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SBD/April 24, 2012/FranchisesPrint All
The Saints have “furiously denied" an ESPN report that GM Mickey Loomis listened in on opposing coaches' communications during games from his Superdome suite between ’02-04, but the claim has caused the team to suffer "another public relations black eye," according to a front-page piece by James Varney of the New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE. Superdome execs said that the news “came as a complete surprise to them.” SMG Senior VP/Stadiums & Arenas Doug Thornton, whose company runs the stadium for the state, declined comment "on the technical aspects of the matter.” Thornton said that SMG “is not privy to whatever sources ESPN used and the company began its own investigation into the matter Monday.” Varney notes before yesterday's report, it appeared the "next major bruise to the Saints' public image would come" when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hands out "punishment to the between 22 and 27 defenders the NFL says were ‘willing and enthusiastic participants’ in the under-the-table bounties that the league said were paid for plays that deliberately hurt opponents” (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 4/24). In New Orleans, John DeShazier writes the allegation “couldn't possibly have surfaced at a worse time.” If it is true that Loomis used rewired phone lines in his Superdome suite, then it would “cement a growing belief outside New Orleans that the Saints have operated well outside the fringe of sportsmanship and decency.” If the charge is not true, and Loomis “vehemently denies that it is, it still will have an effect,” as it will “cause the franchise to waste more of its precious time combating this allegation at the same time it already is attempting to navigate a sea of misery.” Regardless of whether it is true or false, “gasoline has been sprayed on the white-hot flames that have flicked at the team's derriere almost all offseason.” This is “a major distraction for the franchise, in addition to the other major distractions that have occurred in the last two months.” It is a “charge that must be addressed and, as a result, one that subtracts preparation time from other important matters” (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 4/24).
THE BAD NEWS KEEPS ON COMING: ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said the Saints were "everybody’s second-favorite team post-Katrina," but if the allegations regarding Loomis are true, the team has "lost the moral high ground." Kornheiser: "They become -- again, if this is true -- a corrupt franchise” (“PTI,” ESPN, 4/23). ESPN’s Marcellus Wiley said, "When it rains it pours and it’s certainly falling down on the Saints” (“SportsCenter Special: On the Clock,” ESPN, 4/23). ESPN’s Hugh Douglas said, “This team right now is snakebit. This is another black eye on the NFL.” ESPN's Colin Cowherd: "This is 100 times worse than Spygate. This is a cultural issue” (“SportsNation,” ESPN2, 4/23). Denver Post columnist Woody Paige said if the allegations are true, it is the "end of the career” for Loomis and it is “another major smear on a proud franchise” ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 4/23).
PROFESSING HIS LOYALTY: In New Orleans, Mike Triplett writes Saints Owner Tom Benson’s loyalty to Loomis “by all accounts ... is as strong as it has ever been.” A source said that Benson was “so adamant to defend Loomis and his organization Monday that he instructed a team of attorneys to pursue a lawsuit against ESPN.” In the wake of the bounty investigation, another scandal “would decimate Loomis' job security,” and losing Loomis “would devastate the Saints.” Triplett: “As one of the most hands-off owners in the league when it comes to daily football operations, Benson has given Loomis about as much leeway as any executive in the NFL” (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 4/24).
Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland yesterday denied reports that team Owner Stephen Ross is pressuring the club to select QB Ryan Tannehill with the No. 8 overall pick in Thursday's NFL Draft, saying he does not "feel at all any pressure to draft a need position or anything like that." Ireland, appearing on NBCSPORTS.com's "PFT Live," said, "I don't feel pressure from the owner. He's not pressuring me for that matter. I don't know where that's coming from. He allows me to make the football decisions. ... Steve is very engaged, but he's also very supportive in leaving the decisions to the draft up to ... our football staff." Ireland also said the team's desire to sell tickets does not influence player acquisitions, and that is "one thing Steve is absolutely adamant on." Ireland added, "I understand the ticket sales may be up or down. I don't really get involved with that stuff, but I can promise you from an ownership standpoint this man -- Steve Ross -- wants to win more than anything ... and he's not ambiguous and he supports the people making the decisions from a football standpoint" ("PFT Live," NBCSPORTS.com, 4/23). Ross in an e-mail published on the Dolphins' website yesterday said the football operations staff has "kept me fully informed about their draft analysis, and they have my full support and backing whoever they decide to pick" in the Draft. However, a source yesterday said that members of the football operations staff are "concerned by Ross' increasing involvement in football matters, although not necessarily with the Tannehill decision" (PALM BEACH POST, 4/24).
SOMETHING TO QUIET THE CRITICS? PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio reported Sunday that Ross "desperately wants to turn the page on yet another embarrassing offseason, which has seen the Dolphins fail to hire Jeff Fisher as coach and Peyton Manning as quarterback." The Dolphins need to "create excitement, which in turn will sell tickets." Regardless of whether Tannehill "develops into a franchise quarterback, the perception that the team finally has found a potential replacement for Dan Marino will suffice in the short term" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 4/22). SI.com's Peter King cited a source as saying that Florio "was right on; Ross wants the quarterback." King: "So what will happen here? I don't know" (SI.com, 4/23). However, in Miami, Armando Salguero cited a source as saying that Ross "has not had any conversation with Jeff Ireland telling him which player to pick." The source also called the initial PFT report "not true" (MIAMIHERALD.com, 4/22). In West Palm Beach, Ben Volin wrote, "It's impossible to know who is telling the truth." On the surface, it is "hard to believe Ross would order Ireland to draft a player with the goal of selling tickets in mind -- especially in this case." Ross did not "order Ireland to do whatever it took to sign [QB Matt] Flynn or trade for Tim Tebow, even though those two players would have brought excitement to the team and help sell season tickets." He has "allowed Ireland to take a patient approach in free agency" (PALMBEACHPOST.com, 4/23). In Ft. Lauderdale, Omar Kelly wrote Ross "might ask questions to better understand the process, but Ross DOES NOT meddle." Ross has repeatedly said that he is "not qualified to make football decisions, and has no interest in becoming the next Jerry Jones or Dan Snyder." Kelly wrote Florio's report "reeked of misinformation (which is common during draft week), and more importantly, character assassination." Ross "will be in the draft room like he has in past years, but it will be as a fly on the wall" (SUN-SENTINEL.com, 4/23).
CULTURE OF DISTRUST CREATED: In Ft. Lauderdale, Dave Hyde writes of Ireland's denial of Ross getting involved, "You don't have to believe this. Many probably won't. That's the big problem with these Dolphins -- bigger even than the quarterback question: There's little faith they can get even the simple things right anymore like allowing football people to make football decisions" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 4/24). In Miami, Linda Robertson notes this NFL Draft is "arguably the most pivotal one in Dolphins history." The perception of the Dolphins' choices will "determine whether a dwindling fan base deserts a franchise it no longer likes or recognizes" (MIAMI HERALD, 4/24).
FISH OUT OF WATER: In Miami, Dan Le Batard wrote the Dolphins "aren’t just behind teams, plural, in their division; they are behind teams, plural, in this town," something that has "never before been the case." It has "never been more difficult to run the Dolphins business," and there has "never been this much of a fight for impoverished South Florida's stretched sports dollar." And the Dolphins, as "has been the case for a brutal decade, are losing." From '95-'05, Dolphins season-ticket sales "were always around 60,000," but a source said that the team is "presently laboring to be at half that number." There is "so much mistrust in the poisoned atmosphere around this team." The "mismanaged Dolphins have given their paying customers the worst feeling possible -- the appearance that they don't know what they are doing." That "isn't accurate, but it is the perception, a perception caused and fed by free agents and coaches not wanting Miami's millions, and that kind of perception is contagious" (MIAMI HERALD, 4/22).
The Nets, who are moving to Brooklyn next season, "hardly engendered fealty through their" 35 years in New Jersey, so even last night’s "going away party was streaked with an ironic twist," according to Mike Vorkunov of the Newark STAR-LEDGER. A franchise "accustomed to playing in half-full arenas and barely-there crowds [was] finally received by a sold-out Prudential Center, if only, because they came to say goodbye." Those on hand for the Nets' loss to the 76ers "were taken through a feel-good march through the franchise’s yesteryears." The Nets had "always been on shaky ground and their departure has been expected, for the latter part of the last decade." The team "had trouble filling seats" in '02 and '03, when they went to the NBA Finals in back-to-back seasons but registered the 26th and 23rd best attendance figures in the league. At Izod Center or Prudential Center, an audience "was hard to come by." So the fanbase consisted of a "small army of devoted souls." Meanwhile, the move to Brooklyn, with "dreams of grandeur, still has its question marks" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 4/24). In N.Y., Fred Kerber writes the past was "in evidence last night, on the floor, on the scoreboard, in the stands." But the future, "specifically Brooklyn, was on everyone’s mind." There were 15 "stars and execs of the past at halftime." Former PA announcer Gary Sussman was "back at the mike," and former Owner Lewis Katz "was on hand" (N.Y. POST, 4/24).
BITTERSWEET MOMENT: Former NBAer Derrick Coleman said, "Knowing that (the franchise) is not going to be here anymore, it’s definitely a sad day. Just for the people here in the state of New Jersey. ... It’s never going to be the same because it’s not here in Jersey." In New Jersey, Andy Vasquez writes things "never worked out in Jersey, and this final injury ravaged season was no exception." But last night, it "felt different." The fans in the building were "real Nets fans for a change." There were "fathers wearing weathered Nets hats, and sons wearing youth Nets jerseys." There were "throwback jerseys galore." And the chants "pulling for the Nets, even though they were down for most the game, never slowed down." For one more night, "at least, the Nets felt like they belonged in Jersey" (Bergen RECORD, 4/24). Former NBAer Kenny Anderson said the Nets leaving for Brooklyn is “bittersweet." Anderson: "You don't want to see a team leave New Jersey. ... A lot of the fans of New Jersey were like, ‘How are we going to go over there to see the team?’ It's so bad they don't want to make the ride over there now." He added, "It's going to be a honeymoon for the first two years over in Brooklyn ... but if they don't put no good product on the floor and get one or two stars to play with them and win, then eventually, it's not going to work. They're not going to sell out; they’re not going to have a good attendance” ("NBA GameTime," NBA TV, 4/23).
CHANGE WAS INEVITABLE: In N.Y., Mark Cannizzaro writes the "truth is New Jersey and the Nets were never perfect together." Bruce Springsteen has "always been the main act; the Nets always a sideshow." Cannizzaro: "Maybe, after all these years of nomadic existence in Jersey, the Nets will finally find a true home. Maybe the Nets and Brooklyn will be perfect together" (N.Y. POST, 4/24). SI.com's Jack McCallum wrote the "excitement never happened, the Jersey charm never kicked in, and Nets fever was never an epidemic." The franchise "deserves better and perhaps it will find a welcoming home in Brooklyn" (SI.com, 4/23). Nets coach Avery Johnson "understands that fans might be disappointed." But he called the move to Brooklyn "a new chapter in Nets basketball." Johnson: "It's one that's been coming for awhile. We feel we have ownership that's going to spend all the necessary resources for us to become a perennial playoff team" (ESPN.com, 4/23).
GOOD RIDDANCE: The AP's David Porter notes the "typically blunt" N.J. Gov. Chris Christie "kicked things off roughly four hours before the tipoff when he said he would shed no tears over the departure of the Nets." Christie said, "My message to them is, goodbye. You don't want to stay, we don't want you." He added, "That's one of the most beautiful arenas in America they have a chance to play in, it's in one of the country's most vibrant cities, and they want to leave here and go to Brooklyn? Good riddance, see you later. I think there'll be some other NBA team who may be looking to relocate and they might look at that arena and the fan base in the New Jersey and New York area and say, 'This is an opportunity to increase our fan base and try something different'" (AP, 4/24). In N.Y., Filip Bondy writes Christie's comments were "too simple, too arrogant." The state will "miss the Nets and the zaniness they brought." Memories are "short when no championships are won." Besides, the Nets have played in four different New Jersey arenas in their history -- Teaneck, Piscataway, East Rutherford and Newark. The crowd demographics "changed along with the venues" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/24). The Newark Star-Ledger's Steve Politi wrote, "To those who say the Nets are not leaving a market. I've lived in NJ most of my life. Been to Brooklyn 5-6 times" (TWITTER.com, 4/23).
HISTORY OF STRUGGLES: ESPN N.Y.'s Ohm Youngmisuk wrote during the majority of their 35 seasons in New Jersey, the Nets "seemed to be up against more stuff than any other NBA franchise." They seemed to be "cursed from the moment they sold Dr. J" to the 76ers in '76. The past three-plus decades have been filled with "enough drama to make the Nets the longest-running NBA reality show before there were even reality shows on TV." They would have "exciting spurts and tease fans from time to time before something bad would inevitably happen" (ESPN.com, 4/23). In Newark, Dave D'Alessandro writes, "Residual irritation, perhaps -- the nagging sense that if this Nets organization was somehow managed better, if it generated an esprit de corps, if it was embraced with a genuine spirit and supported by the political forces who liked the game as much as the rest of us, it never would have come to this point." But it is "not like the Nets are leaving the time zone -- it’s a closer schlep to Brooklyn than it is to Flushing, as Mets fans can tell you -- so this is not a life-altering transition" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 4/24). In N.Y., Stefan Bondy notes TNT's Shaquille O'Neal, a Newark native, has been "working with Mayor Corey Booker to bring an NBA team to the Prudential Center, hoping a team like the Timberwolves, Bobcats, Grizzlies or Bucks will relocate." But the Nets "haven’t provided a shining precedent." They have "struggled on the court and at the box office during their two-season stay in Newark. The Nets were "last in attendance heading into" the team's home finale (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/24).
The Nets last night played their final game in New Jersey before their move to the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and the Newark STAR-LEDGER’s Dave D’Alessandro writes a “better way to demonstrate the folly of another NBA-Newark partnership” is by talking to Nets and Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark. D’Alessandro “thought it was a good time for an exit interview” with Yormark. The following is an excerpt from the Q&A:
Q: So what did you learn about the differences between the Meadowlands and Newark these past two years?
Yormark: Nineteen percent of our fans used rail in the last year and a half, so (Newark) was much more accessible than Izod [Center], which was all about ‘appointment viewing.’ That wasn’t the case with Prudential -- you could be spontaneous and go the day of the game and buy a ticket.
Q: So was [Prudential Center] a good landlord?
Yormark: Yeah, they were a pretty good landlord. Listen, you always have disagreements. It’s part of any relationship. But for the most part, they were accommodating -- and it’s not easy to be accommodating when you know someone is coming in on a short-term basis. Despite that, they treated us like partners.
Q: Attendance was flat despite higher expectations with Deron Williams; was that a case of being a lame duck?
Yormark: Well, we had a 10 percent increase last year in tickets sold. Had we stayed at Izod, nobody knows how many would have renewed, so any uptick -- given the team’s performance and the fact that this was a lame-duck franchise -- was a positive.
Q: Under what circumstances can you see Newark and [Prudential Center] as viable homes for an NBA team?
Yormark: To be viable in New Jersey, you have to have a great product, and you have to market it creatively. But I sincerely doubt you can be a tenant in the building. You have to be a partner. Only then do you have a shot.
Q: Is there even a market that could sustain three teams from the same sport?
Yormark: There are nine pro teams [in the N.Y. market] -- so much entertainment to share a consumer’s mind-set, it’s very hard to break through and be relevant and get fans to commit. I think we have chance where we’re going (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 4/24).
Bills CEO Russ Brandon said that based on last year’s "demographic studies and the current ticket-selling trend, Southern Ontario has 'inched past' Rochester to become the team’s secondary market," according to Sal Maiorana of the ROCHESTER DEMOCRAT & CHRONICLE. Brandon was "quick to point out that Rochester is 'light years' ahead of Southern Ontario in terms of suite sales and corporate sponsorship platforms, and season and individual game ticket sales in the Rochester region continue to increase," but just "not as fast, recently, as in Southern Ontario." He added that the spike in ticket sales in Southern Ontario "is directly attributable to the regionalization push the franchise made with the Bills Toronto Series." Brandon said, "What this proves is what we’ve been focusing on for a decade, that regionalization works." With the Bills' agreement for training camp at St. John Fisher College "extended at least five years, Brandon said the team has to find new ways to improve the experience there for fans, and it must also have a stronger marketing presence in the Rochester region." That could be "in the form of more in-season off-day player appearances, for example" (ROCHESTER DEMOCRAT & CHRONICLE, 4/21).
MLB will likely be rid of former Dodgers Owner Frank McCourt "in a week, but the celebration is shrouded with caution," according to a sports-section cover story by Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY. While McCourt's "reign has left the proud franchise in financial ruins, there are fears that baseball's rush to get rid of him could change the way teams are bought and sold." New Dodgers Owner Guggenheim Baseball Management hopes "to close the deal Monday, but unlike every other baseball franchise, the Dodgers' financial structure is not governed" by MLB. Sources said that only in the "last few days did MLB receive detailed financial information about the purchase agreement." MLB attorney Tom Lauria said in court that the league "still was troubled that it did not know details of the revenue-sharing arrangement between the Guggenheim group and McCourt involving the Dodger Stadium parking lots, which they will share equally." There is also a "fear among owners that there are confidential provisions in the agreement that could permit the Dodgers to circumvent aspects of MLB's revenue-sharing agreement with their regional sports network or new TV contract." The agreement between Guggenheim and McCourt "is confidential, and terms of the process were also confidential as ordered by the bankruptcy court." Dodgers attorney Bruce Bennett "declined to comment Monday beyond his statements in court." Three MLB owners question "how it's possible for the Dodgers to stay financially viable with the staggering price tag" of $2.15B. There are "lessons learned, and two members of MLB's ownership committee say the league will continue to tighten its regulations for prospective owners to prevent another McCourt catastrophe" (USA TODAY, 4/24).
THE WAY IT SHOULD BE: In Atlanta, David O'Brien wrote, "Since the Dodger franchise got out from under the dismal ownership tyranny of Frank McCourt four weeks ago ... I've looked forward to seeing Dodger Stadium again as we’re accustomed to seeing it." That is, with "energy emanating from the crowd and smiles on the faces of the courteous ushers, and with the beautiful, venerable ballpark hopefully spruced up and clean the way it was for decades until the O’Malleys sold the Dodgers and it slowly became Just Another Franchise under Rupert Murdoch and Fox, then something much worse under the feuding McCourt husband-and-wife tandem" (AJC.com, 4/23).
While MLS Sporting K.C. CEO Robb Heineman has “made it clear that winning championships is the club’s goal,” team COO & General Counsel Greg Cotton said that continuing “its remarkable surge in popularity depends on the leadership being ‘agnostic’ of wins and losses,” according to Joel Petterson of the N.Y. TIMES. The team’s 7-1 record this season “is not the only improvement,” as season-ticket sales “have increased from 600 to over 10,000 in the past five years.” Merchandise sales this year “have already topped $1 million -- a far cry from 2006.” Cotton said that in ’06 the team earned “only $30,000 in merchandise sales for the whole year.” Sporting K.C. D Matt Besler, who grew up in the city, said, “I think it’s night and day, just the buzz we’ve created among the city. You can’t drive down the highway without seeing an SKC magnet on a car and SKC hats all around town.” The training center was “one of the first things the new ownership group renovated after taking over.” They wanted to “send a message that they were serious about changing the atmosphere and perception of the team.” Cotton: “We may not be brilliant sports guys, but we’re pretty good at our jobs in different niches, and we all like to think a little bit differently. So if we’re going to do this, and if we’re going to risk our fledgling young careers here, let’s go try and do something really big.” Petterson wrote for “both fans and players, it transformed the team from the very first practice held on the field.” Team MF Roger Espinoza said, “From that moment, you knew everything was going to change” (NYTIMES.com, 4/23).
The Royals recently became “the first team to lose 10 straight games at home since 1913,” according to Bob Dutton of the K.C. Star. Only "one other team has opened the season by losing its first 10 home games -- and that was 99 years ago when the New York Yankees did it" (K.C. STAR, 4/24). In K.C., Sam Mellinger writes building the “Greatest Farm System In The History of Upright Man is apparently no cure for historic stink, and the Royals deserve every bit of venom you can muster for a franchise that’s been a ubiquitous letdown for most of the last two decades." Mellinger: “The Royals are again the laughingstock of baseball and the sport’s worst team, and for now that hurts more because this year was supposed to be different.” There has been "no help from the #OurTime campaign that’s grown to be embarrassing.” Even TV broadcasts “have pulled back some on #OurTime,” as the campaign “was supposed to be a rallying cry.” Now, it is “more like a reason to cry.” Royals RF Jeff Francoeur said, “The Our Time stuff, if I could go back, I’d try to nip that in the bud” (K.C. STAR, 4/24). KSHB-NBC's Jack Harry wrote it is “high time that someone is held accountable for this mess involving the Royals.” This one “is easy to call,” as it is team Owner David Glass. Since Glass took over sole ownership of the Royals in ’00, the team “has averaged 94 losses a season, which translates into only 68 wins per year.” Harry: “That’s horrible” (KSHB.com, 4/23).
The White Sox yesterday announced that fans can buy specially-priced tickets to the team’s game Thursday against the Red Sox, P Philip Humber's next scheduled start, in honor of Humber’s perfect game last Saturday. Tickets are going for $9 (the number of perfect innings) or $27 (the number of batters retired). The seats are based on availability. All fans in attendance will receive a Humber perfect game poster, featuring photos of Humber during the game and after the final out, and an image of the official team scorecard. Meanwhile, the team has designed a T-shirt to celebrate Humber's perfect game. The T-shirt can be purchased for $26.99 at The Chicago Sports Depot at U.S. Cellular Field and at chicagosportsdepot.com. Humber's jersey by Majestic Athletic also will be available starting Thursday (THE DAILY).
STAYING PUT: In DC, Michael Lee cites sources as saying that Wizards Owner Ted Leonsis and President Ernie Grunfeld have “tentatively agreed to a deal that is believed to be for more than one year” and keeps Grunfeld with the team contractually until at least the end of the ’13-14 season. Although Grunfeld has been “overseeing the worst four-year stretch, winning percentage wise,” in team history, sources said that Leonsis weighed Grunfeld’s “ability to accrue draft picks and salary-cap space” in his decision. Grunfeld, whose deal was set to expire after the season, “has been the Wizards' chief decision-maker” since late owner Abe Pollin hired him in June ’03 (WASHINGTON POST, 4/24).
HOT SEATS: In S.F., Scott Ostler wrote based on e-mails he has recieved, there are a "lot of fans with beefs” about the 49ers' deal for a new stadium in Santa Clara. The “overwhelming message” is that "it’s not so much the geography of the move that rankles, it’s the perceived level of over pricing and under-respecting.” Many fans would be happy with a new stadium with “less marble, crystal and leather” than the one planned. A common "complaint is that seniority is not considered in allocating locations” in the new stadium (S.F. CHRONICLE, 4/23).