SBD/October 1, 2013/FranchisesPrint All
Recently hired Knicks President & GM Steve Mills yesterday said the team's former President Isiah Thomas "will not be coming back" to the franchise. Mills and Thomas worked together with the team from '03-08, but Mills yesterday appeared on ESPN Radio 98.7 N.Y.'s "The Michael Kay Show" and said, "I've known Isiah for a long time. He has a lot of good things going on in his life. ... I actually think, given his background and what he was able to get accomplished as the president of the Players Association, he's probably an excellent candidate for the Executive Director job at the NBA Players Association." Mills added that despite Thomas and Knicks Owner James Dolan having a "good relationship, he will not be coming back to the Knicks." Kay noted that Magic Johnson on Twitter was "really pushing" Mills for the vacant NBPA Exec Dir position and said, "You're so well respected that you probably would have gotten that job. So why choose this one over that one?" Mills said he "was very much interested" in the union position, but having the opportunity to "be involved in a franchise like the Knicks with an organization that I'm very comfortable … in a job that's about building a basketball organization and trying to win a championship, it was one that was more attractive to me." Mills said Dolan has "some ideas about what he wanted this organization to look like in terms of the structure," and he thought Mills "was the kind of guy that could help push this organization forward" ("The Michael Kay Show," ESPN Radio 98.7 N.Y., 9/30).
FUTURE PLANS: Mills was formally introduced yesterday, and in N.Y., Mitch Abramson notes while Mills "revealed little of the back-room dealings involving the Garden that led to his hire, he did disclose plans to hire more people to work under him." Mills did say that outgoing Exec VP & GM Glen Grunwald "would stay on to help in 'my transition.'" In one of the "more curious moments, Mills said he had no reservations about returning to the Garden and that he had no regrets of his time there from 1999-2009, even though he presided over a difficult period that included a sexual harassment suit against Thomas and the Garden that cost MSG millions" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 10/1). Also in N.Y., Frank Isola notes the hiring of Mills "seemingly came out of nowhere because it did." It was a "case of Dolan being Dolan and looking to blame someone for losing to a lower-seeded team and for the Nets invading his territory." What remains "unclear is how the appointment of Mills will affect several key members of the organization." The future of Dir of Player Personnel Mark Warkentien "is murky." Meanwhile, the "theory is that Mills will run the business side of the organization," while Assistant GM Allan Houston "will have an increased role in the day-to-day operations on the basketball side." Both will "report directly to Dolan, which is crucial for Mills" since MSG President & CEO Hank Ratner "was the driving force behind Mills being fired in the wake of the Anucha Browne Sanders sexual harassment lawsuit" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 10/1).
ALREADY CREATING SOME WAVES: In N.Y., Marc Berman noted agent Richard Kaplan "pounded the Knicks for their handling" of Grunwald. Kaplan in a text message wrote, "Steve is a great guy, but Glen's firing is absurd." Several league execs "were genuinely shocked at the timing of the move," as was Knicks F Carmelo Anthony. He said, "I was shocked. I never heard about it and nobody knew it was coming." Meanwhile, NBA Commissioner David Stern "defended the Knicks' decision, lauding Mills, who worked with Stern" in the '90s. Stern said that his "inexperience running a club day-to-day is a non-factor because of his past experience as the Garden's sports president where he also oversaw" the WNBA Liberty. Stern "declined to comment on his involvement in Mills’ hire, citing 'commissioner-owner privilege,' but acknowledged he knew of the hiring at the press conference." A source said that Dolan "got Stern’s endorsement recently." Another league exec said that Mills "recently attempted to put together funds to buy a sports team to no avail" (N.Y. POST, 9/28). Also in N.Y., Mike Lupica wrote Mills "isn’t a personnel guy, no matter how many friends he has in high places, and send up a flare if you think Allan Houston is the guy who’s going to take the orange-and-blue back to the promised land." The Knicks for the last year "were the best team in town," and Grunwald "still gets treated this way." Lupica: "What a place" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/29).
During Raptors media day yesterday, which included a formal announcement of the '16 NBA All-Star Game coming to Toronto and rapper Drake joining as a global ambassador, MLSE President & CEO Tim Leiweke admitted that he was "out-voted" by the company's BOD on changing the team's name, according to John Chick of the CBC. The club's hiring of Drake "may give the franchise more 'urban' appeal, something that may benefit them in the long run." If Drake "has a task here, it's helping turn Toronto's image as a great place to visit for NBA players into one that's a great place to play 41 winter home games in" (CBC.ca, 9/30). In Toronto, Doug Smith notes the Raptors also laid out plans for "a new look and colour scheme coming in two years." Leiweke said that the team "has already engaged a Toronto firm" to help with the rebranding process, and the club "will make an effort to somehow involve fans but thanks to marketing and licensing demands, the new look won’t be unveiled until" the '15-16 season. The NBA also "will be heavily involved." NBA Deputy Commissioner & COO Adam Silver said, “It’s a deliberate process and I think in a good way it forces teams to slow down a little bit.” Smith writes Drake "appears to have as much passion for the organization as almost anyone employed by it" (TORONTO STAR, 10/1). Leiweke said of plans for the ASG, “You’re going to see us try to add some new elements to the all-star game that’s never been done, heavily influenced by Drake. We’re committed to making sure that he puts as much of a footprint on the all-star week as the NBA will allow us to. He’s smarter than Jay Z, he didn’t have to write a cheque to own the team, so he gets all the perks and benefits" (TORONTO SUN, 10/1).
RIGHT MOVE? In Toronto, Steve Buffery writes bringing in Drake "is a smart move" from a marketing perspective. Buffery: "But frankly, once you take off the rose-coloured glasses and look at the big picture, you realize that bringing in Drake is a move designed to deflect the fact that the Raptors are still a bit of a sad-sack outfit." While the NBA ASG is "a great party, in terms of the big picture, it doesn’t mean a thing." The Raptors "need to qualify for the playoffs." That is the "best way to sell a team." Toronto, "believe it or not, is a great basketball town." If this team "ever starts winning, interest in the Raptors will go through the roof." And as "great a talent Drake is, there’s no way a superstar NBA free agent is going to sign with the Raptors based on the fact that Drake is a team ambassador" (TORONTO SUN, 10/1). The GLOBE & MAIL's Jeff Blair writes the news coming from media day yesterday "will be seen in some quarters as something to divert attention from the Raptors' on-court challenges." Blair: "Truth is, a percentage of the Raptors fan base wants the team to tank and get a shot at homegrown franchise player Andrew Wiggins, the consensus No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft" (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/1).
PLAYERS LIKE IT: Raptors G Kyle Lowry said, "It’s great for the city, it’s great for the team, it’s great for the franchise. With a global artist like that, being around and being a marketing guy, it’s always really good to have something like that for the popularity of the team and the city and the organization.” Raptors G D.J. Augustin: "He’s not your ordinary rapper. He brings a lot of things with him: a lot of class, different types of fans and different types of business people" (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/1).
STILL NEED TO WIN: In Toronto, Mike Ganter writes yesterday's event was "a far cry from media days of years past." It "sure was an eventful one for a franchise that has yet to show the basketball product on the court alone can make the sale." Adding Drake "isn’t going to win you any more games, but it certainly can help in the pursuit of those wins." Having Drake "allows the Raptors to sell the sizzle and make no mistake about it, that’s exactly what Drake is." Ganter: "Just don’t go expecting Drake, no matter how many big NBA names he knows, to become GM Masai Ujiri’s chief recruiter." Drake has been "angling for a role within the Raptors organization for some time but it was only recently that his interest was reciprocated." He said, "Tim (Leiweke) was the first one to reach out and accept a meeting. We sat down and realized that we were on common ground in a lot of areas. We were on the same page about a lot of things." Ganter: "Bottom line for the Raptors is they are opening the door to a guy who can do them a lot of good in many areas just because of who he is" (TORONTO SUN, 10/1). Drake yesterday "acknowledged his hectic schedule makes it tough for him to pitch in on the daily challenge of marketing." He said, "I do take it very seriously as a new job and a new chapter in my life. It’s not just something for the sake of all the cameras.” In Toronto, Morgan Campbell notes the Raptors "wouldn’t verify whether Drake is on the team’s payroll, but a team employee hitting nightclubs with another club’s players might expose the Raptors to the NBA’s anti-tampering rules" (TORONTO STAR, 10/1).
SECOND FIDDLE? In Toronto, Royson James writes the "centre of the hockey universe paused a few hours to give top billing to basketball -- on the eve of the new hockey season." Basketball in Toronto "plays a poor second cousin to hockey’s domination." Suddenly, the Raptors "get an unprecedented opportunity to stage one of the most spectacular, hyped, star-studded events on the annual basketball calendar" (TORONTO STAR, 10/1).
One of the "more important negotiations for the Mets this off-season will be their move to refinance roughly" $250M in bank debt, according to Josh Kosman of the N.Y. POST. But sources said that even if the franchise "hits a home run with its lenders and manages to pull off the deal without paying any principal, it won’t affect the budget for players’ salaries next season." However, a source said that "fruitful talks with the banks could see an increase in moneys allotted" for '15 salaries. Sources said that Mets co-Owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, "looking at a sizable principal payment this spring, have started reaching out to banks." Wilpon and Katz "want to postpone repaying principal while they continue to shore up finances after several years of steep losses, burdensome debt and a showdown with the trustee for the victims of Bernie Madoff." Sources said that the team owners "remain confident that with the value of the team rising, they will not need to pony up any cash during the refinancing." Sources said that the Mets are "expected to lose" more than $10M this year, after a $23M loss in '12 and the $70M lost in '11 (N.Y. POST, 10/1).
STEP RIGHT UP: In N.Y., Tim Rohan notes Mets GM Sandy Alderson yesterday "essentially announced that the Mets, now freed of a number of burdensome contracts, could spend again." Mets' brass in the coming days will determine the payroll for '14. The Mets for the first time since Alderson came on board in '10 "appear to have the ability to spend more than $2 million on this player and $3 million on that one." Alderson said that this year's payroll was about $87M, "not counting the deferred money owed" to free agent LF Jason Bay, and about $40M of that amount "is now coming off the books." Alderson said, "Certainly we'll have more payroll flexibility than we've had since I've been here" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/1). Alderson: "Having flexibility is great, but at some point you’ve got to put yourself on the line, and I think what we’re going to try to do is balance the level of our commitments with the desire to continue to maintain some flexibility going forward.” Mets COO Jeff Wilpon said that he is "happy with Alderson’s performance, but said no discussions have begun about picking up the GM’s option" for '15 (N.Y. POST, 10/1).
As Yankees ownership seeks to get team payroll below next year’s $189M luxury tax threshold, "even with all of the money coming off the books this winter -- they have just $90 million in commitments to 2014, vs. nearly $230 million this season -- they’re still a long way from ruling the American League East again," according to John Tomase of the BOSTON HERALD. The team is "financially hamstrung by some of the worst contracts in the game," with 3B Alex Rodriguez, 1B Mark Teixeira and P CC Sabathia "each owed more than $20 million annually over the next three seasons." The Yankees also field "one of the oldest rosters in baseball." All 11 Yankees making $10M or more per year "are 30 or older" (BOSTON HERALD, 9/29). In N.Y., Joel Sherman writes the Yankees, for "all the caricatures of George Steinbrenner’s firing squad, have been mainly an insular group." Sherman: "Will the lack of young talent motivate them to try to reach into an organization that drafts and develops well -- such as the Cardinals -- to make a significant hire or two to restructure how this business is done?" (N.Y. POST, 9/30).
UPHILL BATTLE: In N.Y., Benjamin Hoffman writes it is Yankees GM Brian Cashman's "task to figure out what to do next," and he will have "considerable flexibility in creating" next season's team. But the Yankees' "tendency to buy the best talent available every season has created an environment in which every other team seems eager to sign its own players to large contract extensions before they become free agents" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/29). In New Jersey, Bob Klapisch noted Cashman "won’t say if the next three months will be the most challenging of his career, but it doesn’t take a deep appreciation of the Yankees’ predicament to know it’s going to be a doozy of an off-season." If there is "any consolation for Cashman, it’s that George Steinbrenner isn’t around to make his life miserable." Cashman is "essentially handcuffed, although that won’t slow down critics who say the Yankees should’ve been better prepared for this potential dark age" (Bergen RECORD, 9/29).
Astros Owner Jim Crane "promises to open up the purse strings this winter," according to Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. Crane yesterday said, "Don’t lose the faith. We hit the bottom." He also "made a reference" to CSN Houston, "vowing to have the team’s games on TV next year." Crane "echoes the frustration of his team’s fans, acknowledging he was not pleased with his 51-111 record," and for the first time since purchasing the club in '11 "admits that the Astros must spend money to upgrade the club this winter." Ortiz noted the Astros had "the lowest payroll in the majors last season, starting with about $21 million for the 25-man roster on Opening Day and dipping to around $14 million after the trade deadline" (CHRON.com, 9/30). Meanwhile, Crane said that the team's efforts to "finalize a move of its Spring Training facility to Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., from its longtime home in Kissimmee are '95 percent' completed, and they simply need a final vote by the city to approve the money." The Astros have been "working for months on the deal with the city and the state of Florida, which Crane says has already approved funds to keep the team in-state." Crane said that the Blue Jays, who will share the facility with the Astros, "recently signed a letter of intent." The "earliest the Astros could open their new spring facility" is '16. Crane: "That thing should be buttoned up hopefully by the end of October." Crane said that architects are "already working on a design, which would have to be approved by both teams." The Astros have trained in Kissimmee since '85 after moving from Cocoa Beach, Fla. (MLB.com, 9/30).
The Indians may have finished the '13 MLB season with the second-worst attendance average in the AL, but the team's ticket revenues were up an estimated 20% from last year as team execs "worked toward restoring the value of their ticket and increasing their season ticket base," according to Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland PLAIN DEALER. The Indians "could have drawn more fans this year, but the organization reduced the number of free tickets available through promotions." The team's sold tickets "generated more actual revenue because they weren't discounted." The Indians' dynamic pricing system "will remain in place for next year" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 9/30). In Akron, Jason Lloyd in a front-page piece writes the Indians' offseason "face-lift," including the addition of manager Terry Francona and several key players, "was worth every penny" of the $130M bill. The Indians are in the postseason for the first time in six years, and team Chair & CEO Paul Dolan in a statement said, "To be in the postseason right now has exceeded my expectations and has me excited not only about the present, but the future outlook of the team as well" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 9/30).
SAVE THE BEST FOR LAST: In Akron, George Thomas reports the final week of the MLB season "produced the best ratings for the Tribe" on SportTime Ohio, as the net earned a 9.3 rating for five games. All five games "reached the top 11 of those aired this season." Sunday's regular-season finale against the Twins earned an 8.55 rating despite airing at the same as Bengals-Browns. Ratings for the season were up 45% from '12 (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 10/1).
KNOCKING THE RUST OFF: USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale writes with the Indians, Pirates, Reds and Tigers in the postseason this year, it is a "Rust Belt renaissance." Pittsburgh, Detroit, Cincinnati and Cleveland all were "devastated over the years by economic woes and, in some cases, downtown desolation." But they "suddenly have baseball teams to at least provide a distraction." Indians Senior VP/Public Affairs Bob DiBiasio: "The impact of professional sports to a city is such a life, a sense of pride to the community. It's almost an inspirational thing. Nothing can bring a town together more than sports" (USA TODAY, 9/30).
In Toronto, Brendan Kennedy noted the announced crowd for Sunday's Rays-Blue Jays game at Rogers Centre "was 44,551, lifting the season’s total to 2,536,562, up more than" 20% from last year and the franchise’s "highest total in more than 15 years." In '10, the Blue Jays' per-game attendance "was fewer than 20,000 and the club ranked 12th" in AL ticket sales. This year the average attendance per game "was over 31,000, good for sixth-best in the AL." Blue Jays P R.A. Dickey said, “I’m very appreciative that in a very trying season people kept coming to the ballpark to support us. That was a real testimony to the Canadian fan base and their spirit.” Sunday was the "18th time this season the Jays have drawn more than 40,000 through the turnstiles." Many tickets were "pre-purchased in the offseason, when the buyer thought the club would be winning," so the "question now is will fans be as willing to part with their hard-earned dollars next year, or will they wait to see some results first?" (TORONTO STAR, 9/30).
PHILADELPHIA FREEDOM: In Philadelphia, Ryan Lawrence writes the $118.5M "committed to seven players" in '14 makes upgrading the Phillies' roster "all the more of a challenge" for GM Ruben Amaro Jr. At "some point soon, Amaro will talk to team President David Montgomery about just how much financial leeway he has at his disposal this winter." Amaro said, “Obviously we had a lot less people coming to the ballpark this year. We have to be cognizant of that. We have been greatly supported -- our payroll was, what, $165 million? That should be enough to put a contender on the field" (PHILLY.com, 9/30).
ROCKY MOUNTAIN LOW: In Denver, Woody Paige wrote Rockies Owner Dick Monfort will "blame injuries for the Rockies' demise." Paige: "The Reign of Terrible persists." The Rockies "despise criticizers, condemners, chastisers and truth-tellers." The Montforts "won't ever sell," but Dick Monfort "should fire himself." He "convincingly has proven he is not a baseball expert." He should "sign checks, sit behind the dugout and be a fan." He "must try to hire" Rays Exec VP/Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman (DENVER POST, 9/29). Also in Denver, Mark Kiszla wrote the Rockies "aren't getting any better." If that is "not a sobering enough thought to make this organization change in a major way, what hope is there for baseball in Colorado?" (DENVER POST, 9/29).
WELCOME TO MIAMI: In N.Y., Jaime Uribarri notes the Marlins are attempting to sell unused tickets from Sunday's game against the Tigers when P Henderson Alvarez threw a no-hitter. This is the "same team, after all, that tried to cash in on fans after the Phillies' Roy Halladay threw a perfect game against the Marlins" in '10. Those tickets "were offered at face value, ranging from $12 to over $300." If they "do sell all the tickets, the cash-strapped Marlins will make $136,500" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 10/1).