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The Livestrong Foundation and MLS Sporting K.C. said that the naming-rights deal for Livestrong Sporting Park is “set to end" less than two years into a six-year agreement, according to Darren Rovell of ESPN.com. Livestrong Foundation officials “informed the team this week that the club had only paid $250,000 of the $1 million that it owed the foundation in 2012.” Sources said that the communication “noted that failure to make the foundation whole within two weeks would result in the charity severing the deal.” A team official “refutes the club owes any money, but says the deal to make the $200 million stadium Livestrong Sporting Park in March 2011 didn't live up to its expectations, either.” Rovell noted Sporting K.C. when the deal was forged said that it “would donate $7.5 million to the foundation in exchange for connecting to one of the sporting world's most powerful charities.” Sporting K.C. CEO Robb Heineman said that the team has “decided to rename the field ... Sporting Park.” Livestrong CFO Greg Lee said that, as of yesterday evening, “no one on his team had received any notice of the team's desire to end the deal” (ESPN.com, 1/15). Heineman said the two sides had been engaged in talks to “redefine expectations” for the agreement. But he added that he “felt blindsided by Livestrong’s accusation.” Heineman said, “I didn’t think that’s how they would go about treating a partner. And I didn’t necessarily think our relationship was something to be debated on ESPN or in the media, quite frankly. It’s something we were working on in good faith, and it was to both our mutual benefit to try to do something to continue to raise money for the foundation. They obviously took a different tack, and it was a surprising one to us.” He added, “It seems like there was the best of intentions to make this thing really go, so to wind up the way that it is has is sad. I don’t think any of us thought this would happen” (K.C. STAR, 1/16).
POINTING FINGERS: In K.C., Sam Mellinger writes the franchise now “must deal with real off-the-field defeat,” as team execs have been “essentially perfect in the decisions that matter until this one.” Their “big bet on Lance Armstrong is now officially blown to bits, and for an added kick to the crotch, it’s Armstrong’s old Livestrong foundation that hit the eject button.” Sporting’s leaders “didn’t go into this partnership blind,” as they “knew Armstrong was under suspicion but hoped Livestrong’s brand was strong enough to continue its mission of fighting cancer without him.” Mellinger: “As it turns out, Sporting looks the fool. No matter how much they try to separate Armstrong’s disgrace from Livestrong’s nobility, the liar and the charity he started are like Siamese twins. ... With hindsight, Sporting’s mistakes were the product of gullibility and idealism run amok.” They were “star-struck by Armstrong’s fame and hungry for the potential of the partnership, which not only clouded their thinking in the beginning but pushed them to hang on for too long” (K.C. STAR, 1/16).
ON THE DOWN LOW: In a special to the N.Y. TIMES, Claudio Gatti notes as Armstrong begins confessing to doping during his career, some critics “have seized on another possible dynamic at play throughout sports: companies that endorse athletes might prefer to stand by quietly if they know an athlete is doping, appreciating the benefits of his success rather than moving to expose their pitchman.” Former cyclist Jörg Jaksche said, “For the sponsors, this system has no downside. If nobody is caught doping, they gain all the commercial benefits of the visibility generated by great performances. If somebody is caught, they have a swift exit strategy” (N.Y. TIMES, 1/16).
LATE-NIGHT LAUGHS: Armstrong's reported admission to Oprah Winfrey that he doped was fodder for the late-night talk show hosts last night. NBC's Jay Leno, ABC's Jimmy Fallon and CBS' David Letterman, as well as Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, all commented on the controversy.
The Charlotte City Council has "given an early endorsement" to the Panthers’ request for $125M in public money for stadium renovations, voting 7-2 on Monday to "gauge the support of the N.C. General Assembly," according to a front-page piece by Steve Harrison of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. The proposal still "needs approval from the legislature" and Gov. Pat McCrory. The vote was an "indication to the legislature that the city supports the proposal." However some council members said that they are "still negotiating with the Panthers." A number of council members said that they "believe that McCrory and legislative leaders also support the plan." The "total cost of the stadium renovations is reportedly" more than $200M. Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson also is "expected to ask the state for money." Harrison reports some council members are "concerned about the team’s long-term future in Charlotte." Richardson has said that he "won’t move the team." But it is "unclear what his succession plan is, and some fear the team could be sold and moved, possibly to Los Angeles, which doesn’t have an NFL team." Two council members said that the city is "negotiating with the Panthers for some level of assurance the team would remain in Charlotte as a condition" for the $125M. There have been "indications for months that the City Council was open to helping" the Panthers. The team has given "only a few details of what a renovation could entail." The team said last fall that Richardson "wants to add escalators to make it easier for fans to reach the upper bowl." Additionally, the team wants to "improve its video boards." During Monday’s meeting, the team reportedly "told council members it would also improve suites" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 1/16).
HERE TO STAY? In Charlotte, Tom Sorensen writes there are "reasons the city should consider the team’s request." The foremost is that "investing public money ties the team to Charlotte." What happens to the team "when Richardson is gone is conjecture," and Charlotte’s $125M investment would "make the team much more difficult to sell and move." That means meeting with the City Council Monday night "was not a mistake." Meanwhile, meeting in closed session and stationing officers outside might have "been the call of the city and not the team," but "avoiding questions was a Panthers decision" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 1/16). A CHARLOTTE OBSERVER editorial states the Panthers' request "feels like a kick to the gut" of Charlotte's taxpayers. The editorial: "It's a huge amount of money. It’s tone-deaf to the times. It suggests that overpriced athletes have more value than underpaid police officers. And it's something, unfortunately, the city needs to seriously consider doing." Consideration should be given because $125M "is not a lot compared with other NFL stadium renovations," and there remains the potential of the team moving to L.A. or "any other city looking to entice an NFL team." The 76-year-old Richardson, who had a heart transplant four years ago, is "aging and has no publicly known succession plan after firing his two sons." Play "chicken with the Panthers and they could pack their bags -- and that’s no bluff" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 1/16).
JERRY'S WORLD: In Charlotte, Erik Spanberg cited a source as saying that Richardson has "mandated the NFL franchise be sold two years after his death." Spanberg notes the "revelation marks the first time details have been disclosed about the Panthers’ fate beyond the life of Richardson." Mark and Jon Richardson, his sons, worked as Panthers execs before Jerry Richardson "forced them out in 2009." Before then, "everyone assumed Mark and Jon Richardson would own and operate the team after their father’s death." Since that time, Richardson and the Panthers have "declined to disclose succession plans." The Panthers "need to be tied to the city before anyone not named Richardson becomes the owner of the franchise." An easy way to do that is to "commit to the stadium overhaul the Panthers have been working on for much of the past year" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 1/15).
GETTING THEIR GUY: The Panthers yesterday formally introduced Dave Gettleman as their new GM, and Richardson said that he likes that Gettleman "comes from a winning organization such as the New York Giants." Gettleman, who had served as Giants Senior Personnel Analyst, said that he "wondered if this opportunity would ever come after spending 25 years in the league." Gettleman: "They say good things come to those who wait and I feel like this is absolutely the perfect fit for me. ... It was time for me to move to significance and a lot of that is thinking about legacy. What is your legacy?" Gettleman said that his philosophy on free agents is that he "plans to build through the draft." He added, "You have to raise your own" (AP, 1/15). Gettleman said, "I firmly believe in the saying, ‘Every man is my equal and I may learn from him.’ So we’re going to be an inclusive group.” In Charlotte, Jonathan Jones notes the team is nearly $16M "over the salary cap for the 2013 season, but the general manager declined to discuss personnel specifics because he had not yet evaluated the team from top to bottom" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 1/16). The OBSERVER's Scott Fowler wrote Gettleman "makes a heck of a first impression." Gettleman "certainly 'won' the press conference at Bank of America Stadium, coming across as charming, smart and gruff." He advanced through the NFL scouting ranks and "feels most comfortable watching film in a darkened room and evaluating players, but his sense of humor and directness makes him seem like a guy that players would enjoy talking to and front-office people would like working for." He "seemed honest and was definitely entertaining" (CHARLOTTEOBSERVER.com, 1/15).
The Browns' season of "significant change continued Tuesday as the franchise officially announced the name of its lakefront venue is now 'FirstEnergy Stadium, Home of the Cleveland Browns,'" according to Reed & Funk of the Cleveland PLAIN DEALER. While it "doesn't exactly roll from the tongue, it creates another revenue stream," one that Browns Owner Jimmy Haslam III "vowed will be used to help the Browns become more competitive." The franchise and Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. "did not divulge the terms of their agreement for the stadium-naming rights." Haslam said that it is "a 'long-term' deal and that the decision not to disclose the monetary amount is in keeping with the wishes of the power company." The deal must be "approved by the Cleveland City Council as the city owns the stadium." The city council, which has "30 days to approve the agreement, probably will hear from the public about the new name, partly because fans have been paying seat licensing" since the stadium opened in '99. All Cuyahoga County residents have been "paying a 'sin tax' to help finance the debt on it." Still, the deal should "sail through an approval vote." The deal would "not only change the name of the $300 million building but also would give FirstEnergy exclusive rights in a wide range of joint marketing, from logos on tickets to television, newspaper and Internet advertising." The companies intend to "launch a FirstEnergy Stadium website in the near future and plan other joint marketing efforts, including philanthropic campaigns." A new logo has been "designed for the partnership and will be featured in large signs at the top of stadium -- signs big enough to be seen by passing traffic and probably large enough to be seen from the Goodyear blimp" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 1/16). Haslam said that negotiations "started late in the summer and were wrapped up by the end of the year" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 1/16).
EXTREME MAKEOVER: In Akron, Nate Ulrich notes selling naming rights for Cleveland Browns Stadium is "only the beginning of the culture change the organization will experience" with Haslam and his new regime in charge. Haslam and CEO Joe Banner "discussed some plans they hope to implement in the not-too-distant future." In addition to the stadium, the team’s "headquarters and its uniforms could be in store for makeovers." Haslam said that three or four of the "top architects in the country will meet with Banner and new team President Alec Scheiner in the next 30 days to discuss potential stadium enhancements." New scoreboards, sound systems and "even a roof are possibilities that will be explored for the lakefront stadium." Banner said that Browns officials already have "met with architects about possibly expanding the team’s headquarters and practice facility that opened in 1991 in Berea." Several team employees who "work in sales, marketing and other departments have offices in the stadium, but Banner said he wants the headquarters to be able to house the entire organization." Haslam said that the Browns "also are preparing to modify their uniforms." He said, "It’s a two-year process in the NFL. We’ve notified the NFL we would like to take a look at our uniforms. So if we do make any changes, it will be for the 2014 season." Ulrich notes Haslam has learned he "must strike the right balance between making changes and maintaining tradition to keep Browns fans -- and his customers -- happy." That is why he "vowed not to mess with the team’s orange, logo-less helmets" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 1/16).
ZEROING IN: Banner yesterday said that the Browns are "wrapping up their first wave of general manager interviews and have identified a front-runner." But in Cleveland, Mary Kay Cabot noted just like "with the coaching search, the franchise will remain mum until it has its man under contract and ready for his closeup." Banner declined to comment on whether Chiefs Pro Personnel Dir Ray Farmer "is his front-runner for the job." A source said that Farmer would "leave the Chiefs for a larger role with a club." Banner said that the Browns job "will most likely carry the title of general manager as opposed to director of player personnel" (CLEVELAND.com, 1/15).
A bill drafted by the Dolphins “would give Florida sports teams $3 million a year in state money to improve older stadiums, provided the owner pays for at least half the cost of a major renovation,” according to Douglas Hanks of the MIAMI HERALD. The bill “pits enthusiasm for one of Florida’s most popular sports teams against a lean budget climate and lingering backlash against the 2009 deal that had Miami and Miami-Dade borrow about" $485M to build a new ballpark for the Marlins. Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross also “must navigate a Republican-led Legislature that has twice rebuffed his requests for public dollars.” State Rep. Mike Fasano, a “critic of tax-funded sports deals," said, “I would be surprised if that bill even got a hearing in committee.” Hanks notes while the bill would “open up the $3 million subsidy to the other teams, the Dolphins see it as unlikely that another owner would be willing to put up as much money for renovations as Ross.” If the bill “were enacted today, any stadium opened before 1993 would be eligible for the money.” State Sen. Oscar Braynon, who sponsored the bill, said that the Marlins deal "hurts the Dolphins’ chances.” Braynon said from the state capital in Tallahassee, “Even people up here think about the Marlins stadium. That’s the biggest hurdle, in my opinion.” Meanwhile, the Dolphins have “launched miamifirst.com, a website, and @miamifirst, a Twitter account, to promote the stadium plan” and promote bringing events, such as Super Bowl L to South Florida. In addition, the team “continues rolling out endorsements from some of Miami-Dade’s largest hotels” (MIAMI HERALD, 1/16).
TO BE, OR NOT TO BE? In West Palm Beach, Dave George writes he is “dead sober in this matter, and dead against pouring cash into a stadium that is owned by a man who has talked of building a waterpark right across the street as an amusing sidelight.” George: “Not this time. It’s too soon after the Marlins’ feeding frenzy, and too much to ask” (PALM BEACH POST, 1/16). But in Ft. Lauderdale, Omar Kelly wrote, “Don't just take a stand against the Sun-Life Stadium public-private partnership plan because you've been burned by other owners, or you feel our tax dollars can be spent better. Think about the alternative. Think about losing Super Bowls and the National Championship game IF we let the stadium continue to fall behind the newer facilities” (SUN-SENTINEL.com, 1/15). In Miami, Greg Cote asked fans how they feel about the Dolphins’ $400M stadium-improvement plan “that seeks close to half that money in public funds.” A total of 57% voted, “I’m for the plan as it is. A Private/public cooperative is logistical and fair.” A total of 35% voted, “I’m for the improvements, but let Ross pay. Enough with using tax money.” While a total of 5% voted, “I’m against the plan. The stadium is fine as is” (MIAMIHERALD.com, 1/15).
The Trail Blazers have announced an effort to "re-energize a search" for a Rose Garden naming-rights sponsor, which was first launched in '07, according to Allan Brettman of the Portland OREGONIAN. The team "will work with Premier Partnerships" to find a sponsor. Blazers President & CEO Chris McGowan "is familiar with Premier through his previous job" as AEG COO (OREGONLIVE.com, 1/14). In Portland, Andy Giegerich notes Premier Partnerships has previously "landed naming rights" for O.co Coliseum, PPL Park, San Diego State Univ.'s Viejas Arena and the former Pizza Hut Park outside Dallas (BIZJOURNALS.com, 1/14). McGowan said that a new name "might be in place on the arena by the start" of next season. Univ. of Oregon Warsaw Sports Marketing Center Dir Paul Swangard said that naming-rights sponsorships "aren't generally as attractive to companies as in the past." He added that a naming-rights deal in a smaller market "does not get the same level of national exposure as in the nation's biggest cities." Swangard: "You've got a building that has a heritage to its name. As a company, you don't want to be coming in and immediately ticking off the community because they've slapped a commercial moniker on it." The OREGONIAN's Brettman in a separate piece noted Trail Blazers and Premier officials declined to "speculate how much an annual building sponsorship was worth." The Rose Garden is "one of five arenas in the NBA that do not have corporate sponsors" (Portland OREGONIAN, 1/15).
In Atlanta, Jim Galloway reported Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal yesterday “laid out some arguments likely to be used by supporters of a new, $1 billion stadium that would serve as a new home for the Atlanta Falcons.” Deal said that he “wants the team to stay put” in the city. The “most important thing” Deal did yesterday was to “cast the decision as one that should yield to local -- i.e., Atlanta -- sentiment.” Deal also “implied that the issue would be pressed this year, despite the fact that the issue polls dismally.” Deal: “In talking with the Falcons, they believe this is a time-critical issue” (AJC.com, 1/15).
MOTOWN MOBILE: Red Wings Senior Dir of Communications John Hahn wrote in an e-mail, “Joe Louis Arena is not equipped with the infrastructure required for dedicated, publicly accessible Wi-Fi service.” In Detroit, Bill Shea reported because the Red Wings “intend to move, there’s concern from mobile providers about investing much into an arena that will lose its primary tenant and could be razed.” Houston-based Molitoris Group Principal Rob Todd said that anything installed now at the arena “couldn’t be transported to a new arena," and it "likely would be out of date anyway” (CRAINSDETROIT.com, 1/13).
PAST DUE: California officials said that the “financially troubled” L.A. Memorial Coliseum Commission has “breached its lease contract with the state by failing to pay $500,000 in rent due at the end of the year.” In L.A., Rong-Gong Lin II reported the declaration, which became public yesterday, “came as the latest sign of fiscal distress for the Coliseum, a taxpayer-owned stadium that is at risk for running out of money by the end of March.” It was “immediately unclear what the failure to pay the rent means for the management of the Coliseum” (LATIMES.com, 1/15).
GEEK SQUAD: Stats LLC has struck a partnership with ticket search engine SeatGeek in which aggregated ticket listing data will now be part of Stats' Hosted Solution content feed licensed to more than 100 major publishers. SeatGeek will become an affiliate partner of Stats, joining similar outfits such as FanSnap and FansEdge (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal).