SBD/Issue 242/Franchises

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  • Judge Leaves Door Open For All Interested Coyotes Bidders

     
    U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Redfield Baum yesterday reserved judgment "after another long day of arguments" in the Coyotes case, "leaving the door open for all interested bidders," according to Fitz-Gerald & O'Connor of the NATIONAL POST. Baum: "The court would be very reluctant -- very, very reluctant -- to discourage anybody who wanted to make a bid from doing so." Baum asked all parties to "submit another round of briefs by tomorrow, with the drama shifting to another hearing on Sept. 10, when the court once again endeavours to determine to whom the money-bleeding franchise might be sold." Baum said that he "expects to render a decision before the start of the NHL season" on October 1. Fitz-Gerald & O'Connor note RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie's eligibility as a bidder, "given the NHL's unanimous vote to reject his application earlier this summer, was one of the most hotly debated issues yesterday" (NATIONAL POST, 9/3). The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts notes Baum "mused several times that his decision could come even later than Sept. 14, the date Balsillie's offer is to expire if a sale has not closed." Baum told one of Balsillie's attorneys that he "should consider amending his bid to take that into account." The NHL also is bidding for the Coyotes, and when Baum asked NHL attorney Shep Goldfein if the league would appeal a losing decision, Goldfein said, "You can count on it your honour. If we cannot choose our partners, we will fight that battle to the highest level we have to." Shoalts notes both the NHL and Balsillie "made financial concessions with their bids, which concerned relocation." The NHL "did it first, opening the hearing with an announcement that if it has the winning bid for the Coyotes and later sells the team to someone who relocates it, the league will give all of the net profit to the team's creditors." Later, Balsillie's attorney Jeffrey Kessler said that Balsillie is "willing to keep the Coyotes in suburban Glendale for one more season under certain conditions." Kessler said that Balsillie "would do so if the NHL would pay half of the team's losses, estimated to be between [$30-40M], for the 2009-10 season." The other condition is that the league would agree "not to appeal a court decision in Balsillie's favour" (GLOBE & MAIL, 9/3).

    RELOCATION KEY MATTER: In Hamilton, Ken Peters writes the relocation matter "emerged as the key issue and one that isn't expected to be determined until next week." Baum wants to hear "expert testimony and argument a week from today about whether the bankrupt Coyotes can be relocated to Hamilton." If Baum rules that can occur, then Balsillie "would participate in a sales auction" with the NHL and Ice Edge Holdings, "likely the following day, Sept. 11" (HAMILTON SPECTATOR, 9/3). After the hearing, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that the proposal from Balsillie's PSE Sports & Entertainment to "move the team either before or during the coming season 'shows a lack of respect for the game.'" Bettman: "I think the arguments by PSE on moving the club treats rather frivolously the issues that all sports leagues have. I think it disrespects the game and it disrespects the players and what they have to go through night in and night out to do the great things they do on the ice" (AP, 9/2).

    MAPLE LEAF MOTIVATION? In Toronto, Kevin McGran notes the Maple Leafs "haven't said a word since billionaire Jim Balsillie announced his intention to put an NHL team" in Hamilton, but the Maple Leafs are "playing a huge role in the continuing" saga. Discussion of the Maple Leafs and "whether they have a veto to stop Balsillie ... dominated much of yesterday's proceedings." Kessler said that the NHL "acted in bad faith in rejecting" Balsillie's ownership application, "concocting the character and integrity issue to avoid a potential lawsuit from the Leafs." Kessler: "What Toronto has done is make it very clear: 'If you were to allow any team into Hamilton or southern Ontario over our objection, then you will have a massive lawsuit because we think you're violating our constitutional rights.'" NHL lawyers responded in court, calling Kessler's notion "preposterous." Bettman added that the league "doesn't fear a suit by the Leafs" (TORONTO STAR, 9/3).

    Writers See No End
    In Sight For Balsillie
    NO END IN SIGHT: In Toronto, Steve Simmons writes the "obstinate dream of Jim Balsillie ... muddles on with no solution in sight, the only certainty being that the Phoenix Coyotes will not be playing hockey in Hamilton this season" (TORONTO SUN, 9/3). Also in Toronto, Mike Zeisberger writes Balsillie is "quickly reminding us of that old Timex watch commercial: 'Takes a licking, keeps on ticking.'" Zeisberger: "Much to the NHL's chagrin" (TORONTO SUN, 9/3). However, in Montreal, Pat Hickey writes, "Behind all the rhetoric, there is the possibility of a compromise, with Balsillie operating a lame-duck franchise for a year, while he and the National Hockey League hammer out an agreement on a relocation fee" (Montreal GAZETTE, 9/3).

    TRYING TIMES: In Toronto, Damien Cox writes, "With summer now gone and training camps about to open, the Coyotes are symbolic of the multi-faceted mess in which the NHL, or the business of the NHL, finds itself with the 2009-10 season less than a month away." The league is "being overwhelmed by multiple quagmires of which the Coyotes are only one," and it is "like the highway to the future is suddenly pockmarked with sinkholes" (TORONTO STAR, 9/3).

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  • NFL Panthers Hire TCU AD Danny Morrison As Team President

    Morrison Attended, Worked At Wofford
    College, Jerry Richardson's Alma Mater
    The NFL Panthers yesterday named TCU AD Danny Morrison the team's new President, replacing Mark Richardson. Morrison in about one month will assume the responsibilities of handling the Panthers' business operations and Bank of America Stadium interests, as well as representing the franchise in many league matters. Morrison, a former Southern Conference Commissioner and Wofford College AD, has spent the last four years at TCU (Panthers). In Charlotte, Charles Chandler notes Morrison's resume "doesn't include pro football expertise," but he is a "close friend and former business associate" of Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson. While working at Wofford in the '90s, Morrison "helped put together the sparkling training camp facilities the Panthers enjoy each summer" in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Morrison said that he was "'straightforward' with Richardson in discussing" his lack of NFL experience, but Richardson was "undeterred." Morrison: "Obviously, I have a lot to learn." Chandler notes Morrison has "built a reputation for working well with others and projected a friendly, positive image that fits Richardson's goals for his Panthers employees." Morrison said his hiring "happened very, very quickly." He received an "extremely surprising phone call" last weekend from Richardson, who then "moved swiftly to announce Morrison's hiring" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 9/3).

    IN & OUT: In Charlotte, Scott Fowler writes Morrison's hiring "comes out of left field." Texas is a "long way to go to find the next team president, and Morrison has absolutely no experience in an NFL front office." But "overall he's a safe choice during this very surprising week." Morrison has the "Wofford connection with Richardson (they both went to school there)," and is a "good businessman." Morrison is "both an outsider and an old friend of the Richardson family, and he can work all that to his advantage" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 9/3). Meanwhile, the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER'S Tom Sorensen cites sources as indicating that Jerry Richardson met individually with Mark Richardson and Panthers Stadium LLC President Jon Richardson, who also resigned earlier this week, and "delivered the same message" that their "services no longer are required." When two of the "most powerful people in an organization fail to get along, their employees -- and almost everybody but their father technically answered to them -- react" and "take sides." Sorensen: "Whether the Jon-Mark relationship merely made life uncomfortable or whether it affected decisions the franchise made or failed to, we don't know" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 9/3).

    LOSS FOR TCU: In Ft. Worth, Stefan Stevenson notes TCU saw "unparalleled success" during Morrison's four-year tenure as AD, and he was "instrumental in facility improvements the last four years." TCU Associate AD for Development Davis Babb has been named interim AD, and a "national search to replace Morrison is under way" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 9/3). Also in Ft. Worth, Jim Reeves writes under the header, "Danny Morrison's Exit Is A Big Loss For TCU." It is "hard to blame the guy for grabbing the gold ring when the owner of the Carolina Panthers calls and offers his team's presidency." TCU baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle: "When was the last time a college athletic director was named to run an NFL franchise?" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 9/3).

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  • Six Buyers Express Interest In Acquiring MLB Rangers From Hicks

    The MLB Rangers "received letters from about six prospective buyers interested in acquiring the team when those documents were due" on August 18, according to financial sources cited by Daniel Kaplan of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. Rangers Owner Tom Hicks earlier this summer "took the unusual step of sending to potential buyers a second financial book on the team, following a first book that went out in January." Hicks and MLB reportedly are looking to sell the Rangers for around $600M, though sources said that prospective bidders "believe the franchise will sell for a figure more in the low-to mid-$500[M] range." Kaplan notes MLB has been "supporting payroll at the team since" Hicks on March 31 missed a $10M interest payment to a group of creditors, and a sale of the Rangers "could go a long way toward curing that situation." Sources said that MLB is "eager to see a healthy price for the club given its location in a major market." MLB President & COO Bob DuPuy: "The process is moving forward and we're encouraged by what's happening there" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 8/31 issue). In Ft. Worth, Barry Shlachter cites a source as saying that "little movement on a sale is likely until the baseball season ends next month." The "only names that have surfaced as possible buyers" are Texas businessman David McDavid, "who has been keeping a low profile, and Rangers President Nolan Ryan, who has made few statements on his position" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 9/3).

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  • Rays Owner Sternberg Says Kazmir Trade Was Financial Decision

    Rays Owner Stuart Sternberg yesterday indicated that last week's trade of P Scott Kazmir to the Angels is an "example of the kind of decisions the Rays have, and will continue, to make to 'live within our means,'" according to Smith & Topkin of the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES. Sternberg said that the trade, which saved the Rays around $24M and netted them three prospects, was a "'reallocation of resources' that provides flexibility and 'allows us to get new resources in and reallocate other resources.'" Sternberg: "This is what we do. This is who we are and this is what we do. People better get used to it, because it's going to continue." Sternberg insisted that the move "should not be taken as any sign of surrender." But he said of fans upset by the trade, "If I were a casual fan or a real fan of the team, I'd feel the same thing" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 9/3). Sternberg yesterday also addressed several other issues facing the team, stressing the small-market Rays "have to look at things differently than, clearly, the Yankees or Red Sox do." But he added, "We have to look at things in the same way a lot of things do. They’re hard choices, they’re hard decisions to make sometimes, but you’ve got to be an adult about it and make it.” Tuesday's Red Sox-Rays crowd of 17,692 at Tropicana Field was the "smallest to see a Rays-Red Sox game in more than two years," and Sternberg said, "We could have expected a few more fans." Sternberg said of the small crowds this season, "Everything that happens changes how I feel. All it is is input and it's constantly a work in progress. If every game was sold out in the month of September, it would change the way I would think then" (BRADENTON HERALD, 9/3). 

    WHERE'S THE FAN SUPPORT? In St. Petersburg, John Romano wrote if fans want the Rays to "field a team with a competitive payroll, the community has to do better than 17,000 fans against a marquee team in the middle of a pennant race." There are "no excuses" and "no alibis." Other markets are "drawing far more, and Tampa Bay is going to have to do better if it wants to stay viable" (TAMPABAY.com, 9/2). Also in St. Petersburg, Gary Shelton writes if Sternberg is "frustrated by all he has seen, and by all he has not, he is doing a swell job of hiding it." Sternberg said that he "still believes in the Tampa Bay market" and "hasn't had a day's regret from buying the team." But Shelton wonders, "When you looked at the attendance figures, wouldn't you question if this franchise could survive without a new stadium? Or, for that matter, even with one?" With the team's current attendance figures, "how long before other cities begin to call?" How long "before he listens?" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 9/3). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser called the attendance for Tuesday night’s game “stunning” ("PTI," ESPN, 8/2).  ESPN's Rick Sutcliffe during last night’s Red Sox-Rays game said, "Thank goodness that the Red Sox draw here in St. Petersburg because the Rays certainly have not been doing that this year." ESPN's Dave O'Brien said, “In these surrounding parts, you've got the NFL and college football starting soon. It almost feels like the fan base has turned its attention that way.” O'Brien: "In this economy, I don’t want to tell anybody how to spend their hard-earned dollars ... but it is unusual for a World Series team to come back the next year and to not even draw anywhere near the Major League average and they've played well at home" ("Red Sox-Rays," ESPN, 8/2).

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  • Taking Flight: Jets Sell Out Final Season At Giants Stadium

    The Jets have finally sold out their last season at Giants Stadium, after launching their first-ever marketing campaign and half-season tickets. Despite a long waiting list, the Jets had difficulty selling out in part because they lost a number of fans who were upset with the prices for the new stadium opening next year. The down economy also hit the club hard. Giants Stadium capacity is 80,242. The Giants have long been sold out for the '09 season. The Jets expect their 40,000 non-premium-seat PSLs and the 27,000 seats available without PSLs in the new stadium to sell out by the end of the year, and their 10,000 premium-seat PSLs by the start of the '10 season. The team's difficulties selling out had become something of a symbol of the challenges NFL clubs have faced. Up to 12 teams could face TV blackouts this season, up from three last year. Home games are blacked out locally if they are not sold out within 72 hours of game time.

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  • Redskins File Lawsuits Against Ticket-Holders Looking To Bail

    The Redskins in the past five years have sued 125 season-ticket holders who "asked to be released from multiyear contracts," according to a front-page piece by James Grimaldi. WFI Stadium Inc., controlled by Redskins Owner Dan Snyder, sued the 125 fans for a total of $3.6M, and the team won judgments totaling $2M from 34 of the ticket holders, "most of whom did not hire an attorney and defaulted by not making an appearance in court." Most of the effected fans said that they were "victims of the economic downturn, having lost a job or experiencing some other financial hardship," and added that when they "requested relief, they were offered settlements that required them to make hefty payments over time." Redskins General Counsel David Donovan said that the team has agreed to "reduce the number of seats in a contract, waived contracts for a year, shortened contracts and terminated contracts entirely." Donovan contends that lawsuits are a "last resort that involve a small percentage of the team's 20,000 annual premium seat contracts," adding that most of the suits are "filed after people 'simply refuse to negotiate'" with the team. He said, "The Washington Redskins routinely work out payment plans and alternate arrangements with hundreds of ticket holders every year. For every one we sue, I would guess we work out a deal with half a dozen." In addition, about 12 companies "bailed out on their luxury skybox leases" at FedExField in the past year, and the Redskins have won $8M in judgments in eight of those instances (WASHINGTON POST, 9/3).

    SECONDARY COVERAGE: The Washington Post’s James Grimaldi said of his report yesterday that revealed the Redskins were selling tickets to brokers, “This story I think does sort of shine a light on the secondary market, which is huge and all the brokers that are out there that are buying tickets, not only from season-ticket holders, but in this case, they’re buying them straight from the Redskins ticket office. You can go online and get tickets to almost any game and there’s a marketplace out there. ... It’s happening all over the country" (“Washington Post Live,” CSN Mid-Atlantic, 9/2).

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  • Lions Optimistic That They Will Sell Out Games This Season

    Ford Jr. Offering Hope Fans Will
    See Home Games On Television
    Lions Vice Chair Bill Ford Jr. yesterday "promised sellouts for many of the games at Ford Field this season, offering hope that fans will see home games on television," according to Gregg Krupa of the DETROIT NEWS. Speaking at the 13th Annual Detroit Lions Kickoff Lunch, Ford noted that the event was sold out and said, "Get used to it, because it will be the first of many sellouts at Ford Field, this season. We know the economy is difficult and we have to fight for your attention. I know our fans are ready for a turnaround and they deserve it. They are the greatest fans in the world." Krupa notes speculation and "private conversations circulate around the league the Lions are among several teams in the NFL who may face some blackouts." But Lions Senior VP/Communications Bill Keenist said "there's still 10 days to go to sell tickets" before the season begins. Keenist: "We're not going to give out any more information until next week" (DETROIT NEWS, 9/3).

    NOT ON THE LIST: In Denver, Mike Klis reports every Broncos game this season is "guaranteed to be televised," and thus the team is "not on the NFL's Endangered Dozen Blackout List." Broncos Exec Dir of Ticket Operations Kirk Dyer: "We will be sold out. We're in great shape." Klis notes the team has "316 consecutive regular-season and playoff sellouts, stretching back 40 years," and a "season-ticket waiting list of 30,000 people" (DENVER POST, 9/3).

    TIME FOR A CHANGE? In K.C., Martin Manley wrote by "refusing to augment" their policy on blackouts, the NFL has "effectively snubbed their nose at the fan." Manley: "It's obvious the NFL hasn't felt (or at least recognized) the economic slowdown. ... They don't believe they have anything to fix" (KANSASCITY.com, 9/2). CSN Mid-Atlantic’s Ivan Carter said, “While it is true that the NFL is the monster of all sports leagues right now, it is also true that people are hurting in these tough economic times. Given that the league and the players could be looking at a PR nightmare when the new labor agreement is hammered out in two years, it might be wise to make as many fan-friendly moves as possible.” Carter: “If the NFL’s not careful, it may discover that its biggest problem isn’t blackouts, but rather its own fans tuning out” (“Washington Post Live,” CSN Mid-Atlantic, 9/2). BLOOMBERG NEWS’ Scott Soshnick writes NFL Owners are “callous and clueless, so in the dark about the average fan’s struggle to make ends meet it’s no wonder they back blackouts over bailouts.” Football fans “will suffer the blackouts, but it’s the owners who are in the dark” (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 9/3).

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  • Franchise Notes

    Luongo, Who Will Be 43 In '22,
    Signs 12-Year Contract Extension
    ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun reported the NHL is "not impressed" by Canucks G Roberto Luongo's new 12-year, $64M contract extension and might "take a long, hard look at the deal before giving it its full blessing." Luongo would turn 43 during the '21-22 season, which is why the NHL, "at least at first blush, isn't terribly thrilled with the contract." The NHL has been "warning GMs that the league will be watching these kinds of front-loaded, long-term contracts -- a warning that was expressly made again at the GMs' meetings in March in Florida -- to try to curb what some see as a loophole in the current collective bargaining agreement" (ESPN.com, 9/2).

    LOW CASH FLOW: In Manchester, Matt Scott reports EPL club West Ham United lost more than $61M (all figures US) for FY '08, which was "covered by an injection" of $49.9M of cash from former team Owner Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson's holding company, and $27.8M of "new loans negotiated with the banks in January 2008." The team also has "net debt and contingent liabilities approaching" $163M (Manchester GUARDIAN, 9/3).

    RE-IGNITING THE FIRE: In Calgary, Randy Sportak notes the Flames have "gone retro for their 30th season in Calgary, unveiling a third jersey." The uniform is a "replica to the one used when the team arrived from Atlanta in 1980 and used until the mid-1990s." The Flames will wear the uniforms, featuring red helmets, gloves and pants, "during five games this year." The team also will "wear a patch denoting their 30th year in the city" (CALGARY SUN, 9/3).

    HITTING THE MARK: The Brewers yesterday announced that they have sold three million tickets for the second consecutive year. The Brewers have sold out 27 games this season at Miller Park, and through 65 games have a total season attendance of 2,480,233. Their average home attendance of 38,157 "currently ranks eighth" among the 30 MLB teams (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 9/3).

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