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Rays fans snapped up all 20,000 free tickets to last night's regular-season home finale against the Orioles "within 90 minutes" of them becoming available, according to Luis Perez of the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES. Fans began lining up outside Tropicana Field "well before the box offices opened" at 4:45pm ET, and the Rays announced a capacity crowd of 36,973 for the game. The fans who took the free tickets indicated that the show of support "should be an indicator that the community supports the Rays, but that people are hurting financially and can't always afford to attend" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 9/30). The Rays prior to making the free tickets available yesterday sent a letter to season-ticket holders seeking to assure them that the giveaway will not be repeated. The Rays have sought to place a high priority on ticket-pricing integrity under Owner Stu Sternberg, a stance the club believes is not being eroded by the surprising offer. "This is not the start of a trend," wrote Rays President Matt Silverman. "This is not a new philosophy under which we will be operating. ... I want to make sure you don't take the issuing of those tickets for this one night as a sign we have forgotten about you." Silverman wrote the move was made "in an effort to bring people into the stadium for the season finale and create a great atmosphere for our players and our fans" (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal). CNBC.com's Darren Rovell wrote the 20,000-ticket giveaway was a "nice gesture" but is not "good business." Rovell: "The bottom line is, you should never ever give away your ticket for free when there are so many other things to give away" (CNBC.com, 9/29).
STOP, TROP & ROLL? THE SPORTS NETWORK's Chris Ruddick wrote the crowd of 17,891 at Tropicana Field for the Rays' playoff-clinching victory Tuesday night is "downright embarrassing, especially for a team that has been one of the best in the league the last three seasons." Rays P David Price, who was critical of the lack of fan support at Monday night's game, has "nothing to be sorry about." That people are "even talking about this is a joke, and it is about time some of the Rays started speaking out." The local community "doesn't support this team which has been among the best in the league the last three years." Ruddick: "Bottom line is if you put a good product on the field people should show up. Maybe the Tampa Bay area just isn't a 162-game baseball town" (THE SPORTS NETWORK, 9/29). ESPN.com's Keith Law wrote, "This market, as currently structured, does not work in the generally predictable ways of other MLB markets, and that lack of predictability means its viability should be in question" (ESPN.com, 9/29).
JOIN THE CLUB: The Rays yesterday announced they are selling memberships to the Playoff Access Club for $100, giving fans the opportunity to purchase one ticket per game for each membership purchased "before tickets are sold to anyone else." Club membership, which the Rays plan to cap at 2,500, also includes a Rays cooler and discounts toward '11 single-game tickets (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 9/30).
Selig Says Greenberg-Ryan
Were Attractive From Start
MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said that the AL West champion Rangers "have what the franchise deserves, with stability and a great ownership group," according to Stephen Hawkins of the AP. Selig yesterday visited Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and "met at length" with Owner Chuck Greenberg and President Nolan Ryan before the Mariners-Rangers game. Selig: "It's a great ownership group. It was very attractive to me from day one. We don't often have as attractive an option as we had here. This franchise has the potential to be one of our really great franchises. ... The ownership is for this franchise absolutely perfect. It has the resources to do the things you have to do and it has the commitment." Hawkins noted the Rangers "still managed to make several moves for their playoff push" while in bankruptcy and "under control of MLB this summer," including the acquisition of P Cliff Lee in July. Selig said that he "received no negative feedback from other teams about the Rangers being able to make moves despite financial restrictions." He added that the team was "within budget guidelines approved by baseball when making its deals." Selig said of the new owners: "The clubs were really happy when this process ended and how it ended. I think I had more calls of congratulations on this issue than any other issue this year" (AP, 9/29). Selig said it was a "long and winding road" to having Greenberg and Ryan buy the Rangers, but it "has had a great ending." Selig: "We approved their sale faster than anything in the history of baseball. It was really remarkable" ("Mariners-Rangers," FS Southwest, 9/29). Selig added, "It's a story that was worth waiting for. I really mean that. It worked out well" (MLB.com, 9/29).
HELPING HAND: In Ft. Worth, Jennifer Floyd Engel writes under the header, "Rangers Owe The Commish Thanks For Playoff Run." Engel: "Make no mistake, if not for the work of Bud and his MLB crew in NYC, the Rangers might not be going to the playoffs at all. ... If not for the subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle work of Bud & Co., the Rangers might be watching in October, or playing for those greedy guys from Monarch Alternative Capital as owners, or going back and forth between playoff games and Judge Michael Lynn's court." Engel adds, "Do not discount the impact of having MLB officials behind the Nolan Ryan-Chuck Greenberg ownership group. ... Bud was steadfast in his belief in Greenberg and Ryan, for every reason that the fans wanted them. Local. Experienced. Well-financed. Committed" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 9/30).
McCourts Are Scheduled To Return
To Mediation On Oct. 9
The "main question" left in the McCourt divorce case after 11 days is whether the couple's marital property agreement is "valid or not," according to Hall & Shaikin of the L.A. TIMES. Dodgers Owner Frank McCourt and his estranged wife, Jamie, yesterday in court "watched their lawyers make their final pitches" to Judge Scott Gordon, who now "has 90 days to decide if the sides can't achieve what he'd really like: a settlement." A court spokesperson noted that the McCourts are scheduled to return to mediation Oct. 9. They also are "expected to meet individually with the mediator before then." Jamie contends it is "preposterous" that she would knowingly sign away her right to part ownership of the Dodgers, while Frank called it "absurd" that he would have signed an agreement giving his wife all of their houses and half of the MLB franchise. Dennis Wasser, one of Jamie's attorneys, said that the marital property agreement "could be thrown out because Jamie signed under 'undue influence.'" Wasser suggested that attorney Larry Silverstein, who drafted the MPA for the McCourts, "committed fraud" and said that he was "unqualified to draw up the agreement and unschooled in the rules of California community property laws." But Victoria Cook, a member of Frank's legal team, said that Jamie "got exactly what she wanted." Cook said, "If a woman this highly educated is not bound by a marital property agreement she asked for, who is bound by it?" Another one of Frank's lawyers, Sorrell Trope, argued that "Silverstein's change of the documents to exclude Jamie from a right to the Dodgers was, indeed, in accord with 'Mrs. McCourt's wishes'" (L.A. TIMES, 9/30).
WE'VE ONLY JUST BEGUN? FANHOUSE.com's Jon Weinbach notes "neither side appears optimistic that a settlement can be reached before Gordon decides on the status of the MPA." The "losing McCourt is expected to appeal" Gordon's ruling, so for Dodgers fans, there is "little hope for any resolution before Christmas -- or well into baseball's busy offseason" (FANHOUSE.com, 9/30). In N.Y., Billy Witz notes Gordon will "render his decision in the case within 90 days, meaning that it may not come before free agency begins, raising questions about the Dodgers’ financial resources for another winter." Perhaps more "disconcerting is that, barring a settlement, Gordon’s ruling may not be the final word." The loser in the case will "most likely appeal, and with the way each side has spent on A-list lawyers -- an estimated $9 million for Jamie McCourt -- and the credit market still tight, the Dodgers will not be able to spend themselves into contention in one of baseball’s most competitive divisions." Frank's lead attorney, Steve Susman, said he has "no idea" if the sides will reach a settlement, but Wasser said that he "expected them to once Gordon made a decision on the marital property agreement." Witz notes Frank recently reiterated that he "had no intention of selling the club." Susman said, "If the Dodgers had won this season, nobody would be saying, ‘Oh my God, they have to sell the team'" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/30).
LEADING LADY: In L.A., T.J. Simers writes, "I declare Jamie victorious, so long as Judge Scott Gordon doesn't blow it on some mumbo-jumbo legal technicality." That would put Dodgers fans "a day closer to Frank posting a 'For Sale' sign" in front of Dodger Stadium. Simers added, "Frank will appeal. We know he will spend more money on lawyers. We don't know if he will do the same on his baseball team" (L.A. TIMES, 9/30).
Mets Through 74 Home Dates Have
Drawn 32,651 Fans To Citi Field
The Mets have averaged 32,651 fans per game at Citi Field through 74 home dates this year, down 16.5% from 39,118 fans per game for the '09 season, according to Adam Rubin of ESPN N.Y. The decline is "likely to be greater than that by season's end, since the final-week crowds for meaningless games against the Brewers and Washington Nationals will be a further drag on this year's average." But "as poor as the attendance has been this year, it is entirely possible it will get worse" in '11, as "fan enthusiasm is low." While hiring a manager such as Wally Backman or Bobby Valentine "might provide a little buzz, fans recognize there is a limit to the impact of a manager." With the payroll commitment for next year at roughly $130M before the offseason starts, it is "likely the annual big-ticket import fans have grown accustomed to each winter ... will not be forthcoming this time to seduce potential ticket buyers." The Mets "did modestly reduce some ticket prices for this season, but a team official insisted the organization is only in the planning stages of a pricing strategy for next year" (ESPNNEWYORK.com, 9/29).
Ring Features 404 Diamonds,
Team's Indian Head Logo
The Blackhawks last night during a private ceremony handed out rings "to players, coaches, equipment managers, trainers and medical staff" in recognition of their first Stanley Cup championship since '61, according to Chris Kuc of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. The rings, "valued at about $30,000, are 14-carat white gold weighing 91.0 grams, with 404 diamonds and gemstones totaling approximately 8 carats." They feature the "iconic Indian head logo and the Stanley Cup displayed in marquee cut diamonds surrounded by the words 'Stanley Cup Champions' on the face," and are "personalized with a team member's name and number." One side of the ring "features baguette-cut rubies and pear-shaped emeralds set in the shape of the Hawks' crossed tomahawks and the other is a diamond-studded Stanley Cup and the 2010 season's motto: One Goal." The years 2010, 1961, 1938 and 1934 "are included to commemorate the team's title history." Blackhawks VP & Assistant to the President Al MacIsaac, who served on a committee "entrusted to design" the rings, said that the cost "was irrelevant" to Chair Rocky Wirtz. The committee was "determined to make the Hawks version unique." It incorporated ideas ring-maker Jostens "had not done before, including engraving the inside of each player's ring with the NHL logo and those of the four teams the Hawks dispatched in the playoffs and the series scores." Kuc reports other members of the organization "will receive their rings during a future ceremony," while former players and staff not in attendance last night "will be presented theirs by a member of the Hawks' hockey operations staff" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 9/30).
WPS Washington Freedom Owners John and Maureen Hendricks are "seeking to sell a portion of the club or find new partners ahead of the 2011 WPS season," according to Steve Goff of the WASHINGTON POST. Club officials said that they are "making progress but have yet to reach a deal," and "no deadline has been set." While the ownership "remains unsettled, the Freedom has delayed negotiations involving player contracts." Goff notes the Freedom averaged 3,422 spectators for 11 home matches this season at Maryland SoccerPlex (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 9/29).
HOPING FOR BRIGHTER DAYS AHEAD: In San Jose, Almond & Schwab noted with the WPS' second season having just been completed, the league "limps into its third season with cost-cutting initiatives and a new chief executive determined to outlast a terrible economy and build stability." Sky Blue FC President & CEO Thomas Hofstetter said that his team "lost $2.9 million last year and expects to lose $2 million more this year." FC Gold Pride "lost close to $3 million in 2009 but expects losses to be less this year," and other team owners "hope to break even next year because of recent cost-cutting measures." Almond & Schwab noted the league's seven owners are "shifting emphasis away from a central hierarchy to focus locally." WPS officials also are "talking to the U.S. Soccer Federation, the national governing body for the sport, about getting subsidized" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 9/29).
Grizzlies' Season-Ticket Sales
Up 25% Over Last Year
In Memphis, Marlon Morgan reports the Grizzlies "have sold more than 1,000 new season tickets, and combined with season-ticket renewals, their season-ticket sales are up more than 25 percent over last year, although the team would not give an exact number." Team officials said that there was a "slight increase" in season-ticket sales last year, and this year is their "biggest jump since 2004-05 when FedExForum opened, although they remain under 10,000." The Grizzlies are "trying something new this season with their club-level suites." In addition to "offering multiyear leases, the Grizzlies have also carved out package deals." Suites are offered in "basketball-only packages for Grizzlies and University of Memphis games, as well as some smaller packages that feature 10 or 20 games." The Grizzlies also "have chosen to experiment with variable pricing -- charging a higher fee for the more popular games" (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 9/30).
MOVING ON UP: In Green Bay, Richard Ryman reports the economic impact of the Packers and a renovated Lambeau Field was $106M greater in '09 than in '00. A Green Bay/Brown County Professional Football Stadium District study indicated that the total impact of the Packers and the stadium last season was $282M. Chicago-based AECOM Technical Services "conducted the study based on 12 questions provided by the stadium district." AECOM Associate VP David Stone said that '09 was a "below-average season for conducting the survey because of the recession and the Packers' 6-10 record the previous year" (GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE, 9/30).
IN THE MIX: In N.Y., Frank Isola reports Knicks Special Assistant Allan Houston and former Warriors Exec VP/Basketball Operations Chris Mullin are "two leading candidates to replace" Knicks President of Basketball Operations Donnie Walsh. But a source said that Knicks Owner James Dolan "doesn't see the need to make another hire when Walsh already has" Senior VP/Basketball Operations Glen Grunwald and Dir of Pro Scouting & Free Agency John Gabriel working under him. Walsh, 69, is "entering the final year of his contract and is undecided about his future." Dolan is "convinced" that Florida Int'l Univ. men's basketball coach Isiah Thomas "can be an asset in recruiting free agents" for the Knicks (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/30).