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Devils Owner Jeff Vanderbeek is on the verge of an "imminent" deal that would result in him "giving up controlling interest -- and possibly all interest -- in the team and operating rights of Prudential Center in Newark," according to sources cited Tom Gulitti of the Bergen RECORD. A source said that the sale of the team to one of two bidding groups "could be completed 'quickly' and estimated it might be only a matter of days." Another source said that this timetable "might be overly optimistic, but that the process is 'close' to wrapping up." Sources confirmed that a group headed by Philadelphia-area attorney Andrew Barroway "remains heavily involved in trying to buy the team and is already far down the road of reaching agreements with the NHL and the lenders that hold the team’s debt." Barroway’s group "already has invested" more than $30M in the Devils. Sources said the other group bidding for the team is headed by 76ers Majority Owner Josh Harris. A source said that Harris' group "became involved at Vanderbeek’s invitation after Barroway’s exclusive window to buy the team expired late last month without a completed sale." Gulitti reports the NHL has "been highly involved with Vanderbeek in the sale process to ensure that the team will remain in New Jersey -- an interest shared by both bidding groups." NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Thursday said that any sale announcement "would be made by the Devils and not the league." Forbes reported that the NHL "plans to take over the Devils’ financial operations if the team is not sold before the 2013-14 season begins in October, something Bettman and NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly denied Thursday" (Bergen RECORD, 8/9).
A LONG TIME COMING: Devils officials said that the team has "been struggling to pay" its bills for months. In Newark, David Giambusso notes rumors of a sale "have been circulating for more than a year." Each time a deal "came close to fruition it was scrapped at the last minute" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 8/9). The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts writes after the Coyotes became "stable in the short-term" due to their sale to IceArizona, the Devils "quickly became the NHL's biggest financial headache" (GLOBE & MAIL, 8/9).
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton questioned Vikings Owner Zygi Wilf and his family's "business ethics Thursday and urged a review to ensure that team’s commitments" to its new $975M stadium "are 'truthful and accurate,'" according to a front-page piece by Ragsdale & Meryhew of the Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE. Dayton's comments come after a New Jersey judge ruled Wilf and his family’s real-estate business "committed fraud, breach of contract and violated the state’s civil racketeering statute in a two-decade-old real estate deal." The lawsuit "began long before the Wilfs purchased the Vikings in 2005." However, Dayton said that it raised "serious questions about the state’s own dealings with them as they edge toward the Aug. 23 signing of the final agreement for the new $1 billion stadium." The team says that the lawsuit has "nothing to do with the family’s ownership of the Vikings or the stadium deal with the state and the city of Minneapolis." Dayton did not accuse the Wilfs of "any questionable dealings with him or the Legislature." But he said, "It’s just far away from the kind of standard we have for business here in Minnesota. It’s very distressing." Ragsdale & Meryhew report stadium financing legislation "calls for the state of Minnesota and city of Minneapolis to pay" for $498M of the $975M construction cost. The Vikings would "pick up the remaining $477 million through an NFL loan, stadium naming rights, sponsorships and seat licensing fees." NFL VP/Communications Brian McCarthy on Thursday in an e-mail wrote that the outcome of the Wilfs' civil case will "have no bearing on the team’s standing or the NFL’s commitment to the stadium project" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 8/9).
DETAILS ON STADIUM PLAN: In St. Paul, Salisbury & Goessling in a front-page piece note the state "has agreed to provide" $348M for the stadium, while Minneapolis "has promised" $150M. The Vikings "plan to begin playing in the enclosed 65,000-seat stadium in 2016 on the Metrodome site in Minneapolis." Work is "expected to begin on the project this fall" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 8/9).
Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez will play at Yankee Stadium on Friday for the first time since he was suspended for his role in the Biogenesis scandal, and a poll shows that "jeers may win out" over cheers among the fans, according to Allison Kopicki of the N.Y. TIMES. A telephone poll conducted Aug. 2-7 showed that only one in five Yankees fans "have a favorable opinion of Rodriguez, and about twice as many view him unfavorably." The poll also "found Rodriguez’s unfavorable rating had increased among Yankees fans as more became aware of the allegations." Meanwhile, the poll found that nearly 50% of N.Y. adults are baseball fans, "saying they are very or somewhat interested" in following MLB. Yankees fans "far outnumber" Mets fans, 55% to 21%, with another 5% saying that they "like them both." About one in five N.Y. baseball followers "say they do not root for either team." A majority of the baseball followers are "concerned that baseball players are using steroids, with nearly half saying they care a lot" about the use of PEDs. The poll was conducted by landline and cellphone among 1,029 N.Y. adults, of whom 484 followed baseball, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points (N.Y. TIMES, 8/9).
N.Y. BASEBALL FANS' OPNIONS OF A-RODFAVORABLEUNDECIDED/NO OPINIONUNFAVORABLE
N.Y. baseball fans20%37%43% Yankees fans22%36%42% Mets fans18%30%52%HOW MANY MAJOR LEAGUES USED STEROIDS? RESPONSE% Most13% About 50%19% About 25%26% Only a few35% No opnion7%HOW MUCH DOES IT MATTER IF MLB PLAYERS USED STEROIDS? RESPONSE% Care a lot48% Some23% Not Much11% Not at all16% No opnion1%
POLARIZING FIGURE: Keith Olbermann made his return to ESPN Thursday night with an essay about Rodriguez. He asked, "When he returns to Yankee Stadium, does Alex Rodriguez get the figurative 'Bronx Cheer' of legend -- raspberries and booing -- or a literal version, actual cheers in the Bronx?" Olbermann: "The only thing we can say with certainty about Yankee fans is they will not be silent." The joke in baseball has "always been that Yankee fans would cheer for the worst guy on the planet if he could hit." The "amount of truth behind that joke may now be gauged in ways heretofore unimagined" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 8/8).
Lakers Exec VP/Business Operations Jeanie Buss said that "one person had a chance" to keep Dwight Howard from leaving the team for the Rockets, "her father, the late Dr. Jerry Buss," according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN L.A. Buss, appearing on ESPN Radio 710 L.A. on Thursday, said, "They would've probably had a better relationship if my dad hadn't been sick. When it came time to try to convince Dwight to stay, we lost the best closer in the business in Dr. Buss. Putting up the billboard maybe wasn't the right thing. But we maybe have to learn to do things differently because Dr. Buss isn't here anymore. People said (of the billboards), 'Oh, that's not the Laker way.' Well, the Laker way isn't the same, because Dr. Buss isn't here." She added, "I was disappointed that Dwight chose to leave. Certainly he was well within his rights, with free agency. I just don't agree with his decision." Asked why she did not attend the Lakers' final pitch meeting to Howard, Buss said, "Dwight knew how I felt." She added her brother, Lakers Exec VP/Player Personnel Jim Buss, was present, so she did not "really think there was any reason for me to be there." Jeanie Buss noted she has a "great relationship" with all her brothers. Buss said of whether there is a chance she ends up running the team by herself someday, "I enjoy hearing from the fans, but they have to understand I have a job already. I can't take on anymore. This was something my dad set up, and I think it's important we move forward with what he put into place" (ESPNLA.com, 8/8).
KEEPING A LOW PROFILE: In L.A., Eric Pincus noted Jeanie Buss was "a rarity at Lakers games last season, instead of her being a usual fixture at her seats opposite the Lakers' bench." She said, "I've had a really tough year losing my dad. I really needed time to just to have some quiet time and not be engaged the way I normally would be with the Lakers" (LATIMES.com, 8/8).
New MLS Crew Chair Anthony Precourt believes the club can be the "Packers of soccer," according to Michael Arace of the COLUMBUS DISPTACH. Precourt said, "We want to be a standard-bearer. This team has a history here, it’s a charter team, been around for 18 years, there’s a heritage, there’s an MLS Cup. There’s an opportunity to be really relevant in this market. There’s a tremendous amount of civic pride, and I want to tap into that. I want people to celebrate Columbus here at this stadium." Arace notes "model franchises are thriving" in Portland and K.C., and Precourt "often refers to them." He sees the Crew as "another such franchise, in a market small enough to be tightly knit and large enough to thrive, from the youth level to the professional rank." Meanwhile, Precourt on Thursday began an "intensive, three-day tour of the front office." He said, "I'm a business guy, and I have been most of my life. Sports are a passion. Now, it's a marriage" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 8/9).
In Salt Lake City, Aaron Falk wrote Real Salt Lake’s run through the U.S. Open Cup has “helped usher in nearly 50,000 more fans than Rio Tinto might see over the course of a regular year,” but the club “isn’t necessarily seeing huge benefits to its bottom line.” RSL President Bill Manning: “The final and semifinal aren’t actually financially that lucrative. Especially the final. It’s a U.S. Soccer event, and they take the bulk of it. So there’s only a little bit of money to be made." Falk noted RSL has seen its season-ticket sales “increase from 6,300 when the team moved into Rio Tinto Stadium in 2009 to 9,768 this year.” Winning the U.S. Open Cup “would mean significant allocation money” from MLS that would be used on top of the salary cap. Manning: “That’s significant because it allows us to keep players on this team that help us win” (SLTRIB.com, 8/8).
WOULDA, SHOULDA, COULDA: BIG APPLE SOCCER’s Kristian Dyer cited a source as saying that the Red Bulls “were among the teams that MLS originally enquired about on behalf of Clint Dempsey.” The source said Dempsey was “open to a switch” from EPL club Tottenham Hotspur to the Red Bulls. However, the source said that the club “decided not to pursue him.” The source noted that the team is “still looking at options for a Designated Player and hasn’t ruled out a move during this transfer window” (BIGAPPLESOCCER.com, 8/7).
FIRST FOR EVERYTHING: In Denver, Nick Groke reports the Rapids have signed Panama F Gabriel Torres, marking the club’s first signing of a Designated Player “under the ‘Beckham Rule.’” The signing ends a “long and winding pursuit of the much-sought, up-and-coming star” (DENVER POST, 8/9).
YOUR DESIGN HERE: In Seattle, Nick Eaton noted the Sounders “will be taking submissions through Aug. 16 for the scarf design contest.” Fans “must use a scarf design template” available on the team’s website and must upload their designs via SoundersFC.com/ScarfVote. Five design finalists “will be chosen by the Sounders FC Alliance Council, a group of season-ticket holders who represent fans to the club’s ownership group.” Between Aug. 25-Sept. 3, season-ticket holders “will be able to vote online for their favorite scarf design” (SEATTLEPI.com, 8/7).
SBD and SBJ next Monday will unveil our biennial ranking of the country’s top minor league markets among more than 225 communities nationwide. It is a project that takes into consideration more than 400 teams and close to 50 leagues as well as almost 250 million fans in total minor league attendance over the past five seasons. The countdown to No. 1 is underway, and today we look at the No. 2 market -- Rochester, N.Y.
TEAMFIRST YEAR VENUEYEAR OPENED Triple-A Int'l League Rochester Red Wings1895 Frontier Field1996 AHL Rochester Americans1956 Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial1955 USL Pro Rochester Rhinos1996 Sahlen's Stadium2006 MISL Rochester Lancers2011 Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial1955
PROUD TO BE AMERICANS: Rochester continues to be a stalwart among minor league markets after missing out on the top 10 in '11 for the first time in the survey’s history. (The market finished at No. 1 in '05, No. 4 in '07 and No. 10 in '09.) Big gains at the gate for the AHL Americans helped the market rise up, with the club drawing nearly one million fans over the past five seasons. Average attendance at Blue Cross Arena during the '12-13 season was up 63% from a record low mark for the '10-11 season. It is probably no coincidence that the rise at the gate has come under Terry Pegula’s ownership. The Sabres owner took control of the club in May '11, and he proceeded to spend an estimated $5M while aligning the Amerks’ operation with that of its new parent club. The team had been affiliated with the Panthers since '08.
WINGS' ZONE: The Triple-A Int'l League Red Wings drew an average of 6,094 fans per game in '12, marking the club’s lowest mark since the '02 season. The club is, however, the oldest minor league team in North America, having run continuously since 1895. For the survey formula, that tenure helps offset the attendance dip.
FACTS & FIGURES: Rochester’s teams could accommodate more than 1.4 million fans per year at 100% capacity, more than any other market in our study. The five-year average attendance of 754,000 equals the average population during that span, which helps the market’s overall score. That ratio is down from the mid-2000s, though, when the area averaged 900,000 fans per year. Among the top 30 markets, only Tacoma, Wash., and Providence-Pawtucket, R.I., have more total wealth.
ON DECK: The No.1 market in our study is anchored by a club that is nearly synonymous with the market itself, in part through one of the most memorable TV product placements in sports history.