percent certainty" that the sale will be completed though it may take several more weeks (STAR-LEDGER, 4/16).
PLAYOFF PAYOFF: In Detroit, Daniel Fricker notes if the Red Wings reach the Stanley Cup Finals, fans will pay $450 for a seat in the lower bowl at Joe Louis Arena. The $450 seat would be the second highest in the league behind the Maple Leafs, which offer a US$583 seat in the first row at Air Canada Centre (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 4/16)....In Boston, Will McDonough wrote, "How about a little round of applause for the Celtics and Bruins for not gouging the fans on playoff ticket prices this year. The Celtics get the salute for upping the price, on average, just $5 throughout the playoffs, even if they go to the finals." Celtics COO Rich Pond: "We feel we owe this to our fans for being so loyal." Meanwhile, McDonough noted the Bruins "will raise their ticket prices for the first round $5 as well, but they have not set the price for the next round, if they advance." Bruins President Harry Sinden: "I don't like to raise the price for the playoffs at all, I really don't. And [percentage-wise] we are not going to raise them the way we did in past years" (BOSTON GLOBE, 4/14).
NOTES: A summer trial date was set yesterday for a $1.1B lawsuit in which the Raiders claim they fraudulently were lured back to Oakland in '95 with "promises of sellout crowds that never materialized." During a brief court appearance in a Sacramento County courtroom yesterday, attorneys for the Raiders, the city of Oakland and Alameda County "decided they will choose a jury" for the trial on July 2 (AP, 4/15)....In New Orleans, John Reid writes, "To broaden their base of fans, the Hornets have changed their advertising push this week from club seats, which was the focus the week before owners' meetings, to selling half-season ticket packages that start at $599 for 21 home games" (TIMES-PICAYUNE, 4/16)....The AFL Desperados have sold more than 4,500 season tickets (Richard Alm, DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 4/13)....In FL, Michael Russo wrote, "In a letter that went out [last] week, the Panthers guarantee they'll make the playoffs next season. If they don't, the team will give full season-ticket holders next season a credit on their 2003-04 renewal." Meanwhile, Panthers COO Jeff Cogen said the team has "re-scaled their ticket prices." Cogen said, "We raised about 30 percent of the house, held 30 percent flat and reduced 40 percent. The majority of the reductions are [in the upper bowl]" (SUN-SENTINEL, 4/13).
Despite a 23-57 record so far in their first season in Memphis, and "even though ground still hasn't been broken on a new downtown arena, a bond has been formed" between the Grizzlies and their fans, according to Ron Higgins of the Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL. Grizzlies VP/Business Operations Mike Golub: "I think we've converted a lot of casual fans, who simply wanted to sample the product, into diehard Grizzlies fans." Higgins wrote that though attendance "has been up and down," Grizzlies officials "say that they are on target as far as their projected financial loss." Grizzlies President of Business Operations Andy Dolich said that the team "is among the top six in the league in group ticket sales, despite the late start into the market." Dolich: "It's a lose factor, and we're in the ballpark of what our projected numbers were. But there has been a tremendous upside moving from Canada because we don't have the exchange rate. The game grosses have been much better." Meanwhile, Higgins added, "Judging from the response from Grizzlies fan focus groups as well as surveys of season and power pack ticket holders, most fans like the product and hope it will stay." Each season ticket or power pack buyer is assigned a Grizzlies account exec to "improve the experience of attending a game." At home games, "at least 30 sales and marketing staff members move throughout The Pyramid to help fans and make notes of how to improve the operation." Dolich: "I even go undercover. I park in the parking lot with fans to see how long it takes. I stand in concession lines to see how long the line lasts. I want to know if the hot dogs are hot, if the cold drinks are cold. I want to know if I'm seated correctly." Higgins wrote that the Grizzlies also "have focused on the younger crowd through community service programs." Golub and Dolich "are astounded at the number of kids at Grizzlies games, even on weeknights" (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 4/14).
OH WHAT A FEELING: Last weekend, the Grizzlies relocated their business and basketball operations to the Toyota Center Building near AutoZone Park. Since moving to Memphis, the Grizzlies had "maintained their business and basketball operations in separate downtown locations" (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 4/16).
Dr. Jeong Kim was named as an investor and partner in Lincoln Holdings, joining Ted Leonsis, Dick Patrick, Raul Fernandez, Jack Davies, Richard Kay, George Stamas and Richard Fairbank (Capitals). In DC, Eric Fisher writes, "In the ninth change to the Lincoln roster in 27 months, Leonsis continues to lower his personal stake in the club and prepare for the potential purchase of the Washington Sports & Entertainment L.P. assets the group does not already own." Fisher, noting Kim purchased 6% of Lincoln Holdings, writes Kim's "arrival completes Leonsis' dispersal of equity once held by" Jonathan Ledecky. Ledecky sold his 24% stake back to Leonsis last June. Leonsis' stake is "now back to about" 60% (WASHINGTON TIMES, 4/16).
Though the game-time temperature was an "unseasonably warm" 84 degrees, last night's Pirates-Brewers game drew only 14,090 fans to Miller Park, the smallest crowd to attend a Brewers game at the new facility, according to Drew Olson (JOURNAL SENTINEL, 4/16). ABC Radio's Keith Olbermann, on the crowd: "Let's see how committed to this contraction idea Bud Selig really is" (ABC Radio, 4/16).
RANGERS: In Dallas, Gerry Fraley reports yesterday's Mariners-Rangers game drew 20,208 fans to The Ballpark in Arlington, the second-smallest crowd at the facility since '96. The total turnout for nine home games was 273,656, a 23% decline from the same number of dates last season. Southwest Sports Group Exec VP/Marketing Jeff Overton said that the Rangers "expected a decrease because of a drop in season-ticket sales" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 4/16).
INDIANS: Since opening day, the Indians have sold 60,000 single-game tickets, their "best two-week sales period since early February" when the team began selling individual game seats. The Indians have sold 2,351,000 tickets for the '02 season (BEACON JOURNAL, 4/16).
LET IT GO? CBS SPORTSLINE's Scott Miller writes that after "listening to fan feedback and with much thought, a handful of clubs are abandoning the playing of God Bless America on a nightly basis" during the seventh inning. The A's, Giants and Padres "now are playing it sporadically, but not habitually. And it is the right thing to do. ... The time comes ... to move on." Miller: "As baseball moves forward in its role as a social institution, it should spend its time negotiating a labor agreement and avoiding another work stoppage, not serving as an indefinite cheerleading coach for the rest of us" (CBS SPORTSLINE, 4/16).
SPRING TRAINING ATTENDANCE: The FL Sports Foundation notes that MLB spring training attendance in FL topped 1.5 million for the fourth straight year, with the Yankees ranking first with 172,544 fans attending 17 games at Legends Field in Tampa. A total of 1,538,444 fans attended 306 games at 19 sites throughout the state (BUSINESS JOURNAL OF TAMPA BAY, 4/12 issue). Overall spring training attendance in FL rose by 2% (Bill King, SBJ, 4/15 issue).