SBD/Issue 129/Franchises

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  • Gillett's Possible Sale Comes At Bad Time For Reeling Canadiens

    Gillett Currently Holds 80.1%
    Stake In Canadiens
    News that Canadiens Owner George Gillett could look to sell or refinance his stake in the team "could not have come at a worse time" for the Canadiens, and it is "nothing less than a dagger in the heart of the organization, the players and their fans," according to Red Fisher of the Montreal GAZETTE. The Canadiens yesterday confirmed that Gillett has "retained a number of financial advisors to determine the value of his sports and business holdings, which could be the first step in selling, refinancing or taking on partners in his properties." In addition to an 80.1% stake in the Canadiens and Bell Centre, Gillett's holdings also include 50% stakes in both EPL club Liverpool and in Richard Petty Motorsports. The Canadiens "rarely go public with matters of this nature," and they generally "skate miles to avoid it." But "not this time." The team has lost five straight games and is in "grave danger of missing the playoffs." How do the players focus on the team's remaining games "in view of the buzz created by Monday's disclosure about the possibility that the team will be sold -- a suggestion Gillett firmly denied as recently as three months ago?" This is all "about the economy." A hockey exec said, "Rich people aren't as rich as they once were." Fisher writes while it seems Gillett would "like to hold on to the team and building," the mere suggestion that they "could be sold is, at the very least, a disturbing development at this time of the season" (Montreal GAZETTE, 3/24).

    NO OTHER CHOICE? The GLOBE & MAIL's Sean Gordon in a front-page piece writes though it "would appear no sale is imminent, the announcement comes at a time when the team's playoff future -- and the attendant millions it derives from postseason games -- hang in the balance." Sources said that while Gillett is "carrying considerable debt, it would be wiped out almost entirely were he to divest one of his marquee holdings such as the Canadiens or Liverpool." But so far no one "has been willing to meet the asking price for Liverpool and the Canadiens, which, along with the Bell Centre and Mr. Gillett's concert promoting business, are his best-performing assets" (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/24). In Montreal, Pat Hickey reports while the Canadiens are "sold out for every game and Gillett has a thriving concert business based in Montreal, his other enterprises aren't faring as well," which is why he has "called in banks in four countries to evaluate his portfolio and advise him on the possible sale of assets." There is "no danger of the team following the Expos out of town," but there "has to be concern over who's next if Gillett leaves." Hickey writes RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie would be "on the top of my list of new owners," though sources indicated that Balsillie is "holding out hope he can buy any one of the many failing franchises in the U.S. and move it closer to his home" in Ontario (Montreal GAZETTE, 3/24).

    Montreal Mayor Says Fans
    Won't Let Canadiens Leave
    NOT GOING ANYWHERE: Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay yesterday said that it "doesn't matter who owns the Canadiens so long as its remembered that the team is, in fact, the property of Montrealers." Tremblay said the team leaving Montreal "would be impossible because the fans will never let it happen and I will do everything that is humanly possible to ensure that it doesn't happen." Tremblay said of Gillett possibly looking to sell the team, "If we really want to continue to have this institution in Montreal, we have to put everything forward to make sure this happens as soon as possible" (Montreal GAZETTE, 3/24). The GLOBE & MAIL's Gordon notes there is an acceptance among Canadiens fans "of the realities of tough times," despite an "unswerving devotion to their iconic team." With the repeated assurances from team officials that the team will stay in Montreal, there is a "renewed sense it could return to Quebec hands" (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/24). Univ. of Alberta professor Daniel Mason said that he has "little doubt the Canadiens will stay put, despite the dwindling Canadian dollar, because Montreal is a solid hockey market." Concordia Univ. professor Bruno Delorme: "In Montreal, the Canadiens are recession proof. The arena is sold out every night ... their memorabilia boutique has had to be expanded due to increased sales so the team is a hot, prime commodity" (CP, 3/23).

    GILLETT WOULD BE MISSED: The GAZETTE's Hickey writes if Gillett is "forced to sell the Canadiens, he will be missed." There was "apprehension in 2000 when Molson" sold the team to Gillett, an American. But the brewer "couldn't find a Canadian, let alone a Quebecer, to buy the team," and Gillett has been a "good owner" (Montreal GAZETTE, 3/24). In Montreal, Dave Stubbs notes less than four months after he "absolutely, even aggressively, denied any interest in selling the Canadiens, the hugely diversified Gillett might dispose of the club and its Bell Centre home should a buyer park enough zeroes in front of a decimal point." However, Gillett and his family since acquiring the team have "proven to be passionate, caring owners, treating the Canadiens as a public trust." Gillett now is "respected, even beloved," for buying the franchise (Montreal GAZETTE, 3/24). Canadiens LW Chris Higgins said of a possible sale, "We all want the Gillett family to stay with us -- they've done amazing things for our team and the organization -- but it's not going to change the way we play. I don't think it will affect us at all." Canadiens RW Georges Laraque said, "It doesn't matter if the team is for sale or not. As long as the team stays in Montreal, whoever owns it doesn't matter" (CP, 3/23).

    LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN: In Toronto, Damien Cox noted the Canadiens would be the second NHL franchise to officially "go up for sale since the global economic crisis struck," as the Coyotes "have been for sale for several months." There also has been "great speculation about the future of the money-losing" Lightning. However, the Canadiens are an "entirely [different] proposition" (THESTAR.com, 3/23).

    STILL KICKING: In Manchester, Andy Hunter notes Gillett has been looking to sell his 50% stake in Liverpool for "over a year and is under increasing financial pressure as the July deadline approaches" on paying back a US$515.85M refinancing loan he arranged with Liverpool co-Owner Tom Hicks. However, it is possible Gillett could "strengthen his role" with Liverpool, as money acquired from a sale of the Canadiens "would allow Gillett to meet the personal guarantees in the Anfield refinancing deal and continue his controversial ownership of the club" (Manchester GUARDIAN, 3/24).

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  • Bills Confirm Rogers' Interest In Hosting More NFL Games In T.O.

    If Bills Agree To Toronto Games For '10-12, Team
    Would Play 25% Of Home Games Outside Buffalo
    The Bills Sunday confirmed Rogers Communications' "interest in taking a second regular-season Bills game to Toronto for 2010, 2011 and 2012 -- a move that, if approved, would have the team playing 25[%] of its home games away from Ralph Wilson Stadium," according to a front-page piece by Warner & Gaughan of the BUFFALO NEWS. A Bills source yesterday indicated that Rogers Communications, which had a "tough time selling out its two games last season, went to the Bills to ask for more games and that the Bills were agreeable to the idea of Rogers polling its customers." The "benefit to Rogers, besides increasing its stake in the NFL, would be to earn a bit more profit if it paid the Bills less for the additional games." The Bills have said that they were "ecstatic about their business partnership with Rogers, about the sponsorship and ticket-selling opportunities in southern Ontario -- and about the team's profits under the deal." The city of Buffalo was "abuzz Monday about the prospect of the Bills moving another foot out the door toward Toronto" (BUFFALO NEWS, 3/24).

    BORDER PATROL: In Toronto, Steve Simmons writes it is "indeed baffling that in the worst economic conditions in recent history that Rogers Communications has become even more aggressive in its pursuit" of the Bills. Simmons: "How else to interpret the Rogers' questionnaire, clearly attempting to increase the eight-game Bills series in Toronto to 11 [NFL] games between now and 2012? It becomes even more confounding when [the original deal] was a bad one from the beginning for Rogers -- we're told they lost $7[M] on the first NFL games in Toronto." If Toronto gains a second regular-season game during the three years, it "complicates the possibility of a sale to someone who would be playing 25% of its home schedule outside the country." Simmons notes a corporation "cannot own an NFL team," as an individual "must own at least 30% of a team's shares." Sources yesterday said that there are "still those willing to stand up and be the 30% owner of a Toronto franchise, but it isn't specifically known who that someone would be" (TORONTO SUN, 3/24).

    Toronto Series GM Says Deal With Bills Could
    Be Reopened To Add More Games In Toronto
    SURVEY SAYS: Bills Toronto Series GM Adrian Montgomery said that the questionnaire was "simply part of off-season research into serving fans better." Montgomery: "Our deal is for eight games over five years, and that's it. This was a purely hypothetical conversation, and even if we one day got to the point where more games were added to the schedule, that would have to meet a host of internal and external approvals first." When asked if the existing deal "could be reopened to accommodate more games," Montgomery said, "We have a strong partnership with the Buffalo Bills, so as we collectively look to making this series better and better there's a great platform to do things like that" (TORONTO STAR, 3/24). The GLOBE & MAIL's Stephen Brunt writes under the header, "Make No Mistake: Rogers Wants Bills In Toronto." Rogers "appears poised to considerably increase its commitment," and instead of "backing off, it wants to get in deeper, in a very challenging business environment." Since "no one believes the Bills in Toronto series is a cash bonanza unto itself -- ticket prices will be adjusted downward, starting with this year's game -- there must be some larger goal in mind." Rogers "would love to have an NFL team as a stadium tenant, would love to work in partnership with someone else ... if a team were to become available full-time" (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/24). But ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said, "I wonder how the Argonauts of the CFL feel about having another home team join them in Canada?” (“PTI,” ESPN, 3/23).

    FORWARD PROGRESS? NFL.com's Vic Carucci reported the NFL is "still sorting through potential opponents" to face the Bills in Toronto this season. A source indicated that the list "includes at least one team," the Buccaneers, but "that isn't nearly as sexy as" the Colts, who were previously reported as a possible opponent. The Colts were "one of the biggest-drawing cards on the Bills' schedule" because of QB Peyton Manning. However, the NFL "appears to be leaning more strongly in the direction of choosing an NFC team." It was "originally speculated that the league would make an announcement about the game during" the league's meetings currently taking place in Dana Point, California, this week, but that is "not expected to be the case" (NFL.com, 3/23).

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  • Cowboys Likely To Play First Game At New Stadium In Week 2

    Jones Believes New Stadium
    Could Debut In Prime Time
    The Cowboys' debut at their new $1.1B stadium in Arlington "will probably come in the second week of the NFL season against one of their NFC East rivals," according to Archer & Horn of the DALLAS MORNING NEWS. Cowboys Exec VP & COO Stephen Jones "believes the team's home opener in the new stadium could come in prime time in the second week." Jones: "We'll probably have a chance there that we may have a national game since it will be the first game in the stadium and not being able to play in it the first weekend." Archer & Horn note the scheduling of Cowboys preseason and regular-season games "has been more difficult this year because of the proximity" of the new Cowboys stadium to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. The Cowboys will use the Rangers' parking lots for games, and Jones said, "It's a challenge. ... It's something that's going to have to be worked around" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/24). In Ft. Worth, Charean Williams notes the Rangers play at home the "first three weekends of the NFL regular season," so the Cowboys are "expected to begin the season on the road, with their regular-season debut in their new Arlington stadium on Sept. 20," possibly with NBC's "Sunday Night Football." The NFL and the Cowboys are "working with the Rangers and [MLB] to accommodate both teams" on September 20, when the Rangers are scheduled for a 2:00pm CT start. Rangers Exec VP/Communications John Blake: "We've known all along there was a possible conflict. We're not going to conflict with them head-to-head." Meanwhile, Williams notes CBS on Thanksgiving Day will air Raiders-Cowboys, which "continues a long tradition for Dallas." Jones said that the Cowboys "will fight to keep their Thanksgiving tradition beyond" the '09 season. Jones: "It's very important to us, and not from a competitive standpoint. All the facts have been put out on the table that it's not a competitive advantage" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 3/24).

    Cowboys Reportedly Had AT&T Lined Up For
    Stadium's Naming Rights, But Deal Put On Hold
    STILL NAMELESS: The AP's Barry Wilner noted the Cowboys last year "reportedly had AT&T lined up for naming rights" for the new stadium, but that deal "has been put on hold." Jones said that "many companies are wary of spending millions of dollars for naming rights" in the current economy. Jones: "There are some factors when you're opening a new building in this economy. ... Obviously there is some sensitivity out there. I don't know if that holds for every company" (AP, 3/23). The MORNING NEWS' Archer & Horn note it is "not clear whether the stadium will have a name for the Cowboys' first game." Jones: "I wouldn't want to speculate. I'm not very good at that, looking into the future" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/24). SI.com's Peter King wrote the "word in the lobby" Sunday night at the NFL owners meetings in Dana Point, California, was the Cowboys "lost a $25[M]-a-year naming-rights deal for their new stadium when AT&T dropped out of the bidding." King: "No name on a stadium is worth that much, but this place is going to be fairly phenomenal, with its 180-foot-wide [HD] TV/scoreboard" (SI.com, 3/23).

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  • Stallworth Among Three New Steelers Investors Approved By NFL

    John Stallworth Joins
    Steelers Ownership Group
    NFL owners yesterday approved Pro Football HOFer John Stallworth, venture capital firm GTCR Golden Rauner Chair Bruce Rauner and the Varischetti family as new partners in the Steelers organization, according to a front-page piece by Ed Bouchette of the PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE. Steelers Chair Dan Rooney and President Art Rooney II now have added six new investors to the franchise since December, as the NFL already approved Ampco-Pittsburgh Owners the Paul family, Pilot Travel Centers President James Haslam III and Legendary Pictures Chair Thomas Tull. The transfer agreement of Steelers ownership among the Rooney family was set to close before March 31, but "with the addition of new investors the closing will be postponed until May." Art Rooney II said that "two or three more partners could be added by then." Stallworth, who played for the Steelers for 14 seasons, also serves as the President & CEO of investment firm Genesis II. Stallworth in '06 sold Alabama-based IT company Madison Research Corp. The Varischetti family has "substantial involvement in many businesses," including Guardian Elder Care Holdings, which has 23 nursing facilities mostly in Pennsylvania (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 3/24). The total investment stake of the new investors "was not disclosed." In Pittsburgh, Scott Brown notes the Varischetti family also is involved in VSI Racing, which fields an entry in the NASCAR Nationwide Series (Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 3/24).

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  • Woody Johnson Defends Jets' Plan To Give Employees Furloughs

    Johnson Won't Say How Much
    He's Saving With Furloughs

    The Jets are forcing 60 employees to take a two-week unpaid furlough this summer despite signing free-agent LB Bart Scott to a $48M contract and "arranging for private planes for his [GM] and head coach to go on scouting trips," but Owner Woody Johnson called the furloughs a "different deal," according to Gary Myers of the N.Y. DAILY NEWS. Johnson, making his first public comments on the furlough plan, said, "One is a salary cap and you have to spend. You have to put a product on the field. The other is getting ready for dealing with the financial reality, just like the NFL and just like every business in the U.S. The furlough is less drastic than actually letting people go." Johnson "wouldn't say how much he is saving other than it is 'enough that we didn't have to let people go.'" Johnson: "We could avoid it. When we come out of this, we will be better prepared." Meanwhile, Johnson said the Jets' PSL sales for the new Meadowlands stadium are "doing well," but he did not offer any numbers. Giants President & CEO John Mara yesterday said that 90% of his team's current season-ticket holders are "buying PSLs in the new stadium, although some are reducing the number of tickets they are purchasing." Mara: "We're pretty close to being sold out." Myers notes the Jets and Giants are "not close to a naming rights deal" for the new stadium. Giants co-Owner Steve Tisch: "It's a challenging time. It's a matter of patience, pursuit and timing" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/24).

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  • NFL Franchise Notes: Saints Hoping Super Bowl Will Return To N.O.

    Benson Confident Saints And Louisiana Will
    Have Long-Term Lease In Place Soon
    In New Orleans, Mike Triplett reports Saints Owner Tom Benson yesterday "expressed his confidence" that the Saints and the state of Louisiana "will have a long-term lease agreement in place soon, and the Super Bowl will return to New Orleans in 2013." Saints and state officials "have shared that optimism, predicting that a deal will be in place” prior to the league’s May 18-20 meetings, during which Super Bowl XLVII will be awarded. New Orleans "plans to submit its bid to host that game by the April 1 deadline." NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell yesterday said that he "would like to see the game return to New Orleans for a record-tying 10th time if all the elements are in place." Meanwhile, Benson yesterday "showed great enthusiasm for the proposed enhancements to the Superdome." Benson: "What we've got in mind right now, that might even be better than a new stadium" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 3/24).

    BUCKING BRONCOS: In Denver, Jim Armstrong reports the Broncos "haven't taken an economic hit" from the public fight between coach Josh McDaniels and QB Jay Cutler. The team is “wrapping up their season-ticket drive and feeling no effects from hard times among their fan base or hard feelings between their coach and quarterback.” Broncos Exec Dir of Ticket Operations Kirk Dyer indicated that the team has seen a 90% renewal rate for season tickets. Meanwhile, Armstrong notes Broncos players "have been told by Josh McDaniels not to talk about Cutler" (DENVER POST, 3/24).

    STADIUM QUEST: Vikings VP/Public Affairs & Stadium Development Lester Bagley said that the team's stadium situation is "'rising on the agenda' of the NFL after the team provided league officials with an update on their quest to get public funding." In Minneapolis, Chip Scoggins notes Vikings and NFL officials yesterday at the owners meetings met to "discuss the stadium situation" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 3/24).

    PERSONAL TOUCH: In Cincinnati, Joe Reedy reported with the Bengals ticket renewal deadline "drawing close," season-ticket holders are "getting an audio message from [QB] Carson Palmer either thanking them for renewing or reminding them to call the ticket office where [representatives] would work with them on payment plans" (CINCINNATI.com, 3/20).

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  • NHL Franchise Notes: Predators Minority Partner Hires Attorney

    Predators minority partner Herb Fritch Friday said that he has hired Nashville-based attorney Bob Tuke "because the complexities of ownership are much greater than when he first joined" the team in '07. Fritch added that the "financial stakes and additional guarantees placed on owners have risen," and the stock market's "decline has made his original $15[M] investment in the Predators a larger portion of his assets." Fritch: "I really don't like the notion that I feel like I've got to get to the point of having an attorney look things over for me. I've asked Bob to just be involved in all the different things between the bank agreements and the bankruptcy dealings with [former Predators investor William "Boots" Del Biaggio]. It's gotten more complex than I envisioned" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 3/21).

    Bruins Exec Says Team Has
    Renewed 95% Of Season Tickets
    COMING BACK FOR MORE: Bruins Exec VP Charlie Jacobs said that "some 95[%] of the 2008-09 Bruin season ticket-holders have renewed for next season and the club has written accounts for an added 3,000 seats next season" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/22).

    FUTURE OUTLOOK: In Buffalo, Bucky Gleason noted during the NHL GM meetings earlier this month it "became clear that the sorry economy could actually benefit teams such as" the Sabres, as the $56.7M salary cap will "likely stay the same next year or decrease to the $55[M] range." With the Sabres "a tad over" $50M this year, the team "actually is better prepared for the future than most teams" (BUFFALO NEWS, 3/22). But in Boston, Kevin Paul Dupont wrote for the Sabres, who are currently 10th in the Eastern Conference, missing the playoffs for a second season in a row in a "struggling Buffalo economy" could "really mean a dent in their 2009-10 box office." Dupont, referring to RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie, wrote all of this "would be added bad news for any entrepreneur -- someone with, say, a background in technology gadgetry -- dreaming of bringing another NHL team to southern Ontario" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/22).

    LIFE ON THE ROAD: The Vancouver PROVINCE noted the Canucks' schedule for the '09-10 season will be impacted by the '10 Vancouver Games men's and women's hockey tournaments being played at GM Place from February 13-28, as the team will be "forced to vacate" the arena from January 28-March 6. Canucks VP/Hockey Operations & Assistant GM Laurence Gilman: "The league almost had to do our schedule in advance of the 29 other teams. We have issues and we want our schedule to be as efficient as possible given the extensive travel we're going to have" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 3/22). 

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  • Franchise Notes

    Sources Say Hicks Willing To
    Consider Minority Investors
    TSN.ca's Darren Dreger cited sources as saying that in the wake of Canadiens Owner George Gillett considering putting the team up for sale, the Stars are "contemplating something similar." Sources said that Stars and MLB Rangers Owner Tom Hicks is "willing to consider taking on minority investors, although at this point Hicks is not interested in selling the Stars" (TSN.ca, 3/23). In Ft. Worth, Jim Reeves cites sources as saying that Hicks is considering removing $20M from the Rangers payroll, "not for this season but for 2010," which Hicks confirmed. Reeves: "I can tell you what slicing another $20[M] from his team's already below-average payroll would do. ... No matter how dedicated the Rangers are to their youth movement, this can't be good news for [President] Nolan Ryan or [GM] Jon Daniels" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 3/24).

    EXPANSION PLANS: MLS Commissioner Don Garber in an e-mail to Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien yesterday said that the league "has no intention of abandoning Ottawa as an expansion franchise" despite awarding Vancouver and Portland expansion clubs for the '11 season. Garber said that MLS is "eager to 'expand our Canadian footprint' now that Toronto FC and Vancouver are in the fold." Garber: "Every element of the Ottawa application, as well as the ongoing interaction with [Senators Owner Eugene] Melnyk's group during the past year, has been nothing short of impressive. Add to this a vibrant soccer market in a city that holds a unique role as the nation's capital and there is no question that the league remains interested in bringing an MLS expansion team to Ottawa" (OTTAWA CITIZEN, 3/24). Garber in the e-mail said that he "plans to continue to meet with Melnyk's group 'to discuss the next steps in the expansion process and the status of the stadium'" (OTTAWA SUN, 3/24).

    SOCCER HOTBED: SOCCER BY IVES' Ives Galarcep wrote MLS' recent movement "toward the Pacific Northwest is about a league going where the fans are and where the passion for the sport is." Galarcep: "The reality is that the people in cities like Seattle, Vancouver and Portland genuinely love their soccer, and they are ready to embrace Major League Soccer with open arms" (SOCCERBYIVES.net, 3/23).

    NO A+ FOR PR: In San Jose, Ann Killion writes A's Owner Lew Wolff "interrupted the building anticipation of spring training with a dismissive snub to his team's hometown," saying he would not pursue the building of a new ballpark in Oakland. The timing of Wolff's "missive -- a few weeks before opening day -- was baffling." Wolff has admitted that "season-ticket sales are down," and Killion writes, "The economy is in tatters. Almost anyone considering buying tickets to a ballgame could be easily talked out of such an expenditure" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 3/24).

    JOINING THE CLUB: In Dallas, David Moore notes the Mavericks have become the "latest NBA team to announce a reduction in ticket prices for next season," as more than half of the seats at American Airlines Center "will cost less" in '09-10. Upper-level seats will be "reduced by $4 to $8," while lower-level seats will be "reduced by either $5 or $6 depending on their location" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/24).

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