SBD/February 16, 2011/FranchisesPrint All
Atlanta Spirit co-Owner Michael Gearon said that there is "now a 'sense of urgency' to find additional investors or a buyer willing to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta," according to Chris Vivlamore of the ATLANTA CONSTITUTION. If the ownership group "does not get additional financial help in the near future the franchise could be sold and moved to another city." Gearon said, "If we are faced with that as the only alternative, that’s what’s going to happen. I don’t think there is an ability to stomach another $20 million in losses. We just can’t do it. The reality is we need fans showing up and we need investors, or a primary investor." Vivlamore notes the Thrashers "have long been the subject of speculation that the franchise would be sold and moved with Canadian cities Winnipeg, Quebec City and Hamilton most often mentioned." Gearon said that he is "speaking out about the future of the franchise because he does not want potential investors willing to keep the team in Atlanta to step forward after a sale has been completed." He said, "We need fan support. We need investors. I would love to have other members of the Atlanta community step up and take a lead role in this and I would be glad to stay in. We need support. We’ve put a lot of money into this team" (AJC.com, 2/16).
MOVING ARGUMENT? USA TODAY's Ray Glier in a sports-section cover notes as the Thrashers "try to earn their second playoff berth in 11 seasons," the "noise around whether the team is viable in Atlanta long term grows." Thrashers President Don Waddell said that while the team is "hunting for investors who might want to own a minority or majority stake, the current owners want the team kept in Atlanta." The NHL "has the final word on relocation, and, considering how furiously the league worked to keep hockey in Phoenix, it is dug in with the Thrashers." Atlanta is the "eighth-largest TV market in the league of 30 teams, and the list of corporate businesses with a home in the city is impressive." NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said, "We are committed to the markets in which we place our franchises." But he added there is "no doubt that the long-standing ownership dispute" between Atlanta Spirit and former partner Steve Belkin "has damaged this club significantly." The Thrashers' season-ticket base "has dwindled to between 6,000 and 7,000." The team is averaging 13,056 fans at Philips Arena this season, ranking 29th in the NHL. Waddell said that the club "usually makes a heavy marketing push in January but kicked in more marketing money in December with the team thriving." The Thrashers "have put up additional billboards and were advertising on 11 radio stations." Waddell: "We're not a desperate franchise. Does attendance have to be better? Yes. We've been dealing with rumors for three years now about moving, and until we put people in the seats we will probably have to continue dealing with it" (USA TODAY, 2/16).
TIME FOR OUTREACH: In Atlanta, Bill Tiller noted Thrashers season-ticket holders are "beginning to receive their invitations to renew once again." Tiller: "Atlanta is home to a great number of hard-core hockey fans that love the sport and enjoy it live and in person. But the fans here are now 'dealing with' the fact that the same people who have lied to their faces are now sticking their hands out and asking for more of their money." Atlanta Spirit co-Owner Bruce Levenson "should look these people square in the eye and explain why they have repeatedly misled them about their intention to 'dispose' of this team." Tiller wrote, "Meeting face to face with Thrashers fans is the one and only way he and the Spirit Boys can even come close to regaining any of the credibility needed to once more ask these fine people to pony up the funds required to remain" season-ticket holders (AJC.com, 2/15).
Dodgers Owner Frank McCourt yesterday said that "fans should not be concerned about his financial troubles and renewed his vow to own the team whenever his costly and lengthy divorce proceedings conclude," according to Bill Shaikin of the L.A. TIMES. McCourt: "I'm very, very confident at the end of the process that I'm going to own the baseball team and, someday, my four kids are. My confidence in that has not changed." The Dodgers posted a losing record last season, which "could affect season-ticket sales even without a struggling economy and the damaging revelations from McCourt's divorce trial." McCourt said season-ticket sales were "fine" and "right on projections," but would not say whether sales were up or down from '10. He also claimed that the "fans he meets do not want to discuss his divorce, his debt or whether he would sell the team" (L.A. TIMES, 2/16). McCourt yesterday said that "nothing about the day-to-day operations of the team has changed" since L.A. Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon rejected McCourt's request to throw out a marital property agreement that would have given him sole ownership of the Dodgers. McCourt: "If anything I've redoubled my efforts to bring a winner to L.A. That's how I spend my days." McCourt went on to say that he "wouldn't change a thing about his seven years as owner" of the Dodgers, and maintained that fans "should judge him and the team by its performance" (ESPNLA.com, 2/15).
NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT: In L.A., Dylan Hernandez writes another losing season for the Dodgers "could be devastating for McCourt as he fights to remain in control" of the franchise. With "pressure mounting and attendance declining, there are fears within the organization that if the Dodgers start slowly this year, sweeping changes could cost some employees their jobs." The Dodgers head into "what could be a make-or-break season for McCourt with a player payroll that is higher than last year's," but also with a rookie manager in Don Mattingly and a "lineup that doesn't feature an established middle-of-the-order hitter" (L.A. TIMES, 2/16).
NBA Commissioner David Stern appeared on ESPN's "The B.S. Report" podcast with Bill Simmons Monday, and he said there is "no shortage of suitors" for the Hornets "who want to buy the team and take it someplace else." But Stern added moving the team "would not be our first choice at all." Stern: "We're going to make it unattractive to move it or contract it." Stern said you would be "surprised at how uninvolved" the NBA is in running the Hornets. He said the "only place" the league gets involved is "advice on ticket sales, groups, renewals." He noted the team "sets the budget and we approve it." Stern said of the NBA's ownership of the Hornets, "I think it's great that this hasn't gotten a lot of coverage. ... It's not a big story. Actually, it's rather commonplace when you think about it. We just follow the crowd. Baseball took over the Montreal Expos, the NHL took over the Coyotes and we stepped in to make sure that the Hornets would be well operated and be made stronger." Simmons asked, "So that was your reason because you were convinced that the team could no longer be well operated?" Stern: "Yes, absolutely, because there was no more money that the principal owner was going to put into the team." Meanwhile, Stern said the league has "had visits from" Seattle, Las Vegas, Anaheim and Vancouver about getting an NBA franchise. Stern said Seattle is a "very prime city for an NBA franchise" when the city "has plans for a new building." Stern also noted the league has been "contacted by three different groups that are putting up a building in Las Vegas." Stern: "There are lots of potential cities but our goal here is to keep all teams where they are, but recognizing that that is a goal we haven't successfully achieved in the past" ("The B.S. Report," ESPN.com, 2/14).
TAKING A CLOSE LOOK: The GLOBE & MAIL's Matthew Sekeres cites sources as saying that Canucks Chair Francesco Aquilini is "inspecting the Hornets." One source said that Aquilini "would require partners to finance a purchase, but that the NBA is impressed with the family's stewardship of the Canucks" (GLOBE & MAIL, 2/16).
Karmanos looking to add investors
to Hurricanes ownership group
STAYING IN TEXAS: In Dallas, Mike Heika wrote there is "no chance the Stars move at any time in the near future." Heika: "There are several teams in much worse financial shape. Phoenix, Atlanta, Florida, Nashville and maybe even Carolina are in worse shape than the Stars." American Airlines Center also is "seen as one of the top five most lucrative arenas" in the U.S., and the Stars "own half of American Airlines Center, so their value as a franchise is grounded in the fact they are in a good building in a good city." The Stars' lenders "want to maximize their value" in the sale of the team, but they "have to get the approval of the league to sell to someone who would move the team, and the league will not approve that." Heika: "Bottom line, the Stars will be in Dallas for many years to come" (DALLASNEWS.com, 2/14).
Donald Trump yesterday said that he called Mets Owner Fred Wilpon "about two weeks ago to arrange a face-to-face meeting to discuss the potential sale of the club," according to Cowan & Belson of the N.Y. TIMES. Trump noted that the meeting has not been held, and indicated that he "would be interested only in buying a majority stake in the team." Trump, referring to himself in the third person, said, "If you look at Trump’s record, he is only interested in things he can control." Wilpon last month said that he is "seeking a buyer for as much as 25 percent of the club because of the uncertainty stemming" from a lawsuit brought by the trustee in Bernie Madoff’s bankruptcy case. Trump said, "The Wilpons are friends of mine, and I really hope it works out great for them. But if anything doesn’t work out for them, I’d be interested in the team." Sources indicated that former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato "has encouraged Trump to pursue a stake in the Mets" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/16). In a separate interview yesterday, Trump said that he "wouldn't demand majority ownership" of the Mets. Trump: "I may be willing to buy a portion. It's not my history, but I might be willing if it helped [Wilpon]" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/16). On Long Island, Anthony Rieber notes "one major hurdle for Trump" is MLB's rule against having a team owner who also is "involved with casinos." Trump owns a stake in Trump Entertainment Resorts, which owns three casinos in Atlantic City. Trump is the "latest of a select group to publicly announce interest in buying the team," joining Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban, Glaceau co-Founder Mike Repole and Martin Luther King III, son of the late civil rights leader (NEWSDAY, 2/16).
GROUP MENTALITY: In N.Y., Kaja Whitehouse reports a "group of Big Apple wheelers and dealers from investment bank and brokerage firm Tritaurian Capital have concocted an ingenious plan" to buy the Mets from Wilpon "by selling $999 shares to thousands of Mets fans." James Preissler, John Calce and William Heyn have teamed to form BuytheMets.com Ltd., and are "currently seeking investment partners" through the website, which launched today. The $999 per-share price "does not include credit-card processing and other fees, which Preissler says will range from $40 to $100 per transaction." He added that "if the deal falls through, the investors get their money back, minus the fees" (N.Y. POST, 2/16).
ENTER SANDMAN: Mets GM Sandy Alderson yesterday reiterated that he "did not expect the entanglement of the team’s ownership" in the $1B lawsuit to "affect his handling of the baseball operation." Alderson said, "Anything we do is going to be viewed through the prism of what’s going on in New York. All I can do is try to make the best baseball judgments. And, at this point, I’m not facing any limitations. And, at this point, I don’t expect to." He added, "I think it’s important for ownership that the focus here be on baseball" (NYTIMES.com, 2/15). In N.Y., Harvey Araton writes what the Wilpons "can best do for Alderson, their players and fans right now is to stay away, out of sight and eventually, with any luck, out of mind." Let Alderson and his baseball operations team "try to steer this ship gone aground back into Flushing Bay" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/16).
Things are "going well for the Clippers these days, with the franchise in the middle of its longest stretch run of fame on the national media circuit in recent memory, thanks to" rookie F Blake Griffin, according to Pedro Moura of ESPN L.A. There is a "long list of Griffin-fueled financial impacts for and around the Clippers this season, from jersey and merchandise sales to tickets -- at home and on the road -- to rising parking prices." An authentic white Griffin jersey is "sold out on the Clippers' official team website," while most other options, "replicas and the like, have only XXL sizes available, with the rest out of stock." The NBA has yet to release midseason jersey sales figures, but sports business experts "expect him to appear on the Top 15 list when it does arrive -- a rare feat for a rookie and a rarer feat for a Clipper." Clippers President Andy Roeser said, "We're seeing all the trends that you would expect to see. Ticket sales are up, attendance is up, television ratings are up, website traffic is up, jersey sales are up." Moura noted entering Monday, the Clippers "had played 12 road games since they began the run that vaulted them into the national spotlight in mid-December." In all 12 of those games, the opposing teams "either bettered their average attendance numbers for the season or sold out their arenas." The teams sold "about 1,300 more tickets, on average, when playing the Clippers than for the rest of their home games." Those numbers -- "19,411 fans per game in their past 12 road games, dating back to Dec. 18 -- would be the best in the league if they held up for a full season." The Clippers last season "were 29th in the NBA with an average of 16,225 fans per game on the road." In the "same two-month span when road attendance has gone up, the Clippers are averaging a healthy 18,100 fans per game at home," filling Staples Center to 95% of its capacity. Roeser: "People are talking about Blake all over the country and all over the world. We're noticing a trend, too, where our attendance on the road is up. People are wanting to see Blake play in other cities as well" (ESPNLA.com, 2/15).
The Astros have debuted a new advertising campaign this season called "We Are Your Astros" that is "designed to reflect the team's connection to the community," according to Allison Wollam of the HOUSTON BUSINESS JOURNAL. The campaign, via Lee Queano Creative, California, features several city landmarks, including the "downtown skyline, the Sam Houston statue at Hermann Park and Houston City Hall." The images are "bathed in orange and Astros red hues of a morning sunrise." The creative can be seen on "several Houston-area billboards in addition to graphics both in and around Minute Maid Park including wallscapes facing the U.S. 59 Freeway, column wraps and light pole banners." The campaign will "extend to surrounding cities" such as Austin and San Antonio. The area around Minute Maid Park in previous years had featured long-time Astros P Roy Oswalt and 1B Lance Berkman, both of whom were traded last year (BIZJOURNALS.com, 2/14).
SLIGHT TICKET INCREASES: In Houston, Zachary Levine reports Astros single-game tickets will go on sale Friday "with ticket prices up $1-$3 in all but the least expensive sections sold on a single-game basis and consistent in the $7 outfield deck." Some weekday tickets "will be discounted" as part of several ticket promotions (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 2/16). Also in Houston, Richard Justice wrote the price increases come as the Astros "continue to lower both their payroll and expectations." However, the increases "were so small they're hardly worth mentioning" (CHRON.com, 2/15).
ESPN’s Bob Holzman reports the Cardinals and 1B Albert Pujols have stopped negotiating for a contract extension, something that “comes as no surprise" considering the distance between the two sides. Pujols is reporting to Spring Training tomorrow and had set today as the deadline to extend his current deal, which expires after the ’11 season (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 2/16). SI.com's Jon Heyman last night reported Pujols' agent, Dan Lozano, "at one point in the negotiation ... proposed that part of a deal include a piece of the storied team for Pujols." The idea is "unconventional and perhaps even unprecedented, but it is not explicitly disallowed by baseball rules." Only "part ownership of a competing team by a player" is prohibited. If Cardinals Chair & CEO Bill DeWitt Jr. "agreed to take Pujols as a limited partner, commissioner Bud Selig would have had to approve the complicated arrangement, which would have had to allow for a provision for transfer of Pujols' shares in the event he were later traded" (SI.com, 2/15).
PLANNING AHEAD: In L.A., Helene Elliott reports the NHL Kings have announced their season-ticket pricing for next season, and "increases vary depending on location, and range from $1 to $6 per game for those who renew by March 21 and from $1 to $9 for those who renew after March 21 or are new buyers." Kings VP/Communications & Content Mike Altieri said that the "average increase is $3.80 for those who renew by March 21 and $6.87 for those who renew after that date or become new buyers." Meanwhile, a Ducks spokesperson said that 54.1% of season-ticket prices "will rise 50 cents to $6.50, with an average increase of $1.53." Prices for 39.5% of season tickets "will decline 50 cents to $27.50, for an average decrease of $6.68," and prices for the remaining 6.4% "will be flat" (L.A. TIMES, 2/16).
FRIENDLY ADVICE? In N.Y., Marc Berman reported Florida Int'l Univ. men's basketball coach and former Knicks President of Basketball Operations Isiah Thomas yesterday "did not deny he was unofficially consulting with Knicks owner James Dolan" on the potential acquisition of Nuggets F Carmelo Anthony, and "suggested standing pat won't win a championship." Thomas, when asked "point-blank if he's advising Dolan, specifically on Melo," said, "The conversations I have with any of my friends are always private and confidential." Reports earlier this month indicated that Dolan "has not exercised the final year" on Knicks President of Basketball Operations Donnie Walsh’s contract "because he still has Thomas on his radar" (NYPOST.com, 2/15).
PUSHING FOR THE TOP SPOT: GOAL.com's Wayne Veysey reports Arsenal investor Alisher Usmanov, "who has a stake of just under" 27% in the EPL club, has "vowed to increase his stake" after moving past Chelsea Owner Roman Abramovich on the list of Russia's richest people. Usmanov, the club's "second largest shareholder, is continuing to plough some his vast fortune into sweeping up small tranches of shares in Arsenal every week on the alternative PLUS market." Sources said that Usmanov is "targeting the 29.9% threshold already occupied by Arsenal's largest stakeholder Stan Kroenke and that he has no interest in buying another club, either in the Premier League or overseas" (GOAL.com, 2/16).