SBD/Issue 1/Franchises

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  • NFL Denies Reports Pats Violated Rules By Taping Sideline Signals

    NFL Looking At Alleged Spying
    Incident In Patriots-Jets Game
    NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello denied ESPN and NFL Network reports that the Patriots had violated league rules by taping Jets defensive signals during their game Sunday, according to Shalise Manza Young of the PROVIDENCE JOURNAL. Aiello indicated that there had been “no official determination made and that the Patriots had not been notified of any decision, nor has head coach Bill Belichick been summoned to league offices" for a Friday meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL, 9/12). ESPN.com’s Chris Mortensen cited sources saying that Goodell has determined the Patriots violated league rules.  Goodell is considering “severe sanctions, including the possibility of docking the Patriots ‘multiple draft picks,’” because the violation comes “in the wake of a stern warning to all teams since he became commissioner.” The sources added that the team will be given an “opportunity to present their case by Friday ... most likely via the telephone.” Goodell is “expected to have a decision no later than Friday but that is not set in stone” (ESPN.com, 9/11).  Responding to the accusations, Patriots Owner Robert Kraft said, “When you’re successful in anything, a lot of people like to try to take you down and do different things” (Mult., 9/12).  In Boston, Mike Reiss reports in a front-page piece that NFL Exec VP/Football Operations Ray Anderson sent a memo to all head coaches and GMs last September “reiterating the policy and stating that ‘video taping of any type, including but not limited to taping of an opponent’s offensive or defensive signals, is prohibited.’”  The Patriots were first accused of taping signals during a 35-0 win over the Packers last November (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/12). A source said that the NFL “has never punished anyone for spying on opponents” (NEWSDAY, 9/12).

    BELICHICK APOLOGIZES: Belichick released the following statement about the situation this morning: "Earlier this week, I spoke with Commissioner Goodell about a videotaping procedure during last Sunday's game and my interpretation of the rules. At this point, we have not been notified of the league's ruling. Although it remains a league matter, I want to apologize to everyone who has been affected, most of all ownership, staff and players. Following the league’s decision, I will have further comment." Prior to a press conference for this week's game, he referred to the statement and said, “Until we get a ruling from the league, there isn’t anything more that I have to add to that” (THE DAILY).

    Did Mangini Help Tip Off NFL To
    Patriots' Videotaping Incident On Sunday?
    SPILLING THE BEANS: In N.Y., Rich Cimini cites a source as saying that Jets coach Eric Mangini, an assistant under Belichick from '00-05, possesses "an insider’s knowledge of the Patriots’ sign-stealing surveillance tactics and he shared the ... secret with members of the Jets’ organization.” Acting on a tip from the Jets, an NFL security official “confiscated a video camera and tape from a Patriots employee at the Meadowlands, and the evidence is believed to be damning” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/12).

    Xs & UH-OHs: Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of the reports about the Patriots, “Usually where there’s smoke, there’s fire, so those rumors are founded on something” (N.Y. TIMES, 9/12). Other Steelers coaches who did not want to be identified said that they “have suspected for a long time that the Patriots used such a device to gain an illegal advantage, although they did not file a complaint with the league” (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 9/12). Former NFL and current Univ. of Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt said, “It didn’t surprise me ... We had a couple incidents when I was the head coach with the Dolphins that later on guys told us stories about things happening in the locker room at their facility, and Mickey Mouse stuff that I couldn’t believe” (“Fox GameTime Live,” Fox Radio, 9/11).

    POSSIBLE PENALTIES: In N.Y., Gary Myers writes Goodell "must not play favorites with a three-time, Super Bowl-winning coach. Forget about taking away a couple of draft picks. Goodell should suspend [Belichick] for one game - the rematch against the Jets in December - for cheating."  One source said, "If they prove they were doing it, a suspension for Belichick would not be too strong.  I think more than likely the Patriots would be fined or lose a draft pick. A suspension would be pretty tough, but I wouldn't argue against it" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/12). On Long Island, Bob Glauber writes while the league will not force the Patriots to forfeit the game, Goodell should “threaten a forfeit to any team that does it in the future” (NEWSDAY, 9/12). In N.Y., Steve Serby writes the “impending loss of a high draft choice, another pick and a prohibitive club fine doesn’t go far enough.” Serby: “Goodell needs to send NFL coaches the same kind of stern message he sent NFL players when he suspended Pacman Jones for a year” (N.Y. POST, 9/12). In Las Vegas, Ed Graney: “The Patriots should not be allowed to use any game film from the press box area or stadium/end zone views ... for the next seven weeks.” Also, all assistants during that time “must vacate the press box during games and work from the sidelines” (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 9/12). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said, "Money is not the issue here. If you want to get at players, you take away games from them; if you want to get at teams, you take away players from them. I believe you do take away a draft choice, I believe you start at (a seventh-round pick), because this is unprecedented" ("PTI," ESPN, 9/11).  But FSN’s Rodney Peete, a former NFL QB, said the Patriots' penalty "really shouldn’t be anything. … You’re going to get an edge whenever you can. Everybody films and gets scouting reports on everybody, whether it’s players, whether it’s coaches. … If there’s a coach that’s on the sidelines -- defensive coach who’s giving signals -- that’s not smart enough to have two guys next to him giving dummy signals, then it’s their fault” ("BDSSP," FSN, 9/11). 

    DEFENSIVE HEADSETS TO COME? ESPN.com’s John Clayton notes the incident “will probably lead to” one defensive player on each team having a radio installed in his helmet to recieve signals from the sideline. While many owners feel Belichick “beat them by cheating ... what is going to upset them even more is this incident could cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars [for the equipment]” (ESPN.com, 9/12). NEWSDAY's Glauber notes before the NFL Owners meeting last March, a measure for defensive helmet communications systems failed by two votes, but a source said fans “can count on it” changing next year (NEWSDAY, 9/12).

    Pundits Feel Spying Scandal
    Could Mar Patriots' Image
    LOSING THEIR SHINE: In Providence, Jim Donaldson writes, “You have to wonder how this latest episode will affect the until recently squeaky-clean image of the Patriots, which has become increasingly tarnished of late.” Belichick last season was named as the “other man” in a divorce proceeding, QB Tom Brady has fathered a child out of wedlock with actress Bridget Moynihan and S Rodney Harrison has been suspended four games for using HGH (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL, 9/12).  The DAILY NEWS' Myers: "Imagine what a public-relations disaster the Patriots and the NFL face if the coach who is considered the best in the league had to resort to illegal means to beat the Jets and his estranged protégé, Eric Mangini" (N.Y, DAILY NEWS, 9/12).  CNBC's Darren Rovell said the controversy "might be the most major out of all the summer scandals, including Michael Vick. … This is a very big deal. This is a team that has won three out of the last six Super Bowls" (CNBC, 9/12).  Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti: "Why do the Patriots, a classy organization, even have to think about doing this sort of thing?" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 9/11).

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  • Court Says Belkin Cannot Buy Out Atlanta Spirit Group

    Judge Dismisses Ruling That Belkin
    Entitled To Buy Out Atlanta Spirit Owners
    The Maryland Court of Special Appeals dismissed last year’s ruling by a lower court that Atlanta Spirit co-Owner Steve Belkin was entitled to buy out the other owners of the group that owns the Hawks and Thrashers, according to Tim Tucker of the ATLANTA CONSTITUTION. The court sent the dispute back to the lower Montgomery County (MD) court, where a judge is “expected to deal with the issue of how to resolve the ambiguities" stemming from an '05 contract that called for Belkin to sell his 30% stake in Atlanta Spirit to the other owners for a price to be set by up to three appraisals.  As a result of the ruling, the prospect of Belkin gaining control of the teams is “off the table for now." Attorney Steven Estep, who is representing Atlanta Spirit co-Owners Bruce Levenson, Ed Peskowitz and Michael Gearon Jr., said, “As a practical matter, that’s dead.” Gearon added, “It’s now clear Belkin does not have the right to buy us out, and we look forward to getting back to the process of buying him out.” Belkin and his attorneys declined to comment.  Estep said that the circuit court “could try to fashion a ‘commercially reasonable solution’ regarding the selection of the second appraiser or could toss out the 2005 contract altogether” (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 9/12).

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  • Testimony In Harassment Case Focuses On Thomas’ Behavior

    Former Employee Testifies Of Abuse
    From Thomas During Tenure With Team
    Former Knicks Senior VP/Marketing & Business Operations Anucha Browne Sanders, who is suing team President of Basketball Operations and coach Isiah Thomas, MSG  Chair James Dolan and MSG for sexual harassment, testified yesterday that Thomas “verbally abused her almost from the day they met, then switched to making sexual advances toward her,” according to Richard Sandomir of the N.Y. TIMES.  Direct examination of Browne Sanders will continue today and will be followed by cross examination by lawyers for Thomas, Dolan and MSG.  Browne Sanders said that Thomas told her that he “loved her, that her looks made it difficult to work around her and that he wanted private time with her at an off-site location.”  She also said that she took her complaints about Thomas to MSG Sports President Steve Mills, who hired her in ’00, but he “did nothing to persuade Thomas to end his hostility to her.”  Ronald Green, a lawyer for Dolan and MSG, indicated that Browne Sanders was an “incompetent executive who resented Thomas for limiting her access to the Knicks’ basketball side,” adding that she “concocted her harassment allegations because she feared for her job starting early in Thomas’s regime.” Green noted that if she quit, she would “not get severance.”  He also claimed that Browne Sanders “never complained to Mills about abusive treatment by Thomas and also angered Dolan during budget meetings.” Green said that Dolan was “advised to fire her but instead ‘saved her,’ … temporarily, by suggesting that she receive extra training.” Green said that Dolan fired Browne Sanders because she “interfered with the Garden’s investigation by questioning co-workers about comments made about her, and about other hostile incidents involving others in the Garden” (N.Y. TIMES, 9/12).

    MORE TESTIMONY: Browne Sanders testified that when she tried to involve players in promotional events, Thomas would say, “‘Bitch, I don’t give a f--- about the sponsors. Bitch, I don’t give a f--- about ticket sales. That’s your job.’”  She added that when she asked Thomas at one point to hand-sign letters to season-ticket holders, he replied "I don’t give a f--- about these white people” (N.Y. POST, 9/12).  Browne Sanders said her reply to Thomas was, "I think you're going to have a problem because 80% of the season subscriber base is white" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/12).  But Sue Ellen Eisenberg, one of Thomas’ lawyers, said, “We categorically deny this new set of unfounded and outrageous allegations” (NEWSDAY, 9/12).  The jury is composed of five women and three men, with no African-Americans (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/12).

    Writers Question Dolan's Decision
    Not To Settle Harassment Lawsuit
    REAX: On Long Island, Johnette Howard writes Thomas was “left looking as not only an accused leech and spectacularly vulgar boss, but perhaps a racist as well -- and not for the first time in his career” (NEWSDAY, 9/12) In Newark, Dave Alessandro writes while the case “has a chance of being settled before it gets too embarrassing, Dolan has already lost.” He is “steadfast in allowing this $10[M] sexual harassment trial to proceed, which is a stunning decision for any number of reasons -- even for a man of Dolan’s celebrated arrogance and obstinacy.” It is “hard to understand why the NBA allows this to go on. … You'd think [Commissioner David Stern] would call Dolan and say, ‘Our image is in the toilet -- fork over the $6[M] and get this over with, pronto.’” But “we’re often told that Dolan wouldn’t listen to Stern” (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 9/12). SPORTING NEWS’ Sean Deveney writes under the header, “Knicks’ Harassment Case Adds To NBA’s Headache.” Deveney: “With [former referee Tim] Donaghy case still ongoing, this is a real headache.” Philadelphia-based employment lawyer Michael Cohen said, “I am shocked that the Knicks have let this go as far as they did” (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 9/11).

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  • Panthers Boost Corporate Roster To 115 Companies

    The NFL Panthers have increased their corporate roster to 115 companies from 101 a year ago, according to Erik Spanberg of the CHARLOTTE BUSINESS JOURNAL. One of the additions, Lowe’s, is returning as a team sponsor after leaving the club in '05 after inking a deal with the Bobcats.  The company is currently paying $600,000-700,000 annually for its sponsorship with the Panthers and about $1.5-2M annually for its Bobcats deal.  U.S. Airways also returned as a Panthers sponsor this season with a $250,000-$300,000 deal.  Several "major sponsorship categories expire after the current season,” and the Panthers could “stick with the current sponsors, split the categories by adding more companies or sign new deals with exclusive providers.” Wireless telecommunications and automotive sponsors “each generate $2[M] annually for the team,” and three incumbents --  Alltel, SunCom and Motorola -- split the wireless sector, while Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep of the Carolinas has had an exclusive auto deal with the team since its inception.   Panthers President Mark Richardson forecasts a 5-10% increase in total revenue for '07 (CHARLOTTE BUSINESS JOURNAL, 9/7 issue).

    Colleague Lauds Richardson As
    One Of NFL's Leading Owners
    RICHARDSONS: In a separate piece, Spanberg writes the Richardson family, which owns the Panthers, “ushered in a new way of doing business” for NFL franchises.  Their approach, “driven by the sale of seat licenses to fund stadium construction, gained attention at the NFL’s highest levels. Soon after, [Owner] Jerry Richardson became a player in league circles.” The Panthers generated $199M in revenue last season, and Forbes recently ranked the franchise in the top half of the NFL for overall value at $936M.  Patriots President Jonathan Kraft said, “The Richardsons are one of the leading families in the league. They’re in a small- to medium-sized market and yet they are one of the higher-revenue clubs. They pioneered the concept of building a stadium privately and, at the same time, they’ve committed a lot of time and energy to the league as a whole” (CHARLOTTE BUSINESS JOURNAL, 9/7 issue).  Jerry Richardson ranked eighth on SportsBusiness Journal's list of most influential people in the NFL.

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  • JaMarcus Russell Officially Signs Richest NFL Rookie Contract

    Russell Could Earn As Much As
    $68M Over Course Of Rookie Contract
    The Raiders yesterday officially agreed to terms with QB JaMarcus Russell, the No. 1 pick in the '07 NFL Draft, on a six-year, $61M contract that guarantees him $32M, the "richest rookie contract in NFL history," according to Nancy Gay of the S.F. CHRONICLE. If Russell reaches several performance- and appearance-based incentives, and the Raiders "improve as a team and reach certain offensive targets and victory totals," Russell could earn as much as $68M over the course of the deal. As it is written, the Raiders are paying Russell $32M guaranteed, "if all his escalators -- $3[M] of which are backloaded to 2010 -- are triggered." The Raiders "got the guarantees they wanted," as the deal has an "attractive base package because the bulk of the incentives and escalators are backloaded, giving the team three seasons of protection and breathing room." Meanwhile, Russell's agents, Ethan Lock and Eric Metz, got a "record deal and attractive cash flows for their client the first three seasons" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 9/12).

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  • Predators' Single-Game Ticket Prices Closer To League Average

    Predators Raising Prices On Single-
    Game Tickets For '07-08 Season
    Predators Exec VP/Business Affairs Steve Violetta yesterday said that the team will raise single-game ticket prices an average of about 25% for the '07-08 season, according to John Glennon of the Nashville TENNESSEAN. The team will “expand on the policy of variable pricing” that it started last season and offer single-game tickets in three different categories -- regular games, premium games and premium-plus games.  There will be 22 games, including two preseason, sold at regular prices, down from 36 last season.  An additional 16 games will be sold at premium prices, compared to four in '06-07, and five games sold at premium-plus prices, up from three. Prices have been raised an average of 56% for premium-plus games, ranging from 39-100% over the 15 different seating sections at Sommet Center. Regular game prices in the family zone and upper-goal zone that sold for $15 last season will go to $19 (up 27%) and $20 (up 33%), respectively. Violetta indicated that the Predators “want to make buying full and partial season-ticket packages more attractive than buying individual contests.” He also said that the club wants to "increase revenue by moving closer to the average league price for tickets sold,” citing last season’s NHL average ticket price of $52.05, compared to the Predators' at $40.36. Violetta added that that if the franchise's average price for tickets sold last year was the same as the league's, the team “would have made approximately $263,000 more per game,” or nearly $11M over the course of the season.  Glennon notes the single-game increase is larger than the previously announced season-ticket increase of 17% (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 9/12).

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  • Group's Bid For WNBA Team In Denver Delayed Due To Lack Of Funds

    Triple Crown Sports (TCS) CEO David King, who is leading the effort to get a WNBA team in Denver, said that the bid for an expansion franchise "will be put off until at least 2009 because of lack of investor money," according to Chris Dempsey of the DENVER POST. King said, "There is a lot of interest in the team. There's not a lot of interest in ownership of the team." King said while a core group of 15 investors existed, the "dollar amounts weren't significant enough. I didn't have the one or two really substantial players that it took to do this deal." Dempsey notes there were "rumors King was going to buy the [Comets] and move the franchise to Denver." King said that he was "never presented an opportunity to buy the Comets, but that acquiring an existing franchise is a possibility -- and that takes fewer dollars." While Kroenke Sports Enterprises (KSE) had offered TCS use of the Pepsi Center at "economical rates," KSE Exec VP & CMO Paul Andrews said that Owner Stan Kroenke "does not want to be stretched too thin by being majority owner in a sixth professional franchise" in the market (DENVER POST, 9/12).

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