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Pacers Must Be Sold In
Order To Break Lease
The Pacers could face "serious financial hardship" if they elect to move from Conseco Fieldhouse to another city, according to Anthony Schoettle of the INDIANAPOLIS BUSINESS JOURNAL. The Pacers are asking Indianapolis for more than $15M annually to operate the arena, and have threatened to move if the city does not agree to renegotiate terms of the Conseco Fieldhouse lease. The team "began asking for the money almost two years ago, but city officials -- dealing with their own fiscal crisis -- have been slow to comply." Sources indicated that Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard "seeks more control of Conseco Fieldhouse operations, and is resisting merely writing a check to the Pacers and letting the team continue to manage the facility on its own." Schoettle notes the lease for the city-owned arena stipulates that the Pacers "would have to pay at least" $50M to Indianapolis if it vacates Conseco. But local attorney Paul Ogden, who has "written about the subject extensively," believes that the franchise could owe more than $150M "if it decides to break the lease before it expires" in '19. Ogden noted that terms of the lease stipulate that the Pacers "must sell the team to break the lease, and the penalty to break that lease is tied to the sale price." He said that the lease stipulates that "an 'application termination percentage' will be multiplied by the net sale proceeds to come up with the biggest chunk of the penalty." Paul Okeson, who is handling Indianapolis' negotiations as a member of the city's Capital Improvement Board, said, "When you peel it all back, the penalty isn’t as substantial as you might think." But Ogden "disputes that," and Ballard's administration concedes that the "penalty will be in the 'tens of millions of dollars' range" (INDIANAPOLIS BUSINESS JOURNAL, 4/19 issue).
Braves Execs Including Saito's
Incentives In Final Payroll Number
Braves Chair & CEO Terry McGuirk on Sunday refuted a report that the team "reduced its player payroll by 13[%] since last season, and McGuirk also said he doesn't think Liberty Media will sell the team for some time," according to David O'Brien of the ATLANTA CONSTITUTION. USA Today earlier this month reported that the Braves "began the 2010 season with a $84.4[M] payroll." McGuirk said the figure was "not right" and added that it was "about $6[M] below what Braves officials had indicated the payroll to be." He said, "They're drawing off of some database that MLB has, and whatever snapshot they got, that's not correct. Our (payroll) will have a 9 in front of it." O'Brien noted the Braves "did not announce a specific 2009 payroll amount, and said only that it was between" $92-95M. This year's 25-man opening-day roster salaries totaled about $85M, but the Braves' "own accounting adds several million dollars for incentives that team officials believe" 3B Troy Glaus and P Takashi Saito are "likely to earn." The Braves have missed the playoffs four years in a row, and home attendance last season "was the lowest since the team moved to Turner Field" in '97. Still, McGuirk said that the Braves "weren't looking at trimming payroll to cut costs." He said, "Attendance was down across the league, and everybody probably had to take a hard look at costs. But we're here to win right now. That's the best way to get revenues up. In our situation, this town is just dying for a winner. That's the big accelerator to revenues, if we can produce a winner this thing will take off." McGuirk has said that the team's payroll limits are "not set by Liberty" but by him in "consultation with other team officials." Meanwhile, McGuirk reiterated that Liberty officials "have not indicated any plans to sell the team once they're permitted to do so next year." As part of Liberty’s purchase of the team from Time Warner in '07, the company "agreed to retain ownership of the Braves at least through baseball’s current collective bargaining agreement, which runs through the 2011 season" (AJC.com, 4/18).
Astros Attendance Down More Than 2,000
Through First Six Games This Season
Astros attendance at Minute Maid Park is "down about" 8% through the first six games of the season compared to last season, according to Bernardo Fallas of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. The Astros' average home attendance this season is 30,120, "boosted by a record-setting crowd of 43,836 for the April 5 season opener." The average attendance after six home games last year was 32,796. And the prospects for "big crowds don't appear too promising" as the Astros start a nine-game homestand tonight against the Marlins, Pirates and Reds -- "three teams that traditionally don't draw well" in Houston. Astros President of Business Operations Pam Gardner said, "We're not in panic mode after six games." But with the team beginning the season with a 3-9 record, Gardner "understands why attendance at Minute Maid Park stands to be subject to scrutiny this season." Fallas notes the team's attendance has "dropped each year since 2006," but Astros Owner Drayton McLane is "quick to point to a down economy for last year's drop." McLane "expects an improving economy will help business and baseball in general in 2010." Gardner said, "Our expectation entering the season was that we should be able to maintain or be very close to what we did last season. Of course, the team is a big bonus to that; if the team performs well, hopefully you can do better." McLane added, "The team winning certainly adds a great deal to the attendance" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 4/20).
CROWD CONTROL: The AP's Ben Walker noted while MLB attendance is "up slightly overall from this point last year," a handful of teams "have drawn record-low crowds of barely 10,000 at their ballparks." Walker: "Blame it on chilly April weather, the lingering effects of the economy, the lure of the NBA and NHL playoffs on television, or fans simply tired of losing. Whatever, the sight of rows upon rows of empty seats is startling" (AP, 4/18). A crowd of 14,528 attended Orioles-Mariners last night at Safeco Field, “more than a thousand below the previous low of 15,818” set in May '08 (SEATTLE TIMES, 4/20). Meanwhile, last night's attendance at Nationals Park for Rockies-Nationals was "one of the smallest crowds in Nats history" with a paid attendance of 11,623 ("Baseball Tonight," ESPN, 4/19).
Packers Fans Are Paying 13% More
For Tickets This Year
Although Packers BOD members "play a role in many aspects of the organization through its committee structures," some members said that they "felt blindsided by the ticket-price increase" implemented this offseason, according to Ryman & Walter of the GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE. It was Packers President & CEO Mark Murphy who decided the team "would charge 13[%] more for tickets this year," and BOD member Gary Rotherham saw that as evidence that the executive committee and the BOD are "drifting apart." Every board member "represents the organization's 112,120 shareholders as well as its fans." While some members "argue that they should be consulted on more decisions, others say that a 45-member board is just too big to be effectively used that way." The ticket price issue was "discussed at the December board meeting, but directors were not asked to vote on the matter." The executive committee instead "later approved Murphy's recommendations, and the decision was made." Murphy said, "They hired me to run the organization -- not to sound egotistical -- and I need to do that. I don't think the board has ever been consulted (on ticket prices)." Ryman & Walter noted while some board members "feel they should be included in more decision-making, the consensus is that you can't have 45 cooks in the kitchen" (GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE, 4/18).
FORWARD PROGRESS: The PRESS-GAZETTE's Ryman & Walter noted one of the "most difficult balances in sports is preserving the Green Bay Packers’ culture while keeping up with business demands" of the NFL. Packers Exec Committee member Dan Ariens said that with "billion-dollar stadiums being built around the league, and the Packers looking for the next development to increase" the franchise's local income, the "NFL has changed, and the Packers must change with it." Ariens: "We can't go back. It's big business. It's a Catch-22. You've got to do these things to keep up with the rest of the league" (GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE, 4/18). Ryman & Walter take a closer look at the Packers Exec Committee (GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE, 4/18).
St. Louis Fans Want Stan Kroenke To
Express Desire To Keep Rams In City
As Stan Kroenke moves forward with his announced intention to purchase the Rams, a "backlash continues to grow over the absence of comments or statements by Kroenke about a commitment to keeping the Rams in St. Louis," according to Jim Thomas of the ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH. KTRS-AM host McGraw Milhaven is "asking fans to boycott Rams games if Kroenke doesn't make some kind of statement about keeping the team in St. Louis by the start" of the NFL Draft this Thursday. Milhaven said, "Is this guy committed to St. Louis? I'm not asking for his tax returns, I'm asking for him to make a comment. We're not country bumpkins here. We're not going to support somebody and then have him leave town." Sources contend that Kroenke is "concentrating fully on trying to complete his purchase" of the franchise from Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez, despite a report that he asked Flex-N-Gate President Shahid Khan for a fee in return for letting Khan proceed with his effort to purchase the franchise (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 4/20). As of presstime, 65% of 2,923 respondents to a Post-Dispatch poll said that they would prefer Khan to be the majority owner of the Rams (STLTODAY.com, 4/20).
I SEE YOUR TRUE COLORS: In St. Louis, Howard Balzer writes Rams fans are wondering whether Kroenke has "any real passion for sports or whether for him it is all about making a deal and amassing an empire." The "key question is what Kroenke really wants" with the Rams, and "no one knows, because true to form, he isn’t saying." Balzer: "Does he truly hope to convince the NFL to allow a transfer of ownership of the Denver interests to his wife, Ann? Is Kroenke waiting to see if Khan can attract partners to help him pay Kroenke to stay, or raise enough to buy Kroenke out at more than $300[M] and really make him go away?" (GLOBE-DEMOCRAT.com, 4/20). Also in St. Louis, Bernie Miklasz wrote Kroenke is a "full-contact businessman" and will "follow the money." His business history "makes it plainly obvious that E. Stanley Kroenke is going to do what’s best for E. Stanley Kroenke." Miklasz: "This doesn’t make him evil -- it makes him a shrewd and tough businessman" (STLTODAY.com, 4/19). The POST-DISPATCH's Bryan Burwell writes the "more you see how cutthroat Kroenke's business strategies are, the more urgent it seems to me that Khan ultimately finds the economic wherewithal and additional investors to make Kroenke go away." Kroenke throughout this sale process has "already clearly and dramatically demonstrated that he cares about two things -- himself and his money" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 4/20).
Baseball HOFer Cal Ripken Jr. in a statement yesterday said that he "would like to come back" to the Orioles organization, according Dan Connolly of the Baltimore SUN. However, Orioles Owner Peter Angelos "would be hesitant to bring in Ripken and have it appear that he is meddling" with President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail's "power and judgment or that he is creating an heir apparent to MacPhail." Connolly wrote he is "not sure Ripken would want to come in without any authority, to be an ambassador with no decision-making powers." Connolly: "You can't expect that Ripken is this organization's savior" (BALTIMORESUN.com, 4/19). Also in Baltimore, Peter Schmuck noted nowhere in Ripken's statement "does he deny offering to join the front office and nowhere does he address whether the team refused any offer of help." A report over the weekend indicated that Angelos turned down Ripken's offer of help, and Schmuck wrote Ripken not addressing those issues in his statement "seems significant to me because it leaves open the possibility that he suggested some role with the team and was told that the timing of his return to the organization would not be right" (BALTIMORESUN.com, 4/19).
Remember The Past: FOXSPORTS.com's Ken Rosenthal wrote, "It’s damning -- and a direct reflection on Angelos’ tone-deaf ownership -- that Hall of Famers Ripken, Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson are nowhere to be found at Camden Yards." Rosenthal: "Why is a franchise with such a glorious history not taking better advantage of some of the greatest natural resources the game has to offer? Funny, I don’t think it’s because the Orioles have all the answers" (FOXSPORTS.com, 4/19).
In Hartford, Dom Amore noted Red Sox President & CEO Larry Lucchino Friday spoke to a small group in the city to "begin what the team is calling a 'Listening Tour' to all the New England states." Lucchino said Connecticut is the "one state in New England we don't have to ourselves." Lucchino: "There is a small slice of Western Vermont where there are some Yankees fans. But Connecticut is definitely a border state." Amore noted the eastern half of Connecticut is "mostly Red Sox" supporters, while Fairfield County outside of N.Y. "has more Yankees fans." Lucchino "mentioned New Haven as an area where there are fans to be won." Lucchino: "I know the 'empire' is trying to extend it's tentacles into Connecticut" (HARTFORD COURANT, 4/18).
MLBPA Approves Pirates' Budget-
Conscious Strategy For Rebuilding Team
GRUDGING APPROVAL: In Pittsburgh, Rob Biertempfel noted the Pirates' Opening Day payroll of $34.9M was the "lowest in the majors," but MLBPA Exec Dir Michael Weiner yesterday "gave grudging approval of the Pirates' budget-conscious strategy for rebuilding the team." Weiner: "Are we happy with the current state of the Pirates' payroll? Of course we'd like to see it higher. ... But, to date, we have been convinced the Pirates have a plan." Weiner said PNC Park is "as beautiful a ballpark as there is in the major leagues," and added the Pirates have a "phenomenal fan base and history." Weiner: "(Ownership has) a plan in place, so we'll continue to monitor it. We've been satisfied so far." Meanwhile, with the current CBA expiring after the '11 season, Weiner said he expects negotiations to begin "no later than next spring." Biertempfel notes topics "on the table likely include realignment, increased drug testing and an international draft" (Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 4/20).
WINNING THE PERFECT CURE: A crowd of 10,314 attended yesterday's Royals-Blue Jays game, “the smallest crowd ever at the Rogers Centre.” The previous low of 10,619 was set last week against the White Sox (TORONTO STAR, 4/20). Chicago Sun-Times White Sox beat writer Joe Cowley last week suggested that baseball in Toronto "is dead," but the TORONTO STAR's Richard Griffin wrote Cowley is "dead wrong." Griffin: "Baseball in Toronto and Canada is not dead. It's sleeping. Baseball attendance is not an obligation, it's a choice. Build a winner and they will come." Blue Jays management, "to its credit, at last understands that basic concept of being a sports fan of any pro team other than" the Maple Leafs. Griffin: "The fans are simply demanding more than they've received for eight years. It's their right" (TORONTO STAR, 4/18).
TRICKLE-DOWN EFFECT? In L.A., Bill Plaschke wrote Dodger Stadium "contained little of the usual Giants-Dodgers fever" for Saturday's game between the two teams. The Dodgers drew 44,734 fans for the game, but Plaschke wrote he has "never seen so many empty seats for this rivalry." Plaschke: "The number of people in Bleacher Beach could have gathered around a fire pit." Dodgers manager Joe Torre has "kept the possible effects of the McCourt divorce away from the field," but the series against the Giants marked the "first time in several years" that the Dodgers played an NL West team that is spending more money than they (L.A. TIMES, 4/18).
In Jacksonville, Matt Dixon reports the Jaguars last season contacted U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL) to "help avoid a television blackout" for their final home game, against the Colts on December 17. Ronnie Simmons, Brown's campaign manager, said, "They called and said it is their last game and sales were not going to be good, and asked her to buy a block of tickets." Simmons said that Brown bought tickets "with campaign money and gave them away to supporters and community leaders." The team would not comment on the matter (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 4/20). Also in Jacksonville, Gene Frenette wrote, "The level of desperation has reached the point where the Jaguars and the business community are begging people -- almost a step short of bribing -- to purchase season tickets." No NFL team has "ever done more off the field to earn the fans’ business" (JACKSONVILLE.com, 4/19).
Smith Says There Is Not Going To Be
Much Tolerance For Off-Field Issues
STEEL RESOLVE: Steelers officials yesterday informed players there will be "zero tolerance" in regard to any off-field misconduct. Steelers OT Willie Colon said, "We were told early this morning either you get in line or you get kicked out of line. ... There is a zero tolerance, not only with the NFL but with the Steelers" (PITTSBURGHLIVE.com, 4/19). Steelers DE Aaron Smith said, "After what we've seen go on, there's not going to be much tolerance for stuff around here" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 4/20).
EVERY ROCK HAS ITS THORN? In New Jersey, Al Iannazzone notes Rod Thorn yesterday gave the "strongest indication yet that he will return as the Nets’ president and said he would be in charge of hiring the new head coach." A new deal for Thorn will not be finalized until Mikhail Prokhorov assumes ownership, but "all signs pointed to Thorn returning." Thorn: "As of right now, I am. Until someone tells me differently, I am. But who knows" (Bergen RECORD, 4/20). Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-NJ) "did not relent from his attack" on Prokhorov, stating in a letter to NBA Commissioner David Stern yesterday that "he has records of Prokhorov’s relationship with 'individuals and entities that have close ties to the Mugabe regime' in Zimbabwe" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 4/20).