SBD/Issue 21/Franchises

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  • NFLPA Stands Opposed To Rush Limbaugh's Effort To Buy Rams

    NFLPA's Smith Has Spoken
    To Goodell About Limbaugh
    NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith Saturday "made a move to solidify the union against" radio personality Rush Limbaugh's role in a group bidding to buy the Rams, according to Chris Mortensen of ESPN.com. Smith sent an e-mail to the NFLPA Exec Committee specifically addressing Limbaugh's joint bid with Blues Owner Dave Checketts that read in part, "I've spoken to the Commissioner (Roger Goodell) and I understand that this ownership consideration is in the early stages. But sport in America is at its best when it unifies, gives all of us reason to cheer, and when it transcends. Our sport does exactly that when it overcomes division and rejects discrimination and hatred." Smith yesterday added, "This communication is more about what we stand for than the reality of our role in any franchise sale." Mortensen noted at least seven NFL players, including Jets LB Bart Scott and Giants DE Mathias Kiwanuka, have "publicly opposed Limbaugh's interest in purchasing the Rams with Checketts." Smith Saturday "encouraged players to speak their mind on all matters, including Limbaugh's bid" (ESPN.com, 10/11). CBS’ Charley Casserly reported Smith “told me that they have no position on the ownership sale of the St. Louis Rams, Rush Limbaugh notwithstanding.” Meanwhile, there are three initial bids for the team, and the "higher bids were in the $750(M) range." Those bids by October 22 "have to be what they call ‘committed.’ In other words, all of the money surrounding the bid must be guaranteed." Casserly: "You might not see all of the three bidders continuing forward in the process” (“The NFL Today,” CBS, 10/11).

    POSSIBLE BACKLASH FROM PLAYERS: In N.Y., Gary Myers noted Limbaugh's "potential presence as the owner of the Rams has created a backlash from black players who claim they would never play for a team owned by him," so "voting him in would be a mistake." If black free agents "refuse to play for the Rams, and if the Rams black players don't want to play for Limbaugh and refuse to re-sign, imagine the product the Rams will put on the field." Limbaugh is "so outspoken it would be inevitable he would say something to embarrass the NFL and upset his players," and the NFL "does not need a lightning rod like Limbaugh owning one" of its 32 teams. While Myers noted it is "hard to see Limbaugh getting the votes" of approval from NFL owners, one team owner said, "I can't imagine some of the characters who have become owners in different sports" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 10/11). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said, "We are back to the Jim Brown era of social activism … and I find this a very intriguing notion that there’s a block of athletes out there who are willing to say something political for the first time in 30 years” (“PTI,” ESPN, 10/9). CSN Mid-Atlantic's Al Koken said, "This could have a real serious backlash.” But Washington Post reporter Rick Maese said, "Isn’t that an easy thing to say at this point? At the end of the day, it’s just someone who signs your check” ("Washington Post Live," CSN Mid-Atlantic, 10/9).

    DOESN'T MATCH UP: SPORTINGNEWS.com's Chris Littmann wrote, "After reading everything Limbaugh has said and continues to say, you've got to wonder why a man who seems to so openly loathe black people would want to own a business that will largely have those same people as its employees" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 10/9). ESPN’s Michael Wilbon: “I don’t know whether Rush Limbaugh is a straight-up bigot or he simply plays one on TV and radio, but he is universally reviled by black people in this country, and justifiably so based on his public pronouncements” ("PTI," ESPN, 10/9). ESPN.com's Jeff MacGregor wrote a "very big part of what American football sells is accountability," and this is "going to be Mr. Limbaugh's biggest problem." Football "sells personal responsibility and teamwork," but Limbaugh has "made his career and his fortune peddling" blame (ESPN.com, 10/9). USA TODAY's Drew Sharp: "The league cannot be that hamstrung in finding deep-pocketed financiers that it's left with no alternative but embracing someone whose occupational practice is making people feel more comfortable within their own prejudices" (USA TODAY, 10/12).

    Scott Says He Would Not Play
    For Limbaugh-Owned Team
    WORTH A CLOSER LOOK: In Buffalo, Larry Felser wrote the "idea of Limbaugh as an NFL owner may not be such a bad idea." Limbaugh worked with the Royals in the '80s, and presumably that association "taught him that the proper way to run a franchise is to hire competent sports people and allow them to do their jobs, a lesson too often lost on some NFL owners." Some contend Limbaugh is "too controversial, too divisive for the NFL, but sports is one thing, politics another" (BUFFALO NEWS, 10/11). ESPN's J.A. Adande: "If you don’t like Rush Limbaugh and what he has to say, then don’t sign there as a free agent. If you don’t like it as a fan, don’t pay for tickets to go watch his team. But I don’t think the NFL should ban people based on their political beliefs. I mean, did they come out and do anything when Dan Rooney was an outright supporter of Barack Obama during the election?" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 10/9). In DC, Tom Knott writes the NFLPA's Smith, "it seems, is guilty of what he fears in Limbaugh." Smith "neglects to see that one person's definition of incendiary speech is another person's definition of common sense" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 10/12).

    LEFT GUARD: SI.com's Peter King notes data from Politico.com shows that "no NFL team in the past 20 years has donated more money to the Democratic Party than the Rams." The Rams have given $230,050 to Democrats, or 98% of the franchise's total political donations (SI.com, 10/12).

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  • NHL Admits Interest In Returning Teams To Quebec City, Winnipeg

    Daly Says NHL Has Interest In Returning
    Teams To Supportive Canadian Cities
    The NHL "sounds as if it's ready to return teams to Quebec and Winnipeg, with a second team for southern Ontario also under consideration," according to Kevin McGran of the TORONTO STAR. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in an e-mail, "We do have an interest in returning teams to Canadian cities that have hosted and supported NHL teams historically. Both Winnipeg and Quebec City have done that, so we'll see how things transpire. That doesn't mean southern Ontario won't or can't be considered. It will be." McGran noted Daly made the comments after Quebec City Mayor Regis Lebaume said that he and former Nordiques co-Owner & President Marcel Aubut met Friday with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Lebaume said that "more news would come this week, most likely a promise of funding from the city" for a C$250M, 18,000-seat, NHL-sized arena that "could be part of a bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics." Non-profit group J'ai ma place "wants the federal, provincial and city governments to contribute [C$80M] each to the project, with it donating the rest." The governing Quebec province Liberals "have promised" C$50M, and the federal government "has made no promises, but the federal Conservative caucus in Quebec supports the project." J'ai ma place "has sold 70 corporate boxes and has a waiting list for more." J'ai ma place Director General Patrick Bragoli: "Right now there's a small window with the NHL. Clubs are in trouble. So in the last six months our project is moving faster. We're all hockey crazy. We want the NHL to come back to Quebec" (TORONTO STAR, 10/11). Lebaume over the weekend confirmed that he "had held 'an excellent meeting' with Bettman and that he'd received a 'very warm' reception and 'couldn't have expected better'" (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/12). ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun said there were "no promises made from the NHL commissioner to these people other than, 'Hey, get the new rink built, ... get the right owner, do you have enough corporate support?' and 'let's continue this discussion.'" The CBC's Al Strachan said putting a team in Quebec City will "take a while," and Winnipeg "is a lot closer" to getting an NHL franchise ("HNIC," CBC, 10/10).

    PROMINENT SUPPORTER: Quebecor Media Inc. President & CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau Friday said that he is "keeping up on what teams could become for sale 'if we decide to re-locate teams to Canada,' adding that he was very aware of the financial difficulties facing some American hockey clubs." Peladeau said that while it will "take the involvement of more people to make something this big happen," he noted that his team is "working hard to figure out the 'winning recipe.'" Peladeau: "It's undeniable that forming a group to explore bringing a club to Quebec is desirable." Sources said that Peladeau is "actively searching for partners in [Quebec City] to bring the plan to fruition" (QMI, 10/10).

    NOT GIVING UP: The TORONTO STAR's McGran notes RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie's lease agreement with the city of Hamilton "that gives him exclusive rights to an NHL team at Copps Coliseum ends this week," and Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger said that "once that takes effect, the city will meet with commissioner Gary Bettman to let the league know about its continued interest in attracting a second team to southern Ontario." Eisenberger: "We have certainly talked over the last few months and we still have an agreement with Mr. Balsillie that's due to expire. Once that happens, we'll be taking the next steps to do more work on what the next iteration for NHL hockey in Hamilton is" (TORONTO STAR, 10/12).

    Plight Of The Phoenix: The AP's Andrew Bagnato reported Ice Edge Holdings COO Daryl Jones and Ice Edge investors "have been discussing lease options with Glendale officials with an eye toward reviving their bid for the financially ailing Coyotes, whose sale has been tied up in a complicated bankruptcy proceeding." Jones, who attended Saturday's Coyotes home opener at Jobing.com Arena, said Ice Edge's "intention is to buy the team." Jones said, "The ideal scenario, I think, is that somebody buys the team quickly. Because if not, I think extended uncertainty is just going to lead to poor ticket sales and basically a lot of losses on the business side" (AP, 10/11). Meanwhile, the CBC's Strachan Saturday on "HNIC" said "there's concern about the way" the Coyotes are "being run by some of the other people around the league." Strachan: "Essentially, Bill Daly is running the Phoenix Coyotes and some people around the league are (asking) … who's making the decisions as to what players go where, who's making the decisions as to what the budget is going to be." But Milbury responded, "Bill Daly's not making any hockey decisions." Strachan said Daly is "making financial decisions that affect the hockey team." Milbury: "That's because they're totally out of control in terms of the finances in Phoenix and his responsibility is to make sure they don't go past whatever budget they have internally, which makes sense" ("HNIC," CBC, 10/10).

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  • San Jose Officials Targeting Potential NBA Team For HP Pavilion

    SVSE Has Talked To A Number Of Teams In
    Last Year About Relocating To HP Pavilion
    San Jose officials are "formalizing a list of principles for negotiations to bring a professional basketball team to HP Pavilion," and the San Jose City Council "as early as month's end will vote on a 'memorandum of understanding' that would guide negotiations with any" NBA team, according to Tracy Seipel of the SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS. Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment (SVSE) President & CEO Greg Jamison, whose company manages the arena and the Sharks, Friday said that SVSE "has talked to 'a number of teams' over the last year about relocating to San Jose." A source said that Jamison "in recent months has met" with NBA Kings Owners the Maloofs, who are "looking for an alternative to aging Arco Arena." But NBA VP/Basketball Communications Tim Frank Friday said that the league is "not aware of a pending move by any team to San Jose." San Jose Chief Development Officer Paul Krutko, who is working on the memorandum of understanding, said that if an NBA team were to move to San Jose, "modifications to the pavilion would be required," and among other things, a "new locker room and possibly offices would have to be built." Krutko said that "any potential deal would likely involve a public/private partnership, along the lines of the one that has been proposed between the city" and A's Owner Lew Wolff. Seipel noted any talk of an NBA franchise for San Jose is "tempered by the fact that the Warriors play only 36 miles from HP Pavilion," and a "majority of the league's owners would have to approve a move by the Kings to the South Bay, and strong opposition from the Warriors is a given" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 10/10).

    NOT SO FAST: Kings co-Owner Gavin Maloof confirmed that "discussions have taken place" with San Jose officials, and he acknowledged that Kings President John Thomas "toured HP Pavilion last February." But Maloof added, "Yes, we've talked to other cities. We get calls all the time. But our message to everybody is the same. We want to stay in Sacramento, and we all want a solution to the arena. And if this isn't the right time because of the economy, then we'll wait. ... We're not going anywhere." Meanwhile, in Sacramento, Ailene Voisin noted the Kings are "operating in the black and are projected to break even throughout the season, the result of reducing operating costs and more prudent salary cap management." Also, the Maloofs "have become increasingly more visible locally," and Gavin Maloof in particular is "said to be dictating the new ticket packaging and marketing plans, and in general, pressing hard for the organization to reconnect with the community" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 10/11).

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  • NHL Panthers Ownership May Be Restructured Internally

    Bettman Says Panthers Partners' Levels Of
    Investment, Roles In Group Could Change
    NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman Saturday said that the Panthers are "not being sold to a public company," though he "expects the precise makeup" of Owner Alan Cohen's ownership group to change, according to Sarah Talalay of the South Florida SUN-SENTINEL. Bettman, before the Panthers' home opener against the Devils at BankAtlantic Center, said that the potential change within the group "does not mean limited partners will change or be added, but their levels of investment and roles in the group could change." Bettman: "The group is in discussions to see about making some adjustments among themselves, and I think those discussions are ongoing. ... I think the solution here is going to come out of perhaps a rejiggering of the existing ownership group, not necessarily somebody getting in or out, but just kind of a restructuring on the day to day." Bettman added from a financial standpoint the club "needs to continue to work to improve its performance ... but they should be OK." Bettman: "Barring something extraordinary that nobody anticipated, and I’m not suggesting that’s going to happen, they should be fine." Meanwhile, Bettman said the league "would like to continue to expand our European presence on a regular basis." Bettman: "By that I don’t mean franchises on the ground, I mean more and more clubs, more and more games to open the season, so maybe we’re in seven or eight cities at the same time, to open the season because if you were there you know there’s tremendous interest in our players and our game." Bettman said the economy's impact on ticket sales varies "market by market," but season-ticket renewals league wide this year were "about what it was last year, before the economic downturn." Bettman: "We’re not expecting to be down, based on the preliminary projections we have this year in revenues. …We’re flat to up a little bit is my best early guess as to where we’re likely to be" (SUN-SENTINEL.com, 10/10).

    WELCOME CHANGE: In Ft. Lauderdale, Dave Hyde wrote Bettman was "in town to oversee what he called a 'restructuring' of the ownership and, whatever that means, it can't be bad news." South Florida "can support a hockey team better than a baseball team." When the Panthers "put a good product on the ice a decade ago, the season-ticket base was over 10,000 and they went a few years of selling out Miami Arena." But Hyde wrote the team now is the "anti-Marlins." Though the Panthers "spend money," they "just have no consistent plan." Hyde: "This ownership change, where it sounds like Cohen will take a smaller role, has to be a good thing" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 10/11).

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  • Bob Nutting, Frank Coonelly Address State Of The Pirates

    Despite Recording Their 17th Straight Losing 
    Season, Pirates Saw Attendance Drop Just 1.9%
    Pirates Owner Bob Nutting and President Frank Coonelly both addressed the state of the franchise in separate interviews, and Nutting said "nothing about the current economy has impacted my long-term commitment," according to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW. Nutting noted the Pirates this season were down just 1.9% in attendance at PNC Park, and said, "Despite the economy, the Pirates have gotten remarkably good support from our fans." The team has been under fire for its low payroll and recent personnel moves, but Nutting said, "We've made difficult decisions. The proof of the correctness of those decisions won't be shown for some time." Coonelly said, "The way I look at payroll is the 40-man roster payroll, which was about $54[M] going into this season. ... We haven't yet set a budget number for next year, but we do have flexibility to add payroll to the club if we (can get) players in either the free-agent or trade market who have higher (salaries). The good news is, we have a strong financial base. We can afford to add payroll if there are players who can help us win." Nutting: "We've been opening up and committing dollars to the amateur draft and international signings. ... When you look at baseball operations, those dollars have grown." Meanwhile, Coonelly said he is "very pleased with the work" of GM Neal Huntington and manager John Russell, and added, "I fully expect JR and Neal will be long-time members of the Pirates organization." Nutting acquired majority ownership in '07, and when asked about previous ownership, he said, "As you look back at every leadership group and owner, I'm sure there are things each one would've liked to have done differently. I still respect what Kevin [McClatchy] did, because this ballpark would not exist, and I'm not sure the Pirates would still be in Pittsburgh" (Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 10/11).

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  • Franchise Notes

    Lakers Have Highest Season-Ticket
    Renewal Rate In League At 98%
    In L.A., Bresnahan & Turner report the Lakers have "hit an impressive 98%" for season-ticket renewals for the '09-10 season, down from 99% last season, but still the "highest renewal rate in the league." The league average is 75%. While the team "typically raises ticket prices" 5-7% each year, the Lakers "did not raise ticket prices for the upcoming season" (L.A. TIMES, 10/12).

    NARROWING THE FIELD: In Ft. Worth, Jeff Wilson reported the number of bidders for the Rangers "has been pared in half to three" -- Pittsburgh sports attorney Chuck Greenberg, White Sox Special Assistant to the Chair and former MLB agent Dennis Gilbert and Crane Worldwide Logistics Founder Jim Crane. Wilson writes Greenberg, "considered by some to be the front-runner," has the "one thing that the other two potential owners don't: the interest" of Rangers President Nolan Ryan. Ryan under Greenberg's bid "would maintain his role as team president while adding the role of minority owner" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 10/10).

    LET'S MAKE A DEAL: On Long Island, Arthur Staple wrote Islanders Owner Charles Wang is "doing the right thing by laying low" on his proposed Lighthouse project, as the "next few weeks are about getting things done behind the scenes," whether with the Town of Hempstead or someone else. Staple: "To do otherwise would play more games with fans who have already been toyed with plenty. The games involve the team that this whole fight is about. It's been easy to lose sight of that" (NEWSDAY, 10/10).

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