SBD/Issue 89/Franchises

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  • Against Legal Advice, Isiah Thomas Addresses Lawsuit

    Knicks President of Basketball Operations Isiah Thomas yesterday called a press conference to address the sexual harassment suit filed against him and Madison Square Garden by former Knicks Senior VP/Marketing & Business Operations Anucha Browne Sanders. Thomas read from a prepared statement, “I did not harass Anucha, I did not discriminate against her, I did not fire her, I did not participate in any discussion that led to her being fired. She did not even work for me. I will not allow anybody, man or woman, to use me as a pawn for their financial gain” (, 1/25). In N.Y., Richard Sandomir notes Thomas was flanked by his lawyers, despite “both having advised him that he should not” publicly discuss the case. MSG President Steve Mills also joined Thomas. While Mills, who was Browne Sanders’ direct supervisor, is not named in the suit, he allegedly “took no action after she complained that Thomas berated her and refused to let Knicks players participate in her marketing initiatives.” Browne Sanders alleges that Mills “warned her that if she continued to press the harassment claims, Thomas would spread a false rumor about her.” Neither Thomas nor Mills took questions (N.Y. TIMES, 1/26).

    MORE DETAILS: Knicks G Stephon Marbury is also named in the suit, which states that “his attitude toward [Browne Sanders] mirrored Thomas’ (N.Y. TIMES, 1/26). In N.Y., Michael O’Keeffe reports the suit claims that Mills told Browne Sanders in ’04 that MSG Chair James Dolan “wanted her to create jobs” for Hassan Gonsalves and Tasheem Ward, Marbury’s cousins, “even though both men were ‘completely unqualified.’” The suit states, “Gonsalves was ultimately fired by MSG, at Browne Sanders’ urging, because he engaged in repeated and flagrant sexual harassment.” Sources said that Ward “remains employed by the club and is well-liked.” The suit also claims Dolan “ordered” Browne Sanders to hire Vernon Manuel, a “former Dolan landscaper who had dated” Dolan’s daughter. The suit says Manuel “forged his manager’s signature on multiple occasions, stole from the company and acted in a hostile and aggressive manner with many women on the staff” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/26).

    BROWNE SANDERS: Browne Sanders held a separate press conference earlier in the day and “called the accusations that she was seeking a financial windfall ‘a diversion.’” She also did not take questions. Kevin Mintzer, one of Browne Sanders’ attorneys, said that a settlement “was discussed with the Garden before her departure, but $6.5[M] was an incorrect figure.” He would not reveal the correct figure and said that there “had been no attempt at mediation” (N.Y. TIMES, 1/26). Browne Sanders: “I know I’m going up against some of the most powerful men in sports. ... And it’s very intimidating, but I know I’m doing the right thing” (N.Y. TIMES, 1/26). In N.Y., Venezia, Berman & MacIntosh cite a source saying that Browne Sanders “had given indications that she would demand compensation long before she filed suit.” The source said that she told an MSG exec last year that if she left, “With all the things I know, I should get [$6-10M]. ... One thing I know about this place is they always pay” (N.Y. POST, 1/26).

    Browne Sanders’ Motive
    Questioned By Some
    LOOKING FOR A PATTERN: Several female execs who have worked with Thomas “spoke out on his behalf.” Knicks VP/Community Relations & Fan Development Karin Buchholz said, “He has always treated me with dignity and respect.” But Browne Sanders claims that Thomas said to her, “What, I can’t get any love from you today.” Two sources said that the comment “sounds like something he has said to others.” A former co-worker of Thomas: “That rings true to anyone who knows him.” Raptors Senior VP/Communications & Community Development John Lashway said that while Thomas was with the Raptors in the ‘90s, a woman “threatened to go public with claims she had a sexual relationship with him if she wasn’t paid.” But Lashway said investigators “found it was completely unfounded” (N.Y. POST, 1/26). NEWSDAY’s Johnette Howard writes in the four stops Thomas has made since retiring as a player, his “tenure has been conflicted and contentious, marked by a string of blowups and hard feelings. ... For Thomas, controversy has been a pattern — not just an aberration” (NEWSDAY, 1/26).

    ARE THOMAS’ DAYS NUMBERED? The N.Y. POST’s George Willis writes the allegation is “an embarrassing stain on Thomas’ tenure with the Knicks and comes at a time when his leadership is being scrutinized. Never has his authority and job security seemed so vulnerable. ... This development only adds to the perception the franchise is becoming dysfunctional and that may prompt owner Jim Dolan to end another clash of personalities” between Thomas and coach Larry Brown (N.Y. POST, 1/26). The N.Y. TIMES’ Harvey Araton: “If Browne Sanders has a well-documented case, it will be a much graver threat to Thomas’s job security than trading for Stephon Marbury, no matter what Mills and [Dolan] say or think now” (N.Y. TIMES, 1/26). The N.Y. DAILY NEWS’ Mitch Lawrence writes while Dolan “might think he has just cause to fire” Thomas, “let’s let the legal process take its course and not rush to judgment. But if her charges prove true, case closed. Isiah must go” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/26). The N.Y. DAILY NEWS’ Frank Isola writes the “fact that the organization is standing behind Thomas supports the theory that Dolan has no plans to either fire Thomas or ask for his resignation” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/26).

    MEDIA MONITOR: Last night’s MSG Network broadcast of Kings-Knicks, with play-by-play announcer Mike Breen and analyst Kenny Smith, did not mention Thomas’ situation. MSG’s “SportsDesk” also did not report on Thomas (THE DAILY). In N.Y., Phil Mushnick writes sarcastically about the lack of coverage by the net, “Perhaps no one at MSG Network had heard the news, yet. Or maybe Jim Dolan figured that no one outside the Garden had heard about it, yet, and he wanted to keep the lid on it” (N.Y. POST, 1/26).

    Print | Tags: Cablevision, Franchises, Los Angeles Kings, Madison Square Garden, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, New York Knicks, Sacramento Kings, Toronto Raptors
  • Spirit Of 1836: Houston’s New MLS Team Reveals Name

    1836's Luck Says Team Has Already
    Received 1,500 Season-Ticket Deposits

    Houston’s new MLS team will be called Houston 1836, commemorating the year the city was founded. The team’s logo was designed by MLS Creative Services led by Richard Levy, in conjunction with N.Y.-based Cassdes Design, and its colors are black, orange and blue. 1836 President Oliver Luck said since the team’s initial press conference in December, the team has received over 1,500 deposits for season tickets and interest from the local corporate community about sponsorships. Over 11,000 fans cast votes in the name-the-team contest sponsored by the Houston Chronicle (MLS).

    YEAR AFTER YEAR: In Houston, Bernardo Fallas writes, “Naming a team after a year is a soccer staple in Europe.” But the names of German clubs Hannover 96 (1896) and FC Schalke 04 (1904) represent “the team’s founding, not its city’s.” Meanwhile, because the name and logo were “leaked through a breach of the league’s Web site Tuesday, they were on virtually every major news outlet in the city by Wednesday morning. Calls and e-mails began pouring in to Spanish TV and radio stations, with some finding their way to the Chronicle and its blog.” Some fans were “upset by the name’s link to other significant events in Texas history that some Hispanics might find offensive,” including Texas’ independence from Mexico and the Battle of the Alamo. But Luck said that the name “was not intended to be divisive.” Luck: “What we wanted to do was make sure our team represented all Houstonians. To us, the founding year symbolizes that we want to put deep roots in our city.” He added that “1836” received the most votes out of 12 choices in the name-the-team Sweepstakes that ended January 6 (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 1/26).

    GOOD CHOICE? Also in Houston, Glenn Davis calls the team’s name and colors “bold, unafraid and visionary. ... The name will satisfy traditional soccer fans and will win over new fans” (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 1/26). The CHRONICLE’s John Lopez writes if the name is “weird and wild, it fits soccer. And it certainly fits this quirky little town of ours, too” (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 1/26). But ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser joked, “What is the mascot, a calendar?” (“PTI,” ESPN, 1/25).

    Print | Tags: ESPN, Franchises, MLS, New England Revolution, Walt Disney
  • Dollar Bills: Team To Increase Ticket Prices Next Season

    Bills Raising Ticket Prices
    For Second Straight Year

    The Bills, coming off a 5-11 season, will raise ticket prices at Ralph Wilson Stadium in ’06, marking the “second year in a row the Bills have made almost complete across-the-board increases,” according to Milt Northrop of the BUFFALO NEWS. Lower-level sideline season-ticket prices will increase $4 per game to $47, while individual game tickets will increase $5 to $58. Prices at “most levels” will go up $1 or $2 per game. The team has also created a new pricing level for upper-level corner seats in rows 21-38, which will cost $32 per game for season tickets, down $3 from the cost of the same seat in ’05. Single-game seats in those rows will be $44, a $2 decrease. The Bills said that their average ticket price in ’05 was $44.66, “the lowest in the NFL.” The team sold 47,246 season tickets in ’05, and sold out all eight regular-season home games in the 73,967-seat stadium (BUFFALO NEWS, 1/25).

    Print | Tags: Buffalo Bills, Franchises, NFL
  • Price Freeze: Senators Keep Season-Ticket Prices The Same

    Senators To Freeze Season-
    Ticket Prices For ’06-07 Season

    Senators President Roy Mlakar said that the team will freeze season-ticket prices for the ’06-07 season “in a bid to increase sales,” according to Bruce Garrioch of the OTTAWA SUN. Also, fans who buy new season tickets now will be able to buy playoff tickets for this season and get a “bigger discount” for the seats. Season-ticket holders have until March 1 to renew for next season and purchase playoff tickets. The Senators have had 20 sellouts at 19,153-seat Scotiabank Place this season and have boosted season-ticket sales to 10,000. They have “set a goal of 12,000 for next year and 13,500 in 2007-08.” The team reduced ticket prices by up to 33% this season “to entice the public back after the lockout.” But Mlakar said that the “stress of trying to move tickets for every game is difficult.” Mlakar: “What we’re trying to sell the fans on is the scarcity of tickets. We’re not going to be the [Yankees] all the time and we’re not always going to have a strong team” (OTTAWA SUN, 1/26).

    Print | Tags: Franchises, New York Yankees, Ottawa Senators
  • Red Sox’ Re-Aligned Front-Office Staff Meets The Press

    Epstein Says He Is Happy With
    Team’s Chain Of Command
    Red Sox President & CEO Larry Lucchino, Exec VP & GM Theo Epstein, VP/Player Personnel Ben Cherington and Assistant GM Jed Hoyer yesterday participated in “more than nine hours of separate interviews with 19 publications, 11 television stations — not including 30-something 1-on-1 TV spots — and 11 radio stations,” according to Michael Silverman of the BOSTON HERALD. Keeping a “tighter lid on the flow of information ... is just one of the planned improvements Epstein and company want to incorporate.” The Red Sox have “no interest in revealing the length of the decision-makers’ contracts.” Epstein: “If there’s no end date, we can’t have an all-too-public negotiation like we just had.” Regarding his decision to leave the team in October, Epstein cited a “‘fundamental disconnect’ between baseball operations and other factions in the organization, as well [as] a fractured relationship with Lucchino.” Epstein: “There was conflict between us, some of it related to the disconnect that we talked about, some if it was simply the result of ... an all-too public negotiation. It strained our relationship” (BOSTON HERALD, 1/26). Appearing on WEEI-AM’s “Dennis & Callahan” morning show yesterday, Epstein said, “The issues had nothing to do with the chain of command, per se. I’m happy with the chain of command.” Lucchino added, “We’re a stronger, deeper, bolder, more effective organization with Theo” (, 1/25).

    COME TOGETHER: Epstein said, “Organically, out of the process, grew a greater appreciation for baseball’s centrality in the operation.” In Boston, Chris Snow writes baseball operations now “will move upstairs and join the rest of the business operation.” Red Sox Owner John Henry: “One of the things we talked about was trying to address what’s called ‘factionalism,’ when you have two campuses in a company. There wasn’t enough communication between different departments, especially baseball operations and other parts of the company” (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/26).

    Owner Says Cherington (l) And Hoyer (c)
    Knew Promotion Could Be Temporary

    TAG TEAM: Referring to Cherington and Hoyer being named co-GMs after Epstein’s departure, Henry said, “I was amazed (interim) wasn’t in their title. ... They knew going in that it was very likely Theo was coming back.” Henry said that “someone else decided to remove” the acting or interim tag (BOSTON HERALD, 1/26).

    COLUMNIST REAX: The BOSTON HERALD’s Steve Buckley writes Epstein returns to the Red Sox “without the Teflon. No longer is he a sacred cow, a man so popular with fans and media that he hardly ever was criticized” (BOSTON HERALD, 1/26). The BOSTON GLOBE’s Dan Shaughnessy writes the “early morning talking heads” at WEEI “maintained that Epstein had ‘lost his halo’” (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/26). However, the GLOBE’s Gordon Edes writes Epstein “most assuredly returned on his terms.” He is “no casualty in this affair” (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/26). The N.Y. TIMES’ Murray Chass, on the multitude of statements issued by the team on Tuesday: “For much of the past 12 weeks, the Red Sox had been widely viewed as having a dysfunctional front office. I disagreed. ... With those statements, though, the Red Sox are beginning to sound dysfunctional. Their verbosity runneth over, and they tripped all over their words” (N.Y. TIMES, 1/26).

    Print | Tags: Boston Red Sox, Franchises
  • Franchise Notes

    Tickets went on sale yesterday for the three Hornets games to be played in the New Orleans Arena in March, but the lines “did not approach anything like the previous three seasons when the Hornets put single-game tickets on sale.” Fans could also buy tickets at Ticketmaster outlets and through the team’s Web site (TIMES-PICAYUNE, 1/26). Meanwhile, Hornets coach Byron Scott said of playing home games in Oklahoma City again next season, "I think our guys are at home here. I think the fans have been unbelievable. ... I would prefer to stay here next year” (AP, 1/26).

    ANGELS: In L.A., Bill Shaikin reports sports economist Andrew Zimbalist “will not be allowed to testify” for the city of Anaheim in its trial against the Angels. Zimbalist said that the city “had foregone $138.5[M] by signing a long-term lease with the team rather than demolishing [Angels Stadium], selling the land and reaping taxes from property development.” Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter Polos said that the analysis “does not offer ‘the proper measure of damages’ in a breach-of-contract case,” as the damages of the Angels breaking their lease with the city due to their name change “should reflect the value of the actual benefits lost by the city” (L.A. TIMES, 1/26).

    SEAHAWKS: The Seahawks have decided not to hold a public viewing of the Super Bowl at Qwest Field “because it would hurt businesses who are depending on fans flocking to bars and restaurants.” Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke: “We felt it would not be treating other businesses all over the area fairly. They pay taxes that were used to help build the stadium; they did their fair share. They deserve this day, too” (SEATTLE TIMES, 1/26). Notably, NFL rules prohibit their teams and other establishments from holding Super Bowl viewing parties. Business such as sports bars that show sporting events as part of their normal operations are not prohibited, however, from showing the game (THE DAILY).

    JAZZ: The Jazz announced that all fans at Saturday’s game against the Cavaliers would win a free ticket to another game after referee Ron Olesiak hit a target in the stands with a football. However, the team intended for the free ticket to be available only if a second ticket was purchased. After fans “pointed out that what was delivered was different than what was promised,” the team honored the guarantee with upper-bowl tickets to certain future games (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 1/26).

    Print | Tags: LA Angels, Franchises, New Orleans Pelicans, Seattle Seahawks, Ticketmaster, Utah Jazz, Vulcan Ventures
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