SBD/August 5, 2013/FranchisesPrint All
MLS Sounders Majority Owner Joe Roth on Saturday introduced U.S. men's national team F Clint Dempsey as the team's newest signing "to the excitement of 39,060 fans" in attendance at CenturyLink Field for the team's game versus FC Dallas, according to Jayda Evans of the SEATTLE TIMES. Dempsey's "immediate impact wasn't just in cheers as fans all over the stadium wore his national-team uniform, and No. 2 Sounders jerseys with Dempsey’s name on the back were already being sold at retailers outside CenturyLink" (SEATTLE TIMES, 8/4). ESPN FC noted Dempsey "stood on the pitch and removed a sweatshirt to reveal a No. 2 Sounders jersey" after a video montage. The Sounders reportedly will pay EPL club Tottenham an MLS-record $9M transfer fee to acquire Dempsey’s rights, and his reported base salary of $32M over four years "would also be the largest sum in MLS history." The move is "shocking on several fronts." For one, the '14 World Cup is "less than a year away, and Dempsey has consistently spoken of his desire to play at the highest level possible." He also has been "noncommittal in the past about potentially returning to MLS." But the Sounders have "proven to be among the league's most ambitious clubs, and they are also one of the wealthiest, thanks in part to the MLS-high 40,000-plus fans who attend each home game" (ESPNFC.com, 8/3). Sounders F Eddie Johnson said, "It just shows you where soccer is in this country having guys like that come back says a lot about how much the league has grown, how much better the soccer is here in America" (AP, 8/3). SI.com's Grant Wahl wrote, "Huge for MLS and Seattle to land Dempsey. If you think every MLS team is happy about the way it went down, you're crazy" (TWITTER.com, 8/3).
TREK TO THE EMERALD CITY: In DC, Steven Goff wrote Dempsey "instantly becomes the American face of not only his new club, but his new/old league." However, Dempsey "is not an international superstar that transcends the game." Goff: "I would expect an initial bump at the box office but not a substantial sustained increase." Replica jerseys, "on the other hand, will fly off the shelves" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 8/3). SI.com's Brian Straus wrote the "stunning transfer" became "one of the most significant transactions" in MLS history when it was announced. Dempsey "was not subject to MLS's allocation process, which determines the order of access and right of first refusal for high-profile U.S. players returning to the league." He is "believed to be exempt because he will be a designated player, meaning the vast majority of his salary won't count against the Sounders' budget." Dempsey's signing is "huge, both for the Sounders and for MLS." His move is a "ringing endorsement for the league's level of play, atmosphere and increasing financial heft" (SI.com, 8/2). SPORTS ON EARTH's Howard Megdal wrote the move "speaks to the massive success of the project that has been the Sounders." They are "drawing enormous crowds to CenturyLink Field, and have the financial wherewithal to maximize one of their three designated player slots on a player like Dempsey, who instantly becomes the focal point of a team that, as of right now, is on the outside of the league’s generous playoff picture." Dempsey choosing MLS also "serves as inherent validation for the league" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 8/3). But ESPN FC's Jeff Carlisle wrote MLS "is a long way" from the EPL and UEFA Champions League, and the move "almost seems like an admission of failure" for Dempsey (ESPNFC.com, 8/3).
HEY, BIG SPENDERS: SI.com's Tom Dart wrote the Sounders are "finally acting like an MLS superclub," but the move "is not a Beckham-esque international marketing coup, not an attempt to sell replica jerseys in Japan." Still, Dempsey will be an "iconic figure for the franchise and the league." MLS now has a club other than the Galaxy and Red Bulls that "can and will pay players as much as they could earn in a top European league while at their peak." When New York City FC joins the league in '15, "bankrolled by the near-infinite wealth of Manchester City's owners, that will make four clubs with significantly more financial muscle than the rest, further increasing the pressure on MLS to relax its rules, unscrew its salary cap a little less tightly and embrace celebrity at the expense of parity" (SI.com, 8/4).
In the wake of the suspension of Brewers LF Ryan Braun, it is a "delicate balance for the Brewers, distancing themselves from the actions of their disgraced star while employing him," according to Tyler Kepner of the N.Y. TIMES. Braun's "exposure as a serial liar was so surprising" to team Owner Mark Attanasio that he "cannot say much for certain about his star anymore." Attanasio: “Part of the reason the outcry is so great is that when so many people around the country doubted Ryan’s story, the Milwaukee community stood behind him. The people who showed the most trust feel the most betrayed.” He added, "If you’re going to redeem yourself, there’s got to be something to redeem. I think there is something to redeem there. Ryan will show us, over a period of time, whether this entire episode was out of character or in character.” Kepner wrote trading Braun "seems impractical," but when asked about Braun's status, Attanasio "offered no guarantees." Attanasio: "I am a person who believes in forgiveness, but I also believe in accountability. We don’t have to make a decision at this point as to the future. We have eight months before next season. Now isn’t the time to think about all of that, because we’re not going to try to draw attention away from his need to redeem himself. We’ll see how he does, and we’ll measure it from there.” He added, "It's been a year and a half of not telling the truth. We need to see longer-term exemplary behavior. How much time does it take? I don’t know. The community will know when we’ve crossed that threshold and things will be OK again. Will things ever be the same? I don’t know. Let’s get things to OK" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/4).
CUTTING TIES: Nike on Friday said that the company "no longer has a relationship with Braun." ESPN.com's Darren Rovell noted Braun had been wearing Nike shoes and batting gloves "for his entire seven-year major league career, and the company recently began selling 'Big Bat Like Braun' and 'Braun Owns Milwaukee' T-shirts in stores." Braun now has lost "nearly all of his endorsement deals" in the two years since he became connected to PEDs (ESPN.com, 8/2).
The Bobcats announcing the team will change its name to the Hornets has had an "immediate impact on one of the NBA's most forlorn franchises," as new ticket sales are up 59% from last year, according to Chris Littmann of SPORTING NEWS. Bobcats Exec VP and Chief Marketing & Sales Officer Pete Guelli said that the number of fans "signing up for the two-year plan" accounted for more than 50% of new sales. The Bobcats' season-ticket renewals also are up 11% year-over-year, "already surpassing last year's renewal number with months to go" before the preseason begins. Guelli said that the goal is to "hit more than 90 percent on renewals, where most of the NBA's strongest franchises check in each offseason." Littmann wrote the Bobcats "won't reach that figure this season -- they'll be closer to 85 percent -- but it isn't out of reach" as the Hornets return in '14-15. Guelli: "We're very close on a number of new sponsorships. There are many, many companies that have not been interested for a number of reasons that are entertaining dialogue around the return of the Hornets. ... This rebrand has opened up a number of doors that had remained closed since Mr. (Robert) Johnson purchased the team." Littmann noted the Bobcats' team shop has "benefited from the name change, too, even as old merchandise is being liquidated, thanks to some smart marketing." The new Hornets uniforms, logos and other gear have not been unveiled, but the team "created two sub-brands -- 'Back the Buzz' and 'Buzz City' -- using familiar colors to begin building interest." The "Back the Buzz" gear is "so popular it had a 100 percent sell-through rate and has the team chasing additional inventory" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 8/2).
'CAN DO ATTITUDE? ESPN’s Tony Reali said he was “befuddled” that the Pelicans jerseys have “no mention of ‘Pelican’ anywhere.” Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw said it was “like they’re trying to distance themselves from a great name change." L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke: "It's almost like they got it on paper and said, ‘Oh my gosh, this doesn’t look very good on a shirt. What are we going to do now?’” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 8/2).
The Browns had 24,131 fans attend "Family Night" at FirstEnergy Stadium on Saturday night, "nearly 5,000 more than last year's crowd for the same event," according to Steve Doerschuk of the CANTON REPOSITORY. Team Owner Jimmy Haslam III said, "Good crowd. Good night" (CANTON REPOSITORY, 8/4). In Ohio, Jeff Schudel wrote Haslam, Browns President Alec Scheiner and the "rest of their crew" deserve credit because they are "trying to reach out to fans" this offseason. Schudel: "Most ideas will be well-received. Some might not work, and those will be deep-sixed if they fail, but at least they are making effort." The "new attitude in the front office is the Browns have to win back their fans and create a fan-friendly atmosphere at FirstEnergy Stadium." They are "trying that with ideas to make entering the stadium better, improve cellphone reception, expand the team shop and improve the pregame entertainment." Many longtime season-ticket holders are "understandably upset management decided to do away with PSLs." Team CEO Joe Banner said, "We (did away with PSLs) because we view that as something that was very friendly. I know some people misinterpreted and didn't get that, but it is actually a very fan-friendly decision. ... Most people understood it and realized it was actually a good thing for them. I don't know of any stadiums where there isn't a cap on the number of PSLs in the stadium" (Willoughby NEWS-HERALD, 8/4).
FENG SHUI IN BEREA: THE MMQB's Peter King notes the Browns spent $5M to "re-do the second floor of their training facility -- and their organizational personality." King: "I’ve toured Twitter in San Francisco, and this floor reminds me of the Twitterverse: The Browns' coaching, front-office, ownership and PR and broadcasting departments are all up here, wide open so that people see other people working." When a big group sale or luxury suite sale is completed, "a bell is rung, and the sales team all claps." Banner said, "Twitter attracts the youngest and brightest people, which is what we want to do. But I don’t want to copy Twitter or Google. I just want to create an atmosphere where good people want to work, and good people want to stay and help build a winner. In my opinion, improving physical space is a great opportunity to help change the culture" (MMQB.SI.com, 8/5).
BACK-UP PLAN: SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Daniel Kaplan cites sources as saying that Jimmy Haslam's father, Jim Haslam II, "would take over the club" if Jimmy is forced to step down due to the investigation into Pilot Flying J. The NFL and Jimmy Haslam "developed a contingency plan in the aftermath of the April 15 FBI raid" on the truck stop company's HQs. There are "no indications at the moment that Haslam is stepping down." Should Jim Haslam take over the team, it is "not believed the league would require an increase in his equity ownership." Jim Haslam would "not be viewed as a general partner in this case but practically akin to an executive whose owner has designated that person authority and voting rights" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 8/5 issue).
The NASL N.Y. Cosmos on Saturday marked their return to professional sports "after 29 years of dormancy" as they hosted the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers at Hofstra Univ.'s Shuart Stadium, and Long Island "earned itself another professional soccer team," according to Laura Albanese of NEWSDAY. The scene was "almost carnival-like, with a long, snaking line of cars that threatened to take over big chunks of Earle Ovington Boulevard." But the crowd at times was "almost demure -- the chants, when they emerged, suffered from lack of practice; there was nary a vuvuzela to be had." One of the "biggest rises came when Pelé, 72 years old, nearly four decades retired and still the face of this team, sauntered onto the pitch during a pregame ceremony and raised his waving hands to the stands" (NEWSDAY, 8/4). In N.Y., Justin Tasch reported the game was played "in front of an energetic, packed house of 11,929 fans -- an announced sellout, though there were empty seats in the corners" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/4). Cosmos COO Erik Stover said, "We are very aware that this is not 1977 and this isn't the old days of the Cosmos. We think we can do something special but it needs to be built up. We can't start at that level overnight." The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Jonathan Clegg wrote, "Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the Cosmos is establishing a fan base in what is becoming an increasingly crowded local landscape for professional soccer." The franchise was "once the only show in town when it came to soccer," but will "soon share a city with two other professional teams, both of which will be competing in MLS" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 8/3).
RETURN TO ORBIT: SPORTS ON EARTH's Howard Megdal wrote the crowd at the game "wasn't simply a group of graying nostalgia-seekers, though plenty of faded Pele jerseys could be seen mixed in with the shiny, obviously just-purchased editions." The supporter groups were "loud, and they were plentiful in number." The fans "took a while to figure out precisely how to root not for the Cosmos as idea, but as actual team." By the second half, they had "found their way nicely." The Cosmos shop was "easily the most popular spot at halftime." The game was "often entertaining soccer; ultimately, it was winning soccer." But the Cosmos have a "lot more to do before recreating a cultural phenomenon." It can "hardly be said that the Cosmos are going about this the wrong way, exactly." No one has "figured out how to conquer New York soccer yet" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 8/4).
EXPANSIVE VIEW: YAHOO SPORTS' Tess Quinlan noted Stover "admits he isn't sure if the Cosmos' long-terms future will be in MLS," but the "uncertainly isn't stopping the club from pursuing plans to build a privately funded, 25,000-seat stadium at Belmont Park." Stover said of the possibility of the Cosmos joining MLS as an expansion team, "We don't worry about it. Our focus -- we talk about this all the time -- is building a proper club" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 8/4).