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Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez stated he plans to attend Spring Training next month despite facing a 162-game suspension for PED use, and the team is "considering all of its options ... perhaps even ordering him to work out with the minor-leaguers across the street from the club's spring training home at Steinbrenner Field," according to a source cited by Anthony Rieber of NEWSDAY. The source said that the Yankees' "contention is that Rodriguez -- as a suspended player -- will not be on the team's 40-man roster." The Yankees would be "under no obligation to allow him to participate in major-league spring training or in exhibition games" (NEWSDAY, 1/13). In N.Y., Joel Sherman reports officials from the Yankees, Commissioner's Office and MLBPA will "negotiate behind the scenes in the coming weeks to dissuade" Rodriguez from "attending spring training," as he has vowed to do. But each entity "will tread lightly." None "wants to give the Rodriguez gang reasons to sue further." The "lone group that can stop the distraction and circus ... is the one that would be most affected by that distraction and circus -- the Yankees players." If Yankees players "really don’t want to endure the unwanted tension and attention from having A-Rod in their midst, then it is going to be up to them to make a stand" (N.Y. POST, 1/13). ESPN N.Y.'s Andrew Marchand noted the Yankees will "not make any final decisions about their course of action until speaking with the commissioner's office about the loophole in the suspension rules" (ESPNNY.com, 1/12).
SPRING TRAINING A LONG SHOT: On Long Island, David Lennon wrote Rodriguez' "intention to show up at Steinbrenner Field comes off as a rather obvious attempt to further antagonize the Yankees and thumb his nose" at MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. He is "fully entitled to participate in spring training while suspended." But given the "contentious nature of Rodriguez's situation ... it's really a pointless exercise" (NEWSDAY, 1/12). The Boston Globe's Bob Ryan said, "They don't want him. He's the ultimate example of the unwanted guest who will not leave the party" ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN, 1/12). ESPN.com's Jayson Stark wrote, "I'd bet there's as good a chance of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig suiting up at Steinbrenner Field this spring as there is of A-Rod setting foot on that field" (ESPN.com, 1/12). In Baltimore, Peter Schmuck wrote Rodriguez "certainly seems committed to taking this to the limit, and why not?" He "really has nothing to lose, since a one-year suspension might be the death knell for his career." His reputation has been "sullied so much that there’s probably no real benefit in making some kind of high-road proclamation of regret and accepting his punishment" (BALTIMORESUN.com, 1/11).
YANKS COULD STILL AVOID LUXURY TAX: In N.Y., David Waldstein wrote Rodriguez' suspension will save the Yankees "millions of dollars and perhaps enhance their chances of remaining under" the $189M payroll luxury tax threshold, depending on "whether they are able to sign" P Masahiro Tanaka. Publicly, the Yankees "demonstrated no glee" over arbitrator Fredric Horowitz' decision to suspend Rodriguez, but "numerous executives and team officials over the past several months have revealed that they were hoping for a large penalty that would lessen the burden" of his contract. The Yankees have "spent lavishly this off-season after missing the playoffs last season, but they have been trying to keep their payroll" below $189M in '14 to reap "huge savings under the luxury-tax rules." Rodriguez’ suspension "makes that possible." The Yankees’ payroll was slightly more than $175M "before the arbitrator’s ruling nullified Rodriguez’s contract." That "knocked the payroll down" to about $150M with "more modest contracts still to be arranged" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/12). In Boston, Scott Lauber wrote the suspension is the Yankees’ "first big win" of '14. The Yankees will "get a season-long respite from the A-Rod circus and everything that accompanies it" (BOSTON HERALD, 1/12).
SHOULD TEAM CONSIDER A BUYOUT? In N.Y., Ken Davidoff noted the Yankees still owe Rodriguez $61M from '15-17, and the team "could try to negotiate a buyout, void what’s left in the contract, simply release Rodriguez, or welcome him back" in '15. However, voiding the deal is "as much of a legal long shot as Rodriguez’s injunction" (N.Y. POST, 1/12). Also in N.Y., Juliet Macur wrote the Yankees "should buy out the remainder of Rodriguez’s contract and say goodbye." It would give their fans "a break from the drama, allow them to focus on the players on the field for once and serve as a deterrent for potential dopers who hope to join the team." Macur: "Send the message that doping, in fact, does not pay" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/12). CBSSPORTS.com's Mike Axisa wrote, "Would a team, even one as wealthy as the Yankees, simply eat $61 million to make a distraction go away? Again, the easy answer is yes. And again, it's not really that easy" (CBSSPORTS.com, 1/11). In Newark, Dave D'Alessandro: "Let the buyout negotiation commence" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 1/12).
Vikings Dir of Ticketing & Hospitality Phil Huebner said that the team "spent more than a year devising a plan to shoehorn fans in a fair and equitable fashion into TCF Bank Stadium" for the '14 and '15 NFL seasons while the team's new stadium is under construction, according to Rochelle Olson of the Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE. The process involved "hiring a consultant and even visiting specific seats to check them out for the fans." The team's 11,000 season-ticket holders were notified last week "of their seat assignments at the team's interim home" and have "the first option to buy their seats" at the Univ. of Minnesota's football facility. Those who remain as season-ticket holders through the two years at TCF Bank Stadium will "have first dibs on seats" at the Vikings' new facility. The team will "bolster TCF's capacity by adding 2,000 seats, making room for 52,000 fans -- roughly the equivalent of the number needed to accommodate seats held by every season-ticket holder in the stadium." Vikings Communications Dir Jeff Anderson said that the team "understands that some fans might not be up for the open-air experience." He added that season-ticket holders who do not keep their seats at TCF "will lose a minimal amount of seniority, but they won't go to the back of the line." Olson reported the "squeeze is on in the luxury suites as well." The team "sells 60 suites for the season at the Metrodome," but TCF has only 38, and UM football suite-holders "have first dibs on those for the Vikings games." Meanwhile, Anderson said that there will be "an unqualified yes to beer sales throughout the stadium" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 1/11).
DEAL DELAYED? Minnesota state officials yesterday announced that a legal challenge has "forced the state to delay" a $468M bond sale to finance construction of the Vikings' new stadium. The officials said that the lawsuit "jeopardizes plans to open the facility" for the '16 season. Minnesota Management & Budget Commissioner Jim Showalter said that he "hoped the delay would be brief but that officials decided it was 'appropriate and prudent' to postpone the sale until the Minnesota Supreme Court can sort out the legal issues." The AP's Steve Karnowski noted former Minneapolis mayoral candidate Doug Mann on Friday "filed the challenge with the Minnesota Supreme Court," asking for a "restraining order to block the bond sale" (AP, 1/12).
Toronto FC is "entering a whole new financial zip code in MLS" with the acquisitions of MF Michael Bradley, MF Dwayne De Rosario and F Jermain Defoe, according to Neil Davidson of the CP. Bradley and Defoe were officially introduced by Toronto FC today, and while the team did not disclose the terms of their contracts, Bradley's reported $10M transfer fee "alone exceeds the 2013 salaries listed" for Sounders F Clint Dempsey and Red Bulls F Thierry Henry. Defoe's transfer fee is "pegged at between" $9.8-13.1M (all figures U.S.), with lengthy contracts reportedly worth $6.5M and $7.6M per year for Bradley and Defoe, respectively (CP, 1/12). Davidson reported rapper Drake "spoke to Defoe several times by phone during negotiations." MLSE President & CEO Tim Leiweke said that the calls "made a difference" in Defoe signing with the club. Drake on Saturday said, "I don't know if I had an influence with him coming here. I think that all I did is just give him the necessary information that he needed about a city that he didn't know much about." Davidson noted the Raptors "brought Drake on board in September as global ambassador, saying he would be heavily involved in the rebranding of the team over the next two years." But his role "seems to have evolved and increased, as witnessed by his lending a hand to the soccer arm of MLSE." Drake said of the Raptors hosting "Drake Night" for their game against the Nets on Saturday, "I think tonight is clear evidence that the relationship is evolving by the day" (CP, 1/12).
HOME IS WHEREVER I'M WITH YOU: MLS club NYC FC Dir of Football Claudio Reyna said that the team "hopes to have an announcement by the end of the month on the location of its training facility/team offices, which will be in New York State but not in the five boroughs of NYC." SI.com's Grant Wahl wrote Westchester County "seems a real possibility." Additionally, Manchester City CEO Ferran Soriano "revealed a team badge is coming in the next few weeks, as is the announcement of the team's temporary stadium host." Wahl noted the "odds-on favorite is Yankee Stadium." Soriano said that NYC FC is "looking at several sites in the Bronx and elsewhere in the city" for a sites to build a permanent stadium. Soriano: "We are going to be patient. We need the community to say, 'We want you here,' because we’re going to be here for years and years. So if it takes more time, we’ll take more time" (SI.com, 1/10).
SERVING SOUTH BEACH: In Miami, Patricia Mazzei reported David Beckham's MLS investment group "plans to seek state funding for a downtown Miami stadium and has hired a top Tallahassee lobbyist to help out." Brian Ballard "will work on behalf of Miami Beckham United to pursue a state sales-tax subsidy similar to what other professional sports teams across Florida have received for building new facilities." Ballard "wouldn't specify how much the investors might request," but the number is "expected to be similar to past deals for other teams." For Beckham's team to obtain funding, lawmakers "would first have to add" a potential MLS club to the state's list of pro sports teams. A state rep "tried to make the change" last year, but "the effort stalled" (MIAMI HERALD, 1/10).
The five candidates who have interviewed to be Dolphins GM "are not the familiar, long-established names fans might expect," as most of them "are in their 30s and 40s and the majority are minorities," according to Andrew Abramson of the PALM BEACH POST. It appears that Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross is "looking for up-and-comers." The team has "already interviewed" Brian Gaine from their own front office, as well as the Steelers' Omar Khan, Browns' Ray Farmer, Cardinals' Jason Licht and Titans' Lake Dawson. The team is still "expected to interview" the Giants' Marc Ross, Falcons' Lionel Vital and Eagles' Tom Gamble. It is "no surprise that the Dolphins want" a young GM. Stephen Ross last year while praising former GM Jeff Ireland, who was in his early 40s, said, "I like dealing with youth and enthusiasm." But Abramson writes the fact that five of the eight candidates are minorities "might speak to how the league's front offices have changed over the last decade." Many insiders view Farmer, who worked under former Chiefs President & GM Carl Peterson, as "the front runner for the job." Peterson is "assisting" Stephen Ross in the search. Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation Chair John Wooten said that regardless of whether Farmer gets the job, the number of minorities interviewing with the Dolphins "shows a major shift in front offices over the last decade" (PALM BEACH POST, 1/13). In Miami, Adam Beasley noted "some, if not all" of the candidates "were recommended by the NFL's advisory committee." This "shouldn't come as a surprise" with Peterson on the panel, and "leading the Dolphins' search." The team has "gone above and beyond the requirements of the Rooney Rule, which mandates teams interview at least one minority candidate for top openings" (MIAMI HERALD, 1/12).
OCCUPATIONAL HAZARDS? CBSSPORTS.com's Jason La Canfora reported there has "been chatter among candidates from more established front offices about the exact nature" of the Dolphins GM position, the "nuances of the search itself, and whether or not this is a situation worth further exploring." Sources said that "questions remain" among candidates "about the direction of the franchise." Stephen Ross, Dolphins President & CEO Tom Garfinkel, Vice Chair Matt Higgins, Exec VP/Football Administration Dawn Aponte, and Peterson "are conducting the interviews with general manager candidates" and that Ross, Peterson and Aponte are "leading the questioning" (CBSSPORTS.com, 1/12). In Boston, Ben Volin wrote, "While Ireland's record certainly wasn't anything to write home about, we can't help but think that Ross ... is once again making a big mistake when it comes to building his football organization." The strongest NFL teams "have a front office and coaching staff working in lockstep." But parting ways with Ireland "marks the second time in his brief ownership that Ross has separated the head coach from the GM." Volin: "The Dolphins are going to try to hit a home run with the hire. ... But will any promising young candidate with options want to choose Miami?" Ross has "set up an environment for the circus-like atmosphere to continue" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/12).
There were many factors that "combined to make playoff ticket sales difficult" for the Packers this year, but the team said that it "will review the one it has control over: its ticket-refund policy," according to Richard Ryman of the GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE. The Packers this year decided "to make what had been an optional policy mandatory" for playoff ticketing. Unused money paid to buy playoff tickets would "be applied to the cost of the following year's season tickets, meaning the team would hold the money for about four months." Packers Dir of Public Affairs Aaron Popkey said that the team "did not expect that to be a problem because half its season-ticket holders had chosen that option in the past." He added the number "had been growing." But Ryman writes other circumstances "came into play" when playoff invoices were due, as the Packers were 5-6-1 and "showed little prospect of making the playoffs." The cost of playoff tickets "probably was a factor throughout," as the face value of tickets was 28-38% higher "than during the regular season." The cost "would have more than doubled" for the NFC Championship Game. The Packers said that they "invoice for two playoff games because of the difficulty involved in selling to season-ticket holders in less than a week, potentially." Popkey said that the policy "simplifies the logistics of selling to fans in the team's two ticket packages." He added that the team will "start contacting season-ticket holders in the next couple of weeks to find out the factors in this year's playoff ticket sales" (GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE, 1/13).
New NHL Panthers Owner Vinnie Viola on Friday gave Exec VP & GM of Hockey Operations Dale Tallon "carte blanche to spend the maximum amount allowed within the mandated salary cap to acquire elite free agents," according to Harvey Fialkov of the South Florida SUN-SENTINEL. Tallon said, "This team's been bleeding money for a long time, but I've been told we're going to be a cap team and want to try to break even. They want to invest money into the team." Fialkov noted the Panthers have about $4M of cap space to "spend under this year's salary cap maximum" of $64.3M. The team has approximately $17.3M of "expiring contracts on their roster with the cap projected to go up" to $71.1M next season. For years, the "financially-strapped Panthers have been sellers at the trade deadline, but no more." Tallon will "look to strengthen the team" beginning on the March 5 deadline, but he is "really focused" on the start of free agency July 1. Tallon: "We want to win. We're going to the top. We're going to spend. We're moving forward. We've been given the opportunity by Vinnie to spend the money wisely and God bless Vinnie, they're willing to put maximum amount of money into the team so we can win" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 1/11). Tallon said, "We're going to be a cap team and that's pretty exciting. We've always scouted players and that hasn't changed. But now we have the freedom to go out and get them" (MIAMIHERALD.com, 1/11).
ON THE PROWL: In Ft. Lauderdale, Michael Mayo wrote of the Panthers' proposal to restructure their contract with Broward County under the header, "Panthers Come Knocking For More Public Money." The Panthers are "making a play at a money pile that's been bigger than anticipated." Panthers President Michael Yormark said that the team's "current financial path is 'unsustainable,'" with losses of $20M a year. Mayo: "Considering the team has reaped 99.7 percent of the arena's profits in its original lopsided deal with the county, I'd say that's a pretty stunning indictment of hockey's economics and this team's management." The Panthers "haven't exactly lit up this town with success or excitement." They are "kidding themselves if they think people will readily go for this" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 1/12).
Nets CEO Brett Yormark said that the team "seeks out intercontinental trips" such as this Thursday's game against the Hawks at London's O2 Arena, according to Andrew Keh of the N.Y. TIMES. Yormark: "When the league discusses opportunities to play abroad or internationally, I'm typically one of the first to raise his hand to say, 'Take us wherever the NBA brand is going.'" He added the NBA knows the U.K. is "an important market" for the league. Keh notes this week's game will mark the Nets' third trip to O2, as they played a preseason game in '08 and "two regular-season games -- the league's first ones in Britain" -- against the Raptors in '11. Yormark on Wednesday will "participate in a sports-business round-table discussion" alongside execs from EPL club Arsenal and F1 team Infiniti Red Bull Racing. Prior to Mikhail Prokhorov purchasing the Nets in '09, the team "began increasing their global branding efforts when it became clear the team was moving to Brooklyn." Yormark said that the team was "focusing on three markets," in China, Russia and the U.K. Yormark: "While we aspire to be global, we also act local, too. A lot of teams just can't do that" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/13).
MLB.com's Greg Johns reported the Mariners "appear to be leaning toward staying within their organization" to replace outgoing President & COO Chuck Armstrong. It was reported last week that Baseball HOFer-elect Tony La Russa "is on the short list of candidates," but the Mariners "have not scheduled any interviews with outside candidates, and they won't do so if the board chooses one of the internal candidates and ends the search next week." The Mariners "have several longtime executives with impressive track records -- both with the team and around baseball" (MLB.com, 1/10).
WHAT'S BREWING? Brewers President of Baseball Operations & GM Doug Melvin said of the team's payroll strategy this offseason, "We haven't increased it that much, but if the right player was there I would go to (team owner) Mark (Attanasio) and say it's the right player. When it comes to payroll, we're always guarded to make sure that we don't put ourselves in a hole or a bind that we can't get out of two years from now or three years from now. Our payroll will be in a much better position next year in that regard" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 1/12).
WALK THE DINOSAUR: In Toronto, Ryan Wolstat wrote rapper and Raptors Global Ambassador Drake is "out to make the Raptors a hot ticket again and is excited to be involved in the rebrand of the franchise." Drake said that he is "in weekly conversation" with GM Masai Ujiri and MLSE President & CEO Tim Leiweke. Drake: "I'm just trying to make this a better, stronger team all around. I have my hands in a lot of different areas right now." He then "played coy" when asked about a potential black-and-gold rebrand for the team, "asking the media if they liked the design" (TORONTO SUN, 1/12).
ALONG THE ERIE CANAL: In Buffalo, Jerry Sullivan wrote the Sabres' new front office structure is a "radical departure" from the tenure of former GM Darcy Regier, and "an overdue concession to the move toward broadened upper management in today's NHL." The Sabres now have both President of Hockey Operations Pat LaFontaine and Special Adviser to the Hockey Department Craig Patrick "to watch over" new GM Tim Murray. LaFontaine "felt the old GM model held the Sabres back." The expanded oversight "diminishes the power of what LaFontaine called 'the general manager's office,'" as LaFontaine "made it clear that Murray will answer to him" (BUFFALO NEWS, 1/12).