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Dodgers Owner Frank McCourt on Friday "had his first meeting" with Tom Schieffer, who was appointed by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig to monitor the team's operations, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. Schieffer also met with Ned Colletti, then was accompanied by the Dodgers GM and MLB Exec VP/Baseball Operations Joe Torre "to brief Dodgers players and staff in the clubhouse about Selig's decision to oversee all aspects of the business and day-to-day operations of the club because of financial concerns." After meeting with Schieffer, McCourt "held a series of media interviews to essentially apologize to fans for the drama of the past 18 months." McCourt said, "One thing I want to say -- I'm sorry. I apologize that my personal life spilled over and affected them. I'm sorry about certain lifestyle decisions I made. I'm sorry if I've been the cause of embarrassment for the community, for the team, for the fans. ... I recognized that by not talking about it, some fans may think if I wasn't defending myself, I don't care, or I'm arrogant or weak or I don't care about the fans. Nothing could be further from the truth." McCourt reiterated he still considers MLB's action to be a "seizure" of the Dodgers, but Schieffer disagreed. Schieffer: "We're trying to ensure that the difficulties encountered here don't increase and have a bigger impact on the future of the franchise. A seizure is different than what is going on here" (MLB.com, 4/29). McCourt described Friday's conversations "as 'cordial,' but he said that, so far, he still isn't really clear on exactly what Schieffer's role will be." McCourt: "There was discussion about his intentions. I would say his intentions seemed fine, but they weren't necessarily square with some of the instructions we got" (ESPNLA.com, 4/30).
MCCOURT STILL INVOLVED: Schieffer on Friday revealed that McCourt "still has the ability to approve or veto trades." Schieffer said that he explained to Colletti that he "should follow the same chain of command he always has, and operate within the same budget he was given by McCourt at the beginning of the year." ESPN L.A.'s Ramona Shelburne noted under the "conditions imposed by Selig's decision, Schieffer must approve any transaction over $5,000, so he ultimately holds the final word in every major decision the club makes." Still, he "made it clear that McCourt still has a voice in team decisions." Schieffer noted that if McCourt vetoes a trade, Colletti should not then go to Schieffer for his input. Schieffer: "He doesn't go to me. It's 'No.' What I'm saying is that everybody has to sign off on it, within the organization, and then they come to me if it's outside the budget. If it's inside the budget, it's inside the budget and they go forward" (ESPNLA.com, 4/29).
IN GOOD HANDS: In L.A., Phil Willon profiled Schieffer under the header, "Thomas Schieffer Brings Boyhood Devotion To Baseball To His Job As Dodgers Overseer." Schieffer said, "You have to protect the institution, and that's the thing you always have to keep in mind. The Los Angeles Dodgers are one of the great sports franchises in the world. … I think everybody recognizes that the Dodgers need to be a healthy franchise for baseball as a whole to be a healthy sport." Describing his own management style, Schieffer "offered what could be a subtle warning to McCourt." He said, "If people think you're being honest with them, they'll cut you a lot of slack. If they think you're going to try to pull one over on them, they don't like that" (L.A. TIMES, 5/1). ESPN.com's Buster Olney wrote Schieffer is, "by all accounts, someone willing to dig in, to work with both hands, to find solutions -- but at the same time, he treats employees with enough respect to let them do their jobs." He is known to be a "tough negotiator, someone who will make budgetary decisions and stick to them." A baseball exec said, "He's the perfect person to deal with McCourt, because he's just not going to get pushed around. If McCourt tries to go around him, or do something around the edges, Tom is not going to let them happen" (ESPN.com, 5/1).
HOW IT AFFECTS MLB: Dodgers Vice Chair Steve Soboroff on Friday revealed that owners of the other 29 MLB teams "could be stuck paying the Dodgers' bills very soon." In L.A., Bill Shaikin reported now that MLB has "taken control of the team's finances, McCourt could run out of cash, which could require the other owners to finance the May payroll." No other owner has "spoken out publicly against Selig, a noted consensus-builder, regarding his decision to wrest financial control of the Dodgers from McCourt." One owner said, "I can't think of one owner that is going to say Bud is wrong and Frank is right" (L.A. TIMES, 4/30). In Chicago, Phil Rogers reported around MLB's offices in N.Y., "some people are having a hard time not laughing about McCourt's claim" that Selig is avoiding him. MLB Exec VP/Labor Relations & HR Rob Manfred: "There is no owner who during the period 2004-11, the period Frank has been in the game, who has consumed more of the commissioner's time, more of the commissioner's office's time, than Frank McCourt." An MLB source said, "It has been the issue of the week every week. He's always gone to the commissioner with things that he needs -- rules to bend, paths to pave. It's always something with the guy. For him to say, 'All I want is a meeting with Selig,' is a little wacky" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 5/1).
Frank (l) and Jamie could be hit with large
tax bill if MLB forces sale of Dodgers
Following his first meeting with Dodgers monitor Tom Schieffer on Friday, team Owner Frank McCourt "sat for an interview" to discuss that meeting and MLB assuming oversight of the team's business operations, according to Bill Shaikin of the L.A. TIMES. A portion of that Q&A is below:
Q: You had the chance to meet him for the first time today. What do you take his role to be, and what do you take your role to be?
McCourt: I had a very cordial meeting with Tom. We were both very respectful of one another. We both understand this isn't personal. I asked him that very question, in terms of his role and his responsibility. It will be something I will react to accordingly. That said, I told him that he would receive cooperation from everybody here.
Q: You said MLB is welcome to investigate the Dodgers. ... You also said you want to be transparent. Are you willing to authorize MLB to publicly release the results of its investigation?
McCourt: I don't think that would be appropriate at all. That said, I have said to baseball that I am comfortable with them coming in, and providing them complete transparency.
Q: How do you explain that a team that turns tens of millions of dollars in gross profits every year gets to the point where you needed a personal loan to make payroll?
McCourt: We all have obligations in our personal life and our business life. The idea is to plan in advance to take care of them. We had a plan. We executed the plan. The problem here is that baseball has been unwilling to allow us to close the transaction.
Q: What happens, given that you cannot access this money, when the payroll comes due in May?
McCourt: We're going to continue to make sure that we have answered all of MLB's questions and move forward and close this transaction. ... When I was in New York earlier this week, I told baseball that if there were any other modifications they wanted made, so long as they were consistent with other transactions they have approved, then I would make the modifications. I went further to say that none of the proceeds from this transaction would be used in any way, shape or form for my personal life.
Q: You have said you believe the commissioner's investigation has what you called a "predetermined" outcome, that he wants to push this franchise in the direction of new ownership. ... There are a lot of people who would say, "This isn't going to work out." You're fighting very hard. Why?
McCourt: I have just begun to fight. I just started. I haven't said a word for the last 18 months. ... Recently, my boys came to me and said it was OK for me to speak out and to defend myself. I'm going to do that. I'm going to continue to do that. I love this team. I love this game. I love this community (L.A. TIMES, 4/30).
GOING DOWN WITH A FIGHT: In L.A., Steve Dilbeck wrote McCourt "is a desperate man." Dilbeck: "He is flailing in all directions, though I remain convinced he believes every word he utters. He’s like the teenager who’s come up with some wild excuse for a boneheaded move, repeating it until he actually begins to believe his own ramblings. ... Somebody clearly told him he needed to sound contrite, but he can’t quite pull it off" (LATIMES.com, 4/30). In California, Howard Cole wrote, "Memo to Frank McCourt. Here’s the thing, the single most basic thing that you need to understand. No one, and I mean no one wants to hear a single syllable of what you have to say at this point in time. You’ve just got to stick a sock in it. ... The fundamental concept you’ve failed to grasp from Day One is that the Dodgers are not about you, and have never been about you" (OCREGISTER.com, 4/30).
The bidder "selected to become a minority partner in the Mets would likely be positioned to become the majority owner should the Wilpon family change its stance and cede control of the team," according to sources cited by Steven Marcus of NEWSDAY. There still are "no immediate signals that Fred Wilpon and his family are willing to sell a controlling interest." But a source said, "It is certainly often the case that if a controlling partner sells, the first person he turns to is his large minority partner." Another source noted that this "is also the expectation" of MLB (NEWSDAY, 5/1). Glaceau co-Founder Mike Repole on Saturday reiterated that he would consider a bid for the Mets only if it involved majority ownership. Repole: "If the Wilpons ever decided they wanted or they had to sell the Mets 100 percent, I would be interested in becoming a managing partner and possibly making a run to buy them. But as a minority owner, whether you buy one or 49 percent, there really isn’t a difference. For $200 million, it might be cheaper just to buy season tickets" (N.Y. POST, 5/1). Meanwhile, sources indicated that the Mets are "likely to raise their own motions to dismiss" Madoff trustee Irving Picard's suit "by questioning his standing and arguing that clients of brokerage firms have a safe harbor from pursuit of certain claims in bankruptcy court" (N.Y. POST, 5/2).
TALE OF TWO CITIES: In N.Y., Richard Sandomir wrote MLB Commissioner Bud Selig's "approaches to the Mets and the Dodgers reflect the breadth of his powers -- he can do what he deems necessary to enforce baseball’s 'best interests' as he sees them -- and his ties to the owners." Selig and Fred Wilpon "have been friends for 30 years," while Dodgers Owner Frank McCourt "arrived in baseball in 2004 but has never pierced the inner sanctum around Selig." Sandomir: "Selig appears to regard Wilpon as a trustworthy, solid citizen, but McCourt as a problem child in need of adult supervision" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/1). In S.F., Scott Ostler writes under the header, "Stated Reasons Don't Justify L.A. Takeover." Ostler: "I'm no lawyer, but Selig is on extremely shaky legal ground here." His reasoning "seems to indicate a vague, selective and somewhat emotional criterion for taking over a team" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 5/2).
The Bears "declined to compensate the Baltimore Ravens for the botched first-round trade the two teams agreed to but that the Bears did not turn into the NFL," according to a league source cited by Adam Schefter of ESPN.com. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell "encouraged the Bears to surrender some type of draft compensation but when he declined to order them to do so, Chicago opted not to give the Ravens anything." Bears GM Jerry Angelo said Friday, "A mistake was made, no rule was broken." Angelo on Thursday "worked out a deal to send the No. 29 selection and a fourth-round pick to the Ravens, who held the No. 26 pick." The Ravens "called in the trade and Angelo told two staffers to make the call for the Bears." A source said that "each staffer thought the other did it, and the call was never made" (ESPN.com, 4/30). The Ravens "still were able to get their targeted player" in Colorado CB Jimmy Smith at No. 27, and Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome said, "There was a potential for us to lose it, yes. But we got the player, and we're just happy to have him" (Baltimore SUN, 4/30).
APOLOGY ENOUGH? Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti on Friday said, “I’m disappointed in the Bears and the McCaskeys (the Bears’ owners). It is in my opinion a deviation from their great legacy. They concluded that their heartfelt and admirable apology was sufficient for our loss. All of us at the Ravens strongly disagree” (BALTIMORESUN.com, 4/30). Bears Senior Dir of Ticket Operations George McCaskey "expressed disappointment Saturday in the comments made by" Bisciotti. McCaskey, during the Bears Expo at Solider Field, said, "We made a mistake. We apologize for it. The bottom line is, I understand it as the Ravens got the players they were wanting, and we got the player we were wanting." In Chicago, Vaughn McClure noted McCaskey "somewhat sidestepped Bisciotti’s comments because he did not speak with the Ravens owner personally." But Bears Chair Michael McCaskey and President & CEO Ted Phillips did speak "several times with Bisciotti after the debacle" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 5/1). SI.com's Peter King writes the "right thing would have been to give Baltimore something -- either the fourth-round pick or some pick to make up for what turned out to be a broken promise." King added, "This is dead wrong, and it's a terrible message to send to fans and people who follow the league" (SI.com, 5/2).
The Hornets this offseason will face the "ongoing ultimatum of improving the franchise’s financial situation to make it a more attractive investment for a potential owner, identifying that potential owner, negotiating a more favorable, extended lease agreement with the state, increasing the season-ticket base and attracting additional corporate sponsors while maintaining those already on board," according to Jimmy Smith of the New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE. The "grueling task of achieving those ... goals, already under way, can now shift into overdrive" for Chair Jac Sperling, who was appointed by NBA Commissioner David Stern to run the Hornets. After the Lakers eliminated the Hornets from the playoffs, Sperling said, "I wouldn’t say there’s an order to it. It’s consistent in that they all have to be done simultaneously. And then the ultimate goal is increasing the financial performance of the club so that we can make it attractive for a local buy. That’s the ultimate goal here. Making it attractive for a local buyer and putting it on sound financial footing for long-term sustainability. We’re making good progress on those fronts. We’re not there yet, but we’re making really good progress." Smith noted while the team's "surprising six-game run in the first round of the playoffs against the Lakers sparked interest, Sperling isn’t ready to quantify just how many tickets were sold during the two-week postseason euphoria." The Hornets last week said that the "number was around 7,600." Sperling said that the playoff push "revealed the potential for positive long-term viability for the franchise in New Orleans." Since assuming control of the organization in December, Sperling "has seen an internal commitment within his organization’s staff to meet the challenges that confronted it while taking steps to run the franchise -- on Stern’s mandate -- in a fiscally responsible way, on budget, and maintaining its competitive edge" on the court (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 5/1).
Two Canucks fans who "wear full neon green bodysuits" are "being asked to tone down their act at games after a complaint was filed" with the NHL, according to the CP. The fans, dubbed "the Green Men," have been asked to "stop touching the glass and doing handstands." The "popular paying fans usually sit close to the Canucks' opponents." There is "no confirmation on who filed the complaint" (CP, 5/1). The GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin notes the Predators, who are facing the Canucks in a Western Conference Semifinal series, "denied they complained" about the fans. But sources said that Predators GM David Poile "was indeed involved." The CBC's Glenn Healy reported the NHL is "trying to come up with a protocol" to deal with the situation (GLOBE & MAIL, 5/2). One of the two fans, who go by the names Force and Sully, said, "Someone through the NHL told us that we were no longer allowed to touch the glass. This is the first complain we've ever heard of. The Canucks love us. We haven't done anything wrong" (CALGARY SUN, 5/2). Sully added, "It's absolutely ridiculous. We didn't do anything wrong or illegal. We're on the cover of NHL.com and they're using video of us on their website, but we have to tone down what we do. It's very confusing" (VANCOUVER SUN, 5/2).
CEASE & DESIST: In Vancouver, Brad Ziemer reported local auto dealer Kingsway Honda has received a letter from NHL Associate Counsel for Business & Legal Affairs Kelley Lynch "demanding that it remove the words 'Go Canucks Go' from the window of the dealership." Lynch in the letter suggests the phrase "Go Canucks Go" and use of the Canucks logo "infringes the trademark rights of the Vancouver Canucks because consumers are likely to be misled that the Vancouver Canucks have an official relationship with the dealership." However, Doug Lum, GM of dealership parent company Destination Auto Group, "disputes the NHL's claim that he is trying to promote his business through the Canucks." Lum said that his business "may have been targeted because of a relationship it has formed with the Green Men." A logo of the Green Men that "bears a similarity to the Canucks logo is prominently displayed on the Kingsway Honda website" (VANCOUVER SUN, 4/30).
Padres Vice Chair & CEO Jeff Moorad yesterday said a new TV deal will have a "direct impact" on the team's payroll next season. The Padres' 10-year deal with Cox Communications expires after this season, and a new deal "could result in an increase of 10-20% in the club’s player salary obligations." Moorad declined to estimate the "extent his payroll could grow as 'too speculative,' but he has repeatedly pledged that the Padres would reinvest all revenue beyond expenses in the product on the field and Petco Park" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 5/2). Sources believe that the Padres "will be able to add an additional $7-10 million in payroll as a direct result of their upcoming deal." The Padres are believed to be in talks with Fox Sports about a TV deal (NORTH COUNTY TIMES, 5/2).
HEADING THE WRONG WAY: In Pittsburgh, Colin Dunlap noted since the Pirates drew 39,219 fans to their home opener at PNC Park, "no home crowd in the first eight home dates topped 30,000 and three were below 11,000." In a three-game span from Easter Sunday through Tuesday, the Pirates "drew crowds of 9,520, then 12,457 and 9,832." But an "atmosphere where empty seats pervade isn't something that has been indigenous only to PNC Park this season." It has "been a trend" throughout MLB. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle: "There aren't many teams who aren't experiencing this. I don't look any further than the economy. You have choices to make with your hard-earned dollars and baseball can be a viable option for some people; it's not an option anymore for others" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 5/1).
JUMPING ON THE BANDWAGON? In Cleveland, Paul Hoynes reported former Mets GM Omar Minaya spent time in town last week visiting with Indians President Mark Shapiro, GM Chris Antonetti and manager Manny Acta. Shapiro and Antonetti "described it as a 'friendly visit,' but Antonetti has made no secret that he'd like to add the right person to the front office" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 5/1).
FORBES' Mike Ozanian cited a source as saying that Tom Gaglardi "has offered to buy the NHL’s Dallas Stars and 50% of American Airlines Center from the bankers who took over the team from Tom Hicks for $100 million of assumed debt." The $100M "could go to $135 million under certain conditions that were not specified." The source said that the "plan is to use Gaglardi as a stalking horse to get higher bids and he would get a fee should he not get the team" (FORBES.com, 4/29). However, in Dallas, Mike Heika cites sources as saying that the Forbes report is "not true." While "some of the numbers are accurate, they are incomplete and don't include a lot of the debt that Gaglardi will have to assume in purchasing the team, as well as real money that will be a part of Gaglardi's offer" (DALLASNEWS.com, 4/29).
AHEAD OF THE CURVE: In K.C., Adam Teicher noted the NFL's "muddled labor situation doesn’t appear to be hurting the Chiefs from a business standpoint, at least as much as other clubs." Chiefs Chair Clark Hunt said that the team leads the NFL in new ticket sales. Hunt: "It’s not by a small margin. It’s a very substantial number. So I think our fans feel very good about the direction the football team is headed." He added, "We’ve had a lot of success selling new season tickets but maybe we would have sold more had this uncertainty not been going on. I do believe it’s affecting the business and I think the longer it goes on, the more effect it will have” (K.C. STAR, 4/30).
FAMILY MATTERS: In Indianapolis, Mike Chappell notes Bill Polian, 68, "hasn't addressed how much longer he'll handle a prominent role with the Colts," but he is "closer to the end of his career than the beginning." Team Owner Jim Irsay in late February "altered Bill Polian's title" from President to Vice Chair. Irsay emphasized that the idea was to increase VP & GM Chris Polian's responsibilities, along with those of Dir of Player Personnel Tom Telesco, and "decrease Bill Polian's workload, however slightly." The adjustment "would allow Bill Polian to spend less time at the team headquarters and more at his home in Charlotte" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 5/2).
NO NEWS GOOD NEWS? In N.Y., Marc Berman reported the deadline for Knicks Owner James Dolan to exercise the option on President of Basketball Operations Donnie Walsh's final contractual year passed Saturday "without a move, meaning the Knicks president likely is in store for a spanking-new contract extension instead, likely two years." Walsh's "only concern was regaining control as No. 1 decision-maker of basketball operations, believing too many voices were in Dolan's ear, even outside the organization." Beyond Isiah Thomas' "informal conversations with the owner, celebrity superfan Spike Lee also had Dolan's ear and lobbied hard" for the Knicks to keep G Landry Fields out of the trade for F Carmelo Anthony (N.Y. POST, 5/1).