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  • 360 Architecture sees an opportunity in Iraq

    360 Architecture could play a crucial role in rebuilding the sports infrastructure of war-torn Iraq.

    The Kansas City-based firm is on the short list of seven development teams competing to design and build a multiple-venue sports complex within the oil-rich port city of Basra, the second-largest city in the country. Iraq has committed to playing host to the Gulf Cup, an Olympic-style event, there in 2013.

    The project’s first phase, estimated to cost $500 million, includes a stadium with 60,000 to 65,000 seats, a smaller 10,000- to 20,000-seat outdoor facility, four soccer practice fields with 5,000 seats each, and 10,000 parking spaces. A second phase, with midsize arenas for basketball, volleyball and gymnastics, and mixed-use components including athlete housing, restaurants and retail, could push the price tag to $1 billion.

    Teams play a 2007 game at Baghdad’s
    Al-Shaab Stadium, which was
    damaged in the war.

    “It’s a mini-Olympic village,” said 360 team member Rounsevelle “Skip” Schaum, a mechanical engineer, MIT professor and U.S. Department of Defense consultant with extensive experience in the Middle East.

    Schaum’s firm, Newport Global Project Management, formed a joint venture with 360 and Abdullah Al-Jiburi Contracting Co., Iraq’s largest general contractor.

    The Iraqi government should make a decision soon after Feb. 17, when the seven teams, including firms from Britain, China, France, Kuwait, Russia and Turkey, submit their final bids.

    For 360 it’s a risky but lucrative opportunity, said principal George Heinlein, in a country that has been in turmoil for much of the time since the 2003 U.S. invasion. The firm is seeking new work during the recession after projects have stalled, especially in the U.S., because of the inability to finance arena and stadium construction.

    The Middle East is one area the firm is turning to for new business, despite the drop in oil prices that has slowed sports work in some parts, such as in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Several soccer stadium projects are in the pipeline in Saudi Arabia, said Ellerbe Becket and HOK Sport officials working in the region.

    Iraq’s oil revenue has taken a significant hit from decreased demand, but the country has more than enough financial resources to fund the Basra complex and soccer stadiums in seven to eight other Iraqi cities in need of 15,000- to 20,000-seat facilities, Schaum said.

    Still, the idea of working in a nation still at war does not appeal to some architects. Basra had been under British military control, but the city has been turned over to local authorities as British troops withdraw.

    HOK, with offices in London and Brisbane, Australia, has a strong international presence but declined to pursue the Basra deal after talking to Schaum. HNTB also passed, Schaum said. “We have to determine risk [and] it was a business decision,” said Tom Tingle, HNTB’s sports practice leader.

    “From our perspective, Iraq is not on our map just yet,” said John Barrow, HOK’s London-based senior principal and designer of an auto racing facility in Dubai. “We can’t send our employees into a risky country with the war going on.”

    One design for the project’s anchor stadium,
    which would seat up to 65,000 people

    Schaum then turned to 360. Heinlein gave the thumbs-up after Schaum and Al-Jiburi assured him that he would spend most of his time working in the safe haven of Amman, Jordan, where Al-Jiburi has an office.

    “I was a little apprehensive at first, but after talking to Skip and Al-Jiburi, they assured me that things are improving in Iraq,” Heinlein said. “I have been over there twice in Amman, and did go to Baghdad. It was uneventful, thankfully, but quite an experience.”

    Safety is not the only risk involved in doing work in the Middle East; getting paid is also a big concern for U.S. firms, said Randy Edwards, who helped Ellerbe Becket establish its Middle East practice and later returned to the firm as its Dubai-based managing director of Europe, Asia and the Middle East in November.

    “When you negotiate a deal, you better get the cash up front because they expect a lot of free work,” Edwards said. “You can’t afford to wait 90 days for the amount of effort you put into a project. Every [nation] is different, but that is the biggest risk you have to manage.”

    For architects such as 360 just starting to ramp up in the Middle East, the challenge also includes the “extreme costs” involved to shift personnel back and forth from the U.S., Edwards said.

    The contract terms in Basra state that the Ministry of Youth and Sport must pay 20 percent of the fees up front to the development team awarded the project, which “gets the cash flowing,” Heinlein said. If awarded the job, “we won’t start work until we get the 20 percent.”

    One sports industry executive who has spent time in Iraq was encouraged that a Western architect is competing for work there.

    David Mingey, director of Olympic marketing for Johnson & Johnson, served in marketing and communications at Nike before taking a leave of absence in 2004 to spend three months volunteering in Iraq, where he helped the newly formed Ministry of Youth and Sport get off the ground.

    Most sports facilities in Iraq were damaged in the war and some, such as 45,000-seat Al-Shaab Stadium in Baghdad, became unusable, said Mingey, who was fired upon during his brief stay there and has a photograph of his office window blown out by a mortar to prove it.

    “I’m thrilled to hear that those facilities may be built; it’s a sign of progress,” he said. “Of the very few things that unite the people in Iraq, one is sport, whether you are a Shiite, Sunni, Kurd or Christian.”

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  • Advertisers back off NASCAR

    Most of the biggest-spending TV advertisers in NASCAR are cutting back because of the economy or changes in their business, which could leave the sport’s broadcasters exposed in an already soft ad market.

    Fox, which broadcasts the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 15, says sales for its marquee race are pacing about the same as last year. But the network’s revenue projections for the first and second quarter are about 25 percent behind last year, motorsports industry sources said.

    A Fox Sports source said the network is holding the line on the $550,000 rate that it charged for 30-second spots in last year’s Daytona 500. However, multiple sources said the rates are sharply less and range from $350,000 to $450,000. One source who has bought time in the Daytona 500 said the higher rates include additional units in the prerace and postrace shows.

    Other Cup races on Fox are selling from $75,000 to $125,000 for a 30-second spot, down slightly from last year, depending on the day and time of the race and the advertiser, sources said.

    Many of the traditional sponsors, such as Sprint, Budweiser, UPS, Craftsman and the automakers are on board for the Daytona 500, as are PepsiCo’s Amp Energy, Aflac and Ask.com. In fact, UPS and Craftsman say they intend to spend more on media this year, while Sprint plans to slightly increase its advertising.

    But spending for the rest of Fox’s 13-race schedule, which runs through the end of May, is expected to be down, sources said.

    Traditional sponsors are on board for
    Fox’s Daytona 500, and some
    say they’ll spend more.

    “NASCAR is more exposed because of its relationship with the auto manufacturers,” said Larry Novenstern, executive vice president and director of electronic media for Optimedia. “And there’s also a trickle-down effect, from the automotives to the after parts. 2009 is going to be a tough year all the way around.”

    Three of the top six NASCAR advertisers in 2008, according to Nielsen Media Research, were automakers — Ford at No. 2, Toyota at No. 4 and General Motors at No. 5 (see chart). Those three combined for $44.2 million in spending with NASCAR’s broadcast partners, ABC/ESPN, Turner and Fox, but they aren’t the only sponsors facing troubled business times.

    Sprint, which recently announced 8,000 employee layoffs and posted $1.18 billion in losses in the first three quarters of 2008, ranked first in NASCAR advertising last year.

    AT&T, the No. 3 spender last year, no longer sponsors a car in the Sprint Cup. Anheuser-Busch, No. 6 last year, has undergone an ownership change, as well as a change in sports marketing leadership with Tony Ponturo’s departure.

    All of it amounts to a shaky ad landscape with the season less than two weeks away and helps explain why broadcasters have been trying to cut costs around their race production.

    “There was a time when NASCAR was expensive and high-priced,” said Gary Carr, TargetCast’s director of national broadcast. “But now the ratings are down and the market is soft. You can get in there and find bargains as a scatter advertiser.

    “The fact is that the sports business is hurting a bit because autos are such a big part of it, and domestic auto spending is down.”

    Not all NASCAR advertisers are cutting back. Craftsman is going deeper with a media spend on ESPN and Fox to reach a broader audience than it found as title sponsor of the NASCAR truck series (see related story). UPS is another advertiser that plans to increase its spending as it introduces a new relationship with driver David Ragan.

    Sprint’s advertising spending increased over the third and fourth quarters of 2008, company insiders say, and will follow that trend in 2009. Like most NASCAR official sponsors, Sprint’s deal with the sanctioning body includes an advertising commitment, but the company says that it has spent in excess of those minimums in the past and plans to do the same this year.

    A chief competitor, AT&T, has not revealed its plans, but industry insiders say they expect it to continue advertising.

    NASCARs Top Advertisers in 2008
    Rank Company
    NASCAR advertising spend
    1 Sprint
    $17.2 million
    2 Ford
    $16.6 million
    3 AT&T
    $14.8 million
    4 Toyota
    $14.2 million
    5 GM
    $13.4 million
    6 Anheuser-Busch
    $12.0 million
    7 Allstate
    $10.7 million
    8 Shell
    $9.58 million
    9 DirecTV
    $9.57 million
    10 Claritin
    $9.47 million
    11 AutoZone
    $9.02 million
    12 Coca-Cola
    $8.25 million
    13 Subway
    $8.09 million
    14 Home Depot
    $8.07 million
    15 NAPA
    $7.95 million
    16 State Farm
    $7.91 million
    17 Proctor & Gamble
    $7.40 million
    18 PepsiCo
    $7.25 million
    19 Sears
    $6.33 million
    20 FedEx
    $5.79 million
    Source: Nielsen Media Research

    DirecTV, which was the No. 9 advertiser last year, will spend significantly less in 2009, its officials said. Home Depot, another NASCAR team sponsor facing hard economic times, just announced a layoff of 7,000 employees and its advertising plans remain uncertain for the year.

    ESPN, which has been more focused on the lower-cost Nationwide Series, typically doesn’t start selling the Cup Series until the spring. ESPN executives are hoping the economy starts to turn around by then.

    “Budgets are tight,” said one network sales executive. “It’s challenging. There are some guys who are walking away from it. There are some guys who are staying. It’s rough out there.”

    It’s certainly rough in the auto sector. GM is in the midst of making $600 million in across-the-board advertising cuts, and officials confirmed that its NASCAR advertising will be part of those cuts in 2009.

    Ford has bought some ad time on Fox, its officials said, and is negotiating with broadcasters on future ad buys, but they were uncertain whether Ford’s spend would match 2008 figures or drop.

    Toyota won’t be spending what it has in the past on its NASCAR marketing, said Les Unger, the company’s national motorsports manager, but its ad spending will be comparable to last year.

    One network sales executive pointed to a silver lining, saying that even though the auto advertisers are cutting back, they aren’t pulling out of the sport entirely.

    “The big categories that support the sport — clearly the automotives — are affecting every part of the advertising business,” the sales executive said. “At some level, they’ve all said that they are decreasing some part of their commitment. But they’ve all said that they are going to stay with it, at some level.”

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  • Bell to offer live NHL content in Canada

    The NHL and NHL Players’ Association, in partnership with Bell Mobility, will take a significant step in the effort to put live games in the hands and pockets of sports fans this week when they introduce a new mobile offering in Canada.

    The live game broadcasts are part of the NHL Bundle, a comprehensive 3G mobile package that includes live and delayed game broadcasts, original video programming and live radio play-by-play of NHL games. It costs subscribers $8 a month, a fee the NHL and Bell will share.

    Because of blackout restrictions, the package will offer live video broadcasts and period-by-period highlights only from games featuring two U.S. teams, but the offering still marks a major step in the evolution of live game broadcasts. The only other league that now offers live video broadcasts of games on mobile sets is the NFL, which provides Sprint subscribers with broadcasts of the eight games it televises on the NFL Network.

    Long discussed as a hypothetical, streaming live games has become more feasible with the development of mobile phones such as the BlackBerry Storm and Apple iPhone, which offer sophisticated Web browsers and multimedia capabilities. To capitalize on that technology, the NHL made a seven-figure investment and partnered with five technology companies to develop the infrastructure to provide high-quality mobile video and live games to Canadian subscribers. Bell picked up that package as part of the sponsorship it struck with the league late last year.

    NHL Bundle offers live games,
    original programming and radio
    play-by-play for $8 a month.

    The package gives the league a new revenue stream, and is expected to make its partnership with Bell even more profitable.

    “We see it as a big revenue stream and we’re serving the fan, giving them what they want, when they want it,” said NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins. “It’s already a profitable deal and we haven’t even seen the revenue-sharing aspect of it kick in yet.”

    The NHL hopes to strike a similar agreement in the U.S. with mobile partner Verizon Wireless at the end of the season, when its deal with the wireless company ends.

    Bell Canada sees the package as a real differentiator in the Canadian marketplace, where hockey avidity is often compared to NFL avidity in the U.S.

    “We’re looking to take the top content in Canada and make sure our customers can get it on the go,” said Andrew Wright, Bell Canada’s director of content acquisition and distribution. “We expect it to help us retain customers and get new customers.”

    The package will include a mix of original video and reappropriated video from NHL.com. Original video offerings will include “Fantasy Fan Blast,” a regular update with fantasy hockey recommendations; “Prime Match Up,” a preview of that night’s best game; “Fantasy Tip,” a recommendation on quick moves to improve your fantasy team; and “Frozen Moments,” still photos of some of the league’s best action that feature the video behind the image.

    The average length of original video will be one to two minutes. There also will be 20-minute condensed clips of all NHL games that will be posted within a half-hour of a game’s conclusion and highlights of every game available 15 minutes after the game ends. All of the video will be cut by the existing NHL.com production staff, a group of 20 employees managed by André Mika, NHL senior vice president and head of new media programming.

    Bell will support the product launch with a marketing and promotional push that includes commercials, in-store promotions and on-site activation at Bell-sponsored Canadian teams, the Ottawa Senators, Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens.

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  • Buick slashes hospitality spend for Invitational

    Buick is cutting back its spending around this week’s Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines Golf Club near San Diego, but will still use the event to promote its products.

    The automaker has eliminated its exhibition trailer and any spending previously earmarked for hospitality and entertainment.

    “We’ve dialed that all back to nothing,” said Larry Peck, who manages Buick’s golf sponsorships. “We cut everything that was outside the contract that we were able to cut.”

    Buick pays in the mid-to-upper seven figures to sponsor the tournament, for which it receives spots in the pro-am tournament, but no Buick executives will play in the event, Peck said. Twenty-five Buick dealers will pay their own way to use some of the spots, and the remainder were returned to the tournament to be sold on the open market.

    The Buick brand and name will also be prominently featured on-site and in media communications, a philosophy that runs contrary to Chrysler’s treatment of its PGA Tour event in January. Chrysler removed its name from any tournament language and signs, except the tournament logo, and eliminated the hole-in-one car that has become standard among automotive title sponsors.

    Buick cars will be on-site this week, Peck said, although at the last minute the company scrapped plans to award a 2010 LaCrosse to a player who makes a hole-in-one on the par-3 16th hole.

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  • Congressman: Vincent spoke to letter writers

    Leading NFLPA executive director candidate Troy Vincent met or talked with at least two of the four U.S. congressmen who sent a letter to the union and the Department of Labor last month that raised concerns about the search for a successor to the late Gene Upshaw, said U.S. Rep. Jim Moran.

    The question of whether Vincent spurred a congressional inquiry into the search has become a major issue, and sources said that if true it could potentially hurt his chances of getting the executive director job.

    Armstrong
    Vincent

    Moran, a Democrat from Northern Virginia, is not one of the four who signed the letter. His interest was sparked by his daughter, Mary Moran, who runs human resources at the NFLPA and asked her father to look into what prompted the letter. Moran, who forwarded his findings to the union last week, said that when he asked his four colleagues why they sent the letter, “In each case, all mentioned Troy Vincent.”

    Vincent, sources said, denied that he had met with the congressmen when he was asked earlier this month by interim Executive Director Richard Berthelsen during a candidate interview. Vincent, a former NFLPA player president, is one of five final candidates vying for the post and, along with fellow former NFLPA president Trace Armstrong, is considered a top contender for the job.

    The search will move into its next phase when the union’s executive committee questions the remaining candidates in interviews expected to take place sometime after Sunday’s Pro Bowl. It is thought that one or two candidates will be cut; the rest will travel to Maui, where the 32 player representatives will elect the next executive director.

    The congressmen who signed the letter are Gregory Meeks of New York, G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, Edolphus Towns of New York and Bobby Rush of Illinois, all Democrats.

    “I spoke with Congressman Butterfield first,” Moran said, “and he mentioned that Troy was a great guy and his family owned land in [Butterfield’s] district.”

    Meeks said he met with Vincent in Meeks’ office before the letter was sent, Moran said, at which time Vincent asked Meeks to ensure that the process was not discriminatory against a black candidate. Vincent is black. Vincent also asked Meeks not to endorse him, Moran said, recounting his conversation with Meeks.

    U.S. Rep. Jim Moran says he passed
    his findings along to the union.

    Meeks also said, Moran added, that Vincent had communicated to him that Vincent had been the choice of Gene Upshaw to succeed him. Upshaw ran the NFLPA for 25 years before dying unexpectedly in August. Vincent and Upshaw had not been on speaking terms for five months before Upshaw’s death.

    Moran said he told Meeks that Meeks may be misinformed about Upshaw and Vincent’s relationship.

    Rush, Moran said, replied that he had not had an opportunity to speak with Vincent. Towns, Moran said, told Moran that he had talked with Vincent.

    A spokesman for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which Towns chairs, denied that Towns had spoken to Vincent specifically about the NFLPA position, but said Meeks had met Vincent in the past.

    A spokesman for Butterfield, Ken Willis, said the representative had not met with Vincent and only signed the letter because Meeks asked him to on the floor of the House. A spokeswoman for Rush said she would call back but had not by press time.

    Moran wrote up his findings in a memo, which he sent to Berthelsen. Berthelsen then sent the findings to the players executive committee, according to a source.

    Berthelsen has declined for months to comment on anything regarding the search process, and he could not be reached on this story late last week.

    Mawae
    McCardell

    Two members of the executive committee, Kevin Mawae and Keenan McCardell, traveled to Washington last Wednesday to meet with Meeks expressly to find out whether Vincent had met with him, according to multiple sources.

    Mawae wouldn’t comment, and McCardell could not be reached.

    Sources differed on what Meeks told the duo. One source said that Meeks was very “political,” meaning that he didn’t give a definitive answer, while another said that Meeks denied having met with Vincent before the letter was sent.

    Meeks, approached last week, before Moran spoke out, as he walked into his Capitol Hill office, was asked whether he had met or spoken with Vincent. Meeks responded, “I have spoken with former NFL players.” Asked again, specifically, if he had spoken with Vincent, Meeks said, “Not regarding that, the matter you’re referring to.”

    It’s unclear what Meeks was referring to, because the reporter had not mentioned the letter regarding the NFLPA. Meeks then walked into his office and closed the door, ending the interview.

    Later, when Meeks emerged from his office and walked to the underground parking garage, he did not respond to questions asking him to identify the other former players with whom he said he had spoken.

    Sources said that if Vincent is found to have played a part in getting the letter sent, it could potentially harm his chances of getting the job. The move could be viewed as showing a lack of respect for the search process and could make it appear the union was weak at a time when it is facing labor unrest.

    Sources also say the union is increasingly divided between those who support Vincent and those who oppose him.

    In addition, some sources say NFLPA staff members favor candidate Armstrong because they believe they are more likely to keep their jobs at the union if he is elected executive director. Armstong could not be reached for comment.

    Other sources say that staff members oppose Vincent because they believe he tried to unseat Upshaw at the annual meeting in Maui last year. Vincent has denied he had any part in any coup attempt.

    At the interview in Dallas, Vincent presented the executive committee with a February 2007 e-mail written by Upshaw expressing his desire that Vincent succeed him, one source said. But sources loyal to Upshaw noted that was before Upshaw cut off the relationship in March 2008.

    There have been differing media reports about Vincent’s relationship with Upshaw in the months before Upshaw’s death, and the letter the four congressman sent to the NFLPA specifically referenced a Jan. 4 column in The New York Times. The piece stated that although Upshaw would not name a successor, “he often hinted that Vincent had the requisite skills to lead the membership” and that part of the rift between Upshaw and Vincent was because Vincent was more willing than Upshaw to reach out to retired players. Former players have waged a public battle with the union over retirement benefits, and some have sued the NFLPA over marketing royalties.

    But numerous friends of Upshaw disputed the Times’ characterization of their relationship.

    One of them, former NFL player and NFLPA executive committee member Robert Smith said, “I know Gene did not want Troy in that position.”

    Smith, who was initially mentioned in the media as a candidate for the executive director job but chose not to run, said, “I know for a fact the retired-players issues were not the issue between Gene and Troy. Their relationship soured over other issues.” Smith would not say what those issues were.

    Correspondent Sarah Anderson contributed to this story. She writes for the Washington Business Journal, an affiliated publication.

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  • Craftsman hangs sign on ESPN’s ‘Tech Garage’

    Sears Craftsman has struck a deal to title sponsor ESPN’s “Tech Garage,” providing the tool brand with an on-air presence in the network’s NASCAR broadcasts before, during and after the race.

    The seven-figure, multiplatform sponsorship will go across ESPN’s Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup broadcasts, “SportsCenter,” print, radio and online.

    “Craftsman is going to receive prominent on-air exposure,” said Ed Erhardt, ESPN’s president of customer marketing and sales. “Having a brand like Craftsman close to the sport gives it even more authenticity for our talent to engage people in the garage.”

    ESPN will use the “Craftsman Tech Garage” as a segment to explain technological aspects of racing.

    Craftsman, formerly the title sponsor of NASCAR’s truck series, surrendered that position after last season to focus on reaching a broader audience through media buys, according to Scott Howard, Sears’ manager of marketing partnerships and activation. Howard also investigated team sponsorships but decided not to invest there.

    “This allows Craftsman to do more from a product placement point of view, as opposed to just a big entitlement,” Erhardt said.

    The brand also is doing away with its at-track program and mobile marketing as it shifts its motorsports budget into media buys. The truck series title sponsorship was believed to cost Craftsman about $5 million a year, while it spent about $6 million last year on media buys, according to Nielsen Media Research. Part of that was a committed spend on Speed, the home network for the truck series.

    In addition to its ESPN presence on ESPN, Craftsman will be the presenting sponsor on “Road to Daytona,” a Feb. 15 pre-Daytona 500 special with customized content. That’s part of a buy with Fox that includes two 30-second units in the prerace show and two more units in the race broadcast.

    “We’re not just looking to reach the NASCAR fan; we’re looking to reach the 18-34 audience and more of the casual fans, too,” Howard said.

    Craftsman’s ad campaign, titled “Unsung Heroes,” began shooting last week at Michael Waltrip Racing’s shop near Charlotte and will highlight the crew members who work on the cars. The tag line reads, “Behind every champion is a Craftsman.”

    Staff writer John Ourand contributed to this report.

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  • Danica Patrick signs with IMG

    Danica Patrick has signed with IMG’s Alan Zucker and Mark Steinberg to represent her marketing and endorsement efforts off the track.

    The first female driver to win an IndyCar Series race had been with Hollywood-based agency Endeavor for the last two years and worked with the Players Group before that.

    Steinberg is best known as Tiger Woods’ agent, while Zucker’s clients include NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning. An IMG spokesman confirmed the signing, but the agency did not have a comment.

    “It was just time for a change of pace,” said T.J. Patrick, Danica’s father and business manager. “It was a move designed to get more into sports marketing. Endeavor isn’t really a sports marketing group. We went that avenue and then Danica decided to try something different.”

    T.J. Patrick said Danica made the decision to change agencies late last year. The lack of endorsement opportunities after her first career IndyCar Series win last April in Japan contributed to the decision.

    “She didn’t really get anything out of the win at all, other than some media coverage,” T.J. Patrick said.

    Danica’s personal endorsement deals with Marquis Jet, Tissot, Peak Antifreeze, Kaenon Polarized sunglasses and Alpinestars clothing and footwear pay anywhere from the low to mid-six figures each, industry sources say. A Samsonite deal, executed by Endeavor, expired at the end of 2008 and was not renewed. Endeavor also helped arrange Danica’s spots in a “Got Milk” ad and a Budweiser spot with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jay-Z.

    In noting that Woods’ agent will now be part of her representation team, T.J. said with a laugh, “We’ll take Tiger’s leftovers.”

    Among her Andretti Green Racing team sponsors are Motorola, AirTran and GoDaddy. Patrick’s “Beaver” ad for GoDaddy was banned from last year’s Super Bowl, but it became a YouTube sensation.

    She was again featured in a GoDaddy ad that was slated to run during the Super Bowl this past weekend on NBC, which said it was cleared to air. Some analysts, though, have said that the racy and controversial nature of those ads with GoDaddy might be holding her back from striking bigger deals. Others see the controversy as an attraction.

    “Those ads are edgy and they break through,” said Zak Brown, CEO of Just Marketing International, an IndyCar marketing partner. “I don’t rate it as a negative because they put her in high-profile places, like the Super Bowl. But with the bigger picture, she’s as well-known as just about any driver, so there’s no reason why she shouldn’t have as many endorsement deals as a Jeff Gordon.”

    Patrick’s scores on the Davie-Brown Index, which measures celebrity appeal and awareness for brand marketers and agencies, rate favorably with other female sports stars such as Michelle Wie, Annika Sorenstam and drag racer Ashley Force. Patrick falls short of the awareness numbers of tennis-playing sisters Venus and Serena Williams.

    Among motorsports stars, Patrick’s awareness ranks behind only NASCAR’s Gordon and Earnhardt Jr.

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  • Longtime IMGer Kain joining CAA

    CAA has hired former IMG co-CEO Bob Kain as strategic adviser to CAA Sports, three days after Kain announced he was leaving the Cleveland Browns, where he served as vice chair and adviser to Browns and English Premier League club Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner.

    Kain said his decision to join CAA came after months of discussions with CAA President Richard Lovett, who befriended Kain and IMG’s founder, the late Mark McCormack, more than a decade ago.

    “I have known Richard for years and we have talked about doing something together for years,” Kain said.

    CAA said in a statement that Kain will work closely with CAA Sports’ management team to create new business initiatives for the agency and its clients, both domestically and internationally. CAA hired Michael Levine, Howard Nuchow and David Rone to lead its sports division in January 2007.

    “I am a strategic adviser: I am not anybody’s boss,” Kain said.

    He added that he is impressed with how CAA has expanded its sports business since launching it in 2006, by hiring former IMG football agent Tom Condon and former IMG baseball agent Casey Close.

    Lovett in a statement said, “Bob’s strategic vision and business acumen have made him one of the most accomplished and well-respected executives in all of sports. He has been a pioneer in defining what a sports agency could be and in shaping a global model for the media and sports industries. We are thrilled to have him join us.”

    Kain worked at IMG for 30 years, first as a tennis agent serving clients that included Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, before rising through the ranks to lead IMG’s North Americas division. He was named IMG co-CEO and president in 2003 after McCormack’s death. Kain left IMG in 2006 and worked for two years as an adviser to Lerner. Sources said that Kain was prohibited under the terms of his contract with IMG to work at a competing sports and entertainment firm but that the noncompete provision has expired.

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  • Miami PGA Tour event will be first to air ad in Spanish

    The CA Championship this week will become the first domestic PGA Tour event to air a Spanish-language television commercial, as the Miami tournament looks to tap the buying power of South Florida’s Hispanic population.

    The Spanish-language spot, as well as an English-language version, is narrated by Camilo Villegas, a native of Colombia. Villegas attended the University of Florida and has been a crowd favorite at the Miami event since finishing second in 2006.

    Sergio Garcia and Camilo
    Villegas are featured on CA
    Championship posters.

    “There aren’t any tour players who live in Dade or Broward counties that are competing on tour,” said tournament director Eddie Carbone. “So Camilo’s kind of our adopted son with the various Latin communities and especially the Colombian community.”

    There are more than 2 million residents of Hispanic or Latino descent in South Florida, according to the most recent U.S. Census data, or about 40 percent of the total population.

    Starting this week, the spots will run on English- and Spanish-language affiliates through barters or ad time donated by stations. Ads will be tagged with the tourney’s Web site, the station logo and/or the station’s charity.

    The tournament is also planning a Spanish-language print and retail campaign.

    Other PGA Tour events have run Spanish-language radio ads or bought outdoor advertising, said tour officials, but the CA Championship is the first domestic event to film a PSA in a language other than English. Professional women’s events have run Spanish- and Korean-language advertising in recent years, the LPGA said.

    The CA Championship, a World Golf Championships event, is set for March 12-15 at Doral Golf Resort in Miami.

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  • Miami PGA Tour event will be first to air ad in Spanish

    The CA Championship this week will become the first domestic PGA Tour event to air a Spanish-language television commercial, as the Miami tournament looks to tap the buying power of South Florida’s Hispanic population.

    The Spanish-language spot, as well as an English-language version, is narrated by Camilo Villegas, a native of Colombia. Villegas attended the University of Florida and has been a crowd favorite at the Miami event since finishing second in 2006.

    Sergio Garcia and Camilo
    Villegas are featured on CA
    Championship posters.

    “There aren’t any tour players who live in Dade or Broward counties that are competing on tour,” said tournament director Eddie Carbone. “So Camilo’s kind of our adopted son with the various Latin communities and especially the Colombian community.”

    There are more than 2 million residents of Hispanic or Latino descent in South Florida, according to the most recent U.S. Census data, or about 40 percent of the total population.

    Starting this week, the spots will run on English- and Spanish-language affiliates through barters or ad time donated by stations. Ads will be tagged with the tourney’s Web site, the station logo and/or the station’s charity.

    The tournament is also planning a Spanish-language print and retail campaign.

    Other PGA Tour events have run Spanish-language radio ads or bought outdoor advertising, said tour officials, but the CA Championship is the first domestic event to film a PSA in a language other than English. Professional women’s events have run Spanish- and Korean-language advertising in recent years, the LPGA said.

    The CA Championship, a World Golf Championships event, is set for March 12-15 at Doral Golf Resort in Miami.

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  • MLS ticket renewals bucking the economy

    Less than two months before the start of the MLS season, the league’s clubs are reporting that ticket sales are keeping pace despite the economic downturn.

    Business executives at 10 of the league’s 15 clubs who could be reached for comment reported that season-ticket renewals were flat or ahead of last year. Only the Houston Dynamo reported being behind compared with renewals at the same time in 2008, while several clubs reported being ahead, including the Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake.

    “We’re cautiously optimistic because I believe there will be a flight to value and we offer value,” said Jeff Plush, Rapids managing director. “That’s important in times like these.”

    Like Major League Baseball, MLS will be one of the first leagues to have its gate revenue tested by the recession. The majority of ticket sales for the current NBA and NHL seasons were completed before the markets collapsed last fall.

    Clubs’ ability to keep renewals flat so far hasn’t stopped them from looking for ways to add value to tickets in order to drum up new sales and retain season-ticket holders.

    Colorado is one of the MLS teams to report
    tickets renewals are ahead of 2008.

    D.C. United, which averaged 19,835 fans last season, has an 82 percent renewal rate right now, slightly behind the same period last year, said Stephen Zack, executive vice president. As season-ticket holders decline to renew, the club plans to reach out to them on a game-by-game basis throughout the season to encourage them to buy individual tickets.

    “We believe people who can’t afford season tickets are still fans and will want to attend games,” Zack said. “We’re hopeful that will help us get through this economic downturn.”

    The New England Revolution, which sells a 20-game season-ticket package for $375 to $400, has increased its season-ticket base with new sales and is renewing at a 70 percent rate, said Chief Operating Officer Brian Bilello. To improve its value proposition, it has developed deferred payment plans for the first time and a formal ticket exchange policy that allows season-ticket holders to turn in tickets to a game they can’t attend in exchange for tickets for a game they can attend.

    The San Jose Earthquakes are working the youth soccer ranks and the Hispanic community to unearth new season-ticket sales. The club is working with hundreds of youth soccer clubs to sell tickets in exchange for a percentage of the sales, and it partnered with local Hispanic grocery stores to have them sell season and group tickets, as well as a Mexico match to which the franchise is playing host.

    The Chicago Fire’s effort to drive new ticket sales relies heavily on a $99 season ticket that gives fans general admission seating in the upper level of the stadium for 15 games. And the Los Angeles Galaxy has begun giving discounts to season-ticket holders who provide a lead for new season-ticket prospects.

    Three MLS clubs are weathering the recession without any problems. Toronto FC, which sold out its first two seasons in MLS, renewed 95 percent of season-ticket holders by October and sold 5 percent of remaining inventory in December. Expansion franchise Seattle Sounders FC has sold more than 18,000 season tickets. Real Salt Lake, which opened its new stadium with just two games left last season, also is weathering the recession. The interest in its new stadium has put its renewal rate at 83 percent and new business ahead of last season, President Bill Manning said.

    Executives at Chivas USA and FC Dallas didn’t return calls for comment. Spokespersons for the Kansas City Wizards and New York Red Bulls declined to comment.

    “It’s harder now,” said Chris Canetti, Houston Dynamo chief operating officer. “I’m not sure if it’s an excuse or a reality, but what I’m sensing is people are doing less or waiting a lot longer to make a decision.”

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  • Nets, Panthers offer cross-country ticket deal

    The New Jersey Nets and Florida Panthers have created a ticket-sharing agreement that will allow season-ticket holders of both teams to redeem tickets at Izod Center and at the BankAtlantic Center.

    Full- and partial-season-ticket holders will be offered comparable seat locations for games based on seat availability, with a five-day advance notification policy. Season-ticket holders of each team also can exchange their Nets or Panthers tickets for other events at the other team’s arena. The program runs for the rest of the Nets’ and Panthers’ regular seasons.

    Season tickets for the Panthers (left) will now
    get fans in to see the Nets, and vice versa.

    The reciprocal-ticketing program, which is unique in the NBA and NHL, is yet another promotion created by Brett Yormark, who runs the Nets, and his brother Michael, who runs the Panthers. The Yormarks may share a penchant for promotion, but this year they also share in their respective struggles to draw fans. Through Jan. 28, the Nets had an average attendance of 15,153 fans a game, 23rd in the 30-team NBA, while the Panthers were 26th of 30 NHL teams with an average of 14,919 fans a game.

    “This is an out-of-the-box opportunity that we’re testing,” Michael Yormark said. “In this climate, you try to create as much value as you can, as much flexibility as you can, and as many benefits as you can provide.”

    While most teams offer ticket-exchange programs internally, reciprocal-ticketing policies are rare, even among teams sharing the same owner. The Comcast-owned Philadelphia 76ers and Philadelphia Flyers do not have ticket-sharing policies in place, nor do the Kroenke Sports-owned Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche, the Toronto Raptors and Maple Leafs, owned by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, or the New York Knicks and Rangers, owned by Cablevision.

    “This expands on a ticket-exchange program, and while I can’t quantify it, there are a lot of people from our fan base who go to Florida,” Brett Yormark said. “It creates good value. I don’t mind saying it: Michael has inventory and so do we.”

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  • New Versus chief building NHL relationship

    When NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman developed the seating chart for guests at the 2009 NHL All-Star Game, he made sure to reserve the seat directly over his left shoulder for Versus President Jamie Davis. It would be Davis’ first All-Star Game, and Bettman wanted the network’s new executive close by.

    The pair have been steadily building a relationship since Davis took over at Versus in early September, and the event held in Montreal signified the latest step in their relationship’s development.

    “Not only is this a new job for him, but he’s spent the last 12 years in the Far East,” Bettman said. “We wanted him to feel as comfortable as possible.”

    Davis, who spent the last dozen years working for News Corp. China and ESPN Star Sports, watched just one hockey game during that period because there weren’t any games broadcast in Asia. Now, he’s tasked with overseeing the most expensive and important sports property on the two-year-old Versus. He takes over at a time when the NHL seems to have hit its stride on the network.

    After some early challenges punctuated by criticism of production and distribution, Versus has begun to be accepted as the cable home of hockey. The network averaged 310,732 viewers a game through the first half of the season, and critics and league officials say production quality has vastly improved. Orlando Sentinel columnist Jerry Greene, for example, has reversed course, writing, “Versus does get a victory and some vengeance over snide snobs such as myself.”

    The Versus-NHL relationship, now in its third year, has never been stronger, and both parties have been rewarded by it. Versus has used the NHL to increase its distribution from 53 million homes to 74 million, and the NHL has benefited from the more than $70 million in rights fees it has received from Versus annually since the 2004-05 lockout.

    But the deal is set to expire in 2011, and Davis will determine how the final two years play out between the parties.

    Davis brings a different style to the job than his predecessor, Gavin Harvey, who left the company when it relocated from Stamford, Conn., to Philadelphia last year. Versus executives say Harvey was known for his understated confidence, while Davis is known for his kinetic energy.

    Davis has put that energy to work continuing the momentum the NHL developed during last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. Last fall, he expanded the league’s opening day NHL programming to accommodate a doubleheader and coverage of a Def Leppard concert in Detroit. The Detroit Red Wings-Toronto Maple Leafs game subsequently drew a regular-season, network-high 577,000 viewers.

    Commissioner Gary Bettman
    (top) wanted Jamie Davis close
    by during the All-Star Game,
    Davis’ first as head of NHL
    broadcaster Versus.

    He is trying to build on that success by adding new programming to attract younger viewers, an effort he believes will fuel further increases to the NHL audience. He added original programming “Sports Soup,” a comedic sports news show similar to “The Daily Show,” and is considering acquiring more college football games and some college basketball games. The addition of the Indy Racing League, which joins Versus’ programming calendar this spring, should drive other new viewers to the NHL as well, Davis said.

    “A whole new tranche of people are going to find us for the first time during the NHL playoffs, like what they see and watch us,” Davis said. “We’ll parlay that into the regular season next year with another tent pole event [like this year’s season kickoff concerts] and continue that momentum.”

    For all his optimism, Davis still faces challenges at Versus. The NHL remains its most high-profile sports property, and some league officials would like to see talent improve on the network, while others favor more shoulder programming like the league had on ESPN prior to 2005 with “NHL Tonight.” There’s also the question of whether Davis would be willing to give up Versus’ cable exclusivity in order to share the NHL with ESPN.

    Davis said he doesn’t plan to add any shoulder programming and isn’t open to giving up cable exclusivity to ESPN, but he may seek a third, weekly “bonus” game in the future.

    “Hockey’s on a roll,” Davis said. “The fans are finding hockey on our network and would like more. If we can make it work and give them more, we’d love to do that.”

    Bettman is encouraged by Davis’ early work. The two first met by e-mail through a mutual friend they shared in Asia. Two days after Davis started his job, he took the train up to New York for a lunch at 21 with Bettman, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins. It was then that they hatched out the plan for the opening-night doubleheader, Davis said.

    Since then, Bettman has worked to make sure that Davis feels like he’s part of the NHL family. That was especially true during All-Star Weekend.

    Bettman extended a special invitation to Davis and his wife to join NHL family and friends for a cooking class at L’Académie Culinaire on Jan. 24. Davis said the cooking class, which was hosted by Bettman’s wife, was the weekend’s most memorable event for him.

    “I’m glad to hear that,” Bettman said. “The Versus relationship is a very important one, and we want to make sure that, organizationally and personally, the communication is open.”

    Never has that been more important than now. Negotiating periods in the Versus contract open over the next two years, and the relationship Davis and Bettman have developed over the last few months could go a long way to determining the future Versus-NHL relationship.

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  • NHL drops revenue projections, still expects increase

    The NHL updated its revenue projections for the 2008-09 season, dropping its expectations for growth from 2 percent in late November to 1 to 1.5 percent in its latest projection. The league now expects to generate $2.63 billion to $2.64 billion in hockey-related revenue for the 2008-09 season.

    NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said that the decrease was minor and not a cause for concern. He added that nine of the league’s clubs are projecting revenue growth this season, five are projecting revenue flat with last season and 16 are projecting some loss.

    “As long as [the overall projection is] still positive, things are moving in the right direction,” Daly said.

    Unlike the NFL and NBA, the NHL does not plan to make any layoffs this season.

    Commissioner Gary Bettman delivers his
    annual state-of-the-league address.

    “We anticipate and are trying hard to maintain the growth position we’re in, and we’re going to try to maintain it into next season,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in his media address. “As I said, the economy is unpredictable, but that’s where a strong, stable management, I think, is important.”

    Bettman added that playoff ticket sales will be the first indication of how the economic downturn will affect the league. Clubs are expected to go to market with playoff tickets this month.

    The league has tried to be as conservative as possible in its playoff projections. It has projected playoff ticket sales to be flat with last season, Daly said.

    Vegas bound: As part of an effort to create another marquee event for its corporate and broadcast partners, the NHL plans to relocate the NHL Awards Show from downtown Toronto to the Las Vegas strip this June, league officials said.

    The league is relocating its Awards
    Show to Las Vegas to create
    another appealing event.

    The idea for changing the location is driven by the league’s desire to create an event that will cater to corporate partners with additional hospitality and extend the league’s calendar beyond the Stanley Cup Finals. Being able to do both will be especially important next year because the league’s All-Star Game will be supplanted by the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

    The NHL awards ceremony recognizes the league’s most valuable player, top defenseman, top goalie and other honorees. It has traditionally been held in Toronto.

    In addition to the awards ceremony, former NHL players Luc Robitaille and Pat LaFontaine will put together a celebrity all-star game. The NHL’s board of governors also may hold meetings around the event, and the NHLPA is expected to hold its annual summer meeting around the show.

    NHL.com traffic: The NHL’s redesigned Web site and redeveloped out-of-market broadband offering Game Center Live have experienced significant increases in traffic and subscriptions over the first half of the season.

    NHL.com has averaged 9 million unique visitors a month since its redesign at the start of the season. That represents a 10.5 percent increase over the same period in October to December 2007. Unique visitors in the month of December alone hit 9.1 million, up from 7.9 million in 2007, according to Omniture data cited by the NHL.

    “We’re telling big dynamic stories, we’re breaking news and we’re increasing original programming,” said Perry Cooper, senior vice president of NHL Direct and database marketing. “It’s everything you need to change behavior and drive loyalty to a site.”

    The league also experienced a 250 percent increase in subscribers and revenue for its out-of-market digital package Game Center Live, which offers broadcasts of every NHL game online. The property was already a seven-figure revenue generator for the league, so the growth represents a significant addition to the league’s bottom line.

    Cooper said that the increase in online subscribers to Game Center Live hadn’t hurt the league’s out-of-market TV package Center Ice. He added that the league will continue to expand the customer base of Game Center Live next season.

    “We see this business as something that’s sustainable,” Cooper said. “We don’t see a lot of price sensitivity here.”

    The next step in the league’s digital evolution is a facelift for the home pages of all 30 of its clubs. The club sites will be redesigned to look more like the league’s current home page. The league hasn’t determined which club will be changed first, but it plans to make the first conversion in the next four to six weeks.

    Canadiens centennial: The Montreal Canadiens have used the club’s centennial year to become the league’s top team in per caps, posting per cap numbers that double most other NHL teams.

    Team merchandise is up 15 percent to 20 percent over last season, said Ray Lalonde, Canadiens vice president of sales and marketing. The increases are primarily a result of the centennial product the club has brought to market, including a DVD collection of memorable games, a special set of 200 Upper Deck anniversary cards and three throwback jerseys.

    To commemorate its 100-year history, the club built Centennial Plaza. The monumental park outside the Bell Centre is similar to Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park. It features statues of legendary Canadiens players, plaques honoring the club’s Stanley Cup championships and 20,000 commemorative bricks the club sold for $150 apiece to fans who wanted their names etched in the plaza.

    The club will receive additional brand exposure later this year when the Canadian mint introduces 10 million $1 coins recognizing the Canadiens’ anniversary. A postage stamp is also in the works.

    The Centennial celebration will culminate in December when the club releases a fictional feature film across Canada. The two-hour motion picture, “Pour Toujours, Les Canadiens,” weaves the history of the club together with the story of a family of Canadiens fans with a terminally ill son.

    Banner ’47 has made a push into
    Canada with its NHL apparel.

    Licensee goes north: Sister brands Twins ’47 Headwear and Banner ’47 Apparel, NHL licensees that make Franchise hats and retro-looking apparel, respectively, made their first push into Canada last week. The family-owned, Boston company placed more than $100,000 of product in stores in Canada ahead of the All-Star Game as part of a trial run in the marketplace.

    “We realized there was an opportunity and niche in the business that nobody was doing,” Twins Enterprise CEO Steven D’Angelo said. “High-quality lifestyle product, we saw a void and went right through it.”

    The company signed a deal with the NHL four months ago giving it worldwide licensing rights. It opened an office in Toronto six months ago and is building a retail base. It has agreements with several distributors, including La Capsule Sportive, a sports store with 29 locations in Quebec; the Calgary Flames; and KDI, a hat distributor in the marketplace.

    “The long-term vision is to replicate our operations here in the United States in Canada,” D’Angelo said. “In all markets, west, east and central [Canada], there’s a customer for the high-market stuff, and the early indication is that it’s going to do well.”

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  • NHRA driver/owner launches site to dispel myths about series

    During the closing weeks of the 2008 season, NHRA driver and owner Bob Vandergriff Jr. slipped off to a few NASCAR events in pursuit of a new sponsor.

    Bob Vandergriff Jr. went looking for a
    sponsor to replace UPS after last season.

    He was trying to sell space on his Top Fuel dragster, which was good enough to finish fifth in 2007 and 13th last year, when UPS ended its deal. Vandergriff thought he had a compelling story to tell, what with UPS’s business-to-business successes and one of the sport’s more competitive cars.

    Instead, Vandergriff said he ran into a lack of understanding about the NHRA among brands and motorsports marketing agencies that surprised him. Those experiences led him to launch a Web site last week that’s designed to dispel what he says are sponsorship-related misconceptions.

    “I’d hear things like, ‘If I had $20 million to give you, I’d sponsor you.’ But it doesn’t take $20 million,” Vandergriff said. “I guess everyone assumes that racing is racing is racing. Most people don’t understand how reasonably priced we are compared to NASCAR.

    “The questions they asked and the assumptions they made were amazing. I’ve always heard that drag racing is the best-kept secret, and now I understand why. It’s amazing how little they knew about our sport.”

    SponsorDragRacers.com supplies
    fast facts for prospective
    drag racing sponsors.

    Weary of answering the same questions about the NHRA over and over, Vandergriff used a firm out of St. Louis, 1320 Media, to build SponsorDragRacers.com, a site that offers information on TV ratings, attendance, fan demographics and specific sponsorship fees. A seasonlong primary sponsorship on a Top Fuel dragster runs $3 million, while associate sponsorships go for $500,000.

    The site also includes business-to-business stories and background on the sport’s diversity and geographical reach.

    Vandergriff said he put basic information about the size of NHRA events and fan access on the site because many of the marketing executives he talked to were not aware. IMG, an NHRA marketing partner, is working to spread the word, Vandergriff said, but economically IMG “couldn’t have come into the sport at a worse time.”

    Even though Vandergriff remains on the hunt for a sponsor — the season opens this weekend — “We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from agencies and companies,” he said of the site. “If nothing else, we’ve created a site that can be a source of marketing information. I can’t tell you how many times I had a conversation with someone from an agency and they asked if I could send them more information. Now it’s all on one site.”

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  • Now starting at NBA Block Party presenting sponsor: Right Guard

    Dial’s Right Guard brand, one of the NBA’s newest marketing partners, will be the presenting sponsor of the NBA Block Party, the latest event added to the league’s All-Star Weekend.

    Right Guard, which signed as a full league marketing partner last year, will present the downtown Phoenix party as part of its heavy activation in the home market of Dial Corp., maker of Right Guard. The party is the first of its kind during the NBA All-Star Weekend, which this season runs Feb. 12-15.

    “This is Right Guard’s first All-Star and they are activating in a big way,” said Mark Tatum, senior vice president of marketing partnerships for the NBA. “It is a first-time All-Star event for us. Phoenix is an outdoor city, and we wanted a corridor of downtown events.”

    The block party, open to the public, will be free and have live music with both local and national acts, basketball-themed activities and an NBA store. Turner will broadcast on-site. Other league sponsors of the new event will include Anheuser-Busch, EA Sports and Toyota.

    “It will be very interactive,” Tatum said. “Our partners have wanted to do something like this. Anheuser-Busch wanted to find a way to get their products to consumers, and Right Guard was looking to activate in their home market. Fans can walk between Jam Session, the arena and the Block Party in a festival-type atmosphere.”

    There also will be product sampling at the event, and Anheuser-Busch will promote the party at local point-of-sale outlets.

    Right Guard signed a multiyear agreement as an NBA corporate sponsor in May and added Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets as a spokesman.

    The NBA hosted a block party, sponsored by Kia, in October in New York City to help kick off the 2008-09 season.

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  • Philips suites to get bench audio

    Ten-year-old Philips Arena will undergo a $4 million renovation of its luxury suites this summer, and with it will come a new, inside-access amenity: Fans in the suites will be able to hear the audio from the players’ benches.

    Philips Arena President Bob Williams said that the coaches of the NBA Hawks and NHL Thrashers will wear microphones and that additional microphones will be placed on the team benches. The audio will operate on a delay, and Atlanta Spirit, parent company for the teams and arena, will hire someone to delete any offensive, profane or inappropriate remarks.

    The visual changes planned for the
    Atlanta arena’s suites include more
    TVs and bookcase-like spaces in the
    walls, but the big difference will be
    audio available from microphones
    worn by the Hawks’ and Thrashers’
    coaches and placed near the bench.

    Williams said the teams’ general managers, the Hawks’ Rick Sund and Thrashers’ Don Waddell, have  signed off.

    In addition to microphones, Atlanta Spirit plans to add cameras so suite holders can follow the audio with coordinated video.

    “People are always looking for unique experiences, and we want to give them that,” Williams said.

    The cameras and microphones will also be used for concerts, with suite holders receiving exclusive audio and video of performers. Williams noted that the arena has had a camera in the Thrashers’ locker room for years, showing players’ video during intermissions on broadcasts.

    Spirit officials said NBA and NHL approval for such a move was not required. Tracy White, senior vice president of broadcast and corporate partnerships for Atlanta Spirit, said that, quite the opposite, league officials were excited about the move, as they always look for the next “best practice” for all clubs.

    Williams said Atlanta Spirit would not pass on the cost of the project to customers, but he declined to reveal pricing details.

    The arena plans to renovate the 92 suites over the summer. The plan is for three model suites to be ready by Feb. 15.

    Architecture firm The Johnson Studio, which normally does restaurant design, was hired for the job. The design concept includes a fake wall with bookcase-like spaces. The planned upgrade also calls for three high-definition TVs over the current two in the suites, and more refrigerators.

    John Manasso writes for the Atlanta Business Chronicle, an affiliated publication.

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  • Selig’s pay climbs past $18 million

    MLB Commissioner Bud Selig earned $18.35 million for the league’s fiscal year ended Oct. 31, 2007, an amount up 22 percent from the prior year and one that again places him among the highest-paid individuals in all of sports.

    Selig’s pay is outlined in MLB’s most recently filed tax documents for the Office of the Commissioner. The amount covers the last full year of work for the longtime commissioner before he agreed to a three-year contract extension in January 2008 that will keep him in the post through 2012. That deal, at the time of its signing, was believed to call for further salary increases.

    The compensation to Selig outlined in the tax filing includes $17.47 million in base compensation, $461,540 in contributions to employee benefit plans, and $422,590 in expense accounts and other allowances. Selig’s total marks the largest chunk of a $98.9 million outlay in total employee compensation and benefits to the 242-person MLB office. That entire employee expense is up 16 percent from the $85.1 million listed for a 236-employee office in the prior year’s tax return.

    Selig’s earning power has surpassed that of other league commissioners for at least several years, and his 2007 compensation is more than most MLB players, too. Only the New York Yankees’ quartet of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Roger Clemens and Jason Giambi earned more than Selig in 2007. Entering 2009, only seven MLB players will earn more this year than Selig’s $18.35 million of two years ago.

    SELIG SALARY
    A historical look at the annual compensation for MLB Commissioner Bud Selig
    FISCAL
    YEAR
    BASE COMPENSATION EMPLOYEE BENEFITS EXPENSES/
    ALLOWANCES
    TOTAL
    2007 $17.470 million $461,540 $422,590 $18.35 million
    2006 $14.515 million $400,999 $140,603 $15.06 million
    2005 $14.500 million $82,843 $20,184 $14.60 million
    Notes: MLB fiscal year is the 12-month period ending on Oct. 31 of the year listed.
    Source: MLB tax filings
    THE COMMISSIONERS
    A look at how MLB Commissioner Bud Seligs compensation compares to that of some of his contemporaries. Each number listed is for a fiscal year that ended in 2007, the most recent year for which information was available.
    GROUP EXECUTIVE TOTAL COMPENSATION
    MLB Bud Selig $18.35 million
    NFL Roger Goodell $11.2 million (prorated)*
    NBA David Stern $10 million (est.)^
    NHL Gary Bettman $5.59 million
    PGA Tour Tim Finchem $4.8 million
    * Prorated based on $6.5 million earned for the first seven months on the job (Sept. 1, 2006, through March 31, 2007). The NFLs return outlining Goodells first full year as commissioner is expected later this year.
    ^ Stern is believed to garner about $10 million annually, but the precise amount is not known. The NBA does not structure its central office as a tax-exempt entity, so it is not required to disclose its tax returns.
    Source: SportsBusiness Journal archives

    During the fiscal year covered in the tax filing, MLB posted league-record marks of 79.5 million in attendance and $6.075 billion in overall revenue. The revenue mark has since been eclipsed.

    The latest tax filing is the second consecutive one to list only the compensation of Selig and not that of MLB President Bob DuPuy or any executive vice presidents. Those amounts had been listed in prior filings.

    Last year’s filing had the names of DuPuy and other senior staffers but without pay totals. The current return omits those names entirely, with Selig joined only by unpaid members of the league’s executive council, a group consisting mainly of team owners.

    The omission of those senior staff compensation totals contradicts IRS filing requirements, nonprofit tax experts said.

    “This rule is still on the books: The nonprofit needs to report the officers, directors and key employees, along with their compensation,” said Marcus Owens, former director of the IRS’s exempt organizations division and now an attorney with Caplin & Drysdale in Washington, D.C., representing nonprofits. “They arguably have filed what could be considered an incomplete return.”

    MLB executives declined to comment, but they disagreed last year with the claim that additional salaries should be listed.

    The return will likely be the final one available to the public anyway, as the Office of the Commissioner has since gone through a change in filing status to become a for-profit limited liability corporation. MLB executives have said the move is tax-neutral for the league, but they have not articulated how that was achieved or, if that is indeed the case, why it was not pursued previously. DuPuy said in August that the switch, while motivated in part by a desire to avoid further public disclosures, would “better reflect the nature and structure of our business.”

    The change relieves MLB of IRS disclosure rules that went into effect last year for 2008 and beyond mandating the listing of up to 20 employees of nonprofit entities who earn more than $150,000 and carry significant functional responsibilities.

    Gross receipts for the commissioner’s office, generated almost entirely by dues levied on the individual MLB clubs, rose 14 percent during the fiscal year to $141.3 million.

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