SBD/April 6, 2012/FranchisesPrint All
The terms of the Dodgers' sale to Guggenheim Baseball Management “are scheduled to be filed in court Friday, the first of several steps required before April 30, when the deal is set to close,” according to Bill Shaikin of the L.A. TIMES. The court is “expected to approve the sale April 13.” However, the sale terms will be reviewed closely by attorneys for MLB, Fox Sports and former Owner Frank McCourt's ex-wife Jamie, “all of whom have reserved the right to object.” Sources said that MLB “could mount the most significant challenge, though the league does not intend to derail the sale and in any case appears to lack the legal authority to do so.” Sources also said that several owners “have expressed concern that a significant amount of the purchase price is expected to be funded by Guggenheim-controlled insurance companies.” A source said that the new ownership group, fronted by Basketball HOFer Magic Johnson and former MLB exec Stan Kasten, is “expected to add local investors after the deal closes, which would reduce the reliance on insurance funding." However, the league "cannot mandate any such change as a condition of the sale.” Retired federal judge Joseph Farnan, who will mediate, “would probably reject any MLB challenge on the basis that the basic financial terms of the deal have not changed from the one the league already had approved.” A source said it could mean “there are no new investors, and there is no added debt because the bid remains all cash except for assumption of the Dodgers' current debts.” Fox Sports had "reserved the right to challenge any involvement by rival Time Warner Cable in a new Dodgers ownership group." Sources said that Guggenheim “has no deal with Time Warner Cable … leaving the new owners free to launch a team-owned cable channel or auction the Dodgers' television rights among Fox, TWC or CBS” (L.A. TIMES, 4/6).
MAGIC ACT: In L.A., Bill Plaschke writes although Johnson owns only a tiny percentage of the Dodgers and there are “not yet any guarantees about the scope of his daily influence or power,” it is clear that he “is their new face.” Plaschke: “He is their new voice. He is even their new conscience, as the Dodgers kept sneaking peeks at him before taking the field each inning Thursday, and then glanced up at him as if seeking approval after each big play.” When Dodgers CF Matt Kemp hit a two-run home run in the team's 5-3 win over the Padres Thursday, Johnson “walked over to the dugout, stuck his head in and congratulated Kemp.” Kemp said, “That was kind of cool.... He was like 'Nice job, kid,' and I was like 'Hey, that's Magic Johnson right there.'" Johnson: “When my group bought this team, I said I was going to be there with them, and for them. Today I wanted to show the players exactly what I meant” (L.A. TIMES, 4/6). Meanwhile, the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER’s Alex Block wrote compared to the Lakers, the Dodgers “haven’t cultivated much of a relationship with Hollywood.” But that “could change” with Johnson and former Warriors co-Owner and Mandalay Entertainment Group Chair & CEO Peter Guber among the new ownership group. Guber’s ownership stake in the Dodgers “is said to be small, but his creative instincts could help make crucial marketing and other operational decisions.” Warriors co-Owner Joe Lacob said Guber is “creative” and “elastic” in his thinking. He added that Guber will “use his knowledge of technology to connect new generations of fans” (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 4/5).
DON'T EMBRACE THE PAST? In L.A., T.J. Simers writes if the Dodgers “are poised to get off to a fresh start" under the new ownership group, why was Johnson "sitting beside Frank McCourt for the team's opener at Petco Park?" Simers: "Why would the best thing that has happened to the Dodgers in recent years allow himself to be photographed sitting next to the worst thing that has happened to the Dodgers?” Following the game, Johnson was asked about sitting with McCourt, to which he said, “I'm just here enjoying the game." Simers: “No one questions Magic's credentials as a great basketball player and sports icon, but he's still going to have to prove himself as a baseball executive. So far his judgment has been suspect” (L.A. TIMES, 4/6). In L.A., Jill Painter writes McCourt “gestured and mostly chatted while Johnson tried to pay attention to the game,” and fans "couldn't help but notice.” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said, "That was definitely different. It was the changing of the guards, in a sense” (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 4/6).
HOLLYWOOD DIVORCE: YAHOO SPORTS’ Tim Brown wrote the small-market Padres, “endured a divorce at the top, kept it dignified, and were wracked by the community property laws.” The large-market Dodgers “endured a divorce at the top, spilled blood on the streets of L.A., and were undone by community property laws.” Yet McCourt, at Thursday night’s win over the Padres “sat a few feet from third base alongside one of the sports legends of our time, a matter of weeks from filling his pockets with hundreds of millions of dollars.” Meanwhile, Padres Chair John Moores “sat in the shadows, his former owner-in-waiting and CEO apparently not even in the ballpark.” A source said that it “appeared Moores was now hoping for a fast-track sale of the club, that it wouldn’t be to [Vice Chair Jeff] Moorad, and that it could happen shortly after negotiating the new television deal” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/5). CBSSPORTS.com’s Scott Miller wrote Moores, “disgraced, replaced and back post-haste ... skulked around in the shadows upstairs” at Petco Park. Miller: “Only Moores’ appearance as owner was weirder than Magic risking toxic exposure by sitting so close to McCourt” (CBSSPORTS.com, 4/5).
The Mets Thursday drew a sellout and Citi Field-record crowd of 42,080 for their season opener, with club officials insisting there was far less chance than suggested in press reports that the Mets would fail to sell out a home opener for the first time since '97. Several promos, including free tickets to certain purchasers for Citi Field games this weekend, were used to help boost attendance for Friday's game, with more than 2,500 tickets sold in the 24 hours prior to the game. There were still some visible chunks of unused seats beyond the right field wall throughout the game. Mets Exec VP/Business Operations Dave Howard said, "The sales numbers over the last four, five days indicated we would be sold out today.” Howard added an attendance uptick for the club remains quite possible this year after three straight annual declines, particularly if the team shows improvement on the field. Howard, referring in part to the Bernie Madoff-related financial woes that enveloped the club prior to last month's legal settlement in a clawback lawsuit, said, "We're now in a good position and are now back on the upswing. A lot of distractions are now behind us. We now get to focus on the core business and the fun stuff" (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal).
HONORING A LEGEND: On Long Island, Steven Marcus notes late Baseball HOFer Gary Carter prior to Braves-Mets Thursday was “remembered in a pregame ceremony with a video montage of his career.” Carter was “essentially lionized as the Mets unveiled a unique emblem on the wall in left-center, in the form of home plate.” Mets players will “wear the logo on their uniforms this season.” Players and coaches Thursday also “wore Carter’s No. 8 jersey during batting practice, and Carter’s No. 8 jersey hung in the Mets’ dugout during the game” (NEWSDAY, 4/6).
Astros Owner Jim Crane recently discussed “his expectations on the field and at the box office, anger over the move to the American League, his best memories of the game and much more” with the HOUSTON CHRONICLE’s Zachary Levine. The following is an excerpt from the Q&A:
Q: What are your expectations for the business side of the organization? Do you think this could be the year that you curb the drop in attendance, or do you think that might take a while?
Crane: With our 50th anniversary year and Flashback Fridays, we’ve really shored up and reached out to the fans. Our season ticket plans are almost back to where they were last year. If we win some games, I think our attendance could be better than last year. I think we’ve stopped the bleeding.
Q: When do you think we’ll see a significant increase in the player payroll?
Crane: This year we’re kind of seeing what we’ve got. Certainly next year, some payroll could roll off or you could see a trade or two this year if things move along. But next year, we’ve got a big bump in our new TV deal and we’ve got 30 more million in rights fees. I think we’ll keep an eye on what we’ve got and try to fill in some blanks. So I think next year our payroll could be higher.
Q: I know that you don’t have a $65 million wad of cash from the American League discount, but how does that affect things? Does that accelerate the timetable for spending?
Crane: We just took on less debt. The team is not leveraged at all. To say that would go directly for payroll, I think as our revenues pick up from TV and attendance and we get better, I think we’ll spend what we make and try to put a very competitive team.
Q: With the move to the American League, a lot of the feedback we hear has been pretty negative. Has that been your experience, and what are you telling fans now who are still upset?
Crane: You can argue anything I guess, but what they did does make some sense for baseball. When you look at the two Texas teams, it evens out that, keeps the Rangers from traveling more. Our TV partner Comcast feels it’s a stronger deal for us with the East Coast teams like Detroit and Cleveland and some of the old traditional teams -- the Yankees and Boston -- and we’re going to do better on the network because of that. … I think it’s died down. People understand it, and we’re just going to do our best with it. What I tell everybody: to win the World Series you’ve got to beat everybody, so what’s the difference? (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 4/5).
The Dolphins plans to “announce that they are lowering the price" for all 9,800 club seats at Sun Life Stadium, even for fans "who are currently in the middle of their lease agreements,” according to Barry Jackson of the MIAMI HERALD. Most of the tickets are “declining in price from 11 percent to 60 percent.” The team also is “reducing the number of club-seat pricing areas from 11 to four.” A new "Dolphins Prime" area is “being created between the 40s on the visitors side and between the 20s on the home side.” In addition, all club-seat members “that commit for two years can buy a ticket to the BCS national championship game Jan. 7.” About 60% of the club seats “were filled on a season-ticket basis last year.” The team also has “reduced prices for some of its 160 suites.” Most regular season-ticket prices will “remain the same, with a few reduced in price” (MIAMIHERALD.com, 4/4). In West Palm Beach, Ben Volin noted the Dolphins are “trying to better connect with the fans to sell season tickets, which are now hovering somewhere in the mid-30,000s, the lowest level since the pre-Dan Marino days of the early 1980s.” The team held a conference call Tuesday with new coach Joe Philbin for season-ticket holders as “the first of many to be held this offseason.” Philbin will “participate in at least one more, as will owner Stephen Ross.” The team also “invites former season-ticket holders who haven’t renewed, with the goal of selling tickets during the call.” Former Dolphins players Mark Duper and A.J. Duhe will “also be hitting the community to help sell tickets” (PALMBEACHPOST.com, 4/3).
CHANGES TO LOGO POSSIBLE: Dolphins CEO Mike Dee said that the team is “soliciting fan opinion and will consider alterations to their logo and look to take advantage of opportunities under the NFL’s new apparel licensing agreements.” Dee said, “I don’t think you’d ever see us consider something as radical as Tampa Bay did going from the orange to the pewter gray. ... But I think we’re actively looking at ways to keep the brand current while respecting the great tradition and iconic value that we’ve been fortunate to inherit." He added, "It may result in subtle change, it may result in no change. It’s too early to tell.” In Ft. Lauderdale, Craig Davis noted the “most recent variation was in 1997 to the bolder, fiercer dolphin that appears on the side of helmets and jerseys.” Dee: “Whatever we do it is going to be with great reverence and respect for the history and iconic nature of all the marks and symbols fans have come to know and like” (SUN-SENTINEL.com, 4/4).
In Nashville, Allyn & Cooper in a front-page piece report there is "reason to believe that fans could turn out like never before" when the Predators begin postseason play next week. The team would not disclose how many playoff tickets have been bought, but Predators VP/Sales & Marketing Chris Parker said that sales "have been brisk." He also "predicts a sell-out crowd for at least the first couple of games." Allyn & Cooper note sales "have been bolstered this year, in part because the team has long known the playoffs were in sight." The Predators last year "knew it was headed to the playoffs just a few games before postseason started." Parker said that the timing "made it difficult to plan a marketing campaign and gave fans a shorter notice about purchasing postseason tickets" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 4/6).
HOPING FOR A NEW TRAIL: In Portland, Jason Quick wrote judging from “the pockets of empty seats” at Wednesday’s Nets-Trail Blazers game, “more and more fans are losing confidence" that the Trail Blazers' management team will "give them a reason to renew" their season tickets before the April 12 deadline. However, Trail Blazers President Larry Miller said that he has “made 'progress' on his search for a general manager.” Miller knows that the candidates he is interviewing “will be in position to make a splash this summer.” He added that the current management team “has a plan for this summer, and the plan is to instantly transform the Blazers back into a contender” (Portland OREGONIAN, 4/5).
POPULAR PEOPLE: In Chicago, Danny Ecker noted a Scarborough Sports Marketing survey of 4,100 Chicago-area households showed the Blackhawks' fan base “had the largest percentage growth among all teams in the four major sports leagues over the past five years” in the area. The survey showed 43% of respondents “watched, listened to or attended a Blackhawks game during the 2011-12 season, up from 8 percent in 2007-08.” The Hawks' level of fan participation is now “fourth-highest in the NHL,” behind the Penguins, Sabres and Red Wings. The survey showed the hockey team “falls short” of the Bulls' fan reach of 46%, the Cubs' 50% and the Bears' 65%, but tops the White Sox' 40% (CHICAGOBUSINESS.com, 4/4).
POTENTIAL MOVE? In Oakland, Marcus Thompson II wrote if the Santa Cruz City Council “approves the funding of a 3,200-seat temporary facility downtown," the Warriors NBA D-League team will move to Santa Cruz next season. The plans call for Santa Cruz to loan the estimated $2.5M cost of the project to the Warriors. The Warriors would “provide $500,000 in basketball-related equipment and guarantee half of the loan, which is expected to be paid back in full through revenue from the D-League team.” If the project is not approved, the D-League team will stay in Bismarck, N.D. (IBABUZZ.com, 4/4).