SBD/December 21, 2011/2011 Year in Review

Welcome Aboard: New Additions To The Sports Business Landscape This Year

This year saw many new additions to the scene, whether it be expansion teams, inaugural events or stars looking for a change of scenery. Here are a few of the new kids on the block that caught our attention.

KICKING THINGS OFF: The MLS Timbers became the hottest ticket in Portland, selling out all 17 home games. The expansion team brought the league a great amount of buzz, creating the latest iteration of the Cascadia Cup with the Whitecaps and Sounders and one of the loudest venues in the league. The team currently boasts a season-ticket waiting list of more than 5,000 fans. Not bad for a rookie.

JET PROPELLED: Winnipeg’s NHL rebirth came in June when fans bought 13,000 season tickets following the announcement of the sale of the Thrashers to True North Sports & Entertainment. Jets fans enthusiastically chanted Gary Bettman’s name upon return to the ice and bought up the team’s new colors and military-inspired logo gear. The city is so wrapped in Jets fever even other entertainment venues noticed a decrease in sales.

CRABCAKES AND CARBORATORS: IndyCar hit the Inner Harbor Labor Day weekend with the inaugural running of the Baltimore Grand Prix, and while the series had high hopes for the event, the results exceeded their expectations. An estimated 150,000 people attended the three-day event, and driver Tony Kanaan said, "I've never been to a place for the first time that was this crowded and the fans were passionate." The series immediately signaled its desire to return next Labor Day, though event organizers currently face large debt.

MetLife paying as much as $20M a year to
put name on New Meadowlands Stadium

JERSEY SCORE: MetLife picked up one of the highest-profile naming-rights deals in U.S. sports, as it put its name on New Meadowlands Stadium. The deal is for as much as $20M a year, no small change but a drop from the $30M some analysts projected the stadium would command when it opened in ’10. MetLife admitted one of the reasons it pursued the deal was for the media exposure leading up to the ’14 Super Bowl.

PRINCE ALBERT: The Angels showed the nation how the west hopefully will be won and shocked the baseball world by signing Albert Pujols to the second-largest contract in MLB history. The deal is expected to bring needed exposure to the team through a boost in ticket sales and an expected bump in merchandise sales. Pujols also is the largest pawn yet in the Angels’ quest to take advantage of the Dodgers’ struggles and gain market share in L.A.

BREAK ON THROUGH: It took a long time for the Ontario government to finalize MMA legislation, but UFC’s debut foray into the province was nothing short of spectacular. More than 55,000 fans flooded Rogers Centre for UFC 129 in April, bringing in a record gate of C$11.5M. The event was so successful that UFC made a return visit in December, drawing 18,000 fans to Air Canada Centre.

THE VOICE: Former Red Sox manager Terry Francona entered the Fox booth during the ALCS having broadcast just one game in his career, but his two-game stint as a pinch hitter for Tim McCarver resulted in a slew of positive reviews. Words like “sharp,” “relaxed,” “a great listen” and “terrific” rolled in from all corners. Francona will have a regular spot on the dial next year, serving as an analyst on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball.”

KANSAS CITY, HERE WE COME: Livestrong Park, MLS Sporting KC’s new home, has been hailed for its focus on technology with QR codes on the seat backs and Cisco’s new wireless Internet access system. The soccer-specific stadium served as a launch pad for the U.S. women’s national team’s post-World Cup tour and next year will host U.S. Olympic qualifying tournaments for both CONCACAF and the U.S. Soccer Federation prior to the London Games.
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