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SBD/September 6, 2013/FranchisesPrint All
The Flames on Thursday introduced Brian Burke as President of Hockey Operations after he initially "declined the offer" because it was "not a general manager's role," according to Kristen Odland of the CALGARY HERALD. Burke said, "This is a different job and I talked to my guys in the other sports that have pondered this scenario and watched it work." Flames GM Jay Feaster remains in his position, reports to Burke and "consults him on any hockey-related matters." Burke reports to President & CEO Ken King and "consults with him and Feaster on any hockey-related matters." Burke's position is an "idea and role the Flames have mulled over all summer which, at one point, included the courtship" of NHL VP/Player Safety & Hockey Operations Brendan Shanahan, who "politely declined." Feaster said, "I love the concept, that's what I've said to Ken from the very beginning. I think the devil is in the detail and getting the right person." Burke stressed the "team aspect of the position and the behind-the-scenes role he accepted despite his reputation as being a bus-driver." The plan is for Burke and Feaster "to collaborate daily, pooling their expertise." Burke's "first official day on the job is Monday" (CALGARY HERALD, 9/6).
RIGHT MAN FOR THE RIGHT TIME: The GLOBE & MAIL's Eric Duhatschek writes with Burke's hire, "credibility of a kind was restored" to the Flames. Burke has a "stature and prominence the Flames can really use right now." He "struck all the right notes at his introductory press conference" (GLOBE & MAIL, 9/6). In Calgary, Wes Gilbertson writes it is "no surprise Burke and Feaster said all the right things" during Thursday’s news conference. Burke insisted that he has "already wrapped his head around the idea of not having autonomy over the hockey operations in Calgary." Feaster insisted that he was "thrilled to have a guy he referred to as a 'mentor' on his side" (CALGARY SUN, 9/6).
CHALLENGES AHEAD: In Toronto, Damien Cox writes, "You can make a strong argument that in Calgary, Burke inherits a better situation" than he did with the Maple Leafs. So what are the "conditions that might make Burke fail?" The setup with King and Feaster "appears fraught with peril, or at least unlikely to work." Given that Burke already has "made it clear Feaster will need his approval to make moves, this could get a bit uncomfortable in a hurry" (TORONTO STAR, 9/6). In Calgary, George Johnson writes, "Neither man can fail to grasp that Burke's presence in the organization is, from the outside, viewed as a rather sinister omen for Feaster's long-term security." But Feaster "doesn't seem the least deterred." Burke said, "Jay is going to be the general manager of this team. He is going to be in charge, but with my guidance." Johnson writes Burke will be "adding his voice of experience -- along with the voices of Feaster and assistant GM John Weisbrod -- to the reinvention, as quickly as possible, of a franchise that is in essence starting from scratch, from Ground Zero" (CALGARY HERALD, 9/6).
A CHANGED MAN? The NATIONAL POST's Bruce Arthur writes Burke on Thursday was "like a shadow of the man who was introduced as president and general manager in Toronto five years ago, in every way." He was "less pugnacious, less bombastic, quieter." Burke was "acting like he had changed, while insisting he had not." Not being the man "with both hands on the steering wheel goes against most of the instincts Burke has cultivated over his professional life." But on his "first day, Burke was muted" (NATIONAL POST, 9/6). The CALGARY HERALD's Johnson writes, "You don't hire Brian Burke to be contrite, silent, obscured by shadow." Burke said, "I know people think I need to be driving the bus all the time. Well, I'm actually a pretty good teammate, too. ... So, no, I don't intend to be front and centre. Actually, it'll be a nice break after being front and centre, getting in a lot of little scraps with the media" (CALGARY HERALD, 9/6). Oilers President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe said Burke's hiring "will be great" for the rivalry between the clubs. The CP noted the rivalry has "cooled over the past two decades" as the teams "struggled to retain high-priced free agents in the pre-salary-cap era and saw their on-ice and financial fortunes dip." Burke has "feuded with Lowe in the past" (CP, 9/5).
READY FOR BUSINESS: The CALGARY HERALD's Odland reported the Scotiabank Saddledome will "officially be back in business" on Sept. 14 when the Flames host the Oilers. There will be "new seats ... new glass." There are "things that still have the wrapper on." Every piece of equipment "below decks here is brand new." The entire building 75 days ago had "been under 10 feet of water." The renovation "equated to 69 days straight of two shifts of 12 hours," with "300-400 workers during the day; 150-200 at night" (CALGARY HERALD, 9/5).
Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment President & CEO Tim Leiweke has "cleaned house" recently at MLS Toronto FC, while "hitching his wagon to rookie manager Ryan Nelsen," according to Neil Davidson of the CP. The "path at the beleaguered" franchise is now "crystal clear -- it’s Leiweke’s way or the highway." Gone are President & GM Kevin Payne and Dir of Team & Player Operations Earl Cochrane, who was "Payne's right-hand man." The next GM will "have to get in step with Leiweke and Nelsen on planned high-profile player acquisitions in the January transfer window." Not being "in lockstep" with Leiweke "proved to be Payne’s demise." Leiweke said that it had "become clear that he and Payne had differences." Leiweke: "Philosophically there was no difference of opinion on the four building points (the academy, draft, trading within MLS, and designated players) but there was a difference of opinion on implementation. And I had to get everybody on the same page." The team's "dismal showing in 2012 prompted MLSE to roll back 2013 season-ticket prices to that of the club’s inaugural year" in '07. Leiweke said that in light of the poor season, season-ticket holders "won’t have to commit to their tickets until January -- instead of later this month -- so they can make up their mind on the team’s moves." Leiweke now has "axed two presidents at MLSE, having parted ways" with former Raptors President Bryan Colangelo earlier this summer (CP, 9/5).
FORK IN THE ROAD: Leiweke said, "We have not been afraid of making some tough and difficult decisions. This one was the hardest one so far, simply because not only was Kevin fairly new here, but Kevin and I go back a long way." He confirmed that a search for a new GM has "already begun, and whoever replaces Payne will have to have MLS experience and know how to be able to exploit and master the intricacies of the league’s salary-cap system." Leiweke added, "We’ll steal a page from the NBA book here, and whoever we bring in, one of the disciplines and the scope they’ll have is (being) a capologist." SPORTSNET.ca's John Molinaro noted Payne, who was hired in November, leaves Toronto "with the fan base even angrier than when he arrived" (SPORTSNET.ca, 9/5).
CFL AT BMO FIELD? Leiweke said that MLSE is "looking at whether BMO Field can be refitted to accommodate" a CFL game. He said the project currently was at an "information-only stage." He added that the idea is "part of a larger plan to see how the lakefront stadium can be improved." Leiweke: "To me it's not a debate of whether you do football or not. It's a debate about if it's the CFL, can you design the stadium so that it grows for the CFL and shrinks back down to its current intimacy for soccer?" The CP's Davidson noted the Argonauts and Rogers Centre "agreed on a new lease" prior to the '13 season. Leiweke said that "no decision has been made on changing the BMO Field set-up but there is talk underway to see what could be accomplished" (CP, 9/5). Meanwhile, in Toronto, Bill Lankhof writes a possible MLSE purchase of the Argos "would bring the Argonauts benefits," as the organization "has money, connections and power in the corporate community." However, it also could "turn into corporate synergy run amok." Depending on MLSE's intentions, "it could make the Argonauts the jewel in the crown of the CFL -- or, alternatively, spell the demise of a league that has been part of the Canadian mosaic for more than a century." Sources said that MLSE's "ultimate goal is to bring an NFL team to Toronto." And there "could be no darker day than that for the CFL." The NFL in Toronto "is the CFL's death-knell" (TORONTO SUN, 9/6).
Despite being in the chase for an AL Wild Card spot, "just 9,962 fans" attended Tuesday's Orioles-Indians game, the "lowest September attendance in the history of Progressive Field," according to Jodie Valade of the Cleveland PLAIN DEALER. That number "elicited surprise," as the Indians "are in the hunt." But there are "still more empty seats at Progressive Field than ever before." Indians CF Michael Bourn said, "It's not like we're way out of it." However, attendance "has been a season-long problem." Through Wednesday's game, the Indians "have drawn 1,341,457 -- good for 27th overall and 14th out of 15 teams" in the AL. Only the Rays have "drawn fewer fans" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 9/5). In Akron, Jason Lloyd wrote Wednesday's announced crowd of 11,522 "was actually an improvement." It is "clear a competitive product has done nothing to boost interest in a team that once sold out every home game for more than five consecutive seasons." The Indians "seem just as confused as anyone." Extensive research "led them to believe fans wanted an improved product on the field and a reduction in concession prices," and the team "delivered on both, but the fans haven’t budged." The fan base "still hasn’t forgiven" Owner Larry Dolan for "years of not spending and perhaps never will." This season has "made it clear to the organization’s deep thinkers that protecting and increasing the season-ticket base has become the real priority for this offseason." The Indians have said that they "offer the lowest season-ticket prices of any team in baseball, yet season-ticket sales have plunged to less than 8,000 after soaring to 26,000." Fans are "tired of hearing about the Indians’ poor attendance, but the Indians expected, and deserved, better figures this season." The team said that TV and radio ratings "for the all-important 18-34 demographic are between 50 and 75 percent higher, making this ticket-sales conundrum even more perplexing" (OHIO.com, 9/5).
HOW LOW CAN YOU GO? In Chicago, Gordon Wittenmyer notes two of the Cubs’ "lowest home-attendance marks in the last 11 seasons have come in the last three days, including Wednesday, which was the lowest since Sept. 26, 2002." Cubs Chair Tom Ricketts said, "We have to get a more exciting team. We're not disappointed with this year's attendance" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 9/6).
The city of Orlando has notified the AFL Predators that the team "defaulted on its lease at the Amway Center" because "not enough fans showed up during the 2013 season," according to Mark Schlueb of the ORLANDO SENTINEL. The formal notice means the Predators' lease of the city-owned arena "will be terminated Monday." However, Orlando officials have "left open the possibility of negotiating a new lease before the next season begins in the spring." The team's lease "requires attendance, as measured by ticket-scanners and turnstile counts, to average at least 6,000 per home game." City records show that the Predators "fell just short, averaging 5,878." But Predators Majority Owner David Pearsall in a statement on Wednesday said that the "city's attendance numbers are wrong." Schlueb noted the relationship between the city and the Predators "has been quarrelsome, with former managing partner Brett Bouchy accusing the city of mismanaging the arena to the detriment of team." The team also has "complained that the city has reserved most advertising revenue at the arena for the building's primary tenant, the Orlando Magic, making it tougher for the Predators to find sponsors" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 9/5).