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SBD/May 17, 2011/FranchisesPrint All
Astros Owner Drayton McLane yesterday announced the $680M sale of the franchise to Houston businessman Jim Crane, according to Steve Campbell of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. The deal is "subject to approval from Major League Baseball owners, who likely will take 30-60 days to review it." Due to that timeline, Crane "won't be officially in charge of the franchise" for the June 6-8 MLB First-Year Player Draft, but McLane "has offered to let Crane sit in on the draft meetings and discussions." Crane, who would "become the fifth owner in the history" of the Astros, purchased the team "after unsuccessful attempts to purchase the Astros, Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers in the past three years." He confirmed that former Rockets President George Postolos will serve as Astros CEO and "handle day-to-day operations." Crane said, "Our team will work hard to deliver a superior product and a great experience for the fans. I believe in running a first-class franchise, and everything we do will be built around building a championship team." However, Campbell notes there "will not be any New York Yankees-style spending sprees or attempts at quick fixes." Crane: "There's only a certain amount of money you can spend. I can guarantee the partners in this room will not be happy writing checks every year. We will spend every dollar wisely. We will appreciate every dollar spent here" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/17).
SECOND PRICIEST DEAL: In N.Y., Richard Sandomir notes the $680M price tag "trails only the $845 million purchase of the Chicago Cubs by the Ricketts family two years ago." The Red Sox were sold for $660M in '02. McLane purchased the Astros in '92 for about $117M. Crane is "probably paying more for the Astros than he would have in 2008 because McLane, the Houston Rockets and Comcast last year created" Comcast SportsNet Houston. The sale "has to be approved by three-quarters of baseball's owners." If approved, Crane would be a "rare team owner who actually played the game." He pitched for the Univ. of Central Missouri (N.Y. TIMES, 5/17). MLB.com's Brian McTaggart reported Crane "will take over as majority owner, and it won't be known until the deal is complete exactly how much stake he'll have in the club." He has a "sizable group of investors, which includes 8-10 principal investors who were on hand at the news conference." Crane's group "will take ownership of the Astros' stake" in CSN Houston, which will "begin airing Astros games in 2013 and Rockets games beginning with the '12 preseason" (MLB.com, 5/16).
READY TO TAKE CHARGE: In Houston, Jerome Solomon writes Crane yesterday "wasn't flustered being the center of attention, though he emphasized he will not be an out-front owner." Solomon: "He plans to hire good people and hold them accountable for doing the job" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/17). Crane's wife, Franci, said that she believes Jim "will be less visible than McLane but is prepared ... to face scrutiny from talk radio and the blogosphere." She said, "You have to get your big-boy pants on. He's ready for that. He keeps his eyes on the big picture, and Houston should be glad that he won't be thin-skinned about things." Franci Crane added that the family "will not be consumed by baseball in the same manner McLane said he and his family were affected" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/17).
FRONT-OFFICE CHANGES: The HOUSTON CHRONICLE's Campbell notes Postolos' "accomplishments include seeing the Rockets through an arena referendum and a move to Toyota Center," as well as handling the "delicate negotiations that brought Yao Ming from China." He "left the Rockets in 2006 to form a company that helps groups buy sports franchises," and he "made runs at buying the Bobcats and Pistons before joining forces with Crane." NBA Commissioner David Stern said, "He is a work horse. He will do whatever it takes to get a particular project done -- day, night, every day, it doesn't matter. He has a goal, he sticks to it, he gets it done." Crane: "You always hire somebody as good or better than you are. I think George will do a good job of managing the day-to-day operations once he's able to sort out who he's got on the staff." Campbell notes the "impending arrival of a new regime casts doubt on the future of the current management team" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/17). FS HOUSTON's MK Bower noted there is speculation that Crane "will reorganize the Astros' baseball operations currently led by president Tal Smith and general manager Ed Wade." Crane: "We'll hire the best people we can find to run the business, and moving forward we'll make those decisions and go along" (FOXSPORTSHOUSTON.com, 5/16).
PLAYING IT STRAIGHT: In Houston, Richard Justice writes if fans were "expecting a song and dance" at Crane's press conference, they were "likely to be disappointed." Crane "spoke of building an organization by hiring competent people and holding them 'very accountable.'" He also "talked of building through the draft and spending money wisely." Justice: "In the end, it was impossible not to be excited about the new owner of the Astros. He'll bring fresh vision, different leadership and a completely new way of seeing the world" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/17).
MCLANE REFLECTS: MLB.com's McTaggart noted during McLane's tenure as owner, the Astros "made the playoffs six times in a nine-year span, including the team's first and only World Series berth in 2005." They had the "fourth-best record in the National League during his time as the owner." But "perhaps McLane's most-significant accomplishment as owner was the construction of Minute Maid Park, which opened in 2000 in downtown Houston and ushered in a new era of baseball" in the city. McLane "spoke fondly Monday about his tenure." McLane: "I'd like to say what a privilege it has been to be involved with the Houston Astros. We talk every day about being a champion, and these 18 1/2 years have been rewarding for me personally, for our family" (MLB.com, 5/16). McLane said that he now "will devote more time to family and other business interests." McLane: "I've got five grandsons under the age of 7, and I'll spend more time with them. And I still have eight to 10 businesses across the globe that I've been neglecting. And I want to get more involved in charitable projects through Texas" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/17).
The Atlanta Spirit officially is "in negotiations with Canadian-based True North Sports and Entertainment involving the sale of the Thrashers, which, if completed, would send the hockey franchise to Winnipeg," according to a source cited by Chris Vivlamore of the ATLANTA CONSTITUTION. The parties "have not entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement and they have not reached a deal." It is "not known how long the sides have been negotiating." However, the "fact that talks are underway could mean the Thrashers' relocation to Manitoba perhaps as soon as next season." A source said that a meeting "was held Monday between team officials and a prospective buyer interested in keeping the team in Atlanta." But "time appears to be running out on that possibility" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 5/17). Thrashers President Don Waddell yesterday said the team is exploring "all options" for new owners (AP, 5/16). In Winnipeg, Gary Lawless reported the NHL is "working on two schedule drafts for next season -- one with Winnipeg and another with Atlanta." True North is "approaching its internal deadline and while they could stretch things a bit its unlikely they'll allow this to drag into June" (WINNIPEGFREEPRESS.com, 5/16). The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts notes it is "not known if the sale can be completed in time to realign the conferences and divisions" for next season. The "most likely candidate to move east is the Predators, who could take the Thrashers' spot in the Southeast Division." The Winnipeg team could join the Northwest Division, with the Wild moving to the Central Division to replace the Predators (GLOBE & MAIL, 5/17).
BEGINNING OF THE END? In L.A., Helene Elliott wrote, "It's becoming clear that no one can or will step up to buy the Thrashers and keep them in Atlanta, which Commissioner Gary Bettman would prefer for the sake of U.S. TV markets and American advertising money" (LATIMES.com, 5/16). In Atlanta, Jeff Schultz wrote under the header, "Door Isn't Closed But Thrashers' Picture Still Gloomy" (AJC.com, 5/16). Also in Atlanta, Mark Bradley wrote, "The endgame has surely begun. It’s sad, yes. Given the way this franchise has been run, it’s also inevitable." He added, "Where the Spirit failed was in its basic commitment to hockey. The Spirit was made up of businessmen from three cities, most of whom preferred basketball. In the Spirit’s corporate eye, the Thrashers were always going to be the Hawks’ little brothers. Had the hockey club been well-run, that might have been OK. But the hockey club was adrift, and ownership didn’t much care" (AJC.com, 5/16).
NO WHERE ELSE TO TURN: In Toronto, Damien Cox writes, "While the 1997 expansion plan that added Nashville, Columbus, Minnesota and Atlanta to the league might not be a total failure, it certainly didn’t strengthen the league at all. All four clubs lose money, and only the Blue Jackets have the same owner as they started with." It was a "rash, foolhardy attempt to bloat the league to 30 teams, and it has ended up being a negative, not to mention a drain on league coffers through revenue sharing." Moreover, "not a single new market has opened up its doors to the league since, unless you count Kansas City." For three decades, the NHL governors "could always count on there being new cities out there willing to build arenas and pay expansion fees, but that well has run dry" (TORONTO STAR, 5/17).
The MLB Giants "will become the first professional sports team to jump into the burgeoning anti-homophobia campaign with an upbeat 'It Gets Better' video designed to bring hope to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender young people," according to a front-page piece by Rachel Gordon of the S.F. CHRONICLE. While "celebrities, politicians and everyday people have posted more than 10,000 'It Gets Better' videos to YouTube to build awareness of the continuing problem of gay suicide and anti-gay bullying, no teams in the pro sports world have stepped forward to produce a video." Giants fan Sean Chapin "began an online petition drive on the San Francisco website Change.org to get his hometown team on board the 'It Gets Better' project and persuaded more than 6,000 people to sign on." Giants Senior VP/Communications Staci Slaughter said that the team "had been thinking of joining the campaign before Chapin started his petition drive, but that his efforts speeded things up." She added that the "exact content of the video and which, if any, players or members of the coaching staff will participate have not been determined." The plan originally "was to produce the video for the Giants LGBT Night home game in August." But Slaughter said, "Now we're trying to get it done sooner than later." Recently, Suns Fs Grant Hill and Jared Dudley filmed a PSA for the "Think Before You Speak" campaign, "telling viewers that anti-gay remarks aren't cool." And on Sunday, Suns President & CEO Rick Welts "came out publicly as a gay man" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 5/17).
Kings co-Owner George Maloof is "still somewhat surprised the team is playing one more year in Sacramento," according to Arash Markazi of ESPN L.A. Maloof said, "The decision to remain in Sacramento was tough. We had what we thought was a very fair opportunity in Anaheim. ... It was a difficult decision to remain in Sacramento. I'm not going to sugarcoat that but we're going to give it another shot. We're going to give it an honest shot. And hopefully there's an arena there, and if not we're going to have to move on." Maloof said that he has yet to receive a formal arena proposal from Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, and the "discussions are in the preliminary stages a month after the Kings announced they were staying in Sacramento for one more season." The Maloofs "have put a tentative March 1 deadline on getting plans for a new arena in place, essentially giving Johnson 10 months to do what the Maloofs have tried and failed to do for the past 10 years." If the deadline is "not met, the Kings will file an application with the NBA for relocation." Maloof: "It's not going to be easy. We don't want to go back and fool anybody that it's going to be a slam dunk. We're not going to come back and tell the community we're here forever. It's this year. If you buy tickets, it's for this year and there are no promises beyond that." The family certainly will "contribute to the financing of a new arena." But Maloof said, "We are not going into this with a big checkbook." Asked about the chances of an arena deal, he said, "I say it's a long shot. I've said it before and I still think it's a long shot." Either way, the Maloofs are "looking for a quick resolution because the team continues to lose money playing in an outdated facility with only 30 luxury suites and 412 club seats." Maloof: "Arco Arena is not an NBA arena. It's not even an NCAA arena" (ESPNLA.com, 5/16).
THE KINGS AND I: In Sacramento, Ailene Voisin noted Johnson will represent the Kings at tonight's NBA Draft lottery in Secaucus, N.J. Gavin Maloof said, "It was my idea, and when I ran it by the family, they all loved it. We thought it would make a great statement for the family and the organization and the city to have the mayor go to New York. Look, we all want the same thing. We want to put the past behind us. The mayor has enough of a burden on him. We all want to get a new arena and get back to where we were, back to winning.” Voisin wrote sending Johnson to the lottery is a "brilliant move, a shrewd gesture, a big-time play." The mayor "earned this," and he "absolutely deserves the stage" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 5/15).
The Jaguars today announced Jaguars Advantage as the third component to their team loyalty program. The promo allows season-ticket holders to register an existing credit card to shop at JaguarsAdvantage.com. For each purchase made through the portal, fans can choose to receive either cash back through a PayPal account or credit toward future season tickets. More than 300 retail vendors are participating in the venture, including Foot Locker, Barnes & Noble and Dick’s Sporting Goods. The promotion is being handled by third-party vendor MyRewards.com, allowing multiple credit cards to be registered. Vendors’ redemptions range from 1-15% of the purchase total, and the team has promised to double the credit for fans that choose to credit the amount to their future season-ticket purchases. Jaguars Marketing & Sales Operations Senior Manager Steve Livingstone said a huge motivator for the new campaign was to drive tickets sales during the continuing labor situation. “The whole thing is designed to get the word out into the marketplace that we don’t want you to wait until this labor situation is resolved,” Livingstone said. The team’s ticket sales have been a roller coaster the past couple years, with the organization losing 17,000 season-ticket holders in ’09, then regaining 18,000 new season-ticket holders last year. The Jaguars are located in the third smallest market in the NFL, so the team has had to work overtime to move tickets. Livingstone said that renewals started at the beginning of the year and were at about 73% of the season-ticket base before the lockout began in early March, slightly ahead of last year’s renewal rate. To date, the team has sold 31,572 season tickets for next season, around 8,500 short of their goal of 40,000.
REWARDING LOYALTY: The Jaguars Advantage is the third and final aspect of the team’s loyalty program, instituted last year. Teal Deals, a coupon book with over $3,000 in savings, and Jaguars Rewards -- a card used at local merchants giving discounts on gas, dry cleaning and grocery stores -- were introduced before the beginning of the ’10 season. More than 200,000 gift certificates were redeemed, with some partners seeing redemptions of more than 10,000. Livingstone said that the team during recent renewal calls polled 400 renewing season-ticket holders and found that 344 had redeemed one or more of the Teal Deals last year. Livingstone estimates fans can recoup up to $500 worth of savings through Teal Deals, up to $150-200 through the Advantage program and $50-100 from the Rewards program. “Technically you could be earning about $800 during the course of a season on one $400 season ticket. And as a caveat to all that is, even if the season isn’t played this year, the fans will still be able to use these programs,” Livingstone said.
JUNE BUG: The Jaguars today also announced 30 Days of Teal, where fans that purchase or renew a season-ticket plan during the month of June will be eligible for a daily prize, including a pregame on-field pass, a free parking pass, a round of golf with one of the coaches or ultimately Super Bowl tickets.
While the T'Wolves in the past "have gone pretty big with the gimmicks and promotions for the NBA lottery," T’Wolves Senior VP/Marketing & Communications and CMO Ted Johnson said the team is “going to low-key it” this year, according to Michael Rand of the Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE. The T’Wolves enter tonight’s lottery with the best odds of landing the No. 1 pick, and Johnson said, “We did sort of think we’ll be the anti-gimmick campaign this year and see if it delivers any better results for us.” The team is again using its “Pay the Pick” promo, under which the price of each game in a season-ticket package coincides with the number where the T’Wolves are selecting. Johnson said the deal “gives us an interesting promotion at a time when people normally aren’t paying attention to us, and gets them engaged in what’s going on. … It’s a great way to get people in to sample the product at a low cost.” Johnson also said “discussions are in motion” regarding a marketing plan around G Ricky Rubio should he sign with the team this offseason. Johnson: “We haven’t absolutely locked into the creative concepts, but I think it’s a challenge we’re looking forward to.” He added the club is “trying to find a solution” to a possible Target Center renovation. Johnson: “We have a number of different paths we can pursue” (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 5/15).