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New 76ers Managing Owner Joshua Harris and new CEO Adam Aron “unwrapped the first phase of what they hope will be a successful face-lift for the city's once-proud NBA franchise: reductions in ticket prices, a new slogan, and a website dedicated to opening communication between fans and ownership,” according to Kate Fagan of the PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER. A news conference yesterday “was the official swap in ownership," as Comcast-Spectacor, stewards for over 15 years, sold 100% of the franchise to Harris' investment group for about $280M. Although Aron and Harris were “unwilling to label the Sixers a 'distressed property,’ both said they believed the franchise wasn't fulfilling its potential, and the new ownership said it has pinpointed areas for improvement.” Aron “alluded to future announcements, but dropped four changes: a drastic price reduction for over 8,800 single-game tickets, a new slogan, 'Passionate. Intense. Proud,' a website, www.newsixersowner.com, where fans can submit observations and suggestions, and a dedication to improving the ‘fan experience on game night.’” Aron said that the “1,776 most intriguing submissions to the website will earn free Sixers tickets.” Ticket prices “will be reduced about 50 percent.” Yesterday’s push seemed “to revolve around opening communication: The new ownership wants feedback from its long-standing fans” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 10/19). Meanwhile, Aron said of the reduced ticket prices, “This is not a sale or promotion. These are our new ticket prices. Period. Full Stop … Simply stated, price will not be an obstacle in preventing Philadelphia sports fans from enjoying NBA basketball in person.” In Philadelphia, Bob Cooney wrote the Sixers have “outlined a tiered pricing system in which tickets for certain games will be higher.” Games designated “as ‘Select Games’ will be $5 more and ‘Choice Games’ will be $10 more” (PHILLY.com, 10/18).
BARGAIN SHOPPERS: In N.Y., Joanne Gerstner wrote Harris and his partnership group “are banking on the distressed economy and the ongoing NBA lockout makes this a good time to buy distressed property” (NYTIMES.com, 10/18). In Philadelphia, Joseph DiStefano writes Harris’ Apollo Global Management LLC has “a long record of buying big, complicated, troubled companies cheaply and reorganizing them to sell at a profit” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 10/19). The chart below lists members of the 76ers' new ownership group.76ERS NEW OWNERSHIP GROUP
Joshua Harris Marc Leder David Blitzer Martin Geller Adam Aron David Heller Will & Jada Pinkett Smith James Lassiter Jason Levien Michael Rubin Art Wrubel Erik Thohir Travis Hennings Handy Soetedjo
THE RIGHT FIT: In Philadelphia, Fagan wrote, “This new ownership group isn’t messing around. They’ve pinpointed what they felt were weaknesses from the previous ownership and they want to flip that on its head. … It’s a new game plan and a welcomed one” (PHILLY.com, 10/18). Harris said, “We were lucky enough to get one of the most successful teams in basketball history at a time when we could get an appropriate deal.” In Philadelphia, Bob Ford writes, “In other words, they stole it. If you don’t believe that, check their record.” The theme of the press conference “was to wrap the ownership transition in all things Philadelphia, presumably to offset consumer backlash against a group that is decidedly New York." It was “a reasonable marketing strategy -- cutting ticket prices wasn’t bad, either -- but the truth is that if the Sixers can become really interesting again and compete for a championship, fans won’t care whether the owners jet in from Bali for every game.” Meanwhile, Ford writes Comcast-Spectacor “leaves with their mouth shut. No one showed up at the news conference to hand over the locker-room keys.” It will be interesting to see whether new ownership "goes far enough to revive the Sixers but, after the last 10 years or so, just being interesting is a move in the right direction." The new owners “think they will solve the problem and, judging by their resumes, you can’t blame them." Smart “goes a long way” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 10/19). Also in Philadelphia, Rich Hofmann writes under the header, “Sixers New Owners Have Tough Task In Regaining Fans.” The new ownership group “will search for the answer that unlocks the puzzle of a basketball town that won’t buy basketball tickets.” The Sixers “remain the only pro team in town whose fortunes at the gate are so inextricable linked, year by year, to performance.” Lowering ticket prices “is absolutely the right way to go -- and especially if the lockout lasts for any significant period of time” (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 10/19).
FRONT-OFFICE SHAKEUP: The DAILY NEWS' Cooney reports 76ers GM Ed Stefanski yesterday “was informed that he was being relieved of his duties,” with one year left on his contract. Harris had decided to give President Rod Thorn “full charge of the duties he and Stefanski had shared last season” (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 10/19).
IN OTHER NEWS: In Atlanta, Tim Tucker writes the NBA “remains quiet on the proposed sale of the Hawks, which appears stalled in the approval process.” Atlanta Spirit’s agreement “to sell a majority stake in the Hawks, as well as the Philips Arena operating rights, to Los Angeles businessman Alex Meruelo was announced Aug. 7, contingent on approval by the NBA.” Ten weeks later a decision on approval “does not seem close at a hand.” NBA VP/Communications Tim Frank confirmed that a “vote is not on the agenda for the league’s” BOG meetings today and tomorrow (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 10/19).
The Dodgers and the club's unsecured creditors yesterday filed widely anticipated objections with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware again stating their opposition to an ad hoc group of season-ticket holders being recognized as an official committee in the case. Such recognition would give the season-ticket holders a more prominent voice in the team's reorganization and require the Dodgers to pay their legal fees. But the Dodgers said in their brief that their obligations to the season-ticket holders were honored in full and that the higher recognition would "confer ... rights and benefits to which they otherwise have no entitlement under bankruptcy or non-bankruptcy law." The season-ticket group had argued the club's alleged mismanagement had devalued the seats. But the creditors said, "Any eventual reorganization plan ... will not include plans for how many hot dog stands will be in operation at Dodger Stadium. ... These consumer concerns, if they come to fruition, are best addressed by consumer action -- refusing to purchase tickets for Dodgers games." Meanwhile, Kekst & Co., the PR firm representing the Dodgers during their ongoing bankruptcy case, yesterday submitted bills to the Bankruptcy Court for $349,382.93 in fees and expenses for its work with the club from June 27-Sept. 30. The billings include more than 113 hours of work on the case by summer interns at a rate of $175 per hour (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal).
IN RETROSPECT: In L.A., Bill Plaschke writes after reaching a divorce settlement with Jamie, Frank McCourt's "bitter half is gone, and we should mark the occasion with a moment of sigh-lence." Plaschke: "Sigh. It could have been so much different. Sigh. She could have done so much more. While both parties will forever share equal blame in this Dodgers mess, Jamie's legacy is tainted even further because in some ways, her responsibility was even greater." Frank "was never anything more than an East Coast real estate charlatan, but Jamie was supposed to be different." Plaschke writes, "Turns out, she was nothing but window dressing, cute and decorative and completely devoid of reality." She "preached community but only practiced Jamie," and she "talked about teamwork but only huddled with Jamie." She "not only couldn't run the Dodgers, she had absolutely no concept of the Dodgers." In the end, Jamie's "legacy will not be what she did, but what she didn't do." She "didn't manage," and she "didn't mentor." Plaschke: "One down, one to go" (L.A. TIMES, 10/19).
The NHL Kings “already got comfortable being the only gig at Staples Center for their home opener against” the Blues yesterday, according to Jill Painter of the Long Beach PRESS-TELEGRAM. The team “wowed” the sellout crowd of 18,118 with a 5-0 win. The outside of the arena “was covered with a huge black banner with ‘LA Kings’ on it, in letters bigger than Staples Center.” Kings coach Terry Murray said, “It's unfortunate the NBA is not up and running. We can hopefully be the benefactor of that. Get the spotlight on us and take advantage of that opportunity to leave a mark with our season and play well and do the right things for the city of L.A.” The players were introduced “with new laser lights, walked through a cardboard castle door and skated onto the ice under a new LED board with each" player's name on it. Even the pregame routine “received a makeover.” Kings LW Dustin Penner said of getting more media attention, "I'm sure we will, for lack of entertainment with the Lakers gone. But I don't think we've had a shortage of fans. I don't know if we'll notice it, but ESPN, they've got to fill that slot." Kings season-tickets sales are “up 1,500 over last year and single-game ticket sales up” 49.9%. The Kings “are painting the town in black, silver and white with a new ad campaign, dubbed: ‘The time is now.’” The campaign includes “team and player-driven billboards” featuring RW Dustin Brown, D Drew Doughty, C Mike Richards, G Jonathan Quick, D Jack Johnson and C Anze Kopitar. Most “are digitized, and each player is supposed to get face time on billboards this year” (Long Beach PRESS TELEGRAM, 10/19).
Red Wings players over the past two days participated in an initiative called "Hockeytown Thanks," meant to "spread goodwill through the community and thank business partners in southeast Michigan," according to Ted Kulfan of the DETROIT NEWS. Red Wings D Nicklas Lidstrom, who made pizzas at a Little Caesars store in Plymouth, said, "It's a great way for us to get out there and give back to the community and tell fans hockey is back and we're off to a good start." Red Wings RW Danny Cleary, who distributed cider and doughnuts at the Quicken Loans HQs downtown along with LW Justin Abdelkader, said, "We want to say thank you to all of our sponsors. This is a great opportunity to connect and reconnect with them and our fans." Kulfan noted the 4-0 Red Wings have "sold out their first two home games, and the crowds at Joe Louis Arena have been noticeably loud and enthusiastic." Cleary is "confident the excitement generated from the Tigers and Lions seasons will translate to the Red Wings." He said, "Detroit is a great sports town. We have some great fans at The Joe. We just haven't had enough games yet." Red Wings G Jimmy Howard, who was slated to work at a local oil change shop, said, "The last couple of years haven't been good (economically), so it's a chance to lift spirits and entertain them." Other Red Wings participating in the initiative included Ds Jakub Kindl and Ian White and C Cory Emmerton, who were "bagging groceries at the Birmingham Kroger" (DETROIT NEWS, 10/18). In Michigan, Ansar Khan noted "nearly all of the players were scheduled to make surprise appearances" as part of the community relations effort (MLIVE.com, 10/18).
In Houston, Richard Justice writes when MLB Rangers President & CEO Nolan Ryan took control of the club last year, he “brought leadership and credibility to a franchise that had none.” Ryan “set about reshaping the franchise in ways large and small.” Perhaps the “best thing he did, perhaps the most impressive one thing he contributed, was not doing certain things.” GM Jon Daniels “wasn't his kind of guy,” but Ryan “did what smart owners almost always do.” Rather than “make the decision almost everyone expected, he sat back, watched Daniels do his job, and became one of his biggest fans.” And now Daniels “might be baseball's best general manager” (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 10/19).
SUPPLY & DEMAND: The Timbers announced that they “have surpassed a 97 percent renewal rate" of their season-ticket base for the '12 MLS season. In Portland, Kip Kesgard noted the team originally “had announced a cap of 12,000 packages available, but added upon that number to accommodate extra demand; the Timbers eventually sold every available package and began taking applications for a waiting list.” The team “sold out every home match in 2011, including selected dates where stadium capacity was expanded to test the structure for possible expansion.” The Timbers’ season-ticket waiting list “now includes over 5,000 fans.” Season-ticket prices “for more than 80 percent of the seats at JELD-WEN Field remain the same as prices in 2011” (OREGONLIVE.com, 10/18).
PAY TO PLAY? In London, Gary Jacob notes EPL club Chelsea is “rejecting claims that free tickets have been handed out in an attempt to increase attendance.” The club insists that "about one thousand tickets have been given to their foundation after some fans had campaigned for a boycott of the game because of an increase in ticket prices.” Chelsea’s capacity at Stamford Bridge is “reduced by about three thousand to approximately 39,000 for Champions League games because of broadcasting and other considerations.” The club “blamed insufficient time to market tickets for the 33,920 attendance against Bayer Leverkusen last month and deny fans’ claims that 6,000 free tickets were handed out.” The club “put the figure closer to 1,000” (LONDON TIMES, 10/19).
THE CAT'S MEOW: In Charlotte, Erik Spanberg writes the NFL Panthers hope rookie QB Cam Newton and a “more exciting brand of football will build ticket sales momentum.” But there are “5,000 unsold tickets for four of the Panthers’ five remaining home games” at Bank of America Stadium. Panthers Dir of Tickets Sales & Operations Phil Youtsey said that to “cope with the downturn, the Panthers have bulked up their group-sales staff and expanded the sales area across the Carolinas in a more pronounced way for the past three years.” Youtsey said that it is “too early to discuss whether a sponsor will buy tickets to secure additional sellouts” (CHARLOTTE BUSINESS JOURNAL, 10/14 issue).