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SBD/February 21, 2014/FranchisesPrint All
Braves GM Frank Wren said that Chair & CEO Terry McGuirk and President John Schuerholz were both "involved in planning and approval" of the team's five contract extensions over the past 17 days totaling a guaranteed $280.7M, according to David O'Brien of the ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION. The Braves in recent weeks have inked extensions with 1B Freddie Freeman, RF Jason Heyward, SS Andrelton Simmons, and Ps Craig Kimbrel and Julio Teheran. Wren said, "These were big, big financial commitments by an organization, and all those folks had to be involved." O'Brien notes if option years "are exercised, as expected, on the contracts" of Kimbrel and Teheran, the "total value of the five deals" will be at least $303.7M (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 2/21). O'Brien notes Simmons on Thursday became the Braves' "latest young standout locked into a lucrative contract extension," with a seven-year, $58M deal. The Braves' run of big contracts "might be over for now," but Wren said that there are "plans to try to sign more of the team’s 'core' players to extensions in the next year or two." O'Brien notes most "big spending" in the five recent extensions will come after the Braves move to their new ballpark in Cobb County in '17, "where they project increased revenues." Wren said of the extensions, "For the most part, it hasn't really impacted our 2014 payroll, and we still have flexibility to make moves as we go through the season. And I think as you look at our long-term payroll, it also fits for us" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 2/21). MLB.com's Mark Bowman wrote the Braves have "clearly indicated that they plan to increase their payroll within the next few years," and Wren has indicated he will "have payroll flexibility to make in-season acquisitions" (MLB.com, 2/20).
BRING 'EM YOUNG: Baseball writer Peter Gammons noted of Freeman, Simmons, Kimbrel and Teheran, "None of these four players are over 30 at the end of their deals." An MLB GM said, "What the Braves have wisely done is pay for the players’ prime seasons. There are no high 30’s end-of-career debts, like Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton or Robinson Cano. Atlanta bought prime years. It’s brilliant." An MLB player agent added, "This is the future. I think you’re going to see teams designate their best players and pay top dollar up through the age of 30." Gammons writes MLB agent Scott Boras "may not like it, but offer a 21-year old kid a ten year deal and he may have a tough time turning it down rather than being Scott's pawn" (GAMMONSDAILY.com, 2/20).
GIVE ME LIBERTY: CBSSPORTS.com's Dayn Perry noted the Braves now have more than $38.5M "in payroll obligations" for the '20 season. Just 16 teams have "any money at all committed" for '20, and only the Yankees and Rangers "have more set aside than the Braves." Team Owner Liberty Media has "invested in its product to an extent not seen in many other MLB markets." It is "probably no coincidence that this outlay comes in the afterglow of getting their new suburban ballpark approved." The Braves "don't think much of their current local-television contract, which is the cash cow for most high-payroll teams these days, but they do think much of building a new stadium within their ticket-sales nexus of Cobb County and with the help of hundreds of millions of tax dollars" (CBSSPORTS.com, 2/20).
The Broncos on Thursday mailed out notices informing 56% of their season-ticket holders that it will "cost more for their seats" in '14, according to Mike Klis of the DENVER POST. There will be "higher prices attached to 36,065 seats in the general bowl seating area, while 28,436 seats were not increased." The "overall price increase" per ticket is 6.35%, up from an average of $84.51 last year to $89.91 in '14. The most "significant increases are to the seats in the lower prime and lower sideline sections" of Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Seats in the lower prime section have "gone from costing $150 to $170 per game," a 13.3% increase. The lower sideline seats were "bumped from $125 to $145 per game," an increase of 16%. Broncos Senior VP/Business Development Mac Freeman said, "The reality is the Broncos' average ticket price in 2013 was 14th in the NFL, so we're really in the middle of the pack." Klis notes at least 10 NFL teams have "announced a ticket hike this year." It is the "third consecutive year the Broncos have raised ticket prices, following a four-year run (2008-11) when there was no increase." But some fans "might wonder if the Broncos are raising ticket prices simply because they can." Freeman said, "It's relative to the investments we're making off the field and in the stadium and now at Dove Valley with the practice facility. ... I don't think there's any question of where the dollars go when we raise prices. It's been consistent throughout Pat Bowlen's ownership tenure" (DENVER POST, 2/21).
MLS on Thursday announced that it has purchased Chivas USA from Jorge Vergara and Angelica Fuentes. The league will assume responsibility for operating the club, effective immediately. In the coming months, MLS will look to resell the club to a new ownership group that intends to build a new stadium and keep the team in L.A. The league has had initial discussions with potential owners and intends to finalize a sale sometime this year. An interim club President will be named shortly (MLS). MLS Commissioner Don Garber said the league paid "market price" for the club. Chivas USA will "continue to play at StubHub Center for at least the 2014 season, and possibly longer, if necessary" (MLSSOCCER.com, 2/20). In L.A., Kevin Baxter reports while Vergara and Fuentes "will retain all licensing rights to the Chivas name and the logo, the MLS-owned team will continue using the Chivas USA brand on a transitional basis." Vergara was part of the ownership group that founded the franchise in '05, but the team "has fallen on hard times lately." Vergara and Fuentes "bought out their original partners in August of 2012 but that did little to bring stability." It was a "well-known secret in MLS circles that the league office was involved behind the scenes in much of the club's affairs in an attempt to make it a viable franchise" (L.A. TIMES, 2/21).
CONCEPTUAL CONUNDRUM: Garber on Thursday said of Chivas USA's origin in relation to its Liga MX sister club Chivas de Guadalajara, "The original plan which we came up with in 2004 and executed in '05 was to extend one of soccer's most venerable brands into the United States. ... Ultimately the concept didn't work out. I came up with the idea with folks here at the league. I don't believe it was the concept as much as there was some executional issues.'' Garber said that the new ownership group "must intend to build a new stadium, and he mentioned the site of the L.A. Sports Arena as a possibility." The AP reported David Beckham "was not considered a possible buyer." Garber: "I wonder if he would have thought differently if his option execution date was a year from now versus a year ago" (AP, 2/20). Garber indicated that MLS Rapids Owner Stan Kroenke "will not be buying the team." In Philadelphia, Jonathan Tannenwald noted MLS has "historically had individuals or enterprises own multiple teams in the league." But Garber said that MLS "wants that practice to end." He admitted it is "ambitious" to try to find a new owner by the end of '14, but added "that is the goal." Tannenwald wrote it will "go down as a coincidence that the Chivas USA sale happened on the same day MLS confirmed that a discrimination lawsuit filed against the club by two former assistant coaches has been settled." Meanwhile Garbers said that he "was not able to specifically confirm" whether Vergara was behind the Chivas Guadalajara Licensing LLC entity that filed two trademark applications filed last month. But Garber confirmed that the league "did not file the registration." Garber: "My guess is they were thinking about whether they were going to rebrand" (PHILLY.com, 2/20).
END OF AN ERROR? ESPN FC's Jeff Carlisle wrote the "single biggest embarrassment" to MLS "has been removed at last." The move "amounts to a colossal cutting of losses by MLS," but that "didn’t stop Garber from issuing a spirited defense of Vergara and Fuentes." Garber said, "They’re smart, they’re creative. Jorge in particular was a huge believer in soccer in America and still is. He was one of our strongest advocates down in Mexico, and helped in our relationship with the Mexican federation. Every time he had a chance to talk about the league down there, it was positive." Carlisle wrote Vergara was "guilty" of the "misguided attempts to stock the club with castoffs from Liga MX." The performance "has been just as poor off the field, with attendance in 2013 sinking to 8,366 fans per game, the first time since 2005 that an MLS team’s official attendance had fallen below the 10,000 mark." If those had "been the only mistakes Vergara made, MLS likely wouldn’t have seen the need to buy out Vergara and Fuentes." But Vergara "seemed hell-bent on embarrassing the league again and again" (ESPNFC.com, 2/20). ESPN's Alexi Lalas said, "For the moment, I think it will probably hurt. But we will look back years from now at this as a masterstroke for Don Garber and the league to buy this team back because they're getting a team in a market with incredible potential in Los Angeles. ... On the surface it could be looked at as a negative, but really I think in the long-term it's a positive. We always talk about this league as you're only as strong as your weakest link and for a long time Chivas USA has been that weak link" ("ESPN FC," ESPN2, 2/20).
EXPANSION PLANS: Garber on Thursday said that Atlanta, Minneapolis, Sacramento, San Diego and unnamed cities in Texas are "under consideration as expansion cities." Garber: "We continue to work and make progress in Atlanta and we are bullish on that market. We'll continue to work hopefully with the Falcons and Arthur Blank. ... We have been working hard with a potential ownership group in Minneapolis and that opportunity is one that we're excited about as we believe we need more teams in the Midwest" (AP, 2/20). In Sacramento, Lillis & Kasler note expansion USL Pro club Sacramento Republic FC "will debut next month." Team officials have said that they "are setting a goal of getting promoted to MLS" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 2/21).
MLBAM this week conducted interviews with top-ranking execs from all MLB teams and posted them on MLB.com. Many of them touched on the business of baseball: fan experience, facilities and revenue issues and excerpts are featured below (MLB.com, 2/17).
Ryan feels Astros are on verge of doing
Brewers COO Rick Schlesinger, on the team's competitive balance, "My concern at the Brewers, obviously, is not to have a situation where (between) the haves and have nots, there's such a dichotomy that there is a lack of competitive balance. We've been fortunate in baseball that we've done some things to improve competitive balance. If you look at teams in the last seven or eight years, the Oaklands, the Tampa Bays, they have small payrolls and they made the postseason. The Brewers have made the postseason twice, and we are certainly aren't a top revenue team. My concern is, let's not lose the momentum created by those young, inexpensively produced teams making the postseason, (and create an environment) where you only have five or six or eight teams that realistically have a chance."
Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III, on the team's Ballpark Village: "We're gearing toward March 27 as the formal opening of the project so we can have a good week-plus before Opening Day (in St. Louis). Now, on March 27, every last piece might not be done, but I think we'll be good to go in terms of the big Live! marketplace in the middle. Then the restaurants surrounding it will be in various levels of completion."
Hall's positive outlook stems from the D-Backs
being free of previous debt
Dodgers President & CEO Stan Kasten, on Dodger Stadium and the team's new RSN: "We've spent $150 million on Dodger Stadium in the first two offseasons making improvements on every level. ... We believe SportsNet LA will be on the same top-quality level that the Dodgers should have. It is the first and only 24/7, one-team only, dedicated network. Fans will have access to content 24/7, and they never have before. There will be games, replays, analysis, behind-the-scenes footage, documentaries. I saw the studio the other day, and it is absolutely a network quality studio, as will be the talent for the games and the other programming. It will be something we'll be very proud of. And it's ours. This is what we want it to be."
Giants President & CEO Larry Baer: "Season ticket sales and overall ticket sales are right where they were last year. So we think we have the potential of having another sold-out season or close to it."
Indians President Mark Shapiro: "Our ability to run the business effectively is really dependent upon us growing our season-ticket base. That went down significantly from 2012 to 2013. It hasn't gone down further. It's actually gone up a little bit, but that still remains our greatest challenge. ... I think the fact that we had over a 90-percent renewal on season-tickets is a strong positive."
Mariners President & COO Kevin Mather, on a media report that the team's front office was "dysfunctional," "The word dysfunctional does not come anywhere close to my mind. Our organization runs like most businesses. You've got a chairman and a board, a president and various executives. That's how most businesses are run. We're in the public eye and we're not winning, so there are a lot of stones being thrown. But the word dysfunctional never comes to my mind or anybody else's in the front office."
Marlins President David Samson: "We feel Miami is an up-and-coming market. This is our 13th season here. I don't think we've yet seen what this market can be like, both from an attendance standpoint and a television standpoint. ... What we've seen in the last couple of years is escalating salaries due in large part to increased television revenues. Since we don't have that right now, what we have to do is to make smarter decisions that will enable us to compete on the field until such time that we catch up with the other clubs."
Padres President & CEO Mike Dee: "For 2014, fans can look forward to a new sound system, a new larger high-definition video board at the Park at the Park, expanded concessions and food choices with a broad array of local San Diego favorites, new flooring throughout the main concourse area, and a new digital ticketing and rewards program that will enable fans to access content and consummate cashless transactions while in the ballpark. These initial enhancements require a significant seven-figure investment from our ownership group."
Rangers Exec VP/Ballpark Operations Rob Matwick, on Globe Life Park, "As we complete our round of renovations this year, we're looking at the restaurant space at the top of the Upper Home Run Porch as a possible target for work next offseason. ... The building in general is in very good shape. We've greatly improved our food and beverage, and retail operations with the upgrades. However, I also think we've done some very practical things for fans. The Batter's Eye Club, Captain Morgan Club and Kids Zone gave us three new spaces, which are all conditioned for year-round use. The decked areas on either side of the Batter's Eye Club provide shade or protection from the rain."
Rays President Matt Silverman: "It's no secret we're at the bottom of baseball in attendance. It's not tenable for us to remain there on a continuing basis. The troubling part is that this is happening when we have had six years of continuous success on the field. Growing attendance has been a focus of ours and we will continue to do all that we can to draw more fans to the ballpark."
Lucchino says Red Sox ticket sales are up
double-digit from this time last year
Reds COO Phil Castellini: "We did a lot in the offseason last year with the team shop, the Machine Room and renovating half of the suites. This year, we've done the other half of the suites. Every fan will see a huge 80-foot-long bar on the third base concourse, first level. It will be dedicated to craft beer and the history of craft beer in the city of Cincinnati. We're doing a new social media area right near the FS Ohio pre-and-post game booth. ... Those are the two primary things fans will see. ... One of the frustrations I had in executing the gameday presentation here at the ballpark was our inability to show close replays on the videoboard. One of the biggest benefits in the league dipping their toe in this replay arena more than for just home runs is that they have lifted the ban of showing replays (of controversial calls) on the big videoboards. .... I think it's going to be a huge benefit to ballpark-attending fans."
Royals Chair Dan Glass, on whether the Royals and other small- and middle-market teams can compete with those from larger markets, "I used to think so. I think it's a lot harder now with the broadcasting deals and the broadcasting revenues locally becoming what they are. But it still doesn't mean that we can't do it. It all gets back to the scouts and the player development people -- they're sort of the unsung heroes in all this ... Just because you have the most money to spend, it doesn't mean that you're always going to win. We just have to be more careful in our selections, I guess."
Twins President Dave St. Peter, on hosting the '14 All-Star Game, "Any time you have an All-Star Game, it helps. But unfortunately, we're not seeing a growth in our base. We had about 19,000 full-season equivalents last year and this year we're projecting to be just north of 17,000 full-season equivalents heading into this season. But without the All-Star Game, we probably would've fallen more than that. ... If we get off to a reasonable start, I don't think there's any reason why we can't surpass last year's total of just shy of 2.5 million."
White Sox GM Rick Hahn, on if Chair Jerry Reinsdorf has gotten enough recognition for the team's success, "I don't know if he has. But again, I'm extremely biased. I try to be objective and look at him as someone who has brought seven championships to the city of Chicago. ... It's tough to appreciate Jerry from outside, given that the public doesn't have access to see his generosity and kindness and intellect on a daily basis."
In Seattle, Larry Stone writes the Seahawks organization "owns the town," while the Mariners "are at best an afterthought, at worst the whipping boys of a frustrated fan base." The "best-case scenario is that the Seahawks' success provides a nudge, or even a shove, to the Mariners, ratcheting up the urgency to put their losing stretch behind them." Mariners 3B Willie Bloomquist said, "Hopefully we as a baseball team can ride that Seahawks momentum, and hopefully the fans can keep the excitement going. And hopefully we give them something to be excited about" (SEATTLE TIMES, 2/21).
THE SUN ALSO RISES: In Phoenix, Paul Coro writes it "took a while to clear the wreckage" from the Suns' 25-57 finish last season, but the team has "earned the fans' attention again." Five of the Suns' seven most-watched games this season "have come in February, when the average rating on Fox Sports Arizona broadcasts has been 2.8." The Suns also "have seen the crowds improve since mid-January." The team "went from an average of 14,352 fans over the first 17 home games to an average of 16,617 in the past 10" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 2/21).
MINI APPLE MISCELLANY: In St. Paul, Charley Walters reported there are "between 5,000 and 7,000 seats remaining for the Twins' season opener" against the A's at Target Field. The Twins "are closely watching" the Sochi Games for local athletes to consider for the ceremonial first pitch for their first game, while local connections to this year's MLB All-Star Game at Target Field "also will be considered." Meanwhile, there likely will be "a significant tribute" to late "Peanuts" cartoonist and St. Paul native Charles Schulz during All-Star Week (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 2/20).
SEEING RED IN FLORIDA: In Tampa, Damian Cristodero writes, "The Lightning is operating in the red, but that won't stop owner Jeff Vinik from continuing to spend to the salary cap." Vinik said, "I don't want to predict out because things can change. But for the foreseeable future our strategy is to have a great team on the ice and spend at or near the salary cap." Vinik declined to say how much money the team is losing, but said losses "have come down dramatically" from when he bought the team in '10 (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 2/19).