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SBD/September 21, 2010/FranchisesPrint All
Former Dodgers CEO Jamie McCourt yesterday in her ongoing divorce trial with Dodgers Owner Frank McCourt testified that she "signed one of the most important documents of her life without reading it" -- the agreement that gave Frank "sole ownership of the couple's prized possession, the Dodgers," according to Hall & Shaikin of the L.A. TIMES. At issue in the trial is the "validity of the couple's agreement -- something further complicated by the fact that both McCourts inadvertently signed different versions of the contract." Jamie testified that she "didn't read any of the copies carefully because the couple's Massachusetts lawyer, Larry Silverstein, told her the agreement would accomplish what she contends they both wanted -- to shield their millions of dollars of personal real estate from business creditors by making them her separate property." Jamie testified that she was "accustomed to Massachusetts law in which the courts equitably distribute property if a couple divorces," and she was "steadfast in her insistence that she didn't realize what the contract meant if they were to split up." Steve Susman, Frank's attorney, yesterday pointed out to Jamie that she "signed off on loan applications, statements to Major League Baseball and public relations memos all of which referred to Frank as the sole owner of the team." Jamie said, "From a title perspective, Frank was the owner. He was the designated person for Major League Baseball. But in my mind, everything was the marital estate. We had worked together to earn it. ... Frank likes to be called the owner. And that's fine with me" (L.A. TIMES, 9/21). Jamie also said that she and Frank "frequently talked about selling the team if they couldn't turn around its financial misfortunes." Jamie: "We felt confident we would have positive cash flow in two to three years. If something did not turn out exactly right, we could always sell." But Frank last week indicated that he "intends to have his four sons take the helm eventually" (AP, 9/20).
ROUGH DAY: USA TODAY's David Leon Moore writes it "didn't appear to be a good day" for Jamie, "as she claimed not to understand documents Susman asked her about." Susman "tried to paint Jamie as understanding the marital property agreement she signed in 2004 that gave her sole ownership of the couple's houses and her husband sole ownership of the Dodgers." Susman after the proceedings ended for the day said Jamie's testimony was "as fictional as Harry Potter" (USA TODAY, 9/21). In N.Y., Billy Witz writes yesterday's testimony was "expected to be one of the more intriguing parts of the trial." However, there were "few fireworks," and Susman "occasionally wiped his brow with a handkerchief and sighed several times, seemingly exasperated." The testimony was "so tedious at times that in the morning session, Judge Scott M. Gordon yawned broadly" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/21).
A FINE MESS: MLB Network's Bob Costas said of the Dodgers: "You don't know about the direction of the franchise, you don't know about the future ownership of the team because the McCourts might eventually … have to divest themselves of the franchise. In the near term, you don’t know how much money they're willing to commit." Costas: "You don't mean to disparage anybody else, but this isn't as if this is happening with the Florida Marlins or something. It's a high-profile mess and … it does seem pretty clear to me that the intention was for Frank McCourt to have control of the Dodgers (when he acquired the team)" ("The Dan Patrick Show," 9/21).
Former Hartford Whalers Owner Howard Baldwin yesterday announced that his sports marketing company "will take over business operations" of the Hartford Wolf Pack and rename the AHL team the Connecticut Whale, according to Paul Doyle of the HARTFORD COURANT. AEG will continue to operate XL Center. MSG "remains the owner of the franchise and the Rangers will still supply the players." Baldwin promised that his newly named Hartford Hockey LLC will "market and promote the team with a goal of increasing sagging attendance in the building." The Wolf Pack averaged just 4,188 fans last season, down from 5,045 four years earlier. Baldwin has said that "the market must be 'rebuilt' before the NHL will consider a return to Hartford," which means "increasing and sustaining the attendance at the AHL game." Baldwin has a "long-term goal of luring the NHL back" to Hartford, and he has "relocated to the area to ratchet up his chase." Doyle notes yesterday's announcement is a "signal that the franchise will have a higher visibility in the market." Baldwin insisted that he was "not legally blocked from using 'Whalers,' but instead decided to simply pay homage to the old franchise while declaring the start of a new era." It is unclear whether the "copyright of the name and logo are owned by the NHL or the Connecticut Development Authority, but Baldwin says he could have used the name if he wanted it." Also, by using Connecticut instead of Hartford in the name, Baldwin is saying that he "will market throughout the state" (HARTFORD COURANT, 9/21).
Blackstone Group officials yesterday said that the private equity firm "would not offer any funding to Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks, apparently dealing a blow to his hopes of buying out the club's debt with Royal Bank of Scotland to extend his control at Anfield," according to Kelso & Smith of the London TELEGRAPH. Blackstone sources said that they "had pulled out of discussions with Hicks in August." They acknowledged that talks "had taken place but said they would not be part of any deal moving forward." The announcement leaves Liverpool "in a familiar limbo." Hicks and co-Owner George Gillett's loans from RBS and Wells Fargo, worth US$370M plus an estimated US$62M, "expire in early October." With Liverpool Chair Martin Broughton and Barclays Capital "having failed to find a suitable buyer willing to meet the Americans' price expectations, the onus is on the owners or the banks to find a way forward." Hicks and Gillett "could yet return with the money to buy out the banks but will face opposition from the board." The impasse "has increased frustration among supporters, who are planning a sit-in protest at Anfield following" Saturday's game against Sunderland, as well as a "march against Hicks and Gillett" before the Oct. 3 match against Blackpool (London TELEGRAPH, 9/21). The AP's Rob Harris reported Hicks "had hoped to secure" a US$435M financing package from Blackstone subsidiary GSO Capital Partners and "share control of the club, in a move that would have prevented a quick sale" of Liverpool (AP, 9/20). In London, Ian Herbert writes the "news of GSO's removal from the picture will not come as any disappointment to" Broughton, who was "appointed in April as one of Royal Bank of Scotland's conditions for extending its loan to the Americans for a further six months and who does not savour the idea of Hicks staying on at Liverpool under any circumstances" (London INDEPENDENT, 9/21).
The Blues this season are "allowing fans who purchase season tickets for select seats to pay half of the bill now and the other half" only if the team makes the playoffs, according to Jeremy Rutherford of the ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH. The Blues began the promotion, called "Every game counts," with "about 600 selected season tickets available -- 300 in the lower bowl and 300 in the upper bowl." Blues Enterprises CEO Peter McLoughlin said that "in the two weeks since the promotion began, the team has sold about 200 season tickets." McLoughlin: "We think it's a smart, creative program, and we expect people who buy into this program are going to be paying 100 percent of the cost." The Blues added that they have "experienced no backlash from fans who had already paid full price for season tickets before the start of the promotion" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 9/18). ESPN’s Mike Greenberg said of the Blues, “They're doing everything they can to make the playoffs. They have major financial incentive and if you're a fan, it gives you some feeling that, 'Okay, my team has real stake in this thing, that they're going for it and they're going to make the moves necessary because there is so much money involved.’" Greenberg added, "That was one of the more interesting ticket promotions I've seen and it's one I would love to see other teams, perhaps those who are having trouble selling tickets, take a lesson from" ("Mike & Mike in the Morning," ESPN Radio, 9/21).
MLS Toronto FC revealed that "season-ticket prices are going up again for next season," according to Christie & Attfield of the GLOBE & MAIL. MLSE Exec VP & COO Tom Anselmi said that the club will "boost its top season ticket price" to $1,999 (all figures Canadian) for 22 games at BMO Field. The season-ticket price for the same midfield club seat this season is $1,634 for an 18-game package. The new ticket package also "will include this year’s MLS championship game, which will be played" at BMO Field on Nov. 21. With the increase, TFC fans now will be "paying more to watch" the MLS club than Manchester United fans do to watch EPL action. Based on the top-priced tickets, a single game at BMO Field costs $90.78, compared to $79 for ManU games at Old Trafford. But Anselmi indicated that he "doesn’t feel the comparison between TFC and Man U is a valid one." Anselmi: "It’s difficult to compare the two, apples and oranges. We set prices according to the market in North America. It’s what it’s about here, driven by supply and demand. There’s also the relative financial health of Toronto v. Manchester." BMO Field has a capacity of 22,000, with the "season ticket base increasing from 16,000 to 18,000 for the 2011 season." Anselmi added, "We base our season ticket pricing on a number of things, including the demand here and the size of the stadium" (GLOBE & MAIL, 9/21).
FOLLOW THE OREGON TRAIL: MLS Commissioner Don Garber yesterday said that the Portland Timbers are "ahead of schedule in selling tickets and marketing the team," set to join MLS next season. Garber said, "There's a buzz in the air about the Timbers, and it's exciting. Not in every market can I go and feel the presence of a MLS club. I definitely feel it here. From the time I get off the plane, when I check in to the hotel, somebody says, 'Hello and welcome commissioner.'" Garber said the sale of Timbers season tickets is "going a little bit faster than I thought it would." He added, "We always knew it would be successful here, but I wasn't quite sure how much of that would be through season tickets as opposed to the excitement of people going to a game" (Portland OREGONIAN, 9/21).
In Minneapolis, Joe Christensen notes the Twins drew an announced crowd of 39,228 for last night's game against the Indians at Target Field, the team's "72nd consecutive sellout." The team's "3 millionth fan will pass through Target Field's turnstiles" tonight, leaving the Twins "with five regular-season home games to shatter their franchise attendance record of 3,032,672, set in 1988." Christensen notes the AL Central race "has become a landslide," and the draw "isn't one individual player." Twins 1B Justin Morneau "has been out since July 7," and C Joe Mauer "will have an MRI exam Tuesday after missing Monday's game because of a sore knee." But the Twins with last night's win "improved to 50-25 at Target Field," so it is "no wonder the fans keep coming back" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 9/21).
T IME FOR PAY BACK: The NLL Orlando Titans will not field a team during the '11 season, and NLL VP/Communications Doug Fritts said that the team has not told the league "when it plans to refund its season ticket holders." The league "believes the team should do so immediately." However, Fritts noted each team in the league is independently owned, so the league is "not in a position to issue the refunds" (ORLANDO BUSINESS JOURNAL, 9/17 issue).
PLENTY OF GOOD SEATS AVAILABLE: In Columbus, Tom Reed noted the Blue Jackets have "drawn fewer than 10,000 fans only once for a regular-season game in Nationwide Arena." But that is "likely to change," as Blue Jackets President Mike Priest Sunday said that "some games could attract 8,500 fans early in the season." The team's "poor record" last season, its "losing history and the stagnant economy have made for an unsavory stew." Season-ticket sales are "lagging nearly 25 percent behind last year's pace," and the team has sold 7,700 season-ticket equivalents. But Priest said that the "inability to move six- and 10-game plans ... is where the Jackets really notice the shortfall" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 9/19).
BOLTING AHEAD: In St. Petersburg, Damian Cristodero noted Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik Saturday "praised GM Steve Yzerman and CEO Tod Leiweke, and said there is 'great momentum starting' in terms of improving corporate participation and ticket sales, though he declined to be specific." Vinik: "It's a process. We're going to improve this organization and the brand over time. ... We want to develop this organization into something the whole community loves and respects" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 9/19).