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Browns Owner Jimmy Haslam III yesterday promised fans that he will "still be heavily involved in all aspects of the team -- including free agency and the draft -- despite reassuming his role as CEO of Pilot Flying J," according to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland PLAIN DEALER. Haslam added that he will spend "no less time with the Browns despite taking his old job back." He said, "My time in Cleveland is not going to change at all. During the season we're there a day or two a week and we're there on weekends or wherever we're playing. We'll be very active and very visible during training camp and we're obviously going to be there a lot during the free agency and draft periods which are obviously so important to the future of the Browns." He stressed that he will "still be one of the team's four decision-makers," along with CEO Joe Banner, coach Rob Chudzinski and VP/Player Personnel Michael Lombardi. Haslam: "I know people always ask who has the final say, and this is going to be a collaborative effort just like we've described before" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 2/13). In Akron, Nate Ulrich conducted a Q&A with Haslam and asked about his future involvement. Haslam said, "You can assure everybody we're going to be extremely involved" (OHIO.com, 2/12). Also in Akron, Marla Ridenour wrote, "I can’t see Haslam becoming as much of a defacto owner as Randy Lerner; he seems too hard-wired for that to happen." But Monday’s news did "suck a little more air out of my balloon in terms of the Browns’ front office changes, especially when it comes to the energy Haslam brings to the building." Banner and Lombardi will "take on much bigger roles, bigger than they’ve ever held before in the NFL" (OHIO.com, 2/12).
Grizzlies Owner Robert Pera yesterday said the franchise was "kind of strapped" after his ownership group purchased the team in October '12 because they "were paying for" the franchise's '01 relocation from Vancouver to Memphis, according to Geoff Calkins of the Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL. Pera said, "The sponsorship was fully loaded with upfront payments, so we didn’t see that coming in.” Pera later clarified that he “didn’t mean strapped, exactly” (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 2/13). Pera said, “Not only are we not thrifty, but we've inherited financial obligations from the previous ownership for moving the team to Memphis, which we're paying, and the FedEx sponsorship, naming rights, that's all front-loaded from (previous owner Michael) Heisley's time. We're perfectly OK with those economic burdens. I just used a bad choice of words. I wanted to illustrate that we're financially committed.” He added, “I don't want to profit off this team at all. I'm not running it as necessarily a business. Definitely I'm prepared to write a check (to cover franchise losses), and I will write a check at the end of the year. And whether I'm worth a billion dollars or 10 billion dollars, I believe creating a great franchise isn't about throwing money.” Meanwhile, Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien said of possible plans for a team-owned RSN, “We enjoy our partnership with Fox. We appreciate it. We just think we have a lot of valuable content. Obviously, our ratings are strong, not just here but in surrounding areas. We want to engage the greater community, surrounding areas, and we want to have a more regional following. ... We want to figure out ways to monetize that” (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 2/13).
The Yankees said StubHub's plan to set up a ticket pickup location near Yankee Stadium may be in violation of New York state law, setting up a possible legal battle. StubHub intends to open its Yankees ticket pickup location at 68 E. 161st St. in the Bronx, diagonally across the 161st St.-River Ave. intersection from the ballpark. But the club, which on Monday announced plans with Ticketmaster to create Yankees Ticket Exchange, said the move conflicts with the state's ticketing law. New York prohibits ticket resale within 1,500 feet of a venue with permanent seating above 5,000 seats. Yankees COO Lonn Trost said, "We're reviewing our options, and we'll respond accordingly as needed." StubHub operates dozens of similar ticket pickup locations around the country near stadiums and arenas, both on a permanent and temporary pop-up basis for major events. But the company says the law is on its side, as the spots are only to retrieve prior orders. StubHub Head of Communications Glenn Lehrman said, "We don’t think there’s a fight to be had here.” Meanwhile, Trost yesterday told WFAN-AM that ticket sales for the upcoming '13 season were "rough," but last night added that season-ticket renewals are above 90% thus far, ahead of team projections (Eric Fisher, Staff Writer). Yankees Managing General Partner & co-Chair Hal Steinbrenner said that YTE will "use exclusive bar-code technology to guarantee that tickets were authentic." He added that it will "dovetail with the online accounts" that season-ticket holders use. In N.Y., Ken Belson noted fans still can "list their Yankees tickets on Web sites like StubHub," but the team site "might become more compelling because it gives fans an additional place to shop." TiqIQ Founder & CEO Jesse Lawrence said, "For season-ticket holders, it's a net positive because there's more places to sell. And everyone's happy with lower fees" (NYTIMES.com, 2/12).
The Blue Jackets today named Jarmo Kekalainen GM, which is a "historic hiring, one that will resonate across the world of hockey," as Kekalainen is the "first European to ascend to the role of GM in the NHL," according to Aaron Portzline of the COLUMBUS DISPATCH. Kekalainen replaces Scott Howson, who was "fired early yesterday after six-plus seasons." Kekalainen from '02-10 worked as Blues Amateur Scouting Dir, "where he met and worked closely with" Blue Jackets President of Hockey Operations John Davidson. Prior to his time with the Blues, Kekalainen "spent seven seasons" with the Senators, five of them as Player Personnel Dir (DISPATCH.com, 2/13). Portzline writes replacing the team's GM is the “first significant move” for Davidson with the Blue Jackets. Davidson said that he “mulled this decision for weeks, but wanted to have a replacement lined up" before making the move. Howson was in his sixth season as GM, after being hired to "clean up the mess left by predecessor Doug MacLean." Almost all of Howson’s moves "in the early years seemed successful," but since the ’08-09 season, it has been “mostly a struggle, pockmarked by firing two coaches, questionable contracts and a fiasco late last season" when RW Rick Nash asked to be traded (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 2/13). In Columbus, Michael Arace writes a “good case could be made" to fire Howson. The “clamor to get rid of him had been growing among fans for more than three years, or since Howson sacked coach Ken Hitchcock.” But Arace asks, “Did you see this coming? ... I did not.” Part of Davidson’s “established expertise is in blending personalities and getting everyone to work together,” and he is “not one to clean house post-haste.” Howson “could have worked well under Davidson.” He has "the brains, the expertise and the humility to excel as a right-hand man” (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 2/13).
The Devils have seldom been known “for being a hot ticket,” but “that is fast changing,” according to Dave Caldwell of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. Going into last night's game against the Hurricanes, the Devils had “sold out five of their first six games this season" at the Prudential Center. Including last year's Stanley Cup Final run, the Devils have “sold out 17 of their last 18.” The team's average home attendance of 17,154 is "up by almost 12% over last year -- and is just shy of the rival Rangers' 17,200.” Two years ago, the Devils averaged 14,775 in a "dismal season in which they started poorly and missed the playoffs.” They “appear to have won back lost fans.” When the Devils played at the “enormous Continental Airlines Arena” in East Rutherford it was “often hard to perceive" a home-ice advantage. Even in ‘07-08, their first season at the Prudential Center, the Devils averaged 15,564, "nearly 2,000 less than the capacity of 17,625.” But then the Devils “got hot,” and “so did tickets" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/13).
THE LONELY ISLAND BOYS: Caldwell noted the Islanders' average attendance ranked 29th in the NHL this season before Monday's game against the Hurricanes, which “drew a season-low 9,622.” Only the Coyotes, with an average of 12,348, have "lured fewer fans." The organization said that Nassau Coliseum “hasn't affected its play or the crowds.” Caldwell noted attendance is “actually up: The Islanders were dead last in attendance two years ago, averaging 11,059.” Islanders Communications Dir Kimber Auerbach said that season-ticket sales are “higher than a year ago” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/12).
The Indians are no longer a "boring, hapless and hopeless team," but rather one "worthy of attention from the fans” after several big offseason moves, including the additions of CF Michael Bourn, RF Nick Swisher and 3B Mark Reynolds, according to Terry Pluto of the Cleveland PLAIN DEALER. That is in addition to new "big-time manager" Terry Francona. Indians Owner Larry Dolan and his front office "knew they had to be bold this winter, that they could not return with the same old Indians." The team has "decided it’s time to spend, and they are spending.” Club execs likely "overpaid for Bourn, just as they did with Swisher." However, the Indians "would not have signed either without the extra year -- and without committing a guaranteed $104 million for these two guys over the next four seasons." The payroll entering Spring Training is around $80-85M, up from $65M last year. The team got $240M by selling SportsTime Ohio to Fox, but it is not "pocketing all the cash from this and the new national TV deal." The front office is instead "investing it in players and, yes, a manager" (CLEVELAND.com, 2/12). ESPN’s Pablo Torre said the Indians are a team “that didn’t have to spend a ton of money, and they did.” The $117M they spent on free agents this offseason is “14 times what they spend in 2011." Torre: "They hadn’t broken double-digits in the previous three seasons.” ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan said the Indians “didn’t overpay for guys, so I figure anytime you try to improve your team without overpaying, that’s a step in the right direction” ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 2/12). MLB Network's Kevin Millar said, "They're the fourth team to spend over $100M behind the Dodgers and the Angels and … the Tigers. You got to be excited about this” (“Intentional Talk,” MLB Network, 2/12). A Cleveland PLAIN DEALER editorial stated it "may be time to drop the charge" that Indians Chair & CEO Paul Dolan and his family are "too tight with a buck” (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 2/13).
SNOWBALL EFFECT: ESPN’s Pedro Gomez noted the signing of Bourn is “all a big part of the big winter makeover for the Indians.” Francona said of the direction of the team, “Whatever the plan was, I was going to buy into [it]. If they wanted to go young or whatever, I told them, ‘I’ll try to do the best I can with whatever you ask me to do.’” But Francona added the “winter has kind of snowballed a little bit, and we’ve gained some momentum and some good things have happened” (“Baseball Tonight,” ESPN2, 2/12).
The MLB Giants “now appear to be the Bay Area’s favorite sports team” after the 49ers for years “were considered the dominant force in local sports,” according to Ann Killion of the S.F. CHRONICLE. The evidence of the Bay Area's "relative apathy was right there in black-and-white when the Super Bowl Nielsen television ratings were released,” showing the S.F. market ranked No. 28 of the 56 markets measured. For years, it has "been assumed that the 49ers were the biggest fish in our crowded sports pool." They "certainly were" in the '80s and '90s, but in recent years it has been "difficult to get a real measure of their market force because they were such a bad team." This season the 49ers "returned to the top, back to the Super Bowl, barely three months after the Giants won the World Series." This gave observers a "real way to compare the two teams." Killion: "For those of us whose business it is to track the pulse of Bay Area sports, there's a different vibe with the 49ers than there once was." Under coach Jim Harbaugh the team "is intriguing, controversial and watchable, but it doesn't create rabid passion." The personalities of the 49ers “haven’t captured the imagination of the Bay Area," while the Giants have "engendered deep passion.” Giants players are “treated like rock stars or beloved family members.” The Giants are "a movement" and a "regional force." The feeling around the Giants is "similar to what the 49ers created a generation ago" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 2/12).
Red Sox GM Ben Cherington said the team during the offseason "wanted to target players who we believed in talent-wise, that we felt fit the clubs needs and also would come in and embrace the challenge of playing in Boston coming off a year like 2012." Cherington: "We knew that as we built this thing back in the direction we know it’s going to go in, you don’t do that quietly in a place like Boston. There’s going to be questions, there’s going to be scrutiny along the way” (“Clubhouse Confidential,” MLB Network, 2/12). But in Boston, Dan Shaughnessy writes the Red Sox are "scuffling for attention and approval" in the city. Institutional "arrogance and hubris have been stored in the trunk." The Red Sox are a "national punch line and find themselves far less popular" than the Patriots. The Red Sox "suddenly rank fourth in local popularity, trailing the Patriots, Celtics, and Bruins." Shaughnessy: "Here's a slogan they could try: 'Red Sox: Please Don't Hate Us'" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/13).
TIGER TALES: In Detroit, Brian Manzullo noted single-game tickets were recently posted on the Tigers’ team website, and it “shows big increases in several areas.” The “biggest change is there are now three tiers of ticket pricing: Premium, regular and the all-new ‘value’ pricing for home games in April, May and September." The value games “take place during school, non-summer months" and are "somewhat cheaper.” Skyline seating, which “used to cost fans just $5, now costs $20 for premium games, $15 for regular games and $12 for value games.” Ticket prices on average “are up about $5, though it varies by seating” (FREEP.com, 2/11).
TWIN BILLS: Twins President Dave St. Peter said of the perception that the team does not spend enough money on payroll, "We don’t believe payroll is the issue. We invested well north of $100 million two years ago and it didn’t pan out. Last year, our payroll was north of $100 million and we lost 95 games. The good news for fans is there is flexibility. For Opening Day, we’re between $80 million and $85 million. I tend to focus more on where we land at the end of the year than where we start” (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 2/12).
CAMPAIGN STRATEGY: The MLB Rangers this week launched their ’13 advertising campaign with the phrase “Hello Win Column!,” the trademark call of late broadcaster Mark Holtz. A majority of the team's TV and radio commercials will be voiced by manager Ron Washington or a variety of players and will be accompanied by game-winning highlights. The team also will introduce a series of ads recognizing fans for their contributions to Rangers’ wins. The spots were created by Texas Rangers Productions (Rangers).
CAN YOU SPARE A BUC? The Pirates are looking to change their logo for the ’14 season, but MLB Network’s Chris Rose wondered if the team’s priorities needed to be changed. Rose: “I have no problem with the logo they’ve got or anything. If you want to change something up, maybe you change some of the pieces of the field so we finally get a winning team for the first time in two decades” (“Intentional Talk,” MLB Network, 2/12).