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SBD/May 12, 2011/FranchisesPrint All
MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and Dodgers Owner Frank McCourt, each in N.Y. for quarterly league owners' meetings, held their first face-to-face discussion since MLB took over operations of the embattled franchise three weeks ago, according to several industry sources. There was no immediate word last night as to the full substance and outcome of the conference. McCourt declined comment upon leaving MLB HQs yesterday afternoon. But the session was nonetheless significant as Selig in recent weeks has refused to meet with McCourt, in part due to legal reasons amid a potential challenge from McCourt to the league takeover. McCourt likely continued to plead his case for MLB approval of a pending media rights deal with Fox that he claims will relieve the club's financial woes. McCourt's recent contact with league officials during the ongoing saga surrounding the franchise has been through other senior league execs, including Exec VP/Labor Relations & HR Rob Manfred and Exec VP/Administration & CIO John McHale Jr. McCourt participated in other committee sessions yesterday as he would ordinarily, including a session of the ownership committee of which he is part (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal). Selig yesterday "briefed the owners' executive council on the Dodgers' situation, including his investigation of the team's finances and the possible litigation McCourt might initiate" against MLB. Selig is scheduled to speak with reporters today (L.A. TIMES, 5/12).
READY TO LAUNCH: Astros Owner Drayton McLane said yesterday he is in the "final stages" of completing a reported $680M deal with Jim Crane to sell the franchise. While not quite as far along as some recent Houston-area media reports have suggested, McLane said the deal could be done in one to two weeks. Crane then likely would be presented for approval by MLB owners at quarterly owners' meetings this August in Cooperstown, N.Y. "I think we're close. It's a matter of finalizing things," McLane said. "It's very complicated. There's an RSN involved we're preparing to launch next year. But we're close" (Fisher).
A day after the immediate future of the NHL franchise in Phoenix "was decided, the fate of the one in Atlanta remained uncertain, with a spokesman for Mayor Kasim Reed acknowledging the Thrashers 'may leave' the city," according to Vivlamore & Suggs of the ATLANTA CONSTITUTION. The Coyotes "had been targeted" by True North Sports & Entertainment, which was "interested in purchasing the franchise and moving it to Manitoba." With the Coyotes "staying put, the Winnipeg group likely will turn its sole focus to the Thrashers." The Glendale City Council on Tuesday agreed to pay the NHL $25M to keep the Coyotes in Arizona for another season. Reese McCranie, spokesperson for Reed, said that Atlanta "has not been approached by the NHL about making a financial deal such as Glendale’s." McCranie added that even if approached, the city "would not consider it." McCranie: "The mayor has had robust discussions with business leaders in the metro region (who might) potentially buy or join a team of buyers to keep the Thrashers here. He has gone through extraordinary lengths to ensure that the Thrashers can stay in Atlanta, but at this moment there is not a deal on the table that we can present" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 5/12). The ATLANTA CONSTITUTION's Chris Vivlamore reported with True North "ready to pay $170 million, $60 million which would go to the NHL as a relocation fee, the door is open." A source said a deal "could move quickly" (AJC.com, 5/11).
STILL IN LIMBO: ESPN.com's Scott Burnside cites sources as saying that as part of the NHL's deal with Glendale to keep the Coyotes in the city for another year, the league "will have the right to begin the relocation process as of Dec. 31 if a new owner is not in place." There are some who "believe the city will take advantage of the broader window granted by the council's decision to try to ferret out a new potential owner who will agree to a deal that costs the city less money and hit the restart button on the entire process." Bulls and White Sox Chair Jerry Reinsdorf's name "continues to surface in connection with the team's future, although it's difficult to believe he would be interested in a deal that is significantly different than the one on the table involving Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer." Meanwhile, sources said that Hulsizer will "walk away" if it "looks like the city of Glendale is going to keep him hanging while it tries to find an owner who will kick in more money" (ESPN.com, 5/11).
WINNING ON A BUDGET: In Phoenix, Jim Gintonio notes with the Coyotes "guaranteed at least another year in the Valley," GM Don Maloney "faces the familiar challenge -- if ownership is not settled -- of cobbling together a competitive team under rigid financial constraints." Maloney will "talk with league officials Thursday and said a budget could be in place in a week to 10 days." He said, "By the City Council buying us, at minimum, another year, we can show people that we're a good developing team, a team that can have success on the ice and success bringing fans in the building. I don't think there's anybody sitting here saying, 'We're going to sell 17,000 season tickets in the next week.' We believe in the product and believe if we can put a good team on the ice, we'll get the support we need to be successful" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 5/12). Maloney said, "The NHL continues to work very, very hard to get a deal in place that keeps us here for a long time. But in the meantime, my job isn't any different than the other 29 managers" ("NHL Live," NHL Network, 5/12).
NESN's telecast of Bruins-Canadiens Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Game Seven on April 27 earned a "stunning" 17.7 local rating, a sign that "suddenly, for a few weeks, hockey is everything to the just-hatched fans" of the Bruins, according to Beth Teitell of the BOSTON GLOBE. The Bruins will make their first appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals since '92 on Saturday, and Boston is now a "hotbed of die-hard Bruins fans." The team noted that it "officially sold out every regular-season game at the TD Garden this season, and attendance -- 702,600 in 41 games -- was the highest average season attendance in Bruins history." However, the Bruins "lag" when it "comes to the regular-season at-home audience." NESN averaged a 3.1 local rating in Boston for Bruins regular-season games this year. By comparison, the Patriots averaged a 34.9 local rating in the market, and Nielsen indicated that the Red Sox "have generally been in the 8.0 range this year." Still, Teitell wrote, "In an age of multitasking and endless entertainment opportunities, jumping into a particular sport just for the good parts may be a sign of sensible time management" (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/10).
A SUCCESS IN NASHVILLE: In Nashville, Cooper & Mullen report the Predators averaged 16,100 fans this regular season, up from 14,900 in '09-10, and the 16 total sellouts this year -- 10 regular season, six postseason -- are "compared to four last season." Predators CEO Jeff Cogen said, "Generally speaking, I think it was a successful season." However, he added, "There are still 1,000 empty seats on average a game. So the mission is not accomplished" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 5/12). The Predators were eliminated from the playoffs Monday, and in Nashville, Gail Kerr wrote the team's first-ever trip to the Western Conference Semifinals was "clearly worth it." Kerr: "No one who saw the crowds Monday night can doubt what the playoff run meant. ... What a time it has been for downtown Nashville. And what's good for downtown is good for the whole city." Nashville Mayor Karl Dean said, "You go out after a game, and the honky-tonks are full, the restaurants are full. It works. They've got a fan base here now" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 5/11).
NBA Kings co-Owner George Maloof yesterday said that he "has agreed to make team financial data available" to a Sacramento-commissioned group "studying ways to finance a new sports and entertainment facility.” In Sacramento, Tony Bizjak notes that group, headed by ICON Venue Group and developer David Taylor, is “due to present an arena feasibility study to the City Council on May 26.” Kings officials “previously refused to provide business data for the study.” Maloof said that it is “too early to discuss how much his family might contribute financially to a new facility.” He added that he “needs to know more about Sacramento's approach to financing and operating a facility” (SACRAMENTO BEE, 5/12).
SITTING TIGHT: In New Jersey, John Brennan notes a year after the NJSEA “was harshly criticized” by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for its “purchase of $840,000 worth of personal seat licenses for Giants and Jets games, the agency so far has sold just 14 of the 122 PSLs.” NJSEA VP/Public Affairs & Communications John Samerjan yesterday said that the agency “will continue to seek to recoup at least the original price of the PSLs throughout the spring and summer.” He said that the agency “had ‘no problem’ selling the tickets at face value -- ranging from $120 to $420 a game -- to its corporate partners during the inaugural season at the New Meadowlands Stadium” (Bergen RECORD, 5/12).
CUTTING COSTS: In West Palm Beach, Ben Volin noted the Dolphins are “hardly alone in cutting back on employee salaries.” At least eleven other teams “have publicly admitted to instituting some sort of cuts with its employees -- Cardinals, Jets, Bills, Packers, Chargers, 49ers, Raiders, Chiefs, Steelers, Bengals and Rams -- and the league office in New York City, as well, announced 12 percent pay cuts for all employees last month.” Ten teams have “stated that they won’t be instituting cuts, but several made those pronouncements back in March and may have changed their mind.” Only the Colts, Bears and Giants “have said definitively that they won’t be instituting pay cuts” (PALMBEACHPOST.com, 5/11). ESPN.com’s Tim Graham noted cutting employee salary is "another in a long line of unpopular moves" Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross has made in the past year. Graham: “His local Q-rating might be lower than Cam Cameron's or Pat White's" (ESPN.com, 5/11).
THE NEW BUZZ IN TOWN: The AP’s Brett Martel noted support for the Hornets “appears to be building among fans and businesses in Louisiana.” The team has “sold about 8,000 full-season tickets for 2011-12, up from about 6,300 when the 2010-11 season began.” The Hornets “have set their season ticket goal at 10,000 because that is about what they had in 2008-09, the last time the club turned a profit.” Attendance figures are “a crucial factor in Louisiana’s ability to hold on to its NBA franchise.” While the club’s current lease at New Orleans Arena runs through '14, the team “has the right to escape the lease if a two-year rolling attendance average -- calculated at the end of each January -- dips below 14,735” (AP, 5/11).