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SBD/February 20, 2012/FranchisesPrint All
After eight seasons as a franchise, the Bobcats still “are not considered a part of the fabric of the community” in Charlotte, according to a front-page piece by Mark Price of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. Bobcats Owner Michael Jordan said that it is partly because of the decision by former Owner Robert Johnson in ’08 “to lay off the entire community relations staff.” They were the ones “responsible for coordinating team donations, community service projects and other acts of kindness.” Jordan: "The former owner let things slip." He added that “opportunities were lost in the process.” Charlotte's first NBA franchise, the Hornets, ranked No. 1 in league attendance for several years, and Jordan said, “I want to duplicate that. I want us to be No. 1 in attendance and No. 1 in the community. If we ask people to invest in us, we must invest in them." Johnson in an e-mail said that he is “confident in Jordan's leadership.” The team today is formally launching a charity initiative called Cats Care, where the Bobcats' staff -- including players, coaches and Jordan himself -- will “go from one charity to the next, feeding the homeless and poor families.” A highlight will be the “presentation of a refrigerated truck to Second Harvest Food Bank.” The truck, valued at “$125,000, will be a mobile pantry for the poor in largely rural areas.” Second Harvest Exec Dir Kay Carter said that the Bobcats are “giving the agency an additional $125,000 to buy food.” Bobcats officials said that the presentation “marks the start of what they plan to be annual charity events that focus money, service and publicity on pressing community needs.” The money “comes from both the team and Jordan.” The team “didn't give a specific amount for what it will give out annually to charity, but each year's giveaway will be at least $250,000.” Jordan said that Cats Care “has been nearly two years in the making.” The initiative “intends to highlight” education, wellness and fighting hunger each year, in addition to “lower profile efforts like donating books to libraries or sending players to mentor school kids.” The team has enlisted “sponsor SportSouth as a partner in the truck presentation” today (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/19).
STANDING OUT: WBTV-CBS’ Melissa Hankins reported the Bobcats "are doing much better than their peers” in terms of revenue. Fourteen teams "actually saw a decline in ticket sales, but not the Bobcats," as they are "seeing a spike.” Merchandise sales in the team store are up 31% in part because it now sells Jordan’s ”infamous shoes and Nike brand gear” (WBTV-CBS, 2/17).
Not even halfway through his first season as owner of the 76ers, Josh Harris "has to like the way things are going," according to John Finger of CSNPHILLY.com. Not only are the 76ers in first place in their division, but Harris said that ticket sales "are up" by 30% from last year. Before the 76ers' home game against the Mavericks Friday, Harris said, "The team winning is the biggest arbiter." Harris: "I want to win. But having said that I think we have a great basketball organization and a very experienced team. I am working through (team president Rod Thorn) and his team, and the reality of it is now having talked to a lot of people, there are no easy answers. You have to be opportunistic, you have to be on your toes. So we’re exploring all options." When asked about potentially using the team's amnesty clause next season on F Elton Brand, who "is owed" $18.1M in salary, Harris said, "For the right person, yes. Those are the kinds of things that if you do it and you do it wrong it puts you way back. You’ve got to be very careful but if it was a game changer we would consider that. It’s not something we’re afraid of. We’re a deep-pocketed, committed ownership group. But we’re going to be sensible about it. We’re not going to do that for anyone. It would have to be for someone really good" (CSNPHILLY.com, 2/17). In Philadelphia, Marc Narducci noted Harris "hasn't conducted many interviews, but he took some time before" Friday's game to "give his near-midway point state of the team." He said, "So far everything is at or ahead of expectations. ... Fans are starting to show up and we're 30 percent ahead of last year in terms of ticket sales." He added, "We're doing that with lower prices if you look, it is accelerating, and it is filling up great." Narducci noted the 76ers were "hoping to have a tribute to Whitney Houston," but team CEO Adam Aron "tweeted that at the request of the family, they declined." Aron tweeted, "Many have proposed we play Whitney Houston's national anthem as a tribute. We reached out to her family and they asked us NOT to do so" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 2/18).
SUPPORT THE PRODUCT: ESPN’s Magic Johnson said with the 76ers leading the Atlantic Division with a 20-12 record, “Hopefully, the city will come back out to watch this team, because it is a good team.” ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said, “I understand that attendance was still nothing.” Johnson: ‘You’ve got a great young team and then you’ve got a franchise who’s headed in the right direction, and they can build on that” (“NBA Countdown,” ESPN, 2/17).
To keep pace financially with "wealthy owners such as" the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones, the Packers have “become bigger and more corporate,” according to Dougherty & Demovsky of the GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE. But in the “arms race for revenue, the Packers must remain rooted in the small community that spawned the team and has kept it alive through sometimes dire financial times for the last 93 years.” Packers President & CEO Mark Murphy said, “Obviously we’re a bigger organization than we were 10 or 15 years ago, but I think we’ve done it in a way where we haven’t really changed the values. I think we’re cognizant of that.” The Packers are “in the middle of a $143 million stadium expansion and have spent nearly $28 million on land around Lambeau that they will be looking to develop in the near future.” Still, recent illustrations of the “pitfalls the Packers face when weighing business versus community is their relationship with the Packers Hall of Fame and the resignation” of team VP/Administration & General Counsel Jason Wied. The HOF in the Lambeau Field Atrium is an independent corporation, but the team “recently broached the possibility of taking over the Hall.” Sources said that the HOF’s exec committee and board “were outraged.” A source said, “The franchise has to be careful it doesn’t get too big and think, ‘We don’t need people.’” Dougherty & Demovsky wrote Wied’s departure “was a watershed day because for the first time in team history, the Packers didn’t have a president or No. 2 administrator with long ties to the team and Wisconsin.” The resignation “raised concerns about the increasing corporatization of the franchise and suggested the bonds might be stretched between the Packers and the NFL’s smallest community.” With Wied, the Packers had “a key administrator with strong local ties, and some thought him to be the ideal candidate to succeed Murphy.” But Murphy “disputed the notion that Wied’s departure has weakened the Packers’ local ties and pointed to, among other things, the team’s community outreach department started under his watch.” Murphy: “I’ve been here a little over four years and I think I understand the culture of the Packers.”
PASSING THE BATON: Following Wied’s resignation in January, a “key member of Murphy’s administration is” VP/Sales & Marketing Tim Connolly. In the 21 months Connolly has been with the organization, he has “become a dominant figure with an approach that some characterize as hard charging and others regard as too aggressive and occasionally heavy-handed for this market.” Team sources said that Connolly “appears to be taking the lead in most projects of note.” Wied’s leave of absence in November '11 and resignation last month “set off red flags.” His stated public reason “was an addiction to an herbal anti-anxiety treatment, but other issues may have contributed.” Several sources said that Wied and Connolly “clashed regularly on matters that fell into gray areas of responsibility.” Murphy said, “The league is becoming complex. It’s not the league that the Packers competed in (during) the Lombardi era, it’s become a much different business and I think at this level we need expertise to make sure the Packers remain competitive. Where you find that expertise is (another matter)” (GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE, 2/19).
The resolution of whether Dodger Stadium needs major renovations -- and issues “involving television rights, team revenues and control of the surrounding parking lots -- should go a long way toward determining whether the Dodgers sell for closer to $1.5 billion, as bidders anticipate, or closer to $2 billion,” as outgoing Owner Frank McCourt and his advisers anticipate, according to Bill Shaikin of the L.A. TIMES. SportsCorp President Marc Ganis said, "There are a number of very material factors that could swing the price by hundreds of millions of dollars, even approaching half a billion." Stadium renovations “are among those factors.” Blackstone Advisory Partners, the investment bank handling the sale for McCourt, has advised bidders that Dodger Stadium “does not need major renovation.” The Dodgers note that McCourt “has put more than $150 million into stadium maintenance and improvements since buying the team in 2004.” But a source estimated that a new owner “would face at least $200 million in renovation expenses.” Bidders also would “ponder the annual $14-million payment to McCourt for use of the Dodger Stadium parking lots.” Sources said that the sale price “might drop by more than $150 million if McCourt insists upon retaining that land rather than using it as a bargaining chip to extract the highest possible sale price.” McCourt said that he “plans to develop the land and does not intend to sell it.” Blackstone is “expected to suggest that groups relatively short on financing consider mergers.” Blackstone also has “encouraged prospective owners to secure hundreds of millions more to use in bidding by joining forces with Fox Sports or Time Warner Cable -- each company desperately wants the Dodgers' television rights -- and with private equity funds that could finance the launch of a regional sports network” (L.A. TIMES, 2/18).
SPRING FORWARD? The L.A. TIMES' Shaikin cited U.S. Bankruptcy Court documents that noted profits at Camelback Ranch, the Spring Training home for the Dodgers and White Sox, “fell 65% in two years -- from $2,162,047 in 2009 to $759,017 in 2011.” The documents noted that the main source of income at the venue “is ticket revenue, which fell from $3,567,800 in 2009 to $2,973,801 in 2011.” Cactus League attendance data showed that the average attendance for White Sox games “hardly budged -- from 6,119 in 2009 to 6,117 in 2011.” But the average attendance for Dodgers games “dropped 17% -- from 9,130 in 2009 to 7,365 in 2011.” Ticket prices at Camelback Ranch “have been cut this spring, with half-price tickets available for the Dodgers' first three games” (LATIMES.com, 2/17).
AND THE SURVEY SAYS ... A Marketing Arm survey found that in January '11, with the Dodgers “coming off a fourth-place finish in the National League West and owner Frank McCourt well into his second year of nasty divorce proceedings, the Dodgers still were more popular than every team in town except the Lakers.” By November, the team “had fallen to fourth in local popularity, behind the Lakers, USC sports teams and the Angels.” Still, Dodger Stadium “remained the most popular sports venue in the area” (L.A. TIMES, 2/18).
As Cubs players reported for Spring Training Saturday, new President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein stressed a collectively-written "Cubs Way" manual as a "way to get the entire system on the same page," according to Paul Sullivan of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. Epstein called it a "living, breathing thing" that will grow every year, emphasizing the team's philosophy on playing the game." He said, "The Cubs way really boils down to the people, the players, obviously, but then all the scouts, all the people in the minor leagues, here in the big leagues. It's more than words on a page. It comes down to how deep we dig to get connected to players, to teach the game the right way, how much we care, how committed we are, how we treat each other in the front office, the coaches, the players, how hard we work" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/19). In Chicago, Gordon Wittenmyer noted in the wake of sexual-assault allegations against SS Starlin Castro, the Cubs "plan to bring in experts from Northeastern University’s Center for Sport in Society to speak to minor-leaguers and big-leaguers about conduct away from the ballpark." Epstein said, "They’ve had a lot of experience dealing with professional athletes, just giving them the right tools to deal with situations off the field, emphasizing not only the right decisions to make but the right values with which to conduct our careers and themselves off the field" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 2/19).
NO MOVIE PLANS: The CHICAGO TRIBUNE's Sullivan noted Epstein "hasn't seen 'Moneyball' and isn't interested in getting it on Netflix." In fact, Epstein "still seemed peeved that inside information was released in the book." He said Saturday, "I think 'Moneyball' has become kind of a loaded term. That's not exactly what we do. We're just kind of trying to teach the game the right way. I wasn't a huge fan when certain proprietary information was made available to the public in the first place (in the best-selling book). Instead of a handful of clubs knowing certain things, within a year [or] two, 30 clubs knew it. It's not my cup of tea. I think it's great that is sounds like they made a really good movie and a lot of people got entertained. That's terrific. But it's baseball time, not movie time" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/19).
In New Jersey, Marc Carig notes Yankees GM Brian Cashman, who "allegedly was stalked by a woman who now faces charges of harassment," broke his silence about the scandal that has "lingered in recent weeks, calling the past three weeks 'difficult' to endure." Cashman said, "I have a professional and a personal life. I'm going to keep my professional life and continue to do my job to the best of my abilities. That's that, as I always have" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 2/20). ESPN N.Y.'s Andrew Marchand wrote Cashman's bosses have "completely supported him, as high-level officials with the team consider the matters personal" (ESPNNY.com, 2/19).
SCALING BACK HIS PRESENCE: In Houston, Jerome Solomon noted Astros Owner Jim Crane "made it a point to tell media that he wasn't likely to be accessible." He "wasn't going to be an out-front owner." In recent months, Crane has been "out front talking about changes in news conferences, traveled on a caravan to minor league affiliates and worked the room in perhaps a dozen meetings with season-ticket holders." Crane said, "The fans want to be engaged and they want to see a winner. You've got to make it personal and get out in front of the fans and the people that are buying the tickets." Crane said that when the season begins he "will step out of the spotlight." Astros CEO George Postolos said, "His instincts are incredible. He does what's necessary to be successful. He's very competitive. ... And right now he feels that he needs to be involved heavily while we strengthen the organization. He is very involved with customers" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 2/19).
THE METAMORPHOSIS: In Ft. Lauderdale, Craig Davis wrote the fact that Showtime is featuring the Marlins on its show "The Franchise" is a "testament to the stunning metamorphosis the Marlins have undergone -- from a franchise nobody cared to see to must-see unfiltered cable TV fare." It is "not surprising that more than 50,000 registered for a chance at about 1,000 tickets that will be made available for Opening Night at Marlins Park on April 4." But while the Marlins have been "diligent in establishing their presence in Miami through various charitable initiatives," Davis noted they "showed they are still prone to public relations blunders in unretiring the number dedicated to initial team President Carl Barger without first communicating with the family of the late executive" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 2/19).
OPTIMISTIC INVESTMENT: In Tampa Bay, Marc Topkin noted Rays Owner Stuart Sternberg's expansion of the team's payroll to around $65M was an investment in "optimism: In the team, and in the fans." Sternberg said, "I was tremendously heartened by the Scarborough numbers (showing the Rays are the area's most popular sports team) and I have faith this could be the year we have some breakthrough at the gate" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 2/18).