SBD/February 17, 2011/Franchises

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  • Thrashers Co-Owner Gearon Working To Keep Team In Atlanta

    Thrashers continue to struggle to draw fans despite improved on-ice product

    Atlanta Spirit co-Owner Michael Gearon yesterday said he has "zero interest" in relinquishing his ownership stake in the Thrashers, and added his "primary interest is being sure that we have a strong ownership group with strong financial backing that can support and make the Thrashers successful in Atlanta." Gearon previously said he felt a "sense of urgency" to find additional investors or a buyer for the team. But on Atlanta's WCNN-AM's "Buck & Kincade" show he said he did not want to give the impression that "we've hit the panic button, because that's not where we are right now." Gearon: "I have no intentions of moving this team out of town, and that's why I think that it's important, now that once we've managed to be in a position to talk publicly about this, to try to appeal to our fans and people in Atlanta. ... In an ideal situation it would be great if we had other people in Atlanta that were willing to jump on this with us and be a part of it." He added, "The goal here is to strengthen our investor group. ... We're in a position now where, ideally, we certainly need more fan support. And then from an investor standpoint, we've been writing checks for the Thrashers for over seven years, and it's a lot of money" ("Buck & Kincade," WCNN-AM,  2/16). In Atlanta, Vivlamore & Stafford cite a source as saying that there is "no buyer currently lined up to purchase the Thrashers" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 2/17).

    SKIPPING TOWN? In Atlanta, Mark Bradley wrote the city is "very close to losing another hockey club." Perhaps some "angel is willing to lose millions to keep this money-losing team in place, but it’s more likely the Spirit’s mismanagement has ruined Atlanta as a hockey market." The ownership group "is to blame for not fostering the belief that money spent to watch its teams will yield rewarding entertainment" (AJC.com, 2/16).

     

    Print | Tags: Atlanta Thrashers, Hockey, Franchises
  • Jeff Wilpon Asserts Family Will Keep Majority Control Of Mets

    Wilpon says talks are progressing on sale of part of Mets

    Mets COO Jeff Wilpon yesterday reiterated that his family "will keep majority ownership of the team and predicted victory in the lawsuit filed by the trustee" for Bernie Madoff's victims that seeks as much as $1B, according to David Lennon of NEWSDAY. Wilpon, making his first public remarks since last month's announcement that 20-25% of the franchise is for sale, said, "We're not giving up control." He insisted that "any potential sale would involve only a limited partner." Wilpon: "We're not selling controlling interest in the team. It's not on the table." He added that "talks have been progressing on selling a part of the team, but he did not elaborate on specific investors" (NEWSDAY, 2/17). Several businessmen, including Donald Trump and Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban, have expressed interest in owning some or all of the Mets, and Wilpon said, "There's a lot of interest and good interest from real people that you haven't read about. Most of what you've read about is not real." Wilpon stressed that the lawsuit from Madoff's trustee, Irving Picard, is "an ownership issue tied to the Mets’ parent company, Sterling Equities, and has nothing to do with operating the Mets." He added, "Our payroll is going to be $145-$150 million, that is tops in baseball or right up there. And we’re going to be committed to make sure all the resources are here to continue to run this thing the way it’s been run" (N.Y. POST, 2/17). In N.Y., David Waldstein notes while the Mets' payroll "is high, almost all of it was committed before the lawsuit and before the team’s financial uncertainties." The Mets were "one of the most frugal teams" this offseason. Wilpon indicated that the "payroll could increase, or decrease, depending on decisions" by GM Sandy Alderson (N.Y. TIMES, 2/17).

    PUTTING ON A BRAVE FACE: In N.Y., John Harper writes Wilpon "did the smart thing for his ballclub, showing up and making himself seen and heard in an attempt to show that it's business as usual." His father, Mets Owner Fred Wilpon, "apparently will do the same" today. Mets insiders believe that the Wilpons and President Saul Katz are "confident regarding the lawsuit," but no one "really knows at this point." Harper: "All they can do for now is at least give the impression that the Mets' finances won't be compromised, as Jeff Wilpon said again Wednesday, while hoping that, against all odds, the ballclub can change the conversation by being a surprise contender" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/17). Newsday reporter David Lennon said it was important for Jeff Wilpon "to answer questions and to put a voice to what's been going on since the Wilpons and the ownership group hadn't spoken about it" ("Loud Mouths," SportsNet N.Y., 2/16).

    WAITING IN THE WINGS: In N.Y., Richard Sandomir notes Tritaurian Capital employees James Preissler, Bill Heyn and John Calce yesterday "started an Internet bid to acquire the Mets and the team’s nearly 70 percent stake" in SportsNet N.Y. BuyTheMets.com is "seeking fans to sign up to buy shares at $999 each." For now, "fans can sign up only to express their interest in investing; no money is being collected." Heyn said, "The whole goal is to do this for the people of the city. It would be great to pull the Mets out of their problems and return them to being a championship team." Sandomir notes the group "incorporated BuyTheMets.com with New York state on Feb. 8, four days after the unsealing of the federal lawsuit filed against the owners of the Mets" by Picard (N.Y. TIMES, 2/17). Meanwhile, Trump on Tuesday also expressed an interest in acquiring majority ownership of the Mets, and ESPN N.Y.'s Rob Parker wrote, "While there still would be no guarantee that a Trump-led organization would win anything, there's one thing for sure: You would never doubt that he tried to win. That's the kind of owner the Mets need now more than ever before" (ESPNNY.com, 2/16).

    A GROWING LIST OF PROBLEMS: In N.Y., Josh Kosman cites sources as saying that "banks that provided roughly $400 million in loans to the New York Mets are starting to unload some of that debt at a discount, a sign that creditors are getting nervous about the team's finances." The sources indicated that "potential buyers are bidding around 90 cents on the dollar for the debt." One source said that "at least one creditor has bought a debt slice at a discount with the approval of Major League Baseball, which must sign off on any buyer of the team's loans" (N.Y. POST, 2/17).

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  • Rays Owner Stuart Sternberg Optimistic About Team's Future In Tampa Bay

    Sternberg says the Rays have lost a "ton of money" over the last couple of years

    Rays Owner Stuart Sternberg yesterday said that he is “optimistic things can work out” for the team in the Tampa Bay area, according to Gary Shelton of the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES. Sternberg indicated that he has “not been contacted by other areas in search of a team,” and that he “has not given up on Tampa Bay.” Sternberg: “We have a tremendous amount of interest. I would like to believe the potential is still here for it to translate into box office. ... I would have expected it to happen already. But that doesn't mean it can't happen. The important thing for us is to understand why it isn't happening. And the main issue is clearly the stadium." Sternberg said the organization is “dead-set on making it work” in the Tampa Bay area. Sternberg: “I have not been approached by any other area as far as moving the team, and I would not engage in any discussions about it." But he added, "Every year that goes by increases the possibility that we won't be here. We can't keep kicking the can down the road. I'm not a guy who kicks the can down the road. If there is something inevitable, you have to deal with it. At some point, my partners in baseball are going to throw their hands up in the air and say 'enough is enough'" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 2/17). Meanwhile, Sternberg, a Mets season-ticket holder said he has “no intention of purchasing or looking at purchasing the Mets.” Sternberg: “It’s the Wilpons’ team and I can’t envision it. The Wilpons have been great to me. They’ve been welcoming. They’ve been nothing but kind and help advance what we are trying to do. They are big fans of ours” (N.Y. POST, 2/17).

    MUST GO DOWN TO GO UP: The Rays this year reduced their payroll by about 40%, and Sternberg said, “We lost a ton of money the last couple of years. You can't go on very long doing that. I suppose we could have spent more this year, but then the team the next few years would have been dramatically worse.” He added, “Certainly, if our revenues were higher, if the situation were different, we would have more to spend -- and I'd be thrilled to do it." Sternberg said that the “reduction in payroll is part of a cycle the team must endure every few years in order to survive” (MLB.com, 2/16).

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  • A's Face Pivotal Year With Decision On San Jose Plans Due Soon

    Beane, rest of A's staff waiting on decision from Selig's committee

    This is "going to be a pivotal season" for the A's, according to Bob Klapisch of FOXSPORTS.com. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig "will soon hear, and presumably act on, the findings of a committee investigating the pros and cons of moving the A's to San Jose." Also, the A's and GM Billy Beane "will learn what Hollywood can do for (or to) their legacies," as Brad Pitt will portray Beane in the September release of the movie "Moneyball." But Beane "would much rather talk about the A's chances in 2011, or how important it is to relocate to a more favorable market with a brand new stadium." Beane said, "It's a complicated decision, so I understand the reason for the deliberation." But he added, "We need a new venue." Construction of a 32,000-seat ballpark in San Jose "could be ready in as little as three years, if and when [Bud] Selig and MLB's owners green-light the move to San Jose." In the meantime, the A's are "stuck" in Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, "which fans avoid as if it were diseased." The A's ranked 29th in MLB in attendance last year, and the team "has failed to draw 2 million fans since 2005." Klapisch noted "not one of the A's executives disagreed" when MLB player agent Scott Boras recently said, "When teams recruit against the Oakland A's, they say, 'Why do you want to play in an empty park?'" Still, Beane said that he is "optimistic over his team's trend line." But what he "doesn't say ... is that whatever renaissance the A's enjoy is likely to be short-lived." That has been the "business plan since 2007." It has "gotten so that Beane is forced to start disassembling his teams every two years." Those close to Beane said that this is "his last go-round -- if the A's aren't allowed to move to San Jose, he'll officially pass the baton to assistant David Forst and look for a Plan B for the rest of his professional life" (FOXSPORTS.com, 2/15).

    Print | Tags: Oakland Athletics, MLB, Franchises
  • Pegula's Arrival Not Likely To Immediately Solve Sabres' Issues

    Unfavorable salary cap situation among challenges Pegula would face

    Sabres fans are treating the arrival of presumptive Owner Terry Pegula as an "immediate emancipation from the clutches of mediocrity," according to THE HOCKEY NEWS' Ken Campbell, who writes under the header, "Pegula No Panacea." Some believe that with "one stroke of the checkbook, Pegula will cure the franchise's ills and return the Sabres to contender status, despite the fact there's not a billionaire in the world who can make the combined $12.4 million cap hit each of the next three seasons for" LW Thomas Vanek and RW Jason Pominville go away. There will be a "new vibe with the Sabres and, one can only assume, a new organizational culture eventually." Emboldened by "regime changes in Chicago and Tampa Bay that produced immediate positive results, the good people of Buffalo will have high hopes for the same with their star-crossed franchise." But Campbell writes "no matter what you think of former Sabres owner Tom Golisano, to liken him to" late Blackhawks Owner Bill Wirtz or former Lightning co-Owners Len Barrie and Oren Koules "is absurd" (THE HOCKEY NEWS, 2/21 issue).

    FIRST PIECE OF THE PUZZLE? In Buffalo, Bucky Gleason reported former FSN Pittsburgh Senior VP & GM and former Penguins VP/Business & Legal Affairs Ted Black is expected to be a "key player in Terry Pegula's management team." The sale of the Sabres is "expected to gain full approval" from the NHL BOG next week, and Pegula is "already putting certain pieces into place." Black's title "has not been revealed, but he'll likely remain one of Pegula's top confidants as they begin structuring the front office." It is "conceivable Black would be named team president and oversee daily operations, but that has not been confirmed." Gleason wrote Black's experience with FSN Pittsburgh "isn't likely to change the Sabres' relationship with MSG," its TV rights holder (BUFFALO NEWS, 2/16).

    Print | Tags: Buffalo Sabres, Hockey, Franchises
  • Franchise Notes

    McLane says sale of Astros not imminent, but talks are ongoing

    Astros Owner Drayton McLane yesterday said that "no sale was imminent" for the team, but that he was "in talks with several parties, maintaining that the buyer would likely be a group rather than an individual." In Houston, Zachary Levine noted the Astros cut payroll by about $10M this season, but McLane "addressed the money the club did spend as business as usual." He cited the "long-term contract for Wandy Rodriguez and the improvements being made to Minute Maid Park including a video board and new Press Club luxury seating" (CHRON.com, 2/16).

    STARS SALE REPORT REFUTED: In Dallas, Mike Heika cited sources as saying that a TSN report claiming a "specific buyer has an agreement in price" to buy the Stars is "inaccurate." However, the sources said that activity "around the sale of the team is high and that there is optimism about the progress of the sale." The sources added that "several groups are interested in buying the Stars and that the buyers are getting much more serious about the price that the lenders are seeking, but that a deal is not close at this time" (DALLASNEWS.com, 2/16).

    HEALTHY INFUSION: In DC, Steven Goff notes DC United's acquisition of F Charlie Davies "promises to energize a melancholy fan base, boost merchandise and ticket sales and provide an inspiring narrative that transcends soccer." However, Davies "hasn't appeared in a first-division match" since a severe car accident in October '09. Sources said that Davies' contract "calls for about $225,000 in guaranteed compensation and includes several goal-scoring incentives" (WASHINGTON POST, 2/17).

    TIME TO TALK: In Chicago, Lacy Banks wrote Michael Jordan "was media-friendly" during his days with the Bulls, but "since ending his playing career with the Wizards, he has been media-mean in terms of granting interviews." Jordan, now the Bobcats' owner, refused to be interviewed while attending Tuesday's Bobcats-Bulls game, which Banks wrote is "bad public relations." Banks: "Think of how much better promoted the league and the game would be if Jordan were more visible and vocal. It certainly could help the Bobcats, whose average home attendance of 15,963 ranks 20th in the 30-team league" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 2/16).

    Print | Tags: Franchises
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