SBD/Issue 90/Franchises

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  • Treasure Island: Islanders Consider Move To Suffolk County

    Islanders In Relocation
    Talks With Suffolk County
    Suffolk County (NY) Economic Development Committee member Bob Venero, a “confidant” of Islanders co-Owner Charles Wang, said the Islanders and Suffolk County have signed a memorandum of understanding that calls for “exploring plans, direction and an agreement” to move the hockey team from Nassau County to Suffolk County, according to Lam & Harrington of NEWSDAY. Venero: “We’re beyond meetings at this point and into strategic planning and development.” He added that the “intensified discussions are the result of the Islanders’ ‘frustration with Nassau County.’” Wang could not be reached for comment and Suffolk County Exec Steve Levy “would neither confirm nor deny that the county is signing any commitment with the Islanders.” Islanders VP/Communications Chris Botta said, “As this long process with Nassau continues, we would be foolish not to begin to explore alternatives. Suffolk County is a real and viable option for the Islanders and our fans across Long Island” (NEWSDAY, 1/27).

    COLISEUM: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, attending Penguins-Islanders last night, would not comment on the Suffolk option, but said the plan is to “work with the existing infrastructure initially and hope that the politicians will step up and do the right thing as it relates to the franchise and the overall economics to having a team here.” Bettman, on Nassau Coliseum: “If there was no team here and somebody came to us and said, ‘We’d like to bring a team to Nassau Coliseum,’ our answer would be, ‘Are you kidding?’” (NEWSDAY, 1/27).

    Print | Tags: Franchises, New York Islanders, NHL
  • Raptors Fire GM Rob Babcock; MLSE Draws Criticism

    The Raptors announced Thursday that GM Rob Babcock has been relieved of his duties. Raptors Special Advisor to the President Wayne Embry was named interim GM. MLSE President & CEO Richard Peddie said that the team’s search for a GM may focus on a candidate who could also serve as team president (Raptors).

    COLUMNIST REAX: In Toronto, Dave Perkins writes, “Bad sports teams start with clueless ownership and that’s what is in place here. [Peddie] once again mentioned ‘accountability’ and ‘stability’ and it’s crystal clear that the only stable element of the [Raptors] these past seven or eight years has been King Richard’s presence. ... Peddie and the [BOD] have done a marvelous job bleeding taxpayers and creating wealth where no more wealth is required by milking the logo, but are hopelessly falling behind on the main tasks. The Raptors are lousy and [the Maple] Leafs aren’t even a playoff team this morning” (TORONTO STAR, 1/27). Also in Toronto, Steve Simmons writes Babock’s tenure “was a clear reflection of Peddie’s awkwardness of what happens when he ventures away from his own areas of expertise” (TORONTO SUN, 1/27). Also in Toronto, Dave Feschuk writes Peddie is “not afraid to throw an underling or two overboard if the casualties will keep his unsinkable battleship of a career on course” (TORONTO STAR, 1/27).

    BOTTOM-LINE BUSINESS: In Toronto, Stephen Brunt writes MLSE’s mandate, “pure and simple, is to maximize return on investment. To do otherwise would be to fly in the face of the interests of the principle backers, most notably the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan. By that measure, Peddie must be doing just fine.” Brunt notes the Maple Leafs, who were “wildly profitable before the lockout,” have been forced to “pocket tens of millions of dollars that they otherwise would have wasted on player salaries” due to the NHL’s new salary cap. However, with the Raptors, “it’s been all downhill the past five years, and finally this season, the remarkably patient paying customers are beginning to abandon ship. But the club has avoided luxury tax territory, and gate revenue probably still looks decent next to those of a whole lot of other [NBA] franchises” (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/27).

    PLAYING FAVORITES? Also in Toronto, Damien Cox writes the “difference in operational standards” between how MLSE handles the Raptors and Maple Leafs “is striking.” The Raptors coach “might get a year” and the GM 18 months “to make chicken soup out of ... chicken bleep.” Former Raptors G Vince Carter “is denigrated and hustled out of town when his personal stats sag. The awkward first-round pick [F Rafael Araujo] is declared a bust in less than a season and sits nailed to the bench.” But the Maple Leafs “have the luxury of never having to win anything of substance, and more to the point, even a terrible losing string has absolutely no consequences for executives, coaches or players” (TORONTO STAR, 1/27).

    Print | Tags: Franchises, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, NBA, NHL, Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors
  • NBA May Investigate Tampering Claim Made Against Thomas

    NBA To Launch Probe Into
    Tampering Claims Against Thomas?
    The NBA “likely will launch a probe into allegations” that Knicks President of Basketball Operations Isiah Thomas “conspired to get opposing players drunk the night before games,” according to sources cited by Mitch Lawrence of the N.Y. DAILY NEWS. The allegations, which appear in the sexual harassment lawsuit filed by former Knicks Senior VP/Marketing & Business Operations Anucha Browne Sanders, “could be viewed as tampering — if Thomas had contact with opposing players.” Browne Sanders accused Thomas of “working with concierges at hotels frequented by visiting teams to encourage opposing players to go to certain bars and strip clubs and get drunk the night before a day game.” One league source said that while the “alleged actions ‘seem highly unusual,’ they will probably be investigated.” An NBA spokesperson said the league is “monitoring the entire situation” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/27).

    BACK AND FORTH: Meanwhile, in N.Y., Adam Nichols cites a source close to Thomas as saying that Browne Sanders “was offered $250,000 to make her harassment claims disappear,” but she “rejected the deal — saying only a $6.5[M] settlement could stop” the lawsuit. The source added that an out-of-court settlement “was now extremely unlikely.” The source: “If they were going to settle, they would have settled before this suit was filed” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/27). But Browne Sanders, in an exclusive interview with Andrea Peysey of the N.Y. POST, said, “That never happened. ... They want this to be about money. Well, I was a high-paid executive” (N.Y. POST, 1/27).

    IMPACT ON THOMAS: The N.Y. POST’s Jay Greenburg cites a source as saying that the fact that MSG Chair Jim Dolan “didn’t just pay Browne Sanders to keep quiet ... is indication Dolan wanted this public as an excuse to get rid of Thomas” (N.Y. POST, 1/27). The N.Y. POST’s Marc Berman writes with the lawsuit, it is “unclear Thomas’ empowerment in making any blockbuster trades” before the February 23 deadline. There is “also a question about his standing with other league executives” (N.Y. POST, 1/27).

    COVERAGE: NEWSDAY’s Rieber & Logan note the Knicks referred reporters seeking comment on the lawsuit to a PR firm, where a spokesperson said that the Knicks “had nothing more to say about the lawsuit” (NEWSDAY, 1/27). Thomas left the team’s practice yesterday before reporters were allowed access (Mult., 1/27).

    Print | Tags: Cablevision, Franchises, Madison Square Garden, NBA, New York Knicks
  • Welcome To The Neighborhood: Utah, K.C. Teams Join The AFL

    By Rick Ellington, Staff Writer

    AFL Kicks Off 20th Season Today
    As the AFL prepares to begin its 20th season, the league is welcoming two expansion franchises. The Utah Blaze will begin their inaugural season Saturday night against the SaberCats in San Jose, while the K.C. Brigade will debut the following afternoon in Dallas against the Desperados. The two teams have faced different challenges in figuring out how to carve a niche into the local market’s public consciousness, but both have been successful in their own ways.

    HELLO, MY NAME IS: Before the Ken Garff Automotive Group was granted an AFL expansion franchise for Salt Lake City in September ’04, the only indoor football the market had previously seen was the NIFL’s Utah Warriors. Blaze President Jason Jones said, “It took a little bit of educating for the population here, and even the media, but seeing the ticket sales and sponsorship sales and the amount of interest, they’ve really come on board.” The team has sold 7,700 season-ticket packages, and sponsors ranging from the Newspaper Agency Corporation to the local ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates are lining up to be part of the Blaze’s inaugural season. Jones: “We not only have a corporate title sponsor of the game, we’ve got a supporting sponsor, we’ve got a television title sponsor, a radio title sponsor, and then we’ve got the local newspapers. ... With any one of our eight games, we will have three to four title sponsors with their own areas. What we’ve asked for them ... is to take accountability to promote that game via trade back in [commercial] spots and advertising.” Jones said that strategy has resulted in “three or four” beat writers, including ones from the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News, and TV stations traveling to San Jose to cover Saturday’s game. Jones said, “We’re getting more coverage than any other [AFL] team out there.”

    YOUTH OF THE NATION: The influence of the Mormon church over the Salt Lake region and the large numbers of families that live there have presented the Blaze with unique marketing challenges and opportunities. Jones said, “Getting involved with these youth (sports) programs has just been paramount.” To that end, the Blaze, in advance of ever playing a game, partnered with the Ute Conference youth football league, the only non-county-run youth organization in Salt Lake City. Each of the 8,000 participants in the Ute Conference received a membership card into the Junior Blaze fan club, which Jones said gives them “discount benefits on single-game tickets and gives them a merchandise package if they buy into season tickets.” The team has become hands-on with the arrangement, as Blaze coach Danny White spoke at the league’s year-end awards banquet. Jones also said, “We’ve even thought of going down the road of having the Ute Conference jersey sporting a patch supporting the [Blaze], like we do in the AFL.” Meanwhile, each high school in the Salt Lake Valley will be represented at games by a sponsor that subsidizes tickets for the students.

    Brigade Starting Year Early
    Due To Hurricane Katrina
    RUSH HOUR: Whereas the Blaze had well over a year to prepare for the birth of their franchise, the Brigade did not have that sort of lead time. Originally slated to debut in ’07, the AFL asked the club in October to play this year after Hurricane Katrina caused the VooDoo to suspend operations for a season. However, Brigade Managing Partner Tyler Prochnow said the schedule change did not alter too many of their plans in growing the franchise. Prochnow: “It didn’t change dollar values or our approach too much, because we thought we had a pretty good game plan, but we just now put it into a much shorter time frame.” The team has signed a radio deal with Union Broadcasting’s KCXM-FM and TV deals with KSMO-WB and Time Warner’s Metro Sports. Prochnow said, “We’re ahead of schedule from where we anticipated being at this point. ... We have exceeded our 12-month projection, so we have greatly exceeded what we would anticipate with a four -month selling cycle.”

    SEASONS GREETINGS: The mid-fall announcement of the creation of the franchise provided a natural boost for the Brigade. Prochnow said, “We got the launch date right in early October, right in the middle of when people are paying attention to football. We didn’t have to work so hard initially to generate interest like we did when we thought we’d be launching this team in the middle of baseball season.” The team ran a “name the team” contest that drew the immediate attention of the K.C. market. Prochnow said due to the contest, the club had “a fairly sizable database that we started with. ... We asked people to indicate whether they were interested in purchasing season tickets and finding out more information about the team from that.” The team launched a marketing campaign that involved every media source –- print, TV, radio and e-mail messages — as well as a grass-roots component. That jump start, combined with the ambitious ad strategy, has helped the team sell 7,800 season-ticket packages in advance of its home-opener February 12.

    MORE AFL: For AFL fan demographics, please see Back Of The Book. This concludes THE DAILY’s week-long look at the AFL, including a Q&A with Avengers Owner Casey Wasserman, an AFL Spons-o-Meter, a Turnkey Sports Poll about the league and an examination of league marketing efforts. In addition, see this week’s issue of SportsBusiness Journal for an in-depth on the AFL.

    Print | Tags: ABC, CBS, Franchises, Golden State Warriors, NBC, New Orleans Saints, Viacom, Walt Disney
  • Franchise Notes

    Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley said that he would buy “a small share” of the Reds and become part of the ownership group headed by new Reds CEO Robert Castellini. Also, radio exec Bobby Lawrence said that he “would be investing in the Reds.” In Cincinnati, Cliff Peale reports Lawrence has been “serving as an adviser to the new ownership group on media and marketing.” Last year, Lawrence helped broker a deal for the Cardinals “to buy a 50[%] stake in KTRS-AM in St. Louis and move broadcasting rights to that station” (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 1/27).

    Duck Boot: Samuelli Dropping
    “Mighty” From Team’s Name
    A MIGHTY WIND: Mighty Ducks co-Owner Henry Samueli said that the team “will become the Anaheim Ducks next season.” Samueli said that “no decision is expected until the end of the season” on whether the team will adopt a new logo, colors and uniform. In L.A., Bill Shaikin writes the move “loosens the team’s identity with Disney,” its former owner. Consultant David Paine, whose public relations firm assisted the Ducks in their market research, said telephone surveys found “nearly two-thirds” of season-ticket holders preferred a new name (L.A. TIMES, 1/27).

    RETURN FLIGHT: Hornets coach Byron Scott on Thursday elaborated on previous statements in which he expressed a desire to return to Oklahoma City for the ’06-07 season. Scott: “I think we have an obligation to be back to New Orleans when economically they can support a team. And the reason I said I feel comfortable here (in Oklahoma City) and would like to play here next year, is because I don’t see that happening next year. I really don’t think they’ll have the residency, the economics to support a second franchise” (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 1/27).

    MLB TICKETS: The White Sox have sold over 20,000 season tickets for the first time in franchise history. Full-season renewals were close to 100% (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/27)....The Pirates have sold 8,900 full-season equivalent ticket packages, compared to 9,250 in ’05. Group ticket sales “are pacing 29,000 ahead of the same point last year, when such tickets totaled 350,000.” The ’06 All-Star Game at PNC Park “has been a significant factor in the season-ticket increase” (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 1/27).

    Print | Tags: Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Bears, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Franchises, MLB, New Orleans Pelicans, Pittsburgh Pirates, Procter and Gamble, St. Louis Cardinals, Walt Disney
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