SBD/October 27, 2011/FranchisesPrint All
Sources “dismissed a report” yesterday that said L.A. businessman Alex Meruelo's attempt to purchase the Hawks “is in jeopardy,” according to Lance Pugmire of the L.A. TIMES. ESPN.com reported the NBA “has ‘concerns’ with Meruelo’s effort to fund the deal to buy the Hawks from the current Atlanta Spirit ownership group.” Meruelo yesterday in a statement said, “I have more than ample resources to purchase and operate the Hawks in a first-class manner.” Sources said that the Spirit execs “were comfortable with the funding,” but that the NBA is “pushing for more information from Meruelo about how he’ll fund the franchise.” The sources “speculate the report of the deal’s being in ‘jeopardy’ is part of the effort to pressure Meruelo to modify the deal and ‘a grand overstatement’” (L.A. TIMES, 10/27). In the original report, ESPN.com’s Marc Stein cited sources as saying that “there are concerns at the league level and within the Hawks’ current ownership group, headed by Michael Gearon Jr. and Bruce Levenson, about whether Meruelo indeed has the sufficient funds to purchase a majority stake in the franchise and operate an NBA team.” A source said that Gearon and Levenson “have acknowledged in recent league meetings that they might have to own the team for at least one more year.” Sources said that the “prospect of Meruelo's deal collapsing was mentioned Tuesday when the Board of Governors convened in New York to discuss revenue-sharing plans” (ESPN.com, 10/26). In Atlanta, Tim Tucker notes both the NBA and the Atlanta Spirit yesterday “declined to discuss the Meruelo matter.” A source said that as of late yesterday, “the proposed deal had not been terminated by either side, or by the NBA, but was in peril” (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 10/27).
TIME FOR A CHANGE: In Atlanta, Jeff Schultz wrote Meruelo's deal to buy the Hawks falling apart "would be bad news." Atlanta Spirit “is a damaged brand at this point and new ownership is needed.” Meruelo does not “bring any guarantees as to how good of an owner he would be, but he certainly would provide a needed new face in the executive suite” (AJC.com, 10/26). Also in Atlanta, Mark Bradley wrote the “refreshing part about Meruelo is that this franchise’s checkered history doesn’t faze him, but there’s now a chance he could become another paragraph in the tangled tale of woe.” And then “we need ask: If not Meruelo, who?” Bradley: “Could anyone in Atlanta summon up one iota of enthusiasm for yet another season of Hawks basketball as presented by Atlanta Spirit?” (AJC.com, 10/26).
The Dodgers and MLB have rekindled settlement negotiations in the club's ongoing bankruptcy case, according to industry sources, prompting yesterday's surprising four-week delay of a key evidentiary hearing that had been slated to begin Monday. Retired U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Farnan has been the mediator for the case since July, but until recently had made little progress, as evidenced in part by the rising vitriol in the briefs filed by each side in the case. It is uncertain whether the renewed talks will actually produce a deal, or how serious the talks currently are. But MLB, which for weeks has been trying to force a sale of the Dodgers, is not likely to sign any settlement deal that does not involve embattled Owner Frank McCourt relinquishing control. It is unknown what McCourt would seek in return for an agreement to sell the team. The Dodgers in legal filings with the bankruptcy court this week said the club, Dodger Stadium and related land are worth "in excess of $1 billion." Even if McCourt fetched such a sum, which would easily be an MLB record for a franchise sale, he may not have much left over after paying off debts, taxes and his divorce settlement to ex-wife Jamie. Dodgers and MLB execs, along with their lawyers, declined to comment yesterday. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross did not cite a reason in his one-page order yesterday for pushing the evidentiary hearing from Oct. 31 to Nov. 29-Dec. 2. Absent a settlement, the evidentiary hearing will include arguments on competing reorganization plans: a forced sale of the club that is preferred by MLB and a rapid sale of the Dodgers' cable TV rights advanced by McCourt (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal). In L.A., Bill Shaikin reports McCourt "discussed a potential settlement with league officials Monday and Tuesday." But a source said that the settlement talks "hit a snag when the league declined to guarantee McCourt a specific return for selling the team." The source added that the league, which has "already loaned McCourt $150 million in bankruptcy financing, is not willing to subsidize his exit should the team sell for less than whatever figure he might ask MLB to guarantee." Another source said that MLB is "willing to work with McCourt on conducting an auction" (L.A. TIMES, 10/27).
IF I OWNED THE TEAM ... ESPN L.A.'s Ramona Shelburne noted former MLBer Steve Garvey, who is leading a group with an interest in purchasing the Dodgers, indicated that if he were successful in his bid, one of the first things he would do to Dodger Stadium "is upgrade and modernize some of what he called its 'embarrassing' amenities." Garvey appeared yesterday on ESPN Radio 710 L.A. and said, "One of the first steps is to make a significant investment into refurbishing the stadium and bringing it up to 21st century style technology in entertainment. We're far behind." Garvey "reiterated his involvement" with ESPN baseball analyst and former MLBer Orel Hershiser "and an investment group interested in buying the team if McCourt is ultimately forced to sell." Garvey said that if he were part of the Dodgers' new ownership group, he would "be 'very aggressive' in retaining the Dodgers existing talent and pursuing free agents who could help the club return to prominence" (ESPNLA.com, 10/26).
The Cubs have hired Padres GM Jed Hoyer as Exec VP & GM and Padres Assistant GM Jason McLeod as Senior VP/Scouting. The Padres have promoted Senior VP/Baseball Operations Josh Byrnes to replace Hoyer as GM. Press conferences announcing the moves will be held after the World Series (THE DAILY). In Chicago, Gordon Wittenmyer reports the teams "agreed on compensation of one player to be named later to allow Hoyer and McLeod out of their contracts with the Padres." Both are "thought to have five-year contracts with the Cubs, matching the length" of President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein's $18.5M deal. Unlike the "contentious compensation dealings between the Cubs and Red Sox for Epstein, which remain unresolved, talks between the Cubs and Padres have been smooth from the start." That is "partly because of Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts’ strong relationship with Padres CEO Jeff Moorad and partly because of Moorad’s ability to promote Byrnes, his old GM when both were with the Diamondbacks, into a bigger role" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 10/27). Also in Chicago, Paul Sullivan notes Cubs VP/Player Personnel Oneri Fleita and Scouting Dir Tim Wilken "will remain in their current positions," but both now "will report to McLeod" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 10/27). Meanwhile, in San Diego, Bill Center notes Byrnes' "first order of business will be to realign a front office that has lost its two top officers in Hoyer and McLeod, who was in charge of the Padres draft and development." The "top in-house candidates for McLeod’s job" are Assistant GM A.J. Hinch, VP/Player Development & Int'l Relations Randy Smith and Dir of Scouting Jaron Madison. A source said that the team "could go outside the organization to fill McLeod's position" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 10/27).
HIRE GROUND: The Angels yesterday interviewed MLB VP/Baseball Operations Kim Ng yesterday for their vacant GM position, and in L.A., Helene Elliott write the team should hire Ng "not because she's a women or despite the fact she's a woman." They "should hire Ng because she is experienced and accomplished at many facets of the game." Dodgers GM Ned Colletti said, "Kim deserves an opportunity. She's done just about everything there is to do to prepare." MLB Exec VP/Baseball Operations Joe Torre, who hired Ng to work with him in the commissioner's office, said, "It would be a terrible loss for us. But I think she is ready to take that next step." Elliott writes, "She is prepared for the Angels job. The Angels should be prepared to hire her" (L.A. TIMES, 10/27). Meanwhile, former Dodgers GM Dan Evans is scheduled to interview with the Angels today or tomorrow. The team is also "expected to receive permission to interview" Rangers Assistant GM Thad Levine after the World Series (L.A. TIMES, 10/27).
St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster yesterday said that he "doesn't see the Tampa Bay Rays doing much to market the team in the Tampa Bay area," according to DeCamp & Van Sickler of the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES. But Pinellas County Commission Chair Susan Latvala said that Foster "went a step further when he called her Friday." Latvala recalled Foster saying to her, "I believe that they are deliberately trying to hurt the team financially by not promoting it adequately." Foster, who "has called himself the Rays' biggest cheerleader, questioned Latvala's version" of the conversation. Foster: "That's stupid, that's ludicrous. That was not said. I would challenge Susan to her face if she says I said that. She won't put words in my mouth." Latvala stood by her recollection of what Foster said to her Friday. The City Council today "will discuss Rays marketing and what the city can do to help, one week after its contentious discussion last week on the team's future." Latvala said that Foster told her the Rays "spent $500,000 on marketing, and it was on the low end" of MLB. Rays VP/Communications Rick Vaughn said the team spends "far in excess'' of $500,000 on marketing. He said, "Our budget for giveaway items alone exceeds that amount" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 10/27).
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD? In St. Petersburg, John Romano writes, "You probably shouldn't waste any time worrying about the Rays losing executive vice president Andrew Friedman before the 2012 season." Instead, "save your angst for 2013. Or 2015." Romano: "The reality is the franchise's uncertain future in Tampa Bay will lead to a lot of soul-searching for Friedman, and others in the organization, in the coming years. ... If the owner is talking about selling, if the commissioner is preaching gloom, if the market is not responding in unison, wouldn't you worry about future working conditions?" Friedman "works without a contract and is free to leave whenever he chooses." Romano continues, "What you have is a relationship that is unlike any other in baseball today. It is based on friendship, trust and shared experiences. It is a partnership just strong enough to encourage someone to walk away if it's in their best interests" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 10/27).