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True North Sports & Entertainment Chair Mark Chipman yesterday formally announced the group’s purchase of the Thrashers and its intent to move the team to Winnipeg. “Our city and our province has received the call we've long since been waiting for,” Chipman said. The purchase is still pending and requires a 75% vote of approval by the NHL BOG, which meets in N.Y. on June 21. The move will be the NHL’s first since the Whalers left Hartford for North Carolina in '97. The group has not decided on a name for the club, which will play at the 15,015-seat MTS Centre. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the transaction was finalized early yesterday morning, and that decision was made because Thrashers owner Atlanta Spirit could not find a suitable buyer in Atlanta. “With the celebration here, there is obviously regret about what is happening in Atlanta,” Bettman said. True North has set out to sell 13,000 season tickets before the June 21 BOG meeting. Season tickets go on sale today to AHL Manitoba Moose season-ticket holders and corporate partners, and on Saturday to the general public. True North CEO Jim Ludlow said the 13,000 ticket mark is not being imposed by the NHL. Bettman said robust season-ticket sales are necessary for a franchise to work in Winnipeg. “It doesn’t work if this building isn’t full every night,” Bettman said (Fred Dreier, SportsBusiness Journal). Package prices, per game, range from C$39-129 -- a total of C$1,755-$5,805 per 45-game season (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 6/1). True North is "seeking between a three- and five-year commitment" from ticket buyers (WINNIPEG SUN, 6/1). USA TODAY's Kevin Allen reports the "purchase price was $170 million, which includes a $60 million relocation fee that goes to the NHL" (USA TODAY, 6/1).
REALIGNMENT BATTLE: A league source said that the NHL "will not realign its divisions for the 2011-12 season, meaning Winnipeg will play in the Southeast" (ESPN.com, 5/31). However, in Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch notes the "battle over realignment is set to begin in earnest." League sources said that Bettman "faces a battle in the boardroom with three teams angling to move into the Eastern Conference to replace" the Thrashers. The Red Wings, Blue Jackets and Predators "all want to move." An NHL exec said, "This is going to be a huge fight" (OTTAWA SUN, 6/1). Red Wings Senior VP Jim Devellano said, "I can assure you that Commissioner Gary Bettman knows (owner) Mike Ilitch's thoughts on this. I guess all I can say is that we have our fingers crossed" (USA TODAY, 6/1). In Raleigh, Luck DeCock writes, "The NHL has millions of reasons to keep the Red Wings and the Blackhawks in the same division -- it's one of the matchups Versus and NBC like" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 6/1).
MOVING UP NORTH: The CP's Chris Johnston noted, "Moving to a hockey hotbed from one where the sport was rarely in the spotlight, the Thrashers are expecting a little bit of culture shock now that they've landed in Winnipeg." Thrashers G Ondrej Pavelec: "It's four sports in Atlanta and we were No. 4 I think. The people in Atlanta like baseball, they like American football. ... Everyone knows we had problems (getting) the fans to watch our games. I think for hockey it's a good thing." Thrashers G Chris Mason said, "Next year it's going to be hockey, hockey, hockey. I just love that. I think it's going to be awesome" (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 6/1). Mason added, "I'm just excited to know NHL hockey is coming back to a city that has always wanted hockey. They never wanted it to leave. But circumstances there were out of the fans' control, as they are now for fans in Atlanta. It's not their fault; they really had no say in this" (USA TODAY, 6/1).
NOT GUARANTEED SUCCESS: ESPN.com's Scott Burnside wrote, "For all the flag-waving that the impending move of the Thrashers to Winnipeg has generated throughout Canada (or at least in much of the Canadian media), Winnipeg is a small outpost city in an unforgiving prairie. Players will not flock to play there. That is the reality." Winnipeg has a "fraction of the corporate community that Atlanta has and even a fraction of the corporate community that beleaguered Phoenix has." It "hardly seems like a guaranteed recipe for success, but that tell you just how badly things have gone in the South" (ESPN.com, 5/31). YAHOO SPORTS' Nicholas Cotsonika wrote, "Make no mistake: This is not what the NHL wanted." Just because the Thrashers will relocate to Winnipeg "does not mean the team will succeed or necessarily even stay for good." Business -- "not nationalism, not romanticism, not anything else -- will determine where this team goes from here, and it faces plenty of challenges and uncertainties" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 5/31). In Montreal, Pat Hickey writes, "Moving the franchise to Canada isn't an instant recipe for success" (Montreal GAZETTE, 6/1).
PERSISTENCE PAYS OFF: In Winnipeg, Tom Brodbeck writes Chipman and True North "have done a great thing for this city and this province." Brodbeck: "Bringing the NHL back to Winnipeg is easily the single most important development this city has seen in decades. And it wouldn't have happened without the disciplined, measured approach taken by Chipman and his True North partner David Thomson over the past seven years" (WINNIPEG SUN, 6/1). Bettman: "The one thing that I think Mark Chipman demonstrated in this process is quiet, behind-the-scenes patience tends to work better than the alternative" (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 6/1). Chipman has indicated that his team will be "more Nashville than Detroit, closer to the floor than the ceiling of the salary cap." But "when he sees a chance, he'll go for it" (WINNIPEG SUN, 6/1). Chipman said that he will be "contacting Thrashers GM Rick Dudley in the coming days to discuss the future leadership of the franchise but one thing is certain" -- Moose GM Craig Heisinger will have a "major role" (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 6/1). Meanwhile, Thrashers President Don Waddell said that he "won't remain" with the team after the sale closes and "isn't sure of his next career move" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 6/1).
HERO OR VILLIAN? In Winnipeg, Ted Wyman writes under the header, "Bettman Transforms From Villain To Hero." For years he has been "thought of as a villain whose hate for Canada and love for the Southern U.S. was to blame for the demise of NHL hockey in places like Winnipeg and Quebec City." Yet there was Bettman yesterday "proclaiming word many Manitobians never thought he'd utter: The NHL is coming back to Winnipeg." Bettman said, "It was clear that times have changed for Winnipeg as an NHL market and this [is] a wonderful time to add a club to Canada. Hockey in Canada has never been stronger and the NHL has a different economic structure which allows the so-called small-market teams to compete" (WINNIPEG SUN, 6/1). The CP reported thousands gathered in downtown Winnipeg to "watch the announcement on a big screen." Fans "booed and chanted 'Bettman sucks' when he appeared on the screen" (CP, 5/31).
WHO'S GOT NEXT? In Edmonton, John Mackinnon notes Quebec City is "committed to constructing a state-of-the-art arena in hopes of bringing the NHL back to that city." However, Bettman yesterday said from Winnipeg, "Other communities shouldn't be reading ... what's happening here into any other situation, either with respect to speculation that a franchise may move or that another city is going to get one. That would be a mistake, it would be inaccurate. And so, people shouldn't get their hopes up" (EDMONTON JOURNAL, 6/1). Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume yesterday "lamented how Quebec City is quibbling over the construction of a new arena." Labeaume: "We should be in a blitz with the NHL to make sure we're next on the list (after Winnipeg), but instead, we are here fighting a minority" (Montreal GAZETTE, 6/1). Meanwhile, in Houston, Jeffrey Martin writes the AHL Aeros are "thriving." But Houston Sports Authority Exec Dir Janis Schmees said, "If we're able to bring in a NHL team, we're going to jump at that opportunity." She said that there is "no such movement afoot." But she added that if the NHL "were to settle in Houston with the Toyota Center as its home base," Rockets Owner Les Alexander "would own the team" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 6/1).
LEGAL DISCLAIMER: AMLAWDAILY.com's Brian Baxter reported Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom banking partner Thomas Gowan advised the NHL on the Thrashers sale. Atlanta Spirit is being advised by DLA Piper corporate and finance partner Charles Baker, while True North is being advised by Robert Lee from Winnipeg-based Aikins, MacAulay & Thorvaldson (AMLAWDAILY.com, 5/31).
Atlanta yesterday became the "first city in the NHL's modern era to lose two teams" after Atlanta Spirit was unable to find a buyer to "keep the team in Atlanta" amid losses pegged at roughly $20M a year, according to Tim Tucker of the ATLANTA CONSTITUTION. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman: "As we have said repeatedly, we don't like to move franchises. But sometimes, we simply have no choice." He added, "To our fans in Atlanta, we are not happy about leaving Atlanta. Please be assured it was never about whether Winnipeg is better than Atlanta. The decision to come to Winnipeg was made only after Atlanta's ownership made the decision that they were going to sell, even if it meant that the club was going to leave Atlanta" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 6/1). Atlanta Spirit co-Owner Michael Gearon said that he "talked with a wide range of wealthy people who he thought might help the Thrashers survive" in Atlanta. He "traced those talks as far back as a December 2007 meeting in Atlanta" with RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie and a July '08 meeting with producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Gearon said that he "remained optimistic of finding a buyer or investor to keep the team in Atlanta until 8 p.m. on May 21, when Thrashers president Don Waddell informed him that the last long-shot potential bidder -- the wealthy widow of a man who had dreamed of owning an NHL franchise -- decided not to proceed." Gearon: "Where we stand is we can't afford to keep funding the losses, and nobody who is financially viable has made us an offer to keep the team in the building." He added, "Fans deserve to be angry. It's an emotional process and I can understand it and appreciate it. Dealing with that with my own family has been brutal" (AJC.com, 5/31). Atlanta Spirit sent a letter to Thrashers fans following the announcement of the sale (AJC.com, 5/31).
TRYING TO FILL THE VOID: The Thrashers averaged an anemic 5,500 HHs per game for their telecasts on FS South this season. In the six seasons since the lockout, the team's telecasts never averaged more than 8,000 HHs. "FS South worked closely with team executives to try to increase interest in the Thrashers, but due to challenges on and off the ice, the marketplace never fully embraced the team," said FSN VP/PR Chris Bellitti. Sources said FSN is looking into distributing other NHL teams in the Atlanta market, including potentially the Hurricanes and Predators (John Ourand, THE DAILY).
GIVEN A FAIR SHOT? In Atlanta, Jeff Schultz wrote, "It's about greed and abandonment, plain and simple. It's about a disingenuous ownership group, which had long lost any semblance of credibility, serving up fans swill and gruel and then wondering why the turnstiles sleep at night." The NHL is "leaving a city that never really was given a chance." Schultz: "Atlanta didn't fail. The franchise failed. ... Bettman will be happy to collect another fat relocation fee, and he'll deliver the same canned, phony speech about how he always believed in this market" (AJC.com, 5/31). ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun wrote, "I don't feel like the Atlanta market was given a real chance had there been proper ownership." ESPN.com's Scott Brunside: "The NHL will never be the same, and this move is likely to create some significant changes in how the NHL looks over the next year" (ESPN.com, 5/31). In Toronto, Damien Cox writes, "How humiliating to have to beat a hasty retreat from Atlanta after only 11 years" (TORONTO STAR, 6/1).
As the Canucks make their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance tonight since '94, the organization “has turned into a marketing juggernaut, the envy of virtually every other franchise" in the NHL, according to Rod Mickleburgh of the GLOBE & MAIL. Corporate sponsors are "piling on, merchandise sales are going through the roof, and the Canucks have not had an unsold ticket to a game at Rogers Arena since November of 2002, the longest such streak in the NHL." Canucks COO Victor de Bonis said that the Canucks "rank second or third in the league” in merchandise sales. He added, "During the playoffs, our sales have been even better. We’re having trouble getting enough inventory." In addition, the Canucks website "recorded more than two million hits" in April. Facebook followers "have doubled since the playoffs began to more than 400,000," and the team has "another 100,000 fans follow on Twitter." Vancouver's Team 1040 radio host Tom Mayenknecht said that "with their marketing strength and current run" to the Cup Finals against the Bruins, the Canucks "could be on the way to becoming the country’s third ‘national team,’” along with the Canadiens and Maple Leafs. He estimated that the Canucks’ postseason success “will mean millions in extra revenue and significantly boost the team’s overall value.” Mayenknecht: “They could gross between $30-million and $45-million this year. They are making serious money” (GLOBE & MAIL, 5/31).
BY POPULAR DEMAND: In Vancouver, Mike Hager reported “it’s getting increasingly tough to buy a new Canucks jersey.” Stocks of Canucks jerseys "won’t be replenished until July, as the city’s obsession with its team has now reached a level the official jersey supplier Reebok couldn’t predict." An NHL store rep said, "We do have some available, but they aren't leaving the warehouse for three to four weeks." Kai Buchan, an employee at the Hudson's Bay flagship store in Vancouver, said that blank team jerseys sold out Monday and "other jerseys were going fast" (VANCOUVER SUN, 5/31). The NHL indicated that Canucks merchandise sales are "up approximately 30 percent and online sales on NHL.com up 60 percent from a season ago." In N.Y., Gerald Narciso notes the playoff run “has also been a TV ratings hit." More than 2.89 million fans in the B.C. market watched the Canucks' Game Seven victory over the Blackhawks on April 27, "more than the 2.45 million who watched the gold medal game between Canada and the United States at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics” (N.Y. TIMES, 6/1).
Bruins Owner Jeremy Jacobs "can take a bow" for his club's "exciting surge to the Cup finals that has whipped Boston's passionate fan base into a frenzy, but he's probably better off keeping his head up when skating through the neutral zone with the team's loyal following," according to Mike Reiss of ESPN BOSTON. Jacobs’ “place in Boston's sports ownership landscape is quite different” from Red Sox Owner John Henry, Patriots Owner Robert Kraft and Celtics Managing Partner & CEO Wyc Grousbeck. He has “always had the dough, but it seemed easy to question if he had the same commitment and passion as Black and Gold followers who were investing in his team each year.” Jacobs said, "I'm extremely proud to own this franchise. We're in good shape, the family is fortunately in position where we can continue to own this franchise for generations going forward. We've brought great stability to this franchise. It's been in the Jacobs family for 36 years, and I would be proud if it could stay there for the next 36 years” (ESPNBOSTON.com, 5/29).
FEELING VINDICATED: In Boston, Ron Borges wrote Jacobs “always insisted he was willing to spend to win even when there was piddling evidence of that.” But Jacobs since the '04-05 NHL lockout has "done what he said he’d do once a market system was in place that he didn’t feel was the business version of ‘Coeds Gone Wild.’" Now that a "cap is in place he spends to it, and the result has been the following: The Bruins have some high-priced players, and those players have carried the owner to the Stanley Cup finals.” Jacobs said the team’s appearance in the Cup Final “does validate that we’re filling the holes with the right people and bringing the right organization together.” Jacobs: “It validates the quality of the management and the leadership, the leadership not just at the top but throughout the organization. I think the organization from the top to the bottom has evolved into a singular objective. ... I’m very proud of what they accomplished.” Jacobs addressed the team Sunday, and Bruins coach Claude Julien said, “I was happy that he did take the time to speak to our team. We don’t see him much during the regular season. He comes and watches games, but he certainly is not one of those owners that will interfere and then come down much” (BOSTON HERALD, 5/30). In a front-page piece for the BOSTON GLOBE, Shira Springer writes the "distance Jacobs keeps" helps account for his "image as an aloof owner, someone too far removed from the Boston sports scene to truly value the Bruins' place in it." Jacobs said of fans' opinion of him, "I don't think it would be time well spent to try and get them to change their image. If over time, they come to a different conclusion, that would be nice. People who know me know my level of passion for my sport. Your actions have to speak louder." Springer writes the "prospect of winning the NHL's ultimate prize gives the much-maligned Bruins owner a rare opportunity to remake his image" (BOSTON GLOBE, 6/1).
ROAR RESTORED: In N.Y., Jeff Klein wrote even though Boston residents “never stopped loving and playing hockey at the local level … their love for the Bruins was relatively dormant.” Klein: “The feeling among fans for years was that the team’s management was content to turn a profit and did not really care about winning the Cup. That feeling might have intensified in the last decade as the Patriots won three Super Bowls, the Red Sox won two World Series and the Celtics won an NBA championship.” But in Boston this past weekend, "from the North End to the South End and every place in between, it was all Bruins, all the time.” Klein: “It has been a long time since so many Bostonians cared so much about the Bruins" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/31). Modell's Sporting Goods Senior VP/Marketing Jed Berger said that sales of Bruins gear "took off" after the team won Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Lightning on Friday. Berger: "We had a huge Bruins couple of days over the weekend. Every store has triple-digit increases in fan merchandise sales." Berger added that Bruins G Tim Thomas T-shirts "are the top seller" (BOSTON HERALD, 6/1).
The Packers have not imposed pay cuts or furloughs since the lockout began nearly three months ago, but team President & CEO Mark Murphy on Friday revealed that he "hasn’t ruled out that possibility if the labor dispute drags on," according to Mike Vandermause of the GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE. The Packers could "withhold pay from selected employees," including Murphy, GM Ted Thompson, coach Mike McCarthy, assistant coaches and "other high-level directors." Murphy said, "It's based on when we're going to start missing revenue." He added that the lockout "has had only a small financial impact on the Packers, primarily involving sponsorships." Vandermause noted "about three-fourths of the NFL’s 32 teams have imposed some sort of pay reduction" (GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE, 5/28). Steelers LB Larry Foote called the pay cuts and furloughs "ridiculous" and said, "We all know through this lockout owners aren't losing money, they're making money. They pay us $1,000 a week just to work out. Roster bonuses haven't been paid." He added, "To lay people off to save money. I don't know who they're trying to fool. How the heck are they laying people off? I don't get that part. That ain't right right there. That's affecting people's lives; they're not making millions of dollars, many of them are going check to check" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 5/29).
TAKING THE WRONG APPROACH: ESPN.com's Gene Wojciechowski wrote owners such as the Dolphins' Stephen Ross, who has reduced staff salaries during the lockout, "don't get it." Wojciechowski: They endorse a strategy that guarantees a lockout but fail to understand the financial trickle-down effects it has on the worker bees of the organization" (ESPN.com, 5/29). In Boston, Greg Bedard wrote the decision by some teams to cut pay and institute furloughs "deserves no patience from the public." The trend is "becoming more widespread by the day." Bedard: "That this is happening in May -- before much, if any, revenue is affected by the labor impasse -- says the owners expect the lockout to last a while. At the least they want the players to think that. And that makes these workers financial hostages" (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/29). Univ. of Chicago economist Allen Sanderson said, "My guess is they are not looking at this long term. One way is just sort of short term -- we need to make the payroll this month and don’t have money coming in. The other is either politically, psychologically or from a public-relations basis, it shows some suffering on the part of one side. ... Part of it is symbolic" (ESPN.com, 5/27). CNBC’s Darren Rovell said teams are laying off "more employees because they can." Rovell: "It just makes sense. It’s almost like, ‘Why do the owners charge more for tickets?’ Not because of what they’re paying the players, it’s because they feel like they can and they have an excuse” ("Washington Post Live," Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, 5/31).
MARCHING TO A DIFFERENT BEAT: In New Orleans, Jeff Duncan noted many teams "have imposed layoffs, furloughs or salary cuts," but the Saints "have done none of the above." The team "has frozen a couple of open positions until the lockout is resolved," but otherwise, it has been "business as usual." Thanks to the lease agreement they signed with the state of Louisiana in '09, the Saints "are well-positioned to weather a protracted work stoppage." Although they "stand to potentially lose millions in game-day revenue if the lockout stretches into the season, built-in revenue streams from the Saints' leases with the state at Benson Tower will be unaffected." The lease "makes the Saints one of the most profitable clubs in the NFL" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 5/29).
Prospective Mets minority partner David Einhorn “has a path to majority ownership,” according to a source cited by Adam Rubin of ESPN N.Y. Einhorn “has agreed in principle to purchase roughly 33 percent of the team for $200 million, which will infuse cash and keep the organization solvent in the immediate future.” The source said that in three years Einhorn “has an option to up his stake to 60 percent, although principal owner Fred Wilpon and his family have an opportunity to block Einhorn from gaining that majority stake.” The source said that the Wilpons “can stop Einhorn from gaining the majority share essentially by returning Einhorn's initial” $200M investment. In the “latest incarnation of the deal, if the $200 million is returned Einhorn's share of the team will be reduced from a third to a sixth.” Sources said that Einhorn is “shielded from any obligations should the Wilpons have an unfavorable resolution” in the suit filed against them by Bernie Madoff trustee Irving Picard (ESPNNY.com, 5/29). In N.Y., Thompson & Madden noted $100M of Einhorn's $200M investment will be “going toward what is believed to be about $600 million in debt carried by the club.” A source said that Einhorn is “structuring the deal so that he is in effect assuming the $100 million in debt as a protection in the event of a judgment against the Mets' owners” in the Madoff litigation. If the Wilpons "end up with a favorable ruling in the Picard case, Einhorn's $100 million in debt will then become equity" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/29). Also in N.Y., Thompson, Madden & O'Keeffe note if the Wilpons and Saul Katz "are going to retain control of the Mets, and their family's fortune, their best hope may be legislation introduced last week" by New York state Rep. Gary Ackerman. Ackerman's bill "would bar bankruptcy trustees" such as Picard "from suing investors victimized by a Ponzi scheme unless the trustee could prove they participated in the scam." Under the Ponzi Scheme Investor Protection Act of 2011 sponsored by Ackerman, the "only investors who would face 'clawback' litigation would be investors whom the trustee can legally establish were complicit in a Ponzi scheme or negligent investment professionals" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 6/1).
STRAIGHT FROM EINHORN: In N.Y., Andy Martino noted Einhorn during a press conference Monday “repeatedly declined to confirm that the agreement between him and the Wilpons contained a path” for him to become the principal owner. Einhorn said, "I can't disclose the terms, as per the agreement. It just wouldn't be the right thing to do. But let me just say this: When the agreement first came out, when the discussion first came out, there was a lot of reaction that this was a very one-sided agreement in favor of the Wilpons. And now as other stuff, much of which is not correct, has come out, there's a lot of you who think that the agreement is very one-sided in favor of me. And I think both of those characterizations are wrong.” Einhorn did “offer a timetable for finalizing the agreement.” Einhorn: "The goal is by the end of June, and there is a little bit of cushion in that. So if it goes smoothly, it will be a little quicker than that” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/31). Einhorn on Monday “declined to make any guarantees about reviving the franchise, saying he hopes the sale will be complete by the end of June but that the financial future of the team is ‘uncertain.’" When asked if he “could assure fans that the next few years will not be a slide into financial oblivion for the Mets,” Einhorn said, “I can’t make any such assurance.” Einhorn: “It will be what it will be, you know? It’s not that people aren’t going to try really hard to avoid that sort of a circumstance. But the future is uncertain and there’s a wide range of possible outcomes of all sorts of things” (NEWSDAY, 5/31).
ON THE RIGHT PATH: The N.Y. DAILY NEWS’ Filip Bondy wrote the sale of a minority stake in the Mets is a “Hail Mary by the Wilpons and a smart play by the hedge-fund guy.” Bondy added, “While we wait for this narrative arc to play out in several acts, the interim period may well become the darkest of Dark Ages in Flushing” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/31). The WALL STREET JOURNAL’s Brian Costa wrote while the Mets “appear to be on the path to financial recovery, the path back to profitability and championship contention could still be a long one” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 5/31). The N.Y. POST’s Terry Keenan wrote, “For all their woes, the money-losing Mets still offer great value at a time of turmoil in the financial markets.” The club is the “only National League baseball team in the biggest city in the land.” It is “virtually immune from competition -- and that monopoly status and accompanying brand name is worth a lot” (N.Y. POST, 5/29). MLB.com’s Fred Claire wrote the Mets “now find themselves with a partner who understands how good analytical decisions are made and one who has had a lifelong love affair with baseball” (MLB.com, 5/29). Smith College sports economist Andrew Zimbalist said Einhorn is “buying a distressed asset.” Zimbalist: “He’s an investor -- and he’s a risk taker” (NEWSDAY, 5/29).
GAME-CHANGER: In N.Y., Tyler Kepner wrote Wilpon’s “orchestrated publicity push, in The New Yorker and Sports Illustrated, has changed the game.” Wilpon “presented himself as in charge and in touch, sharing the passion of the fans, at least those who still come to the games.” It was “not appropriate to rip" Carolos Beltran, Jose Reyes and David Wright, but if that is “the kind of owner Wilpon wants to be, the George Steinbrenner model, then he should play the part.” Kepner: “Instead, Wilpon has gone into hiding. … It is cowardly, and it undercuts whatever good will he hoped his candor would achieve with the fan base. The lack of accountability is galling” (N.Y. TIMES, 5/28). In New Jersey, Steve Popper wrote the Mets for a week “put out Wilpon as the face and the voice of the organization.” But now with “every ticket they’d like to sell, with every fan they’d like to attract, they have to hope that voice can be cast aside and silenced.” Popper: “They have to hope no one was listening to Fred Wilpon” (Bergen RECORD, 5/29). In N.Y., William Rhoden wrote Wilpon’s “legacy now hangs by the slender thread of unresolved legal and financial issues that could take away the true love of his life: his baseball team” (N.Y. TIMES, 5/29).
COOL RECEPTION: In N.Y., Josh Kosman noted a “unique fan-backed plan to bail out the money-losing Mets got a cool reception" from MLB. A group of "wheelers and dealers from investment bank Tritaurian Capital concocted a plan to buy a minority stake" in the Mets from Wilpon "partly by selling shares priced at $999 each to thousands of Mets fans, and also by raising money from institutional investors." Sources said that the BuytheMets group "submitted a bid for the Mets, but MLB -- which must approve any investor who buys more than 10 percent of the team -- was less than thrilled by the idea of the team selling a significant stake to a group that included thousands of investors" (N.Y. POST, 5/31).
The Brewers through 25 home dates were averaging 33,133 fans per game at Miller Park, down from an average of 34,278 fans for the entire season last year, but Brewers COO Rick Schlesinger noted the team is "ahead of last year's pace," according to Don Walker of the MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL. Schlesinger: "We have sold a little over 2.2 million tickets so far this year. At the same point last year, we were a little bit under 2.1 million." Schlesinger added that he "still believes the Brewers can draw 3 million fans this season, the third time the franchise would do so since 2008." Walker noted as of May 25 the Brewers had recorded "five sellouts at Miller Park" this season (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 5/28).
DROPPING FASTER: In N.Y., Nate Silver reported the Mets' attendance through Monday was "running 13 percent behind last season's pace, which in turn ran 15 percent below 2009's." But the news is "a little bit worse than that still, for two reasons." First, the "downward trend appears to be accelerating." The Mets averaged 29,281 fans through their first 10 home dates, "just barely behind last season's pace." Since then, the team has averaged 28,024 fans "versus 34,425 for the comparable period in 2010." Also, the drop in attendance is happening "despite lower ticket prices." The average seat at Citi Field "sells for $61 this season, down from $70 last year and $79 in 2009" (NYTIMES.com, 5/31).
FALLING PRICES: ESPN CHICAGO's Jon Greenberg noted ticket aggregation web site FanSnap.com indicated that the average ticket for the Cubs' remaining 51 home games costs $82. Greenberg: "Last year at this time, it was $91. Two years ago, when the Cubs were still competitive, it was $111." Those numbers "don't tell the whole story," as there were $3 tickets for today's game against the Astros available as of yesterday afternoon. Greenberg wrote the Cubs "have been very proactive, to their credit, in offering regular deals" (ESPNCHICAGO.com, 5/31). In Chicago, Ed Sherman noted the Cubs are "doing everything they can to move tickets." Just before the start of Monday's game against the Astros, it was "stunning to see the centerfield bleachers nearly empty." Sherman: "They did fill up a bit, but there still were pockets of open space throughout the bleachers. I can't remember the last time I saw that, especially on a perfect day." A crowd of 30,450 attended the game, which marks a "big drop in revenue" for Cubs Owner the Ricketts family, "considering the old reality would have seen a full house of 40,000 people on a holiday." Sherman noted the Cubs were down 90,694 in attendance through 28 home games, "a figure that is expected to rise if the team doesn't improve on the field" (CHICAGOBUSINESS.com, 5/31).
DISENCHANTED FANS: In L.A., Chris Erskine noted the Dodgers through Sunday had drawn 196,367 fans this season at Dodger Stadium, down 7,013 per game from last year. In a "tough economy, nearly half the Major League teams have suffered attendance drops." But there is "nothing like the Dodgers' slide," as league attendance on average "has fallen 302" fans per game. Dodgers VP/PR & Broadcasting Josh Rawitch said, "Internally, we think it's a number of factors." But Erskine wrote, "The ultimate target of disenchantment is owner Frank McCourt. Were there such a thing as owner approval ratings, his would be Hooveresque" (L.A. TIMES, 5/31).
SUCCESS STORY: In Dallas, Evan Grant noted the Rangers "surpassed 1 million fans for the season Friday," marking the "second quickest the team has eclipsed the million-fan mark." The team through 29 dates had drawn 1,064,405 fans this season, an average of 36,703. The Rangers "are on pace for the biggest season attendance mark in club history" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 5/29).