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The Maloof family will "listen to offers" to sell the NBA Kings, but it might not be "willing to walk away from the team entirely -- creating a possible snag in the team's rumored move to Seattle," according to a front-page piece by Bob Condotta of the SEATTLE TIMES. A source said that the family "wants to keep a say in how the team is run, even if they sell it" to Seattle hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen, who "has a deal in place to build a new arena in Seattle if he can buy a team to play in it." An initial report Wednesday on the possible sale "stated that the family would retain a small percentage in the team." But a source said that the question now is "whether that percentage also would allow the Maloofs some say in how the team is run." The source said that the sale of the team for the Maloofs "goes beyond dollars and cents and stressed how important being involved in the NBA has been to the family" (SEATTLE TIMES, 1/11).
BURKLE TO BID? In Sacramento, Lillis, Kasler & Bizjak in a front-page piece report city officials have "pledged to find competing bidders who would keep the team in Sacramento, with the possibilities including" Penguins co-Owner Ron Burkle, who "has tried to buy the team before." NBA Commissioner David Stern said that it "would be reasonable to give Burkle a shot at matching Seattle's offer." Meanwhile, a source insisted that talks about a proposed sale to the Seattle group "were still in the early stages." Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson on Wednesday said he has "stayed in contact" with Burkle, whose effort to buy the Kings nearly two years ago was rebuffed by the Maloofs. The source said that the Maloof family "still hasn't made up its mind to sell," but the family's "recent financial setbacks, including the loss of controlling interest in the Palms Casino in Las Vegas, have prodded its members to become more open to the idea of unloading the Kings" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 1/11).
SUCCESSFUL IN SEATTLE? SI.com's Ian Thomsen wrote the NBA has "experienced difficult moves in recent years," but this is one relocation that rival owners would "embrace." The Kings would be "moving to a larger market with a long tradition for supporting NBA basketball." The Seattle ownership group "would be solid, and hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen is on his way to having a new arena in place in three years." After years of "unconsummated haggling over a new arena in Sacramento, people throughout the NBA will be quietly rooting for Seattle" (SI.com, 1/10).
TASTE OF THEIR OWN MEDICINE: In Seattle, Steve Kelley writes the "whole idea of relocating sports franchises is disturbing and wrong." Kelley: "I'm rooting for Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer in their quest to bring the Kings to Seattle. ... But I can't help thinking how rotten this deal is for Sacramento's basketball fans." Kings fans are "experiencing the same kind of anxious desperation that Sonics fans felt in the final season of the NBA in Seattle." The Kings' fans "deserve better," just like "Seattle's fans did" (SEATTLE TIMES, 1/11).
KINGS FANS WARY OF COUP D'ETAT: In Sacramento, Matt Kawahara notes he interviewed a dozen people before Thursday's Mavericks-Kings game, and most of them said that they were "upset by the newest wave of uncertainty surrounding the Kings' future." Some said that they "are resigned to a move." Others "held out hope that a deal will be struck to keep the team in Sacramento, its home since 1985" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 1/11).
New Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell has only been on the job two days, but made "two announcements Thursday that sent a ripple effect through the franchise and the region," according to Ryan O'Halloran of the FLORIDA TIMES-UNION. The team announced coach Mike Mularkey "was being fired after a 2-14 record." Caldwell said, "I felt we needed a fresh start across the board." Caldwell also "closed the door" on the Jaguars acquiring Jets QB Tim Tebow via trade or free agency. Caldwell said, "I can't imagine a scenario where he is a Jacksonville Jaguar ... even if he is released." Jaguars Owner Shahid Khan said, "If you look at the team over the last several years, the team has really gotten worse. Mike will have great success, but our record was still 2-14 and regrettably, this is a league that demands winning.” Caldwell: "Coming in as a first-time general manager, I’m looking for a co-builder of this team and when I talked to Shad in terms of a culture change on the football side, I felt there needed to be an atmospheric change." Khan used the interview process to "get intelligence on how other organizations run their football business, chiefly the power structure." From that he "gleaned the coach reporting to the general manager instead of both reporting to the owner" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 1/11). In Jacksonville, Vito Stellino notes Khan was "asked what has changed about his interest in Tebow" since they nearly traded for him in March '11. Khan replied that he is "giving Caldwell free rein to make football decisions." Khan said, "Who the players are is really (up to) the general manager and coaches. It’s a football-side operation decision. It’s really not my decision. I’m telling them to take a look at Tebow and they’re saying we’re going to go in a different direction" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 1/11).
ON THE PROWL: NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal wrote the Jaguars "had to" dismiss Mularkey. Caldwell "had to [do] it." Hanging on to Mularkey to "give him a fair chance to turn things around sounds fair, but it wasn't right." The Jaguars "needed a fresh start." Mularkey was hired by former GM Gene Smith "who is long gone." Caldwell needs to "have the freedom to remake the organization in his image" (NFL.com, 1/10). In Jacksonville, Gene Frenette wrote the "good news for Jaguars fans from the ongoing organizational shake-up is there now appears to be a clear, authoritative plan of action." Khan has "decided on a swift course of action for his team" (JACKSONVILLE.com, 1/11). Khan said that he "talked to about 100 people" during the GM search and "knew other teams would pursue Caldwell, but wasn't overly concerned." Khan said, "Frankly, with all due modesty, I think I did my homework better. People came to that conclusion a week later after they had talked to a lot of people." Khan said that he had a "specific game plan on what to do after firing Smith. Not by day, but by hour." Khan: “Like what I was going to do at 7 o’clock, 8 o’clock, 8:30, 9 and you plan. That’s how I plan every day" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 1/11).
A day after the Maple Leafs fired President & GM Brian Burke, the question remains of whether Bell Media and Rogers Communications, the team's new owners, were "simply tired of Burke's personality, which some would describe as gruff, confrontational, and obnoxious," according to Doug Harrison of The CBC. MLSE President & COO Tom Anselmi said, "I think that was part of it. I talked about leadership and a lot of different things. The leadership and relationship between the general manager and ownership is a really unique type of relationship. Style, personality, ways of doing things all factor (in the decision)" (CBC.ca, 1/10). In Toronto, Rosie DiManno writes the Maple Leafs yet again have "chosen to hurtle down the road most foolishly taken: immeasurably disruptive on the eve of a shortened NHL season launching, staggeringly lousy in judgment, inexplicable in bad timing." Burke after he was let go "disappeared, his whereabouts known only to a handful of intimates." A source said, "He’s gone underground for a few days. He’s shocked. And disappointed." DiManno writes the "berserk decision was not, of course, worn by" Bell President & CEO George Cope when the Leafs "hastily called their afternoon press conference." Instead, Anselmi "trotted out before the cameras to make the formal announcement, a clearly overwhelmed [new Leafs GM Dave] Nonis sitting alongside." A source said the relationship between Burke and Cope "didn't click." DiManno: "Could such a dramatic shift in the front office really come down to so arbitrary a character judgement? Seems so" (TORONTO STAR, 1/11).
LEAFS' LAMENT: In Toronto, Damien Cox writes Maple Leafs fans should "lament the ridiculous way in which this was done." Cox: "Lament the way this perennially underachieving organization, even with new ownership in place, talks about winning and then proceeds in a manner that is about anything but winning." This is the "first really big sports decision undertaken" by the Bell-Rogers partnership, and not only was it "done in such a way that should make Leaf fans very worried, it may also be an indication why this corporate partnership of media rivals is destined not to last" (TORONTO STAR, 1/11). The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts writes under the header, "Tanenbaum Left To Do The Dirty Work For MLSE Board." MLSE Chair Larry Tanenbaum last summer was "congratulated for cutting himself quite a deal" regarding the sale of the team, but he currently must be "wondering what he got himself into" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/11).
DOG DAYS OF WINTER: In Toronto, Michele Henry writes shortly after Burke was let go, Air Canada Centre's staff "removed the sign over his eponymous hotdog stand." Henry: "Bye bye Burkie's Dog House. Hello, The Dog House." MLSE Dir of Corporate Communications Rajani Kamath said that is what the "popular hot dog stand will be rebranded" (TORONTO STAR, 1/11).
Although AEG has "put its sports holdings up for sale and a new buyer might want a lean payroll," company President & CEO Tim Leiweke has given NHL Kings GM Dean Lombardi the "budget and the mandate to become the first team to repeat as Cup champion since" the '97-98 Red Wings, according to Helene Elliott of the L.A. TIMES. Leiweke on Thursday said, "We're committed to spending whatever it takes to win again. We're committed to spending whatever it takes to keep this nucleus together." Leiweke said that he "intends to remain in charge of the Kings under the next owner." The Kings plan to "appease fans with merchandise and perks, including replica Cup banners to those who attend the opener, replica rings to those who attend a game on a date to be announced, and autograph sessions for season-ticket holders." Other "make-nice gestures are still in the works." They started with "an impressive gesture Thursday, announcing they had teamed with McDonald's to donate $1 million to four local charities with the hope of increasing that donation during the season" (L.A. TIMES, 1/11). In California, Rich Hammond notes while the Kings did announce a "series of attempts at outreach," they "apparently don't plan to make any grand gestures in the short term, such as lowering prices for tickets, parking or concessions." But perhaps most important to fans "is an assurance" from Lombardi that the Kings will "increase payroll during the season if there is an opportunity to improve the team via trade" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 1/11).
ROOM IN THE RAFTERS: Leiweke: "When you wait 45 years to win a Cup, the last thing you want to do is wait to raise that banner. I think for our fans, in particular, asking them to wait another three months was not a great process. They were as equally as frustrated as we were." He added, "To me, the most important thing is winning again. ... This was never about winning a Cup. This was about creating a legacy." ESPN L.A.'s Arash Markazi noted Leiweke is "so confident the Kings will be adding more than one banner to Staples Center in the coming years that he and the team decided to raise the Kings' Stanley Cup championship banner and hang it from the rafters, as opposed to placing it on the wall with the other championship banners and retired jerseys from the Kings, Lakers and Sparks." He said, "We’re going to do something different, so we have room to hang the others" (ESPNLA.com, 1/10). YAHOO SPORTS' Greg Wyshynski noted the Kings also will "receive their championship rings on opening day." An image of the rings "showed up on Instagram on Thursday night" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/10).
Hurricanes President & GM Jim Rutherford said that the team "lost seven percent of its ticket base during the lockout to fans demanding refunds," according to Chip Alexander of the Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER. Rutherford said, "You never know what to expect when these things happen. In the early going of the lockout, the percentage ... was between one and two percent. As we got closer to the (Christmas) holiday season that number grew.” Rutherford said 7% was a “very low number” that underscored the loyalty of his ticket holders. He also said that since Sunday’s announcement of a CBA agreement, the "Canes had been selling 'a lot' of season tickets and hoped to recoup the seven percent loss." Rutherford: "We have some work to do. I view it the same way as when we first moved here (from Hartford in 1997). We had to build our fans one by one, seat by seat. If that’s what we have to do again, that’s what we’ll do" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 1/11). In Raleigh, Luke DeCock writes many of the problems the "Hurricanes had with the NHL’s old labor deal remain in the new one." Even though salaries will "go down to start, over the course of the deal they’re still being asked to grow revenue at the same pace as their bigger-market brethren." Rutherford said, "The market’s still going to continue to grow, which is going to be helpful. Hopefully the economy continues to grow. And hopefully our team plays well. You get those three factors, then that makes that road a little smoother. If you don’t get all three, it makes it a little harder. And if you don’t get any, then it becomes a little more unrealistic, maybe very, very difficult.” He added, "It’s always going to be an issue when you’re dealing with higher revenue-teams and lower-revenue teams. I do feel a 50-50 split gives teams like ours a better chance to prepare their teams.” DeCock notes there also is "more money allotted to revenue sharing in the new deal." The Hurricanes "should still get" about $12M per season, but Rutherford said that the team "will have to raise ticket prices in the near future to meet the NHL's gate receipt targets." The lockout "may have helped the NHL as a whole, but only time will tell whether it made the Hurricanes more competitive or stable, now and in the future" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 1/11).
NHL Jets Chair Mark Chipman discussed several issues surrounding the league’s recently concluded lockout, including his support for Commissioner Gary Bettman, with Gary Lawless of the WINNIPEG FREE PRESS. Below are excerpts from the Q&A:
Q: Is the NHL fixed now?
Chipman: Is it optimal? I'm not sure yet. Let me put it to you this way, if this doesn't work by the time the deal expires, I'm not sure what the next step would be. This ought to give all the teams in the league a chance to be viable.
Q: Will you be a cap team now?
Chipman: What the new CBA does is give us an opportunity to invest in the augmentation of our team when it makes the most amount of sense.
Q: The Pittsburgh Penguins, for one, have apologized to their fans. Do you have words for yours?
Chipman: I don't regret having taken the position but I apologize for it having angered people. Having said that, I've been taken by the amount of support we've had in our community.
Q: Do you support Gary Bettman as the commissioner of the NHL?
Chipman: Very, very much so. There wouldn't be a team in Winnipeg but for Gary and I owe him for that and I always will. I also admire how he handled this very difficult negotiation.
Q: Is the honeymoon over between Winnipeg and the Jets?
Chipman: I don't think so. I think our building is going to be right amped up. Maybe some people won't be quite so energized. … I think our fans are smart and they understand the game and business of the game (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 1/11).
GETTING HEALTHY: In Winnipeg, Paul Friesen writes after some "some short-term pain, based on the immediate drop in revenues and the ‘make-whole’ payments to honour existing player contracts, Chipman says the Jets should improve their already-healthy bottom line in the new deal.” Chipman noted profits will "increase." He said, "I wouldn't use the word 'significantly,' certainly not in the early stages, that is to say this season and perhaps next.” Chipman, on the limit of player contract length, added, “In the last system there was a means by which the spirit of the agreement was circumvented, by entering into contracts that really nobody ever anticipated. The term limits that now exist hopefully will curtail those practices." He believes the new CBA "does enough for the have-nots," though he is not certain. Chipman: Like the last agreement, it's going to take some time for those matters to be determined. I'm satisfied it has a chance to do that” (WINNIPEG SUN, 1/11).
The NHL wants to "make it up to its fans following the corrosive 113-day lockout, but that's not to say they can truly 'make whole' what has been fractured," according to John MacKinnon of the EDMONTON JOURNAL, who adds that teams will "reach out, just don't expect them to overreach." Oilers President & CEO Patrick LaForge said, "Each club is planning something. It's up to them (each club). If they want to do something, great. They live in their own market, they deal with their own fans." He added, "Every club I talked to -- and we haven't made our plans firm yet -- is (looking at) some specials on food and beverage for the opening night, maybe opening couple of games. Some merchandise features, maybe some autographed jersey giveaways, that kind of stuff." LaForge: "The reaction I got from our fans was, our first wish, after all this is, One, a long-term deal. Two, that the Oilers are competitive, now and forever." He continued, "If you gave them everything, it would be not enough and if you gave them a little bit, it's insulting. I think we've got to be careful to be looking forward through the windshield not backward through the rear-view mirror" (EDMONTON JOURNAL, 1/11).
DEALS & DISCOUNTS: In Pittsburgh, Josh Yohe noted the Penguins are "being active in the pursuit of winning back fans." Among the first teams to "issue an apology regarding the lockout, the Penguins went a step further" Thursday by announcing that a "number of price rollbacks on food and merchandise, along with free admission to fans during training camp, soon will be available." The Penguins next week will allow fans "to attend training camp, free of charge," and during the team's first four home games, all merchandise at Consol Energy Center and South Side Works PensGear locations "will be sold at 50 percent off." In addition, the team will "host contests on its website during the next week" (TRIBLIVE.com, 1/10)....In Buffalo, Mike Harrington noted the Sabres announced "a Fan Appreciation Sale at the Sabres Store that will see all items discounted 50 percent throughout training camp and the first home game." Harrington: "This is a nice move by the Sabres. I hope they do more" (BUFFALONEWS.com, 1/10).
PLAYER APOLOGIES: Capitals C Brooks Laich said, "I’m honestly really embarrassed by the lockout, like personally embarrassed. I feel terrible about it. I feel like we just punched our sport in the face. And I feel bad for everybody that was affected by it, directly or indirectly." He added, "I hope they haven’t lost the interest and lost the excitement for how fun the game really is, and how exciting the game is, how much fun it is to come to the Verizon Center and how loud that building gets" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/11). Capitals D Karl Alzner said, "It’s kind of tough. I don’t really know what exactly would be good enough. Some fans are going to be more hard-headed than others. That’s understandable. They deserve to be upset about all that. But it’s hard. As players all we can really do is remind why they enjoy hockey as much as they do" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 1/11). Jets D Ron Hainsey said, "The public perception of it is going to be negative, because we took the game four months past where the season should have been started. It's up to us, the players, to go out there and put the best season we can on for the fans" (CP, 1/10).
SENATORS HIRING: In Ottawa, Doug Hempstead notes the Senators are "recalling laid-off staff and hiring new employees." Monday saw 35 "laid-off staffers return to work, while those who were not laid off during the lockout go back to a full five-day work week, from the 80% they were working." Nearly half the laid-off staff "managed to find other employment, so the Senators are interviewing for 25 new hires." Senators VP/Marketing Jeff Kyle: "The people who were still here certainly knew it was our job to be ready" (OTTAWA SUN, 1/11).
The Pistons are "overhauling their approach to filling the seats at The Palace of Auburn Hills," according to Dale Buss in a special to the DETROIT NEWS. Palace Sports & Entertainment officials said that the "days of free tickets and corporate-suite discounts, which bulked up crowds but did little for revenues, are gone." The focus is on building "value into ticket purchases through packages that include extra discounts, memorabilia and 'experiences' that aren't available to secondary ticket buyers." They also are "adjusting game prices, based on demand." The idea is to "increase revenues while hoping the team's performance improves enough to attract more fans." Pistons VP/PR Kevin Grigg said that the team's "season-ticket base is 'steadily climbing' despite a substantial drop-off during the past three seasons." Palace officials under previous owner Bill Davidson "favored lots of free and cut-rate tickets, including discounting corporate suites, when the team wasn't a playoff contender." Palace Sports & Entertainment President & CEO Dennis Mannion said, "We still give out free tickets, but mainly strategically, to those who help other people. There's a dramatic difference between the way business had been done and the way we're doing it now, and one aspect of that is a lot fewer free tickets." To compete with the "rise of StubHub.com and other websites," the Palace launched its "own secondary-market site via Ticketmaster Exchange." Management also decided to "promote more types of multiple-game packages and provide amenities that fans can't get through StubHub." Mannion said that the team's new management also is "building 'full-season associations' with season-ticket buyers and suite holders." He added that instead of focusing on "getting a corporate customer to buy a full suite for all concerts and games, Palace representatives give a client the flexibility to buy 'a mix of suites, courtside and club tickets.'" Mannion said that it "gives clients a different experience" (DETROIT NEWS, 1/11).
The D'Backs next Thursday will hold their second annual Most Valuable Partner Awards gala, with the event expanded this year to include a new fans' choice award. Launched last year as a means to inject energy into traditional team-run sponsor summits, the club's '13 Most Valuable Partner Awards event in Chandler, Ariz., will again feature Oscars-style theming, black-tie attire, song-and-dance numbers and a red carpet. Awards will be presented in seven returning categories, including brand integration and marketing activation, with the fans' choice award honoring the company D'Backs fans felt best activated and presented their brand during the past year. The club polled fans late in the season regarding the award, garnering "tens of thousands" of responses, said team President & CEO Derrick Hall. "The feedback we received from the fans was tremendous, and we think this will quickly become one of the most coveted awards in the program," Hall said. More broadly, the club said the establishment of the awards program has injected a sense of competitiveness among D'Backs sponsors and in turn boosted marketing activity, part of the original intent. "This is something the sponsors definitely want and go after, and beyond what's happening here, we've heard from a large array of other teams about this during this past year, plenty in other sports," Hall said. "We've taken what could be a boring b-to-b summit and brought some life to it, and there's been notice." Awards again will be divided into "silver slugger" and "gold glove" divisions to account for differences in company size and sponsorship spending. Among the planned acts next week is a spoof on NBC's "The Office," with Hall in the role of former series character Michael Scott.