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Bobcats' Ticket Renewal
Rates At 85% For Next Year
The Bobcats "have a much better story to tell this off-season" after making the postseason for the first time, but it is up to Bobcats Owner Michael Jordan and President & COO Fred Whitfield to "make the Bobcats financially viable," according to Erik Spanberg of the CHARLOTTE BUSINESS JOURNAL. The team prior to the '09-10 season was "projected to lose $35[M]," but team officials said that "several successes of late have improved the Bobcats' bottom line." The Bobcats have sold "more than 800 new season tickets for next year," and renewal rates have "climbed to 85%, up from around 70% in recent years." That ranks the team sixth and 12th, respectively, in the NBA. Whitfield said that those sales, "much like several corporate sponsors expected to be added in the next few months, are the culmination of an 18-month push." Industry execs said that the Bobcats "must pounce on the momentum" from making this year's playoffs. SportsCorp President Marc Ganis: "They must stay in the public eye after the playoffs. Every week or two, they need to have something that puts them in the public eye. It almost needs to be scripted." Spanberg noted Jordan "approved increased budgets for game operations at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs, adding flair to the team's post-season push," and he allowed Whitfield to "hire eight staffers, the franchise's first gain since laying off 38 employees" in '08. NBA Commissioner David Stern "praises Jordan and Whitfield for seeking help from the league office to improve ticket and sponsorship sales, as well as game operations and marketing." Stern: "To me, this is about Michael the businessman. I very much enjoy telling him that whatever he's doing isn't good enough. That's all you have to tell him" (CHARLOTTE BUSINESS JOURNAL, 4/30 issue).
SAYING THANKS: In a special to the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, Jordan wrote, "On behalf of the entire Bobcats Sports & Entertainment family, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the city of Charlotte, our fans from across the Carolinas and our partners from around the country for helping us make this season the best in franchise history. ... None of this would have been possible without the support and contributions of the Charlotte community." Jordan thanked fans for "kind words of encouragement this season ... remarkable energy at home games and for helping us create one of the best playoff atmospheres in the league." Jordan: "For the first time since I've been involved with the Bobcats, you could feel a sense of pride among our fans and momentum in the city" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 5/2).
Redskins Senior VP/PR Karl Swanson, the "long-time top lieutenant" of team Owner Dan Snyder, is "leaving the organization," according to Rick Maese of the WASHINGTON POST. The Redskins sent an e-mail to team employees yesterday "stating that Swanson hoped to spend more time with his family." Swanson, one of two "senior-level executives who've been with Snyder since the owner took over control" of the Redskins in '99, "played an active role in forming media strategy and running damage control when needed." Maese noted Swanson's departure "could be viewed as yet another sign of a culture change at Redskins Park." It is unclear how his departure will affect other members of the Redskins' PR staff (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 5/3). NATIONAL FOOTBALL POST's Brad Biggs noted Swanson was "viewed as one of the key behind-the-scenes men at Redskins Park, responsible for shaping the team’s image through its PR work." He worked "diligently to shield Snyder from the press," and while the owner "changed coaches often and the club rolled through PR directors even more quickly, Swanson was a rock for Snyder." Swanson often "stepped forward when there were major public issues such as uproars over season tickets, parking and other issues" (NATIONALFOOTBALLPOST.com, 5/3).
COMING INTO THE DISTRICT? The POST's Maese cites sources as saying that the Redskins have offered Swanson's position to Texans VP/Communications Tony Wyllie, and it is "believed that Wyllie will accept the position soon and a formal announcement could be made this week." Wyllie, who has spent the past 10 years with the Texans, would become the "highest-ranking African-American in Redskins' team history" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 5/4).
BAGS ARE PACKED? In St. Louis, Jim Thomas reports Rams VP/Player Personnel Tony Softli has "been given permission by the team to pursue other job opportunities." Softli, who joined the team in '06, was "conspicuous by his absence at the rookie minicamp over the weekend -- a time when Rams scouts and personnel executives normally line the sidelines during practices to get a close look at the new draft picks and rookie free agents." In addition, "yet another Rams Park employee" from previous management "appears to have been shown the door." NFL sources indicated that Dir of Player Development Ray Ogas "has been informed that he will not be retained." Ogas among other things "helped players with the transition to professional football" and had been with the team for 10 years (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 5/4).
Senators Owner Expects Team To Be
Very Competitive For Years To Come
Senators Owner Eugene Melnyk said the team will "lose money this year ... no question about that" after losing to the Penguins and failing to advance to the second round of the NHL Playoffs, according to Bruce Garrioch of the OTTAWA SUN. Melnyk, participating in a series of post-season interviews, said, "It’s important for us, with the amount of money we’re spending and with the size of our marketplace, to go two rounds. We can’t move up the (ticket) prices and we haven’t." He did say it was a benefit to play three home postseason games. Melnyk: "It’s very important for also following up on our season-ticket base. That’s extremely important. That’s coming back because it’s our job to show people that we care about the team and we are going to make whatever moves we need to make to put on a winning team." Melnyk said the Senators have a "good pipeline of players coming," and he expects the team "to be very competitive for years to come." Meanwhile, Melnyk said he has confidence in GM Bryan Murray and coach Cory Clouston. Noting the trade of LW Dany Heatley just a couple weeks before the start of the season, Melnyk said, "You look at the hand that Bryan was dealt. ... He did a fantastic job under difficult circumstances that were dealt to him" (OTTAWASUN.com, 5/1).
HEADING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION: Melnyk in a separate interview with the OTTAWA CITIZEN's Ken Warren said that the Senators' business operations are "pointing in the right direction." Attendance at Scotiabank Place this year was "down considerably from previous seasons and the season ticket base was down," but Melnyk said the season-ticket base is "very, very much driven, of course, by what happens on the ice." Melnyk noted the Senators had a "record year" for ticket sales in '07-08 following the team's Stanley Cup Final appearance. Melnyk: "The (sales) guys and girls just had to pick up the phone and they were selling tickets. This year, we were coming off a year where we were not even in the playoffs and people were scratching their heads and then you had the whole Heatley affair, which did have a very significant impact on our ticket base." He added, "People in Ottawa are driven by having a winning team and that’s something I’ve learned over years of ownership. They want to see a winner. It’s a Catch-22, because on one hand, you need the season ticket base to be able to spend to the (salary cap), you need to spend to the cap to be able to put out a competitive team." Meanwhile, Melnyk said the club would "never, ever" sign a player solely because he has a marquee name. Melnyk: "That doesn't matter, just having a name if they're not playing. It's certainly not going to sell tickets. And that's not the business we're in. We're in the business of winning" (OTTAWACITIZEN.com, 5/1).
Saints Remaining Silent Regarding
Allegations Peyton Abused Vicodin
The Saints yesterday "maintained a careful silence" as the lawsuit from former team Security Dir Geoffrey Santini "hung in the air," according to James Varney of the New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE. The Saints "stood pat on statements released" over the weekend by VP/Communications Greg Bensel and coach Sean Payton. Meanwhile, Santini's attorney, Donald Hyatt, said the lawsuit is based on Louisiana state "whistleblower" protection laws. He said that Santini was "forced to tender his resignation, which he did in August 2009, because Saints executives made him uncomfortable when he persisted in warning them that felonies had occurred in the team's facility." Hyatt: "I would say there is a lot of evidence that points to a serious problem there that the Saints didn't want to address." Varney notes the team's statements "dismissed Santini's claims as those of a disgruntled former employee." But Hyatt yesterday "bristled at such language, which he said accused his client of extortion or a shake down." He added, "If this was all a shake down I'd have filed the suit on the Friday before the Super Bowl at 9 a.m. when the court opened and then just watched them try to concentrate on the game" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 5/4). Hyatt yesterday also denied that the legal action "resulted from an attempt to extort money" from the Saints. He did note, though, that there "have been settlement discussions." He said, "They didn't go very far, but they were discussions. ... I thought a settlement would have been a better route the whole time, but they didn't want to listen." Bensel in a statement said that the Saints "would aggressively defend the false allegations in court" (USA TODAY, 5/4).
SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT: NFL Network's Jason La Canfora reported the NFL Finance Committee, which is chaired by Saints Owner Tom Benson, is meeting this week in N.Y., and there is a “sequence of events that is taking place … that will obviously put this on the commissioner's radar.” It figures that “there is going to be some discussion” between Benson and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell “about this larger issue at play regarding the civil suit and the Vicodin claims.” La Canfora: “Where it goes from there remains to be seen. Generally, the league has taken their cues from law enforcement and allowed all the facts to be brought to light before weighing in and deciding what should be done at a league level. But at least in terms of discussion, communication, those lines will be open this week in New York" ("NFL Total Access," NFL Network, 5/4). In N.Y., Gary Myers reports although the league "did not confirm the Vicodin scandal was talked about" when Goodell and Benson initially met yesterday, it "seems logical that it worked its way into the conversation" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/4).
SO MUCH FOR THE AFTERGLOW: The DAILY NEWS' Myers writes it is "not unusual for a controversy to get in the way of a team attempting to repeat as Super Bowl champs," but the "greatest feel-good story in NFL history ... couldn't even make it to training camp before football became overshadowed by non-football." Payton is "going to have to do some major damage control on his good-guy image in the next few weeks and it's going to take more than just issuing a statement." Training camp is three months away, which gives Payton and the Saints "time to figure out how to minimize this as a distraction as the lawsuit drags out" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/4). Denver Post columnist Woody Paige called the investigation "sad" after the "euphoria that the city went through" after winning the Super Bowl. Paige: "Now you have to drag the commissioner back into another off-season (incident). He's going to have to make decisions no matter what happens." FanHouse.com's Jay Mariotti: "It's a major deal and involves a wonderful story. All of a sudden you've got a cloud over it." ESPN.com's J.A. Adande: "This is the tough position that Roger Goodell has placed himself in now because he doesn't require an indictment or conviction in order to levy a suspension. Is he going to be just as ... hard on a coach as he's been on his players?" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 5/3).
(l to r) Stewart Bradley, DeSean Jackson And
Brent Celek Help Unveil '60 Throwback Jerseys
The Eagles will honor the 50th anniversary of their '60 NFL Championship team on September 12, wearing their "old kelly green and white uniforms" for their Week One game against the Packers, a rematch of the '60 title game, according to Jonathan Tamari of the PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER. The '60 Eagles team "will be honored as part of the event and ... plenty of 50th anniversary merchandise will be for sale." The Eagles "ditched their kelly green uniforms in 1996," two years after current Owner Jeffrey Lurie bought the team (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 5/4). Current Eagles players "all said they really liked the retro look" of the jerseys. Lurie said that the three-day opening weekend celebration of the '60 team is "something he wants to do in part because 'the sport has become so gigantic today, we forget that these were not celebrated and exalted the way anything is today'" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 5/4). In Philadelphia, John Gonzalez writes, "Bringing back the kelly greens full-time makes sense on so many fronts. To begin, it would send a subtle message that the franchise wants the same thing as its fans: to return to a time when the Eagles were the best team in football. It would also allow the team to decommission the midnight green uniforms." Gonzalez added, "From both a business and PR perspective, it makes sense for the Eagles. They can curry favor with the fans while putting money in the organization's already bloated bank account. Plus, and this is no small point, the kelly green uniforms are infinitely cooler than anything the Eagles have donned over the last few years" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 5/4).
In New Orleans, Jimmy Smith cites sources as saying that outgoing Hornets Owner George Shinn, who was "diagnosed with prostate cancer in November and has been cancer-free since January surgery, underwent a life-changing metamorphosis as a result of his illness." The sources indicated that Shinn now will focus his time on "increasing awareness of prostate cancer, early detection, and other charitable endeavors that are close to his heart, as well as his abundant faith." Sources said that the official announcement of his sale of the Hornets to Gary Chouest will come this week, "no earlier than Thursday" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 5/4). New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist John DeShazier said the sale of the Hornets to Chouset is "nothing but good news" for Hornets fans. DeShazier: "You've got an owner who's obviously interested in keeping the franchise in New Orleans. … He's a local guy." It is believed Chouest will be a "little bit more of a player in terms of economics when it comes to (acquiring) players and coaches. We don't think he's going to spare salaries" (NOLA.com, 5/3).
Riley Will Remain With Heat Beyond This
Summer, Hasn't Ruled Out Return To Coaching
STANDING THE HEAT: Heat President Pat Riley yesterday said that he has "agreed to remain with the franchise beyond the expiration of his contract this summer and would not rule out a return to coaching." Riley said that his new agreement "runs longer than a year but declined to be more specific" (MIAMI HERALD, 5/4). In West Palm Beach, Dave George writes Riley leaving opening the possibility of coaching could be part of a "specific sales job, adding the possibility of Riley's daily, hands-on involvement to the ... list of valid reasons for any free agent to join the Heat" (PALM BEACH POST, 5/4). In Miami, Greg Cote: "Call it the first volley in the free agent wars." Riley is "taking a preemptive strike at any doubts that might be out there about whether ... Erik Spoelstra is the right man to lead this club to another championship" (MIAMI HERALD, 5/4).
MAY I JOIN YOU? NBA Commissioner David Stern yesterday said he is hoping Ted Leonsis' acquisition of the Wizards will be "done by the end of the month." Stern said Leonsis has a "terrific sales, marketing and community organization with the Capitals and he will be able to use that in a relatively simple and quick way to move it over and do the Wizards in a proper way." He added, "I think that's a spectacular transition for us. ... Full speed ahead" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 5/3). Meanwhile, Stern yesterday said that the sale of 15% of the Cavaliers to Chinese investors "hasn't been approved," and there are "no plans for a league vote on it" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 5/4).
In St. Petersburg, Tom Jones asked is "anyone else tired of other markets and national shows wagging their fingers" at the Rays, "while forgetting other teams in big markets haven't always been the hot ticket in those towns?" The Rays are averaging 23,301 fans this season after drawing 23,147 per game in '09 and 22,259 in '08, when the team made the World Series. However, Jones wrote, "Sadly, when you have the smallest crowd in the majors two nights in a row while having the game's best record, maybe you deserve ridicule from other cities" (TAMPABAY.com, 5/3).
Writer Says Panthers' Trade Of Harris
Undoubtedly Motivated By Finances
FINANCIAL PLANNING: NATIONAL FOOTBALL POST's Brad Biggs wrote there is "no denying that the trade" the NFL Panthers made last week to send S Chris Harris to the Bears was "motivated by finances." Panthers coach John Fox said, "We've got a budget and that had something to do with it." The team owed Harris more than $2M in "base pay this year and he was due $7.7[M] over the next three years, more than Carolina wanted to pay with the team shedding big salaries this offseason." Biggs: "The appearance, at least, is the Panthers are going on the cheap before a possible labor showdown" (NATIONALFOOTBALLPOST.com, 5/3).
HOST WITH THE MOST? NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman prior to last night's Canucks-Blackhawks Western Conference Semifinals Game Two said that Blackhawks President John McDonough "has been pushing to play host to the NHL All-Star Game and entry draft and has been in frequent contact." Bettman said, "The Blackhawks are interested in as many league events as they can get. Obviously this is a great city. We had a wonderful Winter Classic here and we're mindful of that. From our standpoint it's more of a question of having a limited number of assets to allocate over 30 clubs and we're trying to be fair and judicious in doing that" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 5/4).
FOLLOWING THE RULES: Stars C Mike Modano said that the NHL "has told him he cannot be both a player and an owner." Modano is part of a group hoping to buy the Stars and he said that when his group, which includes former Stars President Jim Lites, "made inquiries, the league made it clear that a person with an ownership stake in the team may not also play." Mario Lemieux from '00-06 was both a player and owner of the Penguins, but Modano said that the rules "have been changed" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 5/4).