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SBD/May 13, 2011/FranchisesPrint All
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman "refuted reports Thursday that an announcement was imminent on the sale and relocation" of the Thrashers to Winnipeg, according to Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com. Bettman said, "So people just make this stuff up, right? ... Whatever is being written (about Atlanta) is being made up." LeBrun notes that is "not to say the Thrashers won't move." A source said that the team moving to Winnipeg remains a "distinct possibility." Bettman: "You know my position on franchise relocation. But you also know that in the instances where we've moved, it's resulted in instances where nobody wanted to own a club there anymore." Bettman would not comment on whether the Thrashers and Winnipeg-based True North Sports & Entertainment had begun talks (ESPN.com, 5/12). Bettman on his "NHL Hour" show on Sirius XM Radio Thursday said, "I think everybody needs to take a step back because I think there's been a fair amount of speculation, supposition and even hysteria in the media, which has been largely fabricated" (NHL.com, 5/12). Meanwhile, in Winnipeg, Kevin Engstrom reports 17-year-old Edmonton native Parminder Sahota was able to "sucker the Twitterverse into believing a news conference announcing" the Thrashers’ move to Winnipeg had been slated for Friday at MTS Centre. She made the "faux announcement" to the 2,000-plus people who follow her Twitter feed and credited the story to TSN, which was “forced into publicly denouncing the tweet as inaccurate” (WINNIPEG SUN, 5/13).
QUESTIONS REMAIN: The ATLANTA CONSTITUTION's Jeff Schultz discussed the Thrashers with NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly on Thursday. Below are excerpts from the Q&A.
Q: Can you guarantee the team will be in Atlanta next season?
Daly: Nope. I can’t guarantee that.
Q: Can you address rumors that a franchise sale and a move to Winnipeg is pretty much done and that an announcement is imminent?
Daly: There is nothing that has been done, nothing has been planned and nothing has been scheduled. Certainly, no transaction has been agreed to, not that I’m aware of.
Q: You and commissioner Gary Bettman both made frequent trips to Phoenix to speak publicly about the Coyotes staying there, but there has been no similar efforts in Atlanta. Why not?
Daly: The situations are very different from a host of perspectives, not the least of which are the bankruptcy issues we had (in Phoenix), the fight in bankruptcy court and the league having to purchase the club. There were a unique set of circumstances that required the league’s presence in Glendale. The bottom line is, we owned that club.
Q: I understand that. But does that preclude you or Gary from coming to Atlanta to show support for the franchise and help the process?
Daly: No, of course not. If there was some reasonable sense that a public appeal would move the process along, then something would be done. But we’re not at that point (AJC.com, 5/12).
WORKING ON A SOLUTION: Atlanta Spirit co-Owner Bruce Levenson before Thursday's Bulls-Hawks game said the ownership group's job is to "find a solution" in Atlanta. But when asked if the solution is any closer than it was a month or two ago, he responded, "I don't think so. No." He added that he does not have a "drop dead date" to sell the team. Levenson said, "I hope we can find somebody who can come in and take either a controlling interest -- it's their choosing -- (or) own the whole thing. We have been working on this a long time" (11ALIVE.com, 5/13). Meanwhile, the GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts reports former Braves P Tom Glavine's efforts to put together a group to buy the Thrashers and keep them in Atlanta are "not going well." Glavine said that he "tried talking to people he knew who had both the necessary funds and interest in hockey but did not get anywhere." He said the Thrashers' chances of staying in Atlanta are "uncertain at best" (GLOBE & MAIL, 5/13).
The Sabres Thursday announced that they will raise season-ticket prices by approximately 5% for the '11-12 campaign. Price increases will range from $1-4 depending on the price level of the seat (Sabres). In Buffalo, John Vogl notes this is the "second straight year" the Sabres have increased season-ticket prices by about 5%. Packages for next season "range from $92 to $23 per ticket," up from $88 to $22 last season and a "big bump from $84 to $21 in 2009-10." The club asserted that its average season-ticket price of $44.85 still is $16 below the NHL average and ranks 23rd in the 30-team league. Vogl notes the "growth of league-wide revenue prompted the increase." The NHL's CBA states clubs "must generate year-to-year revenue growth in excess of the league average in order to earn a full distribution of revenue sharing." Next year's season-ticket package "features 42 games instead of the standard 41." The Sabres will host 40 regular-season games at HSBC Arena, "one less than usual because they will open the season in Europe." The other two games in the package are preseason contests, "which had been excluded." Season-ticket holders "will continue to receive a 2.5 percent rebate, which will be added to their Sabrebucks card when paid in full" (BUFFALO NEWS, 5/13).
With the Celtics done for the season and the Red Sox under .500, Bostonians are "jumping on the Bruins bandwagon, suddenly making hockey the hottest ticket in the Hub," according to Ira Kantor of the BOSTON HERALD. Ace Ticket President Jim Holzman said the Bruins' playoff run has "really grabbed the attention of the city." Ticket prices for the Bruins' Eastern Conference finals games against the Lightning at TD Garden range from $150-500 on the secondary market. It has been 19 years since the Bruins last made the Eastern Conference finals, and Holzman said that ticket prices "could 'double' depending on if the Bruins play a Game 5 or 7." StubHub Corporate Communications Manager Joellen Ferrer said that the average price for Saturday's Game 1 at TD Garden was $223 on the site. She added StubHub saw “a spike in sales as soon as the Bruins clinched the finals spot.” Meanwhile, TD Garden Pro Shop Retail Dir Lauma Cerlins said that the "newfound interest in the Bruins is also driving sales in women’s and youth apparel" at the team’s store. She noted C Brad Marchand's No. 63 jerseys and T-shirts have been “really, really flying” out of the store. Joseph Heiser, the manager of a Modell's in Cambridge, said that his store "sells an estimated 50 to 75 player T-shirts daily, with Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic being the most popular players" (BOSTON HERALD, 5/13).
Saturday night's MLS Timbers-Sounders game is the first match in the Cascadia Cup series involving the Sounders and expansion Timbers and Whitecaps, and that is "apropos, because the competition is particularly intense between fans in Portland and Seattle," according to Anne Peterson of the AP. The rivalry between the Sounders and Timbers "dates back to 1975, when both teams were part of the North American Soccer League," and the original Cascadia Cup was "introduced in 2004 when all three teams were part of the United Soccer Leagues First Division." Fans "pooled their money to buy the 2-foot tall trophy, which goes to the team that finishes with the best record in head-to-head matches between the trio, based on a points system." MLS Commissioner Don Garber: "We think the rivalry of our Pacific Northwest clubs will change the landscape of soccer in the United States and Canada and serve as an important driver in growing the popularity of our league." Peterson noted Sounders, Timbers and Whitecaps officials "agreed to set aside 500 seats for visiting fans for the games this season," and "among the stipulations is those fans will be seated in one secured area of the stadium in an attempt to keep any fan incidents from popping up." However, "one thing that really doesn't seem to be of major concern is the hooliganism that sometimes taints European soccer matches." The "overwhelming sense is that the rival groups need to represent the teams in a positive light now that they're both big time." The three fan groups "even met in March for the so-called Cascadia Summit to discuss their roles" (AP, 5/11).
RIVALRY REBORN: In Seattle, Steve Kelley writes the first Timbers-Sounders game marks the "rebirth of a rivalry." Kelley: "This is a game that you circle on your calendar, like a holiday. The first game in what certainly will be a long, rich rivalry. ... Sounders vs. Timbers will be real and raunchy and the passion in the stadium will be every bit as inflamed as it is" when Spanish clubs Real Madrid and Barcelona play. Sounders TV analyst Alan Hinton said, "There's a real buzz about the place, isn't there? Playing regular games is exciting, but this is absolutely magnificent." Former Sounders and Timbers coach Bobby Howe: "This is absolutely great for both the cities and for the fans in both cities. And I think it's important for the MLS right now to create these local derbies" (SEATTLE TIMES, 5/13). SI.com's Grant Wahl wrote Saturday's game "may well be the high point in the revolution that has turned this area into a soccer-mad region." The Sounders are averaging more than 36,000 fans a game "to lead the league, while Portland is the darling expansion team whose rabid supporters have helped the Timbers go 4-0 at home in MLS" (SI.com, 5/12). Timbers coach John Spencer wryly said of Saturday's game, "I'm pretty sure it's going to be one of the best atmospheres -- probably the second-best atmosphere -- in the country, second to" the Timbers' Jeld-Wen Field. Spencer: "First and foremost, Seattle is our fiercest rival. We know that, but you still can't hide away from the fact that they've done a tremendous job up there from top to bottom. You've got to give credit where credit is due" (SEATTLE TIMES, 5/13).
TAKING A LOOK IN THE MIRROR: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Hannah Karp writes Sounders and Timbers fans are "kicking around a new dilemma: How to work up a healthy hatred for fans who, in so many ways, look and think exactly alike." Sounders fans "can no longer claim to be the league's most rugged supporters, as 18,627 Portlanders turned out in a torrential, freezing rainstorm last month for the Timbers' opening home game" against the Fire. The Sounders "boast a 'democracy' that gives fan voting rights on decisions," while the Timbers consult "regularly with its supporters group, the Timbers Army, and trumpets the team's commitment to community service." Karp also notes while the Sounders' "scarf-wielding supporters may look edgy compared to the baseball fans across the street at Safeco Field, Portland fans boast at least as many piercings, tattoos and mohawks." The Timbers-Sounders "animus isn't new: these fans have been at odds since the 1970s." But many current fans are "newcomers who only got hooked when their cities' MLS teams were born" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 5/13).
Former Rockets President George Postolos would serve as CEO of the Astros under prospective Owner Jim Crane, overseeing "day-to-day operations of the club," according to Richard Justice of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. Postolos also would have an ownership stake in the Astros. He would "report to Crane, who heads a group of at least eight investors" and would carry the title of Managing Partner. Justice notes Crane and his group are "putting the finishing touches" on their $680M purchase of the Astros from Drayton McLane, and the deal "could be formally announced as early as next week." It is unclear what Crane's ownership would "mean for the Astros’ current management team at Minute Maid Park." Postolos has had a "long friendship with Astros president Pam Gardner and is said to have a high regard for her" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/13).
HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM: In Houston, Zachary Levine reports as the '11 MLB season progresses, "attendance at Minute Maid Park is almost sure to wind up at a record low." Since peaking in '06, "attendance has fallen every year" for the Astros. The 28,783 fans the Astros averaged for home games last season was down 23% from '07, and "attendance is down again" this season, at 24,726 fans per game. This year's average is "down 4,057 from a year ago, though a fairer number is the 912 it’s down from the first 19 home dates of 2010" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/13).
MLB Commissioner Bud Selig on Thursday said that Mets Owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon and Saul Katz "are on track to select a buyer for a minority stake in the team by the end of the month," according to Michael O'Keeffe of the N.Y. DAILY NEWS. Selig, speaking at the conclusion of the MLB owners' meetings, said that he remains confident Fred Wilpon and his partners "will be able to solve their financial woes by selling a minority interest in the club." Selig declined comment when asked if he "was concerned that Steve Cohen, the billionaire hedge fund manager who sources say is the leading contender for the share in the Mets, could be dragged into a federal investigation into insider trading." Sources "disputed reports that claimed Cohen has pulled out of the bidding for the Mets." Selig said that Wilpon and Allen & Co. Managing Dir Steve Greenberg, hired by the Mets to assist with the sale, "have not yet identified a final candidate." Selig: "Steve Greenberg keeps me very well-informed. He's very confident of moving ahead to a very satisfying conclusion" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/13). Fred Wilpon Thursday said that he is "convinced that his family will maintain a majority share of the team." He said the team's search for a minority partner should be completed in "the next couple of months." Asked if he was confident about maintaining control of the Mets, Wilpon said, "Oh, very" (NEWSDAY, 5/13). In N.Y., Dan Martin notes when "pressuring the money-losing Mets in November to find a buyer for a minority stake in the team, the commissioner had set the owners meetings as the benchmark to name a buyer." Still, Selig Thursday said, "I think they're moving forward to a very satisfactory conclusion" (N.Y. POST, 5/13).
MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, speaking Thursday afternoon at the conclusion of quarterly owners meetings in N.Y., said there is "no predetermined outcome" to the ongoing monitoring and investigation into the Dodgers' operations. Club Owner Frank McCourt on several occasions in the past three weeks has accused Selig of running a sham process designed to force him out, something the commissioner vehemently denied. "The outcome is not predetermined," Selig said. "We wouldn't have to go through all of this if it was all predetermined. People can say whatever they want, but it's not predetermined. … We're doing this thoughtfully, carefully, and with a lot of planning." Former Rangers President and U.S. Ambassador Tom Schieffer continues to monitor the club, while MLB outside legal counsel Proskauer Rose is leading the investigation into the club's finances. Those efforts continue without a set timetable. McCourt, meeting face-to-face Wednesday with Selig, sought again to convey the significant time urgency of his financial issues. But Selig said to reporters Thursday only that he is proceeding "expeditiously." "Nobody is using the Dean Smith four-corner offense. We're trying to move as fast as possible." Selig refused to further characterize the meeting with McCourt, or address any questions regarding the much-discussed possibility of the Dodgers failing to meet their May 31 player payroll. A defaulting on the player payroll could render the Dodgers' players free agents. "I'm just not going to address any of that," Selig said in response to several questions on the topic (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal).
WATCHING TV: McCourt Thursday said that he "had impressed upon Selig the urgency in approving the Dodgers' proposed long-term television contract with Fox, which would provide McCourt with the funding he now lacks to meet the team's May 31 payroll." McCourt: "I just emphasized the importance of timing." In L.A., Bill Shaikin notes even if Selig "were to approve the deal by the end of the month, McCourt might have to overcome another significant hurdle." Two sources indicated that Fox "does not plan to move forward with the contract until the company can be assured Jamie McCourt -- Frank McCourt's ex-wife -- would not challenge the deal." A source said that Jamie, in correspondence with Selig's office, "has asserted her right to a say in the Dodgers' television deals" (L.A. TIMES, 5/13). Schieffer discussed the Dodgers' situation on Thursday and said, "The complexity of the situation is daunting. The way things are structured, sometimes they're for tax purposes and sometimes they're for liability purposes, but it does require you to try to follow the dollar through the process, and that takes a little bit of time" (AP, 5/13).