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The Packers Friday announced several corporate sponsors, led by Green Bay-based Associated Bank, bought the remaining available tickets for Sunday's Wild Card game against the 49ers, avoiding a local blackout of the game. Other partners that chipped in to ensure a sellout were three Fox affiliates in the region -- WITI (Milwaukee), WLUK (Green Bay) and WFXS (Wausau) -- as well as Mills Fleet Farm and Bellin Health (Packers). In Milwaukee, Don Walker in a front-page piece noted a blackout would have been "astonishing for a storied franchise accustomed to packing Lambeau Field on game day." The last blackout for a Packers game was during the '83 Playoffs. The team this year did add 7,000 more seats, "bringing capacity to 80,750, third most in the league." However, the ticket situation is "all the more remarkable because of the reputation fans have for braving all kinds of weather." The "surprising turn of events can be traced, in part, to a new ticket policy and the team's poor play late in the season, which dampened interest among season-ticket holders reluctant to commit ahead of time to playoff tickets." The Packers' marketing staff this week "aggressively marketed the matchup," as e-mails "went out to season-ticket holders and through Ticketmaster." There was "some grumbling among Packers season-ticket holders about the new ticket policy, which was announced late in November." Season-ticket holders under the policy were "given the opportunity to buy their allotment of up to four playoff tickets." They had to "pay in advance for two playoff games, pay for the highest-priced seats and pay a handling fee." If the Packers had "not made the playoffs, the money would have been applied to next year's season tickets." In previous years, fans had the option of "getting the money refunded." A Packers officials said that "half of all season ticket holders did that" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 1/3).
COLTS ANNOUNCE SELL OUT: PRO FOOTBALL TALK’s Mike Florio notes the Colts Friday morning announced that corporate partner Meijer has “purchased the remaining 1,200 non-premium tickets to Saturday’s game against the Chiefs, making it a sellout." The tickets will be "donated to local military families.” The Colts had “obtained an extended extension through Friday afternoon to sell all remaining non-premium tickets” (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 1/3). The Colts now have "sold out 104 straight games, including the playoffs” (INDYSTAR.com, 1/3). In Indianapolis, Bob Kravitz writes the possibility of a blackout was "not an embarrassment for the city of Indianapolis" but "an embarrassment for the NFL, which continues to handle postseason tickets in a way that makes it too difficult to sell out stadiums for the country's most beloved and popular sport." The NFL "overprices playoff tickets ... and leaves fans with too little time to get themselves together in order to make a purchase." That situation will continue "with the proliferation of HD TVs ... until some measures are taken" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 1/3).
Some analysts believe the NFL places less
emphasis on the in-stadium experience
IS THE NFL HEARING THE FANS? SPORTS ON EARTH's Colin McGowan wrote fans are "communicating to the league that attending these games is either too expensive or not particularly more appealing than watching from their couch or at a bar." The NFL, if it "really believed the hogwash it was peddling about communities, would listen to fan bases that are telling it that its product isn’t worth the asking price." It "won’t do this, of course, because it doesn’t actually care" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 1/2). In S.F., Ron Kroichick wrote, "If you're surprised by the Packers, Colts and Bengals struggling to sell out wild-card games, then you haven't been paying attention." Long ago, the message "from the sports establishment to Joe and Jane Fan became abundantly clear: We sincerely, deeply care about television viewers," but "ticket-buying spectators, not so much" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 1/3). In Philadelphia, Al Morganti writes, "Just think about the arrogance of the National Football League. Think about the arrogance of a league that would dare to even consider the blackout of a playoff game in any market." Whatever the reason for lower ticket sales, the NFL "has again put a gun to the head of the public." The NFL "blacking out a playoff game -- or even threatening to do so in a place like Green Bay -- is a total and compete disgrace." It is "not a disgrace to the fans, but a disgrace to a league that uses its fan base as a commodity that was bought, paid for, and expected to act appropriately" (PHILLY.com, 1/3).
The WNBA is "searching for a new Sparks owner" after Majority Owner & CEO Paula Williams Madison "told the league her family-owned company would no longer be involved with the team," according to Melissa Rohlin of the L.A. TIMES. WNBA President Laurel Richie said, "This was a big surprise to us." However, the WNBA "is not taking over control of the Sparks." Richie said that several entities have "expressed an interest in owning a WNBA team and the league is exploring those options regarding the Sparks." The Sparks' front-office staff, including Exec VP & GM Penny Toler and President Vincent Malcolm, "has been laid off." A league spokesperson said that Sparks coach Carol Ross and her staff also "have been relieved of their duties." A league spokesperson added that the players "have gotten paid and their benefits will continue." Richie said that the Sparks' "problems do not reflect on the financial health of the rest of the teams in the league" (L.A. TIMES, 1/3). ESPNW's Michelle Smith noted it is "not inconceivable that the WNBA could run the Sparks in the short-term rather than allow it to disband entirely" as the league ran the Comets franchise "for a brief time before the team was ultimately disbanded." But the WNBA "chose not to take over" when the Monarchs ceased operations in Sacramento, and "scrambled to find new ownership in Atlanta several years ago" (ESPNW.com, 1/2). Madison said that the team had lost $12M since she "took over ownership" in '07, including $1.4M last year, and her "family couldn't sustain the losses any more." Madison said, "After we went through the budgeting process we saw we'd lose over a million again in 2014. We lost our marquee sponsorship with Farmer's because they had to redirect local spending to Farmer's Field" (AP, 1/2).
A last-place finish "for the first time in franchise history and a complete lack of activity on the free agent market over the summer has cost" the NHL Panthers "at the gate this season," according to George Richards of the MIAMI HERALD. Although the Panthers "have gotten a recent push from big draws" in the Red Wings, Canadians and Rangers, the team is "still near the bottom of the league in average attendance (26th) and capacity percentage (29th)." The Panthers with the team up for sale "didn’t make a splash with free agent signings, but also let" C Stephen Weiss -- the "face of the franchise -- walk away without much of a fight." The team tried to "create excitement in a market that yawned," as it "slashed prices on season tickets -- some were going as low as $7 per game -- with a number of perks to those who signed on." The Panthers through 21 home dates this season are "averaging 2,334 less per game than they announced in 24 home games last season." However, October and November are "traditionally hard sells" for the team. Panthers President Michael Yormark said, "Having seven games in October hurt us; it’s too much for us. With the Olympic season, it’s not a balanced schedule. We just had too much inventory in October, and I think things are going to catch up. We have a lot of big games left." The team this season is playing "to 76 percent of its capacity at the BB&T Center, which holds 19,250," although it has "reduced official capacity by putting up tarps in the upper deck for select games." With the new ownership, which has "promised to spend whatever is necessary to make the Panthers a winner, Yormark is confident fans will return" (MIAMI HERALD, 1/3).
Astros President of Business Operations Reid Ryan said that he plans to talk to MLB officials at this month's quarterly Owners Meetings "about the possibility of once again opening" Minute Maid Park's roof during games after the practice was discontinued for unknown reasons in '05, according to Brian McTaggart of MLB.com. The Astros "have surveyed fans heavily, and Ryan said having more games under the stars is a priority for them." The roof last season "was open for only 14 of the team's 81 regular-season home games -- and most of those were in April." The roof currently is "closed for the threat of rain, threat of sustained winds above 30 mph, temperatures below 65 degrees for a night game and air temperature or heat-index readings above 88 degrees for a night game or 84 for a day game -- which just about covers late April through the end of the season." MLB rules stipulate that the decision to open a roof "rests solely with the home team, and if a game begins with the roof open, it shall be closed only because of weather." Minute Maid Park's retractable roof "takes 13 minutes to open, but MLB rules say the roof can only be opened between innings -- which is less than three minutes." This is a "sticking point." Ryan also said that the opposing manager "would have to agree to opening of the roof" (MLB.com, 1/1).
In Tampa, Rick Stroud reports new Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith on Tuesday, before he was officially hired on Thursday, was summoned to a home owned by team co-Chair Bryan Glazer to discuss his potential hire. IMG agent Matt Smith, who represents Lovie Smith and also is his son, said, "In the coaching carousel, everybody is playing this shadow game and trying to figure out where they stand. The Bucs were very candid they wanted dad, and they were willing to do what it takes to get him." Lovie Smith chose the Buccaneers because of "familiarity with the Glazer family and organizational structure" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 1/3).
REDSKINS ISSUE REEXAMINED: PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio wrote, "At a time when the controversy regarding the team’s name has died down considerably, the Redskins have put it back on the front burner by issuing a press release touting a new poll that shows opposition to a potential name change." However, "close inspection of the results [showed] that support for a name change is increasing, at a rate that should alarm the Redskins." The poll showed that 71% "oppose a name change," 18% support it and 11% are undecided. Conducted by Public Policy Polling, the survey "encompassed 741 registered voters who answered a variety of NFL-related questions via automated telephone interviews from December 13 through December 17, 2013." Meanwhile, an AP poll conducted last April "put the number" of those who support the Redskins name at 79% (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 1/2).
ROSS TAKING HIS TIME: In Ft. Lauderdale, Omar Kelly writes Dolphins fans "want a sacrifice offering of someone's job for the 8-8 season and colossal collapse, which included losing the final two games against weak opponents with a playoff berth on the line." Problem is, what fans "want doesn't necessarily ensure the franchise will move forward," and team Owner Stephen Ross "knows that." Sources said that this is why Ross "hasn't made any decisions" yet regarding possibly firing GM Jeff Ireland, coach Joe Philbin or others. Ross has "gained reputation as the NFL's new big spender," but he "doesn't interfere with football decisions." Ross may have been "too patient" with Ireland, who just finished up his sixth season as a GM. While patience and the NFL "don't necessarily go together, truth is, Ross needs time to analyze the issues so he can come to a resolution" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 1/3).
THAT'S THE TICKET: In Charlotte, Steve Harrison reports after roughly 7,000 tickets for the Panthers' playoff game next week sold out in three minutes on Wednesday, some fans believed that "so-called secondary ticket buyers such as StubHub had snapped up the tickets unfairly when they were sold by Ticketmaster." But Panthers Ticket Sales & Operations Dir Phil Youtsey in an e-mail wrote that the team "didn't do anything differently" with the sale. He added, "We have sold our tickets through Ticketmaster for over the past 15 years using the same system" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 1/3).