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Sacramento's efforts to keep the NBA Kings “took a dramatic turn Saturday when a new group, aligned with the owner of Downtown Plaza, proposed to buy the team and build a $400 million arena on the shopping center site,” according to a front-page piece by Kasler, Lillis & Bizjak of the SACRAMENTO BEE. A source said that the group was “lining up deep-pocket investors to work with the mall's new owner, JMA Ventures, and present a credible alternative to the Maloof family's efforts" to sell the Kings to Seattle hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen and a group planning to move the team to Seattle. JMA spokesperson Jeff Nead confirmed that the mall owner is “interested in the arena project -- and has been contacted by more than one investor group considering a bid for the Kings.” He declined to identify any of the investors. The Maloof family on Saturday declined to comment on the situation. Two “key names have emerged as possible Sacramento bidders for the Kings.” Penguins co-Owner Ron Burkle, who “tried to buy the team in 2011, was identified as a possible suitor last week" by Mayor Kevin Johnson and NBA Commissioner David Stern. 24-Hour Fitness co-Founder Mark Mastrov, who was a “runner-up in the bidding” for the Warriors in ’10, on Friday “declared he's assembled a group eyeing a bid.” Johnson has “pledged to present the NBA with a viable alternative to Hansen -- a consortium of owners who would buy out the Maloofs, keep the team in Sacramento and commit to a new arena.” Mastrov said that he “likes the arena plan the city and the NBA negotiated with the Maloofs last spring.” The Maloofs “abandoned that project.” Stern last week said that he “favored giving a Sacramento bidder -- namely Burkle -- a chance to match Seattle's offer” (SACRAMENTO BEE, 1/13).
DOLLARS & CENTS: In Seattle, Bob Condotta cited Sacramento officials as saying that “one factor on their side is that local owners would not have to pay a relocation fee -- which would likely be at least $30 million -- or pay off a $77 million outstanding loan the Maloofs have with the city.” That would allow a local group “to pay less than the $500 million to $525 million that reports have said Hansen's group -- which also includes Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer -- has offered” (SEATTLE TIMES, 1/13). USA TODAY’s Sam Amick noted Johnson has “spent recent weeks rounding up local and outside investors who he is confident could come with a competitive offer.” Johnson said, "I think from my standpoint, we're thinking about $450 (million) -- $425 to $450 (million). There's a lot of due diligence that has to take place on both sides. But everybody we're talking to, who has some interest, they know the number is going to be pretty darn high. It's going to be over $400 (million) for sure. The good thing is that there's not a shortage of people who are interested" (USATODAY.com, 1/12). In Sacramento, Marcos Breton wrote under the header, “Mayor Kevin Johnson In His Element With Kings Fight.” No one in Sacramento besides Johnson “has the ability to befriend the filthy rich and talk them into committing their millions for his interests.” Johnson can “face off [with] the Maloofs, who have wronged Sacramento for years as horrible owners, and Sacramentans will be with their mayor.” If not for Johnson, the Kings “would have been gone already,” but he was “born for this fight” (SACRAMENTO BEE, 1/13).
POSTURING FOR POSITION: The BEE’s Kasler, Lillis & Bizjak in a separate front-page piece reported Sleep Train Founder & CEO Dale Carlsen, whose company is the naming sponsor of the Kings' arena, also has been “expressing interest in playing some role.” Carlsen said that he has “talked with other potential investors as well as Johnson.” He said, "My hope is we're given an opportunity as a community to put our offer in. There's several groups that are trying to put that together" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 1/12). In Boston, Gary Washburn noted the potential purchase of the Kings by a Seattle ownership group “is a surprise only in the timing.” The reality is the NBA “steered the Kings toward this fate.” The Maloofs “wanted to move the Kings to Anaheim and play at the Honda Center.” The NBA “wanted no part of a third team in Southern California, and commissioner David Stern did not want to penalize the city of Sacramento.” It was an opportunity for Stern “to right a wrong executed five years ago” (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/13).
SPEAKING FROM EXPERIENCE: In Charlotte, Rick Bonnell wrote, “If you were around Charlotte when the Hornets left for New Orleans, then these recent events involving the Sacramento Kings are an exercise in déjà vu.” The only “real difference between the Hornets’ departure and what’s happening with the Kings is the NBA immediately investigated putting another expansion team in Charlotte.” Bonnell: “Frankly, I don’t know that Sacramento, the capital of California, will ever get another major-league team. ... The biggest thing I learned while covering the Hornets’ departure was this: Owners love to say these teams belong to the town and the fans." That stance is "effective marketing because you want these teams to be perceived as public resources.” But they are “private property, and when there’s someplace else these teams can make more money, they’ll move” (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 1/13).
Former Maple Leafs President & GM Brian Burke said that his dismissal was due to "results on the ice, not his bombastic personality," according to Bob Mitchell of the TORONTO STAR. Burke: "I did not accomplish what I set out to accomplish here. That’s absolutely clear. We didn’t win enough. That’s why we’re here today." Mitchell noted Burke on Saturday held a press conference, and was "contrite, gracious and diplomatic." Burke "thanked everybody connected with the Leafs, including some who were directly involved in his firing." While it was "obvious that he was still shocked," he said that the new Bell-Rogers ownership group "had every right to fire him." Burke: "I still believe the ownership group here is committed to winning, and they’re entitled to have [newly appointed Leafs GM] Dave Nonis here instead of me if that’s what they want. When you own a team, you get the right to change the people and put who you want in place. I have no issue with that." Meanwhile, Burke "offered to remain as a senior adviser, which he took to mean helping Nonis," but he has since "been told he’d report directly to the board, not the hockey side." Burke: "They wanted a little more distance. That’s fine. They’re entitled to it. I’m not big on cashing paycheques and sitting around doing nothing, so if I can help in any way I will" (TORONTO STAR, 1/13). The CP's Chris Johnston wrote it "still isn’t clear" why the Leafs parted ways with Burke just 10 days before the new season. Burke said he had not received a "satisfactory" answer to that question. He "would relish the opportunity to run another NHL team." Burke: "I don’t think I’m done from a hockey perspective. I am definitely in the job market, no question" (CP, 1/12).
SHOULD HE STAY OR SHOULD HE GO? In Toronto, Joe Warmington wrote after Burke's "goodbye performance Saturday," Maple Leafs owner MLSE would be "wise to fire him again -- this time from his 'special advisor' role they generously agreed to swallow." The Leafs "extended him the courtesy to help him save some face while they pay out his contract and, for some reason, it did not occur to Burke that they were only trying to be nice." But now that he "admitted he is available for a new GM’s job 'tomorrow' the board would be justified to take away his pass card and his Bell and/or Rogers cellphones too." They "might be wise to keep him away from Nonis who’s focus should not be on his inevitable demise but on trying to win a Stanley Cup" (TORONTO SUN, 1/13). Also in Toronto, Rosie DiManno wrote under the header, "Maple Leafs' New Ownership Gives Knife In Brian Burke's Back Another Twist." Burke was "under the impression that ... he would remain as something substantially more than a mushroom kept in a dark room, occasionally sprinkled with manure." However, "the leash is much more constricting than anticipated -- extending to the board and COO Tom Anselmi only." Hockey operations "are a no-go zone." The first scenario "put to Burke -- take a paid leave -- he rejected outright." Burke "thought his ongoing capacity within the organization was settled, if not specifically defined," whereas now he is "befuddled and further wounded" (TORONTO STAR, 1/13).
FOR THE RECORD: The TORONTO SUN's Steve Simmons wrote, "Sure, the record was part of the evaluation of Burke." But that "wasn’t why he was fired," and Burke "knows that." He is "not comfortable going public with the information -- and neither is the new ownership -- because it’s hard to explain why someone didn’t like you." His feuds "have been many," including his "public image." Burke "liked to call the Leafs the Vatican of pro hockey," but Maple Leafs ownership "didn’t want him to be Pope anymore." They wanted to "quiet the storms and take a new stride under new management" (TORONTO SUN, 1/13).
PARTING SHOTS: The CBC's Tim Wharnsby noted when Burke's "not-so-favourite member of the local fourth estate, Toronto Sun sports columnist Steve Simmons, asked Burke if he would continue in his GM role with the USA Hockey's Olympic team, he ended his answer with bluntness." Burke responded, "The best part of today is that I don't have to talk to you again, Steve." Meanwhile, Burke's "thank-yous on Saturday were reserved for former MLSE CEO Richard Peddie and board chairman Larry Tanenbaum and his wife Judy." Tanenbaum "had to be convinced that firing Burke was the right move," but Anselmi "was not included" (CBC.ca, 1/12).
CULTURE CHANGE: The GLOBE & MAIL's Robertson, McNish, Trichur & Shoalts cited sources as saying that Burke's dismissal is "part of a longer-term series of strategic changes" by Rogers Communications and Bell Media. Their ambition with MLSE is to "rebuild a sports organization that they hope will deliver bigger audiences for their portfolio of television and wireless customers, and more profit to their bottom lines." For Bell and Rogers, each with "millions of customers in the heart of Leafs country, the public-relations stakes are somewhat higher." Losing "could rub off on their brands." A source said, "We are hitting the reset button." Nonis "has been handed the GM reins, but that is more of a battlefield promotion than a deliberate succession plan." The move is a "restructuring of a company designed to bring more accountability to MLSE." Firing Burke "not only points to new management of Maple Leafs, but also to an act of solidarity against an MLSE shareholder who has been a dominant force on the board for years." Facing off against Tanenbaum "is another key shift," as at most corporations, his smaller ownership stake would "limit" his influence. A source said, "There is a war going on at MLSE right now." It remains "an open question which direction Rogers and BCE are headed." But they are "showing signs of wanting swift action" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/13). The GLOBE & MAIL's Jeff Blair wrote, "With Rogers Communications and Bell Media now in charge of the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Ltd., board, there is a new culture taking hold." These are "companies with a wider range of interests than the previous board movers" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/13). SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's John Lombardo writes under the header, "Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Sets New Course With Unique Ownership Structure" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 1/14 issue).
The Blackhawks "plan to get back into the good graces of paying customers as seamlessly as possible" now that the NHL lockout has ended, according to Chris Kuc of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. Blackhawks President & CEO John McDonough said, "During the course of the lockout, our waiting list for our season-ticket base increased by 250. I really don't know what indication that is. ... For those fans who are upset -- deservedly -- we're going to do everything we can to win them back." He added that the team will "announce 'fan initiatives' later this week to repay those upset with the league and the organization." McDonough: "The message to our fans is very simple: We are going to have to earn our way back." Kuc writes in addition to the relationship between teams and their fans, there "could be some repair work needed between players and owners." Blackhawks C Jonathan Toews during the lockout "was one of the more vocal members of the union." Toews said, "I wouldn't say I take anything back. I have a lot of respect for [Blackhawks Chair] Rocky Wirtz and (his) family and everyone who has been a part of this Blackhawks organization. The frustration I was showing always had to do with just the things that … were happening, the relationship between the league and the players. I think they'll say the same things, that they had some frustrations with us too" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/14). In Chicago, Rick Morrissey writes under the header, "Blackhawks Don't Need To Say Sorry For Fans To Return." Morrissey: "I don’t think the Hawks are taking their fans for granted; I think they simply know their audience." McDonough: "How much anger was there? We certainly weren't overwhelmed by it." Morrissey writes Blackhawks fans "will come back." The "most loyal fans in sports will come back because they can't help themselves" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 1/14).
WIRTZ WITH FRIENDS: Wirtz, regarding the Blackhawks winning back angry fans, said, "There are obviously going to be some people -- some fans -- who are going to have some ill feelings but I think the end result is if we do our job to give fans great entertainment and to win people will see we're continually striving to do better." He added of his role in the CBA negotiations, "I was in contact with (Commissioner) Gary Bettman and I was very much supportive. ... In the short term it could be a very bad thing but it's really a process you have to go through. You can't speed it up because you have to have both sides on the same page." Wirtz, when asked how much damage was done to the sport of hockey, said, "At the end of the day we'll be ahead. It seems funny to say that, but I think we'll be ahead because we now have the framework for labor peace for 10 years and we can now grow this game. There are short-term problems, but long term, it's the greatest sport there is and we just have to expose it to more people." He added regarding why the Blackhawks did not endure staff cuts or pay reductions, "We wanted to hit the ground running. This too was going to pass. We didn't want to take any of John (McDonough's) and [Exec VP Jay Blunk's] resources away from them and I thought it was very important to fund the staff. It took 5 1/2 years to build the staff to where it is today and the last thing we wanted to do was cut anyone's salary or lay anyone off. We just took the position that we weren't going to do that" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/13).
ON THE ROAD AGAIN: In Chicago, Mark Lazerus noted the Blackhawks will "play 10 of their first 12 games on the road," with Bulls games and other events scheduled at the United Center. The organization "knew the United Center was pretty well booked this time of year, and were bracing for a schedule like this." The Blackhawks "after the brutal road stretch" will have seven straight home games. The team will "have 10 instances of back-to-back games" this season (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 1/13).
NHL Kings GM Dean Lombardi has "made a handshake agreement with the organization on a four-year contract extension" through the '16-17 season, according to Helene Elliott of the L.A. TIMES. AEG President & CEO Tim Leiweke said that "uncertainty" over AEG Chair Philip Anschutz' sale of the company and Leiweke's busy role in the process "contributed to delaying Lombardi's extension." Leiweke said the extension of Lombardi's contract and a forthcoming extension for Kings President of Business Operations Luc Robitaille "has created great predictability and certainty no matter who the owners are." He added that Anschutz "might not sell AEG if the right buyers aren't found." However, Leiweke said the process is down to a final group that is "very bullish about sports." Meanwhile, Leiweke, Lombardi and Robitaille "will join Anschutz's wife, Nancy, as she distributes" Stanley Cup rings to Kings players prior to Saturday's season-opener against the Blackhawks. The team's banner-raising ceremony is "scheduled to include members of a hockey-loving family that lost a child in the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shootings." Leiweke said, "It's our effort to do something good for the game and use this moment to heal the rift that was created for them and for us" (L.A. TIMES, 1/14). Leiweke said that a visit to the White House "has been tentatively scheduled" and that the Kings and MLS Galaxy "will go on the same day" to celebrate their respective '12 championships with President Barack Obama (LATIMES.com, 1/11).
The Senators are "making a conscious effort to woo back fans that remain bitter about the four-month lockout," according to Ken Warren of the OTTAWA CITIZEN. The Senators are "giving breaks to their approximately 10,600 season ticket holders -- they’ll all receive a free game -- and concentrating efforts on drawing more children to the rink." Fans younger than 14 for select games will "receive a free ticket, providing an adult has purchased a ticket." Senators President Cyril Leeder said, "Our focus has been, for some time now, on getting more kids in the arena and this is just a continuation. We're going to do more as we go forward." Warren notes other incentives at selected games "include half-price student tickets and $1 popcorn." The Senators also are "opening Scotiabank Place to the public for all on-ice workouts during their brief training camp" (OTTAWA CITIZEN, 1/14). Senators Owner Eugene Melnyk yesterday said, "My message to the fans [is] to come out and support the team, you’re going to want to be part of this because this is going to be a great, great team for the coming years, if not immediately, and you don’t want to be left out in the cold. As a diehard fan, you are part of this organization. I just want you guys back." Melnyk added, "Other than free hot dogs, although they're important, the most important thing that we can give is to have these players come out every night and deliver you a winning team" (CP, 1/13). Melnyk said, "Ottawa is a different market. It's different here. ... They realize, 'Let's go forward.' Hockey is back." He added, "Is there bitterness right this minute? Absolutely. Forgiveness for it happening? I think it exists here in Ottawa" (OTTAWASUN.com, 1/13).
Wild COO Matt Majka said that interest "appears on the rise and season-ticket holders have stayed faithful" despite the NHL lockout, according to Bruce Brothers of the ST. PAUL PIONEER-PRESS. But Majka is "taking a conservative approach." He said, "We've got work to do to earn fans' trust back, and to assume we're going to be back to sellouts, I just won't do that." Majka said that the Wild "sold about 4,000 new season tickets over the summer" after the free-agent signings of LW Zach Parise and D Ryan Suter. He said that another 100 season tickets "were purchased in the past week, after a tentative agreement to end the lockout was reached." Majka said, "We lost virtually nobody during the stoppage." He added that some fans "requested refunds for canceled games but most kept their money 'on account' and have credit for future tickets." Majka said that season-ticket holders can "expect various new benefits from the organization, but single-game tickets will not be discounted." The Wild will hold a "free full-game scrimmage" on Wednesday, which will be "televised by Fox Sports North." Tickets must be "acquired through wild.com and each fan will receive a $10 concession voucher, which cannot be used for alcoholic beverages" (ST. PAUL PIONEER-PRESS, 1/14). In Minneapolis, Michael Russo notes there was "so much demand Sunday" for the scrimmage that the team "actually had to suspend ticket distribution to ensure season-ticket holders can get tickets" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 1/14).
PLAYING NICE: The AP's Teresa Walker noted the Predators on Saturday "tried to start wooing fans" back with an hour-long practice. The team "sold hot dogs, popcorn and sodas for 50 cents apiece in what they billed a 'celebration.'" Predators D Shea Weber said, "Anything we can do to try and win them back, we're going to try and hopefully they'll stick with us and come with us the whole way" (AP, 1/12). In Boston, Mark Murphy reported the Bruins will distribute "free vouchers for concessions" during the team's five January home games. These will "enable fans to receive three free items from a set menu at Garden concession stands, not including alcoholic drinks" (BOSTONHERALD.com, 1/13). Also in Boston, Steve Conroy noted the Bruins "will also host a Black and Gold intrasquad scrimmage on Tuesday night." The scrimmage is "free to the public, but fans do need tickets to attend." Tickets will be "available to season ticket-holders and Premium Club clients before they are released to the public" (BOSTON HERALD, 1/13). In Raleigh, Chip Alexander noted the Hurricanes will "have revised mini-season ticket plans for the shortened season." Mini-season ticket plan-holders can "opt for an 18-game plan, or choose between three different 10-game plans" (NEWSOBSERVER.com, 1/12).
BREAKING EVEN: Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik said that the team will be "better off financially" because of the new CBA. Vinik "would not say if the new agreement makes the Lightning a break-even franchise or even a money-maker." But he said, "I think if we continue to do what we've done the last three years -- we've built a great organization on and off the ice -- we should be in good shape." One reason he cited is "expanded revenue sharing" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 1/13).
In K.C., Randy Covitz writes new Chiefs GM John Dorsey is “regarded as a people person, unlike the man he is replacing in Kansas City, the unapproachable Scott Pioli.” Dorsey previously served as Packers Football Operations Dir and has been a Packer “since his playing days as a linebacker” from ’84-89 and has “turned down opportunities to leave Green Bay in the past.” But Dorsey worked with Chiefs coach Andy Reid when Reid was a Packers assistant from ’92-98 and “couldn’t pass up this chance” (K.C. STAR, 1/14). ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson wrote, “Make no mistake, the power structure of the Chiefs has changed.” This is “Reid’s show.” Dorsey will be “Reid’s right-hand man” and will be “a good one” (ESPN.com, 1/13).
YOU CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN: New Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell said he does not foresee the team acquiring QB Tim Tebow during the offseason, and ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser said he was “stunned” by the statement. He said he did not think Jaguars Owner Shad Khan would "hire a GM who would not want Tebow.” Kornheiser added, “Here’s why I would want Tebow if I was Jacksonville: I would sell out seats. They don’t sell out now” (“PTI,” ESPN, 1/11). ESPN's Chris Mortensen noted Tebow was a topic of discussion during Khan's interviews "with several GM candidates, and it would’ve been a dealbreaker with Caldwell." Mortensen: "Khan openly admitted to his candidates of his desire for Tebow. Sources said it was his desire for Caldwell that trumped his desire for Tebow” (“Sunday NFL Countdown,” ESPN, 1/12).
YANKEE THRIFT: In N.Y., Mike Lupica wrote Yankees Managing General Partner & co-Chair Hal Steinbrenner is “right about his payroll, whether Yankees fans want to hear that or not.” Steinbrenner is “probably scratching his head these days and wondering why he has committed more than $90 million next season to six players who will be over the age of 38,” including 3B Alex Rodriguez, SS Derek Jeter, LF Ichiro Suzuki, and Ps Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda and Mariano Rivera. That is more than A's VP & GM Billy Beane "gets to spend on a whole baseball team in Oakland” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/13).
LOCAL COLORS: In Ottawa, Don Brennan reports word “spread quickly over the weekend that Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group was strong considering the unique, two-colour handle” Ottawa Red Blacks as the name for its CFL team. OSEG Sports Properties President Jeff Hunt said, "It’s on the short list. We’re going to do some focus groups in a week to test some short listed names.” Hunt all along has said that the team’s name “would be unique to Ottawa.” Brennan writes the Red Blacks is “certainly that ... and unique to all sports” (OTTAWA SUN, 1/14).