SBD/March 18, 2011/FranchisesPrint All
Blues Owner Dave Checketts, who Wednesday announced that he is putting the team and Scottrade Center up for the sale, said that the Dodgers "would intrigue him if they are sold as a result of the pending divorce of Frank and Jamie McCourt," according to Richard Sandomir of the N.Y. TIMES. Checketts "put together a group to buy the Dodgers in 2003 but was unsuccessful." He said, "It's a franchise I've always admired." Checketts said that he is not "interested in buying the Mets." He added, "I'm not focused on anything but selling the Blues right now. Once I take care of that, we'll start to look at other things." Sandomir noted Checketts, whose SCP Worldwide company owns 20% of the Blues, "will leave as its chairman and managing partner." Checketts said that his "five years as chairman of the team were largely successful." The club "has sold out every home game at the Scottrade Center this season, is starting a season-ticket waiting list and is making money" (NYTIMES.com, 3/17).
BLUES BETTER OFF: In St. Louis, Jeff Gordon wrote Checketts "did St. Louis a great service with his stewardship of the Blues." Checketts and those he worked with "took a downtrodden franchise and made it viable again," and "on balance the Checketts Regime moved the Blues into a much better place." With the "help of terrific marketing and aggressive ticket discounting, the Blues lured folks back into the Scottrade Center," and the fan base "was restored." Gordon: "Checketts had a terrific vision for this franchise. He had the right plan. In the face of a national economic crisis and a tightened credit market, he simply lacked the wherewithal to finish the job." Former Blues Enterprises CEO Peter McLoughlin also left the team to become President of the Seahawks and MLS Sounders, which was a "tough blow to the business side." Gordon: "The next ownership group must get out in the business community and rally support for this franchise" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 3/17).
LOCAL OWNERSHIP EXPECTED: ESPN.com's E.J. Hradek reported there are individuals in St. Louis "that would be interested in purchasing the club." Hradek: "I suspect a local investor or group of investors will emerge as a possible buyer. Further, I think the current ownership group will do what it can to ensure that a potential buyer is committed to keeping the team in St. Louis" (ESPN.com, 3/17). But in St. Louis, Bernie Miklasz wonders if anyone will "step up and give this hockey team the kind of stable, adequately financed ownership it deserves?" Miklasz: "This is yet another test for the St. Louis money. ... The folks with the serious money in STL are ambivalent about owning sports franchises." However, it is "highly doubtful" that an individual from outside St. Louis would "purchase the Blues and hijack them to Canada or Kansas City." Meanwhile, the Blues and President of Hockey Operations John Davidson "have essentially agreed to terms on a contract extension and it happened a while back." Miklasz writes, "We can never know what the future may bring but the owner or owners would be wise to stay the course with the current setup. The Blues have a highly capable front office in place" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 3/18).
MLB has "approved at least three potential bidding groups" looking to buy a stake in the Mets, according to Kosman & DeCambre of the N.Y. POST. Sources indicated that the groups include one led by Goldman Sachs Global Securities Division co-Head David Heller and Apollo Global Management President Marc Spilker, and another with BTIG co-Founder Steve Starker and Marquis Jet co-Founder Ken Dichter. Sources said that "at least one or two additional bidders have also been passed along" to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and "could be cleared to bid for the team." The approved groups are "expected to meet next week with Allen & Co., where they will get to see confidential financials of the team and quickly begin the process of deciding whether to actually make an offer." The sale process is expected to be "all but complete by June 30." Sources noted that bidders are "likely to insist on protections on their investment," including a "guarantee that the minority stake would be increased if the group were asked to pump more money into the team down the line, and to overall payroll minimums so the owners do not cut costs too far" (N.Y. POST, 3/18).
Seventeen NFL teams "have avoided instant layoffs, salary reductions, hiring freezes or furloughs" in the first week of the lockout, according to a study cited by Jon Saraceno of USA TODAY. The "survey of the 32 NFL teams -- most of them reluctant to share internal information regarding contingency plans -- shows that slightly more than half have maintained the status quo when it comes to employee compensation, at least for now." One "potential trigger date for further cutbacks" is the April 28-30 NFL Draft. Among the teams that have made "immediate financial modifications to payroll include" the Packers, Steelers, Jets, Giants, Chiefs and Chargers. The Cardinals "plan a one-week furlough for all employees May 23-28 if the lockout has not ended" (USA TODAY, 3/18).
THIRTY-PERCENT CUT: In Cincinnati, Joe Reedy cites an NFL source as saying that Bengals assistant coaches "have had their salaries reduced by 30 percent since the lockout started." The Bengals "will allow coaches to recoup the money when the lockout ends," and they also "have not opted out of the league's pension plan for assistants like 13 other teams have done." The Bengals are "one of a dozen teams that have cut assistants' salaries by more than" 25%, and five teams "have cut assistants' salaries by half." NFL Coaches Association Exec Dir Larry Kennan said that "almost all teams would reduce coaches' salaries if the lockout lasted 90 days or more." Meanwhile, Bengals President Mike Brown said that employees "would not have furloughs or layoffs but acknowledged there would be some hardships." Brown: "They will be asked to do something, but we are going to keep our people under hire and support them" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 3/18).
PAYMENT STILL REQUIRED: In Atlanta, Jeff Schultz noted several teams are "mandating payment for season tickets," including the Patriots, who are requiring fans to "pay for ticket packages in full by the end of March." The Falcons "required the first payment to be made by Feb. 11 -- which was three weeks before the CBA expired," and tickets "must be paid for in full by June 1." Falcons VP/Football Communications Reggie Roberts: "We're operating as if there's going to be a season. We're operating under the assumption there won't be any lost games. If games are lost, then we have a plan in place." Roberts added that the team's plan "stems from the league's recommendation." But Schultz noted the Giants are "not asking for a nickel until a new collective bargaining agreement is in place" (AJC.com, 3/17).
MUST PAY IF DON'T PLAY: In St. Petersburg, Kevin Wilmath reported a plan to "alleviate losses from a potential NFL lockout now has across-the-board approval after the Tampa City Council gave its thumbs-up Thursday, a day after Hillsborough County commissioners did the same thing." The plan calls for the Buccaneers to "reimburse the Tampa Sports Authority" if "there is no 2011-12 season." TSA Exec Dir Eric Hart said that the county and city "stand to lose up to $1.2 million total." The TSA has "agreed to repay the Bucs if revenue from ticket surcharges" for "recently added events at the stadium" exceeds $1.93M (TAMPABAY.com, 3/17).
The Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan's exploration of selling its 66% stake in MLSE “has put the brakes on the succession plan” for President & CEO Richard Peddie, according to David Shoalts of the GLOBE & MAIL. Peddie confirmed this week MLSE has “slowed down the search” for a new president, although he declined to offer any more details. Peddie told MLSE officials that he is “willing to hang around until the ownership question is settled,” which might “extend his stay until September.” Shoalts notes internally, the “top candidate” to succeed Peddie is MLSE Exec VP & COO Tom Anselmi. Other candidates "known in the hockey world include" AEG President & CEO Tim Leiweke, former Sabres Managing Partner & Minority Owner Larry Quinn, former Stars President Jim Lites, Blackhawks President John McDonough and Comcast-Spectacor President & COO Peter Luukko. However, "most of those executives are well-entrenched in their positions.” The other “intriguing name” under consideration is Blues Chair Dave Checketts, who on Wednesday announced his intention to sell the franchise (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/18). In Toronto, Mike Zeisberger notes MLSE has sent a memo to employees “assuring everyone in its workforce that there is no reason to worry about their individual employment futures if and when a transaction takes place." A source said, “It was just a chance to make sure the employees knew that they were valuable assets in whatever deal goes down. They needed to know that they are valuable resources in this whole process” (TORONTO SUN 3/18).
The Timbers will make their MLS debut Saturday, supported by a Portland soccer market that is the third-best among U.S. cities with MLS teams, according to Rachel Bachman of the Portland OREGONIAN, which ranked all 15 U.S. MLS cities based on "everything from youth participation to national-team players to supporters' groups." The Timbers' ranking is "likely to rise with the Timbers' attendance this season, as season tickets have sold out and single-game tickets are selling fast." Timbers Owner Merritt Paulson said, "The level of the passion in the soccer fans here is deeper to the core than other cities." But Bachman notes for now, San Jose "is Soccer City USA" and DC is "the runner-up." San Jose, home to the Earthquakes, "ranked at or near the top in several categories, which were adjusted for local population, including home attendance in the NASL and last season in MLS." Although the Earthquakes "averaged an MLS-worst 9,659 in average attendance last season, they rated better than average in that category when the data were adjusted for San Jose's 1.8 million people -- third-smallest metro area in the league." Seattle, which "executed one of the most successful franchise launches in major-sports history two years ago when the Sounders joined MLS, finished a surprising fifth." The market "scored well in attendance rankings -- the Sounders lead the MLS in attendance by a mile -- but suffered for not winning college soccer titles or sending players to World Cup teams." The following chart shows the OREGONIAN's rankings of all MLS markets in the U.S. (Portland OREGONIAN, 3/18).
SOCCER CITY USA RANKINGSRANK
CITYRANK CITY1 San Jose9 Columbus2 DC10 Houston3 Portland11 Boston4 L.A.12 Chicago5 Seattle13 Denver6 N.Y.14 K.C.7 Philadelphia15 Dallas8 Salt Lake City
LOYAL FANS IN TROUBLE? In Portland, John Canzano writes the Timbers' MLS debut is a "wake-up call" for the team's fan group, the Timbers Army. The "drumming, chanting, soulful people who wear scarves and cheer for the MLS team provide some good stadium atmosphere," but the Timbers Army is "now less important and influential than it has ever been." The Timbers franchise has "always been careful to tip-toe around the organized rowdies, trying to keep them pacified while pulling hair out attempting to widen the fan base." But with more than 12,000 season tickets sold for the first MLS season in Jeld-Wen Field, and a "product that promises to have wider appeal by summer, the Timbers Army is on unofficial notice." Canzano writes, "MLS is still not on the level of the other major league sports, but I believe this soccer thing in Portland ends up a blue ocean. Season-ticket bonanza. Great summer weather coming. Sponsors such as Widmer Brothers Brewing have already angled for stadium exclusivity, paying big dollars to lock out competition. And as a result, I'm convinced that ownership and team management understands that it's new best customer is not the rowdy in the scarf." Watching Paulson "manage his fan base" is going to be a "fascinating experiment." It also is "going to be interesting to see how the Timbers Army shifts, as it becomes surrounded (and even joined) by young families who have their own ideas" (Portland OREGONIAN, 3/18).
WHITE HOUSE: The Vancouver Whitecaps also will make their MLS debut this season, and the GLOBE & MAIL's David Ebner wrote under the header, "Whitecaps Riding The Crest Of The Wave Into MLS Opener." The Whitecaps, with "four decades of history in other leagues, arrive in MLS with sponsorship cash that rivals any club in the league." The team will make its debut Saturday at home in a "Canadian clash" against Toronto FC, a game televised nationally on TSN. As of Thursday, the home opener had not "lured a sellout crowd," as the Whitecaps "remain a couple thousand short of the 21,500 capacity" at Empire Field. But the team "has sold 15,500 season tickets, even though it doesn't play a game in its real home, BC Place, until early autumn, when the downtown stadium's publicly funded half-billion-dollar renovation is finished" (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/17).