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Sounders FC kicked off its third MLS season last night, "still pursuing not only the MLS Cup, but the experiment it calls 'democracy in sports,'" according to Don Ruiz of the Tacoma NEWS TRIBUNE. After two seasons, the Alliance (the association of Sounders fans) "remains a philosophical concept with few demonstrated successes." Paul Cox, a member of the Alliance Council, said, "My sense is that there has been some disillusionment among some of the people because they feel like it’s more a slogan than anything real." The Alliance Council participates in "monthly conference calls and members have their own blog and forum on SoundersFC.com," and "any frustration stems from the relative lack of change stemming from those communications." Ruiz noted while the team's name and a "recent decision to increase the number of tickets for visiting fans" in the Sounders-Timbers-Whitecaps rivalry "did come about largely due to the input of fans and supporters groups, neither came through official action of the Alliance." The "most straightforward power granted to the Alliance -- and the one that has generated the most publicity -- is the right to vote on the retention" of the GM every four years. The first such vote is scheduled for November '12. Now the group is "well into the matter of crafting a charter that will spell out the powers actually held by the Alliance, which is made up of season-ticket holders and others who can buy their way in for $125 per season." Cox said, "(If the charter is ratified) then the Alliance will basically establish itself as an independent organization. The idea is the club will then grant this fan alliance a charter that says, ‘OK, these are the areas that you guys have control over, so if you have a vote then the club will do whatever you say on this issue and this issue and this issue.'" There "will be limits," notably the Sounders declaring that "ticket prices are off limits" (Tacoma NEWS TRIBUNE, 3/15).
RECORD CROWD TO START SEASON: In Seattle, Joshua Mayers reports the Sounders last night drew a crowd of 36,433 fans for the team’s season opener against the Galaxy. The figure “set a team record for attendance for an MLS game” (SEATTLE TIMES, 3/16). ESPN's Adrian Healey said, "There are plenty of English Premier League teams that would settle for a crowd of 36,000 on average. ... A better attendance record than actually 19 of 30 baseball teams, including the Seattle Mariners of late." It was raining during last night's game, but Healey noted it was "not dampening the fervor of this crowd one little bit" (ESPN, 3/15). MLS Commissioner Don Garber, who was at the game, said, "This fan base loves this team, and it never ceases to amaze me when I come into town and do that march to the match and come into the stadium how special it is here in Seattle -- a great way to start the season." However, Garber "wasn't quite willing to commit future season openers to Seattle." Garber: "Many other markets, I think, earned the right to deserve the opening match. But it's pretty darn good here" (SEATTLE TIMES, 3/16).
I LIKE THE SOUND OF IT: In Seattle, Nick Visser reports Microsoft sales analysts Jeff McIntyre and Erin O'Brien in '07 founded Ruffneck Scarves, aiming to "make the scarf as synonymous with soccer in America as it is in Europe." The Seattle-based company has "grown from $40,000 in annual revenue to more than $2 million last year." Ruffneck has "partnered with the Sounders FC for three years, and every season-ticket holder gets a special-edition scarf attached to his or her ticket for opening day." O'Brien said that the two are "looking to spread soccer scarves into the NCAA and partner with colleges across the country" (SEATTLE TIMES, 3/16).
OUT OF LINE? In Vancouver, Daphne Bramham writes there is "no question who the Vancouver Whitecaps is selling to with its ad and video featuring a sultry 'kit model' being spray-painted into a 'uniform' with the Bell logo across her breasts." Jackman "denies the images are highly sexualized." She said, "We see the images as bringing out the passion people have for the sport." But Bramham writes it is "infuriating and a bit sad that the Whitecaps organization, which has done so much in the past to promote soccer at all levels for boys and girls, stoops to this when it is attempting to build community support for its new major league team." Former Canadian Olympic swimmer Marion Lay "was shocked by the ad." Lay: "It is a terrible representation of women." Jackman yesterday defended the ads as an attempt to "show some of the passion that soccer brings out in people." She added, "Fans do paint their faces and their bodies. ... We wanted to tap into that in some way that was appropriate. Google soccer, women and body paint." Bramham writes, "I did. The Sun's Web administrator denied access to some of the photos. Others appeared to be models on porn sites or in front of ads for porn sites. Only one image appeared to be a fan" (VANCOUVER SUN, 3/16).
The Goldwater Institute yesterday announced that it "would sue Glendale," claiming that the city's deal with prospective Coyotes Owner Matthew Hulsizer "would illegally subsidize a private business and put taxpayers at risk," according to Sanders & Chan of the ARIZONA REPUBLIC. The Phoenix-based watchdog group said that it "wouldn't file the suit until Glendale completed the deal" with Hulsizer. The NHL, which is trying to sell the Coyotes to Hulsizer, "downplayed the announcement." NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said, "From our perspective, Goldwater's announcement doesn't change a thing. We are still pursuing a sale of the bonds. Hopefully, the announcement (Tuesday) will not negatively affect that." Daly blamed Goldwater for "interfering with the city's deal, trying to derail it without filing a lawsuit." He said, "It's more of the same with Goldwater. Trying to chill a deal without putting their money where their mouth is. We will see if they are successful" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 3/16). NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said, "I assume the Goldwater Institute is going to do what it thinks is appropriate. ... Let them do what they have to do" (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 3/16). But Glendale City Council member Phil Lieberman, the "most prominent opponent of the bond deal on council, thinks Goldwater’s announcement will sink" the $116M municipal bond deal that is supposed to finance the NHL's $170M sale of the Coyotes. Lieberman: "I don’t know when the bond deal will close because no bond company will buy bonds if there is a lawsuit right after. There is no way we can justify the $100-million to Hulsizer" (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/16).
STILL ON THE LOOKOUT: Former Coyotes investor John Breslow, part of Hulsizer's prospective ownership group, said that Glendale is "searching for new bond-buyers to finance part of its Phoenix Coyotes deal, after others demanded the city pay too high an interest rate." Breslow noted that the city is "receiving help in finding bond buyers" from the NHL, Hulsizer and bond underwriter J.P. Morgan Securities. He added, "They're out aggressively trying to sell the bonds. The goal is to find a lower rate and to have a payment (for the city) that is lower." Breslow said that Bettman, who was in Glendale last Tuesday for an update on the deal, "met the next day in New York with a potential bond buyer" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 3/15).
The Bills “plan no layoffs or furloughs as a result of the NFL work stoppage,” but the team “has imposed pay cuts for the administrative employees,” according to Mark Gaughan of the BUFFALO NEWS. Team sources said that the salaries “of all employees are being reduced on a percentage basis, up to 25 percent.” Bills CEO Russ Brandon said, "We have made prudent preparations for the possibility of a work stoppage. We have, for some time, been very upfront and transparent with our staff so that they too could make prudent preparations.” Gaughan notes if the lockout “stretches into September and causes the cancellation of all or some games, it's expected the Bills will reassess their stance on layoffs” (BUFFALO NEWS, 3/16).
Panthers' roster back online after team
removed link from site yesterday
KEEPING IN TOUCH: Titans season-ticket holders are “receiving letters from team owner Bud Adams this week.” Adams in the letter “sends a message to fans that their support has not been unnoticed and is appreciated.” Titans Exec VP/Administration & Facilities Don MacLachlan said that “this is the second letter Adams has sent to season ticket holders since the 2010 season ended.” MacLachlan said in the event that a game is canceled, season-ticket holders “will receive the payment of that canceled game.” MacLachlan: “They would get that refund in its entirety” (WKRN.com, 3/15). Jaguars Owner Wayne Weaver also sent an open letter to fans. The letter read in part, “I firmly expect that we will play football this fall. Therefore, our ticket and sponsorship efforts will continue with business as usual. We will also continue hosting offseason events for our fans, as we have done before” (JAGUARS.com, 3/15). In DC, Mike Jones noted Redskins Exec VP & GM Bruce Allen addressed the NFL’s labor situation in a letter to fans yesterday, and his comments “were the first any Redskins official had issued since the NFL’s owners imposed a lockout on players Saturday” (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 3/15).
TAKING FLIGHT: The Cardinals are debuting a line of TV spots this week that introduce the team's new "We Are Cardinal Nation" marketing theme. The seven new TV spots, via Waylon Ad, St. Louis, are airing on over-the-air and cable channels in St. Louis and feature players including 1B Albert Pujols, LF Matt Holliday and RF Lance Berkman, manager Tony La Russa and the debut of Baseball HOFer Red Schoendienst. The spots were filmed in February at the team's Spring Training facilities in Jupiter, Fla. (Cardinals).
The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Smith & Futterman reported MLB has "instituted restrictions on the resale of some team debt" to protect the Mets "from pressure by so-called vulture investors as the team tries to sell a minority stake." Sources said that the restrictions "bar banks that hold $375 million of Mets team debt from reselling the debt to hedge funds without league approval." They "could help protect the team from investors who buy distressed debt and then seek to profit, often by pushing for a restructuring or a bankruptcy filing." Some investors "think the rules could limit the club's options as it struggles to right its finances and find a minority buyer." Smith & Futterman noted the restrictions "were included in a $375 million loan obtained by the Mets last June from a bank group led by J.P. Morgan Chase & Co." (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/15).
PROGRESSIVE APPROACH: MLB.com's Jordan Bastian reported Indians President Mark Shapiro is "trying to find ways to simultaneously improve the product on and off the field" with Cleveland's population "at a 100-year low and the Indians' attendance among the lowest in baseball." The team will hold the "Indians Music Festival" on June 11 this year, "another experiment within the Indians' attempts to find creative ways to boost revenue." The team "named the event the 'Indians Music Festival' because it is not expected to be a one-time show," as Shapiro "hopes to have more concerts in the future with different varieties of music." However, Bastian noted events such as the festival and the "Snow Days" held at the ballpark this offseason "are not taking priority." Shapiro and new Exec VP & GM Chris Antonetti "first and foremost ... want to build a franchise that can have a sustained period of winning" (MLB.com, 3/14).
GETTING A BOOST: In Cincinnati, Laura Baverman reported the Reds' "earliest projections put ticket sales up 10 percent for 2011 -- filling a total of 2.3 million seats." Reds VP/Ticket Sales John Davis said that "up to a third of 3.4 million available seats will be sold prior to Opening Day." Additionally, "about 20 percent of all season ticket holders this year are new" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 3/12).
On Long Island, Steve Zipay reports with MSG renovations underway, there is "increasing chatter that the Rangers will open next season, not in Russia, but with two games in Stockholm against" either the Kings or Flames. Those games "would be preceded by exhibition games in Prague and Budapest and three road exhibition games" in the U.S. After Europe, the Rangers "would play a number of games on the West Coast of either the United States or Canada before returning for the home opener" at MSG around Oct. 30. An NHL spokesperson last night said that "no contracts have been signed and declined further comment" (NEWSDAY, 3/16).
MY HEART WILL GO ON? The CP's Marie Vastel reported Rene Angelil, singer Celine Dion's husband, said that he "might take part in a bid to bring NHL hockey back to Quebec City." Asked whether he would participate in a project to buy an NHL team, Angelil said, "Maybe. ... It's a little too early to be talking about any kind of involvement." Vastel noted Angelil "expressed interest two years ago in joining" Quebecor Media Inc. President & CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau in a failed bid for the Canadiens. But now, Quebecor has "landed the naming rights for a future Quebec City arena and was granted exclusive rights to manage the facility," scheduled to open in '15 (CP, 3/15).
ARLINGTON ROAD: MLB Rangers co-Chair Bob Simpson addressed Chuck Greenberg stepping down as Managing Partner & CEO of the club and said, "These things happen in business." Simpson added, "You're about 50-50 in judging people off the cuff, if you're good." In Ft. Worth, Mitchell Schnurman notes the Rangers' leaders -- Simpson, co-Chair Ray Davis and team President & CEO Nolan Ryan -- either "seriously misjudged Greenberg or were unable to work with him after backing him big-time." Schnurman: "The mistake cost them some credibility, and because they had to buy out Greenberg's stake, many millions of dollars, too" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 3/16).
GET ON YOUR BOOTS: The CNBC program “American Greed” will feature the story of former Predators Owner William “Boots” Del Biaggio III, who bilked investors and banks out of millions of dollars in order to buy the NHL team in '07. The show airs at 10:00pm ET. Del Biaggio's rise and fall was documented in an extensive report by SportsBusiness Journal in July '09.