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SBD/January 24, 2011/FranchisesPrint All
AEG President & CEO Tim Leiweke on Friday said that the NHL Kings have "not been put up for sale," despite rumors to the contrary, according to Helene Elliott of the L.A. TIMES. Leiweke in an e-mail said, "We get calls all the time. We are neither looking at (nor) in talks to sell. Very focused on the NFL." A Forbes report in December cited sources as saying AEG Chair Phil Anschutz was "shopping the Kings around." On Friday, website L.A. Observed "mentioned a report by the research firm Mergermarket that said the Kings are for sale." Elliott cited a source as saying that "he believed Anschutz is willing to sell the Kings but prospective buyers have also wanted a stake in Staples Center and Anschutz is not willing to have less than full ownership of the arena" (L.A. TIMES, 1/22). L.A. OBSERVED's Mark Lacter on Friday cited the Mergermarket report as claiming that the "offering price is around $350 million." If AEG were to be shopping the Kings, it is "bound to raise questions about a connection" with its efforts to build a downtown football stadium (LAOBSERVED.com, 1/21).
EVERYONE'S A CRITIC: The NHL on Friday fined Kings GM Dean Lombardi $50,000 for suggesting that NHL Senior VP/Hockey Operations Mike Murphy was "motivated by an anti-Kings bias in validating a controversial goal scored against the team during its 2-0 loss" to the Coyotes on Thursday. After the loss, an "irate Lombardi suggested Murphy had a grudge against the Kings," referring to Murphy's "upholding a decision to nullify an apparent Kings goal at Ottawa and Murphy's failed pursuit of a front-office job with the Kings." Lombardi said, "When the guy in Toronto making the decisions on the goals, in Ottawa and the one tonight, wanted the GM's job in L.A. and was not happy about not getting it, you have to assume you are going to get those type of calls." NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman "took issue with Lombardi's disparagement of Murphy." Bettman in a statement said, "People can disagree with a call by an official on the ice or an official in the Situation Room in Toronto, but even in instances of the utmost frustration there is no justification for speaking as inappropriately and irresponsibly as Mr. Lombardi did" (L.A. TIMES, 1/22).
The Atlanta Spirit ownership group on Friday filed a $200M malpractice lawsuit against King & Spalding LLP, alleging that "a 'flawed' contract written by an esteemed Atlanta law firm has prevented the sale" of the Thrashers for six years, according to Kristi Swartz of the ATLANTA CONSTITUTION. The suit, filed in Fulton County (Ga.) Superior Court, claims that the Thrashers have posted more than $130M in "operating costs since 2005 -- the year Boston-based partner Steve Belkin agreed to sell his 30 percent stake -- and the franchise value has dropped" by more than $50M. Atlanta Spirit contends the contract written by King & Spalding, drafted in August '05 for the buyout of Belkin, made the ownership group "unable to sell or otherwise dispose of" the Thrashers, which it first aimed to do after the '04-05 NHL lockout. The lawsuit claims that King & Spalding's contract "caused the buyout process to 'quickly break down into chaos,' costing seven of the partners $14.5 million in legal fees and forcing them to shovel more than $130 million into the Thrashers to keep the franchise afloat." The lawsuit, which does not name the Hawks or Philips Arena, "asks for a jury trial." Atlanta Spirit "wants compensatory and consequential damages, as well as punitive damages, pre-judgment interest and attorneys fees" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 1/22). Atlanta Spirit co-Owner Michael Gearon Jr. in a statement said the suit "will have no effect" on the Thrashers and Hawks (THE DAILY). Alston & Bird LLP attorney Steve Collins, who is representing King & Spalding, said, "King & Spalding and its lawyers acted appropriately and the suit is without merit" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 1/21).
TRUTH & LIES: In Atlanta, Bill Tiller noted Atlanta Spirit "denied" several times that it was looking to sell the Thrashers, "only to reveal in court documents recently that they had indeed looked to do just that." Atlanta fans should not be "terribly shocked to learn that one of … if not THE … most dysfunctional collection of businessmen ever to own a sports franchise actually dared to speak untruths to their paying population." Tiller: "Given that those who make up this mess of an ownership have done enough damage to this franchise since acquiring it, the best thing for the franchise and its fans is for them to find a new buyer and stop doing more damage" (AJC.com, 1/22). Also in Atlanta, Jeff Schultz wrote, "They told you they cared. They lied. ... They told you not to pay attention to any of those rumors of the Thrashers being for sale, although they eventually admitted begrudgingly that, yes, they were looking for 'investors.' They lied." Now the owners "can't figure out how they’ve burned so many bridges in this town why fans still feel too angry or worn down to show up for a pretty decent team." Schultz: "If Atlanta loses its second NHL franchise, it won’t be because the sport failed here. It will be because ownership and management failed" (AJC.com, 1/21).
The Dolphins on Saturday announced that they have extended GM Jeff Ireland's contract "as part of a multiyear deal." In Miami, Jeff Darlington noted Ireland had just one year remaining on a contract he signed in '08, so the extension "makes good sense, especially in the wake" of Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross also giving coach Tony Sparano a two-year extension. Providing the "same stability for Ireland gives the organization a level of continuity moving forward" (MIAMI HERALD, 1/23). Dolphins CEO Mike Dee confirmed that Bill Parcells is "totally out [of] the picture" for the team. Dee also said he and Ross had no involvement in hiring Brian Daboll as offensive coordinator and added, "This is Jeff and Tony's deal at this point" (PALMBEACHPOST.com, 1/21).
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH: In Cincinnati, Joe Reedy reported "two-thirds" of 176 Bengals season-ticket holders who responded to an inquiry from the Cincinnati Enquirer said that they "plan on canceling." Of the respondents, "only 59 said they would renew." Reedy noted over the past three seasons, the Bengals have "gone from a waiting list for season tickets to failing to sell out the last four home games this past season and seeing their 57-game streak of regular-season and postseason sellouts end." Even after winning the AFC North in '09, "season ticket sales were flat last year with the number of new accounts relatively the same as cancellations" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 1/22).
BLANK CHECK-IN: Falcons Owner Arthur Blank last Thursday, following his team's exit from the playoffs, said, "I could not be prouder of the way our fans stood up for this team and for this franchise since I’ve been the owner of this franchise. Over a nine-year period of time, we’ve had two games that were not sold out. That’s a tremendous credit to you in supporting this franchise." Blank stars in an NFL "Play 60" spot, and he said, "I’ve taken so much heat from my wife and children for that commercial because I’m obviously the only one that’s not in tune with everybody else" (AJC.com, 1/24).
In Ft. Lauderdale, Shandel Richardson reported the Heat "will raise season-ticket prices for next season, but will offer discounts on postseason tickets." Heat President of Business Operations Eric Woolworth said that the "hike will be minor." Woolworth "didn't specify the exact increase, but said most season-ticket holders he spoke with called the change acceptable." He added that the "biggest increase will occur in the upper-bowl seats, where tickets will jump anywhere from" $7-10. Richardson noted season-ticket holders would have the option to "allow the Heat to retain funds" in the event of a work stoppage, and those fans "would receive a 5 percent 'loyalty payment' each month for every canceled game." Season-ticket holders "also may be eligible for discounts throughout this season's playoffs under the loyalty plan" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 1/23). The Heat's "season-ticket renewal process is under way with a deadline of March 11" (MIAMI HERALD, 1/23).
NEW JERSEYS ON THE WAY: In St. Petersburg, Damian Cristodero reported the Lightning have "turned in paperwork to advise the NHL" that the team will "make changes to its home and away jerseys next season." Whether that "means the color scheme, logo or both is unclear, though there is speculation the team's primary color might change from black to a blue closer to that currently used on its third jersey." Neither the NHL nor the Lightning "would confirm changes are coming." But Cristodero wrote it "makes sense" that the new ownership group headed by Jeff Vinik and CEO Tod Leiweke "would want to rebrand the franchise" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 1/23).
WINTER SPENDING: In L.A., Steve Dilbeck noted Dodgers Owner Frank McCourt spent "approximately $80 million on free agents this winter," and the team's payroll "will be at least $15 million higher than last season." Dilbeck estimated the Dodgers' Opening Day payroll at $94.5M, and when you add in deferred payments, the payroll reaches $110.8M. However, Dilbeck wrote there is "a lot of gambling going on here, and McCourt is not eager to relinquish the dice." Dilbeck: "The Dodgers should be competitive, but what happens if they're not and attendance takes a hit? What if it just takes a hit because people are weary of McCourt and stay away in protest?" (LATIMES.com, 1/21).
RAY OF HOPE: In St. Petersburg, John Romano wrote the Rays agreeing to terms with LF Manny Ramirez and DH Johnny Damon Friday means the team "can at least begin the season with an opportunity to contend" and "give their fans the hope that a 90-win season is not completely out of the question." The Rays' "had been heading toward one of the greatest payroll slashings in modern times." They had "gone from about $73 million in payroll last season to a projected $35 million or so in 2011." While the payroll "will still be much lower," it is "not quite the clearance aisle." Romano: "After seeing so many players sprinting out of Tropicana Field for the nearest ATM, the Rays finally have brought some stability back to the lineup" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 1/22).