SBJ/20081215/This Week's News

Dolphins tempting Kantarian

Since October, the rumor most rapidly circulating at sports properties, agencies and the brands supporting them was that New Jersey Nets Sports & Entertainment President and CEO Brett Yormark was taking the same job with the Miami Dolphins.

But with the year drawing to a close, the fog has lifted. Yormark is not forsaking the NBA for the NFL. Actually, the flamboyant Nets executive has agreed to terms and is close to signing a lengthy eight-year deal with the Nets, according to senior NBA sources. The deal comes as the Nets’ planned move to Brooklyn from New Jersey is mired in legal delays and has been pushed back until at least 2011.

“There are some doubts out there about the team’s future in Brooklyn, but obviously this shows a long-term commitment there,” said one league source.

Meanwhile, according to NFL sources familiar with the situation, it is not Yormark but Arlen Kantarian, outgoing U.S. Tennis Association CEO of professional tennis, who is the leading candidate to take a top executive slot with the Dolphins.

Kantarian

Those sources said Kantarian has discussed terms with Dolphins management of an offer that includes equity as part of the compensation package. Kantarian, who is wrapping up an eight-year tenure at the USTA at the end of the month, could not be reached for comment.

Sources close to Kantarian said that while the Dolphins deal is close, he has not accepted the position and is still considering job openings with other sports properties as well as some entrepreneurial opportunities.

“I wouldn’t say he’s on the one-yard line, but he’s in the red zone,” said one NFL insider.

Those familiar with Kantarian’s career recall that the former NFL Properties marketer danced with Major League Baseball for about a year in the mid-1990s about a job heading the sport’s business side before ultimately remaining at Radio City Music Hall.

Kantarian joined the USTA in March 2000 and is credited for fashioning the U.S. Open Series and instituting an instant-replay system. His possible advancement to the Dolphins was seen by some as the latest in a series of venerable entertainment and sports brands that Kantarian has helped burnish.

A Kantarian hire would come in the midst of an ownership transfer for the Dolphins. Stephen Ross acquired 50 percent of the team and Dolphin Stadium from Wayne Huizenga earlier this year. In October, NFL owners pre-emptively approved the sale of an additional 45 percent stake to Ross. Huizenga said at the time that he did not want to wait until the following owners meeting, in March, to gain approval for that transfer. Subsequent reports have indicated Huizenga could release that stake to Ross before the end of the year.

“Any new Dolphins CEO will have his hands full,” said Scott Becher of Boca Raton, Fla.-based Sports & Sponsorships. Becher identified the biggest challenges as reversing the Dolphins’ “significant decrease in season-ticket holders”; filling key unsold sponsorship categories; monetizing the stadium and surrounding property on non-football game days; and delivering a naming-rights partner “willing to pay market value in a difficult economy.”

“On the plus side, no sports team in cluttered South Florida competes with a winning Dolphins team when it comes to fan avidity,” Becher added. “They just need to avoid the potholes and creatively rebuild their brand around their core assets.”

Yormark, who headed corporate marketing at NASCAR before assuming his role with the Nets, is renowned for marketing ploys like selling locker-room signage, and sponsorships to the Nets’ offseason. He joined the Nets in January 2005.

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