SBJ/20090525/This Week's News

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  • Acquisition shifts Duke rights to ISP

    ISP Sports has acquired Durham, N.C.-based Moore Productions and with it the rights to Duke’s radio network and weekly magazine, as well as its TV coaches’ shows.

    ISP sees potential to syndicate
    Duke basketball broadcasts
    beyond North Carolina.

    ISP and Duke are believed to be working on a more comprehensive package that also would fold sponsorships, signage, game-day publications and Internet rights into a long-term deal.

    Moore Productions’ current agreement with the Blue Devils has four years left on it. Terms of the arrangement were not available, but a new contract would likely extend 10 or more years, as ISP has done with many of its other university partners.

    Johnny Moore, the owner of Moore Productions, has worked on Duke’s athletic business in a variety of roles for more than 20 years and will stay on as general manager of the Duke ISP Sports Network.

    Ben Sutton, ISP’s chief executive officer, said he’s known Moore for close to 30 years and that the Duke property “has been of interest to us for some time.”

    The Duke radio network is an area with particular upside, Sutton said. The network has mostly been contained to a statewide operation, but “we think there’s opportunity for syndicating Duke’s broadcast beyond North Carolina,” Sutton said. “Duke has alumni all over and it has a particularly strong alumni influence in the Northeast.”

  • Acquisition shifts Duke rights to ISP

    ISP Sports has acquired Durham, N.C.-based Moore Productions and with it the rights to Duke’s radio network and weekly magazine, as well as its TV coaches’ shows.

    ISP sees potential to syndicate
    Duke basketball broadcasts
    beyond North Carolina.

    ISP and Duke are believed to be working on a more comprehensive package that also would fold sponsorships, signage, game-day publications and Internet rights into a long-term deal.

    Moore Productions’ current agreement with the Blue Devils has four years left on it. Terms of the arrangement were not available, but a new contract would likely extend 10 or more years, as ISP has done with many of its other university partners.

    Johnny Moore, the owner of Moore Productions, has worked on Duke’s athletic business in a variety of roles for more than 20 years and will stay on as general manager of the Duke ISP Sports Network.

    Ben Sutton, ISP’s chief executive officer, said he’s known Moore for close to 30 years and that the Duke property “has been of interest to us for some time.”

    The Duke radio network is an area with particular upside, Sutton said. The network has mostly been contained to a statewide operation, but “we think there’s opportunity for syndicating Duke’s broadcast beyond North Carolina,” Sutton said. “Duke has alumni all over and it has a particularly strong alumni influence in the Northeast.”

  • Clubs starting early on multigame packages

    The down economy is affecting ticket sales across the NFL landscape, leading many clubs to start offering multigame packages earlier than usual and increase their flexibility on customers missing payments.

    The Jacksonville Jaguars, who long have struggled to fill their stadium, blamed their recent ills on the recession. Bill Prescott, the team’s senior vice president of stadium operations and chief financial officer, said club surveys showed that 65 percent of season-ticket holders who did not renew blamed the economy.

    Prescott said the team is well off the 43,000 season tickets it had sold last year at this time. Jacksonville Municipal Stadium’s capacity is around 67,000 for Jaguars games. The team, like many, is encouraging group sales to move the available seats.

    The Oakland Raiders are throwing more perks into their group sales efforts, including free merchandise and concessions for groups of 50 or more, said Amy Trask, the team’s president. The team also for the first time is allowing companies to buy partial suites.

    The Raiders are using perks like merchandise
    and concessions to boost sales to big groups.

    Even the Houston Texans are showing signs of a decline, with their season-ticket renewal rate of 90 percent down from 94 percent, though the club anticipates no trouble selling out.

    The Buffalo Bills are trending ahead of last year’s pace, when 56,011 season tickets were sold, second-most in team history. Russ Brandon, the team’s chief operating officer and general manager, credited the team’s offseason moves, including signing wide receiver Terrell Owens, as well as price affordability as reasons for the increase.

    TEAM BUILDING: Speaking of Oakland, the Raiders and California’s two other NFL clubs, the San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers, updated owners on their respective lengthy quests for new stadiums. The Minnesota Vikings also provided an update on their stadium pursuit. No significant developments were reported.

    SUPER SELECTION: The New Orleans Saints’ recent agreement with the state of Louisiana to renovate the Superdome for a second time in recent years was a major factor in the team and stadium being selected to host the 2013 Super Bowl, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. Often, on the afternoon before the game is awarded, the contesting cities significantly improve their bids, but the Saints and New Orleans did not need to do much of that this time. Dennis Lauscha, the team’s senior vice president and chief financial officer, estimated the team held back $1 million of commercial inventory and then offered that at the 6 p.m. deadline last Monday.

    New Orleans was the sentimental choice and is a favorite destination for the game because of its walkability and obvious nightlife opportunities, but Hurricane Katrina and the lack of a new stadium deal until recently kept the team from bidding for the game, which it has not hosted since the 2002 contest.

    New Orleans beat out Miami, which will host February’s game, and Arizona, which hosted in 2008 but has now lost consecutive bids.

    A NEW GAME-DAY EXPERIENCE: The Miami Dolphins announced a new initiative with Kangaroo Media to give the company’s handheld device to the team’s premium-seating customers. The device is third-generation technology for Kangaroo and will allow users to choose from 11 camera angles, fantasy sports data, highlights, video-on-demand and concessions orders.

    Deals that Kangaroo had in place with the Dolphins, Texans, Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins expired last season, but Robert Mimeault, Kangaroo’s president, said those deals existed under the company’s old economic system and used sets that were far more limited.

    The Dolphins will put Kangaroo media
    devices in its best customers’ hands.

    Previously, Kangaroo either rented the sets to consumers or teams found sponsors and those companies worked with Kangaroo, which also has deals with NASCAR and Formula One. Mimeault likened the old model to Avis building and designing the cars it rents out.

    So Kangaroo is out of the front-end business and now expects teams to buy the units. Dolphins owner Steve Ross said he spent millions of dollars to buy the 5,000 units his team will have available. The team also must negotiate with DirecTV for the right to show Sunday Ticket on the units. The old units carried DirecTV, which was the offering’s major feature, but the new device aims to enhance the fans’ experience of the game being played in front of them, Ross said, downplaying the significance of carrying out-of-market games on the devices.

    OPEN FOR BUSINESS: The owners approved a two-year trial to allow teams to sell lottery sponsorships. This week, Goodell is expected to do the same for liquor. Because the league’s bylaws specifically prohibited lottery deals, an owners’ vote was required, but the league’s policy of prohibiting liquor deals can be lifted by commissioner decision. Goodell likely will send a memo to the clubs to that effect shortly. The New England Patriots jumped on the new lottery opportunity almost immediately, teaming with the Massachusetts State Lottery to announce a new instant ticket the day after the meetings concluded.

    MAKING THE ROUNDS, PART 1: The Oct. 4 NFL weekend will be Breast Cancer Awareness Weekend in the NFL, said Mark Waller, the league’s senior vice president of marketing. Pink stencils will be on the field and banners hung on the sides of stadiums. … There was never a chance the short-term naming-rights deal for the Dolphins’ stadium, now called LandShark Stadium, would have covered the Super Bowl there, Goodell said. The league has a policy that prohibits such short-term deals from covering league events. The Land Shark Lager brand earlier this month acquired the naming rights for the coming season. … NBC is the odd man out among the league’s TV partners, with CBS and Fox last week extending their deals through 2013 and ESPN already there. The NBC deal still concludes at 2011, but Goodell says talks with the network have begun.

    MAKING THE ROUNDS, PART 2: The Buffalo Bills last week got a new intern in the marketing department: Caitlin Littmann, 21. She is the daughter of Jeff Littmann, the team’s chief financial officer and treasurer. … New York Giants co-owner Steve Tisch’s arm was in a sling. He tore ligaments in a boating accident in the Bahamas. He expects his arm’s liberation as early as this week. … New NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith told a pack of reporters who followed him into the elevator after his brief meet-and-greet with the owners, “If anyone wants to know how my life has changed, take a picture of this. This is just sad.”

  • Coke breaks the ice, signs six for Vancouver Olympics

    Coca-Cola has signed a six-pack of athletes for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

    The company will be featuring snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler, figure skater Evan Lysacek, hockey player Angela Ruggiero, speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno and the pairs figure-skating duo of Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker.

    The Team USA hopefuls will be featured in point-of-sale advertising and other Coke marketing materials around the Vancouver Games. The endorsements end following the Vancouver Games. Other terms of the deals were unavailable.

    Coke will use Apolo Anton Ohno
    in marketing materials.

    The signing is significant for U.S. Olympians because endorsement opportunities ahead of Vancouver have been scarce due to the ongoing recession. Many athlete agents expected Vancouver to be a lucrative opportunity for U.S. athletes because it’s a North American Olympics, but so far they say companies have been conservative and slow to sign endorsement deals.

    “Many companies don’t know what they’re doing,” said IMG’s Yuki Saegusa, Lysacek’s agent. “That’s why this is so important. It’s such a great company — an American icon — that really, it’s a stamp of approval for Evan.”

    This will be the second time Coke has signed six athletes for the Olympics. The first was ahead of the Beijing Games last summer.

    The Beijing “Six Pack” included Natalie Coughlin (swimming), Steven Lopez (taekwondo), Sanya Richards (track and field), LeBron James (basketball), Andy Potts (triathlon) and Shawn Johnson (gymnastics). They were featured on collectible packaging and in-store materials but not on Coca-Cola cans.

    Coca-Cola did a photo shoot with the Vancouver athletes two weeks ago in Mount Hood, Ore. The company doesn’t plan to feature the athletes on cans but will have them serve as Coke “Ambassadors of Active Living,” designed to encourage people to lead active lives.

    Coke expects to go to market with Vancouver promotions in early 2010. The Olympics begin with the opening ceremony on Feb. 22, 2010.

  • Coyote junction: Where we are, what’s next

    The future of the Phoenix Coyotes hangs in the balance of a bankruptcy court. After a four-hour hearing last week, the only thing that became clear was that the case will last at least another month and the team might not be sold until July. The following are answers to the key issues at play.

    How did it get to this point?
    Jerry Moyes filed to place the Phoenix Coyotes in bankruptcy protection on May 5. In conjunction with the filing, the Coyotes owner submitted a purchase agreement from Research In Motion CEO Jim Balsillie, who offered to buy the team for $212.5 million. Balsillie’s offer was contingent upon being able to relocate the franchise to Hamilton, Ontario. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly learned of the filing and offer when they landed in Phoenix on May 5. They were there to present Moyes with a separate offer from Jerry Reinsdorf reportedly worth $130 million.

    Jerry Moyes (left) and Balsillie
    adviser Richard Rodier (right)

    Who are the players?
    At its most basic level, this case is a battle between the NHL and Moyes, but each has additional support. The NHL is being backed by the city of Glendale, Ariz., which doesn’t want the Coyotes to leave the Phoenix area, and the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball, which filed a collective motion supporting the NHL. On the other side, Moyes is joined by Balsillie’s company, PSE Sports & Entertainment, which is represented by Balsillie’s adviser Richard Rodier and another attorney.

    Why does this matter?
    This is more than a fight over a struggling NHL franchise. At its core, it’s a battle over whether leagues can determine the locations of their franchises and manage the sale of a franchise. If Balsillie wins, it could set a precedent that damages all sports leagues. His ability to buy and relocate the Coyotes out of bankruptcy could inspire other owners to file for bankruptcy protection in order to circumvent league rules and sell their team to a buyer who might be willing to pay more if the franchise can be relocated.

    Wednesday Final hearing on a variety of motions and proposed timelines for a possible sale
    12-Jun Briefs have to be filed on the issue of relocation
    22-Jun Hearing on relocation at 1 p.m. ET

    What’s ahead?
    There are three issues that will be resolved in the next month: 1) Control of the Coyotes; 2) A timeline for the sale of the franchise; and 3) Whether the team can be relocated to another market.

    Who controls the franchise?
    The NHL and Moyes both contend that they should have day-to-day control over the operations of the Coyotes. In the end, Judge Redfield Baum said it probably doesn’t matter because both agree the team will be sold. As he said, there’s no point in arguing over who’s steering the ship if everybody’s in agreement that it’s going to the same harbor. He ordered the NHL and Moyes to enter mediation and report back to him on Wednesday. If they can’t mediate the issue, he’ll rule on it.

    What’s the timeline for a sale?
    All parties are supposed to propose a timeline for a sale of the team in court Wednesday. As of last week, the Moyes and Balsillie team favored a timeline that would see the team sold by late June, while the NHL favored a timeline that would see the team sold by late July.

    Can the team be relocated?
    That’s the $212.5 million question. As Baum told Balsillie’s attorney, “If you lose that [argument], I think the sale motion is dead.” Sitting in the courtroom, one got the sense that the judge may be inclined to rule in the NHL’s favor against moving the team. But a bankruptcy judge’s first responsibility is to creditors, so how Baum rules on this is far from certain. A hearing is set for issue June 22.

  • D.C. United owner selling his stake

    Real estate tycoon Victor MacFarlane has relinquished his stake in D.C. United, abandoning the Major League Soccer team nearly 2 1/2 years after he came to town with hopes of using the team to build his commercial real estate empire.

    MacFarlane, managing principal of San Francisco-based MacFarlane Partners, announced last week that he will sell his interest in the Major League Soccer team to his partner Will Chang.

    Chang, chairman of San Mateo, Calif.-based investment group Westlake International Group, will own the operating rights to D.C. United. He now controls 98 percent, with former Duke University basketball players Brian Davis and Christian Laettner owning the rest.

    Chang, a Chinese-Japanese American who lives in Atherton, Calif., bought the team with his equal partner and longtime friend MacFarlane for $33 million.

    MacFarlane wanted to build a new stadium for United as part of a mixed-use complex. When negotiations with Mayor Adrian Fenty stalled, the city issued a solicitation for the site and his hopes were basically dashed. MacFarlane then tried to negotiate a deal for a new stadium in Prince George’s County, but the county council balked at those plans as well.

    Tierney Plumb writes for the Washington Business Journal, an affiliated publication.

  • Ga. Tech hands ticket sales to Aspire Group

    Georgia Tech has hired The Aspire Group to handle ticket sales for football and men’s basketball in what is believed to be the first case of a university outsourcing its ticket operations, a move that could start a significant trend as schools look to outsource more athletic department business.

    Aspire is a sports marketing agency run by Bernie Mullin, former president of Atlanta Spirit, which owns the Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Thrashers. Specifics of the deal were not available, but Dan Radakovich, Georgia Tech’s athletic director, said Tech pays Aspire a fee plus a variable amount based on sales. The multiyear deal includes an assessment period for both sides.

    “We look at this as the next frontier for what we need to do to sell tickets,” Radakovich said. “We’re not doing a massive radio or TV campaign, we’re not going to advertise in the newspaper. This is how we’re going to do it.”

    Aspire has hired a general manager — Bill Fagan, formerly the Charlotte Bobcats’ inside ticket sales director — to set up a full-time sales staff of 15 to 20 people who will work from Georgia Tech’s downtown Atlanta campus. Four people currently work in Tech’s ticket office, two administrators and two who handle premium sales.

    Under the agreement, Georgia Tech will set the ticket prices and plans. Aspire will handle new full and partial season-ticket sales and renewals, and begin selling tickets by mid-June. It will not sell the premium seating for the university. Radakovich said premium seating and suites have traditionally sold well and there was not a need for Aspire to run that program. Most of those seats are allotted through Georgia Tech’s donor program, the Tech Fund, and will continue to be handled by that arm of the department.

    The outsourcing of ticket sales follows the trend of major universities selling their licensing, sponsorship and broadcasting rights to outside marketing agencies like Learfield, Nelligan, ISP Sports, CBS Collegiate and IMG College. Georgia Tech’s marketing and media rights are owned by ISP Sports.

    “Major universities are already outsourcing licensing and broadcasting rights so this is a natural progression to do it with ticket sales,” Mullin said. “It will be a more integrated and sophisticated approach. The first opportunity will be doing a better job of data collection.”

    Greg Brown, president of Learfield Sports, said his agency has experimented with similar models in the past.

    Tech’s top crowd at 55,000-seat Bobby Dodd
    Stadium during 2008 was 53,528
    for Florida State.

    “We’re still considering whether it will work in our space and if so in what form,” Brown said.

    Georgia Tech’s ticket sales in football “have had their ups and downs,” Radakovich said. Season-ticket sales have peaked at 26,000 in recent years and been as low as 23,000 for 55,000-seat Bobby Dodd Stadium. Traditionally, rivalry games against Georgia and Clemson sell out, while other games present more of a challenge for sales.

    The Jackets drew average attendance of 47,489 in 2008, a season in which both the Georgia and Clemson games were on the road. Their crowd peaked at 53,528 for Florida State and was as low as 41,929 for a nonconference game against Gardner-Webb during a 9-4 season for first-year coach Paul Johnson.

    “We have a lot of leads from people who bought partial season tickets or they’ve been a season-ticket holder in the past and they’re not now,” Radakovich said. “There are other alumni who haven’t bought tickets in the past and there are others in the Atlanta area who might just be college football fans. We’ve got to make sure we cast the net wide enough to include all of them. Professional teams have used this methodology for years.

    “As we’ve looked at all of our available resources and all the advertising we’ve done over the years and seen the results, we thought (the Aspire partnership) would be an opportunity to use a different model to increase our season-ticket base and increase ticket sales in general.”

    Radakovich stopped short of calling it a complete operational outsourcing because the department will maintain two administrators in its ticket office mainly to handle correspondence. Two others in Tech’s ticket office were laid off last month as the Yellow Jackets trimmed their athletic department by 13.

    But it’s clear from talking to ticket managers and university administrators across the country that the school is breaking new ground by outsourcing its ticket sales.

    Outside agencies have been used from time to time, but only for specific on-campus events, like concerts. Others, like Arizona State and Central Florida, have hired additional sales staff for busy periods, but those sales are still handled internally.

    “It boils down to cost containment and efficiency,” Mullin said. “Traditionally, schools have a small number of year-round sales staff, but we can put more staff and resources behind the sales efforts. The school is providing the infrastructure and we are providing the management, systems, and procedures,” Mullin said.

     Wayne Hogan, associate athletic director, will be Tech’s day-to-day contact with Aspire and Fagan. Hogan handles the department’s outsourced vendors like Aspire and ISP.

  • Magic Johnson-Sodexo bid wins nod at Rose Bowl

    SodexoMagic, a joint venture between former NBA star Earvin “Magic” Johnson and food provider Sodexo, has won a two-year contract to operate concessions at the Rose Bowl Stadium, home to the BCS game and UCLA football.

    “They haven’t signed the deal yet, but we were informed that we didn’t get it, and it was down to us and them,” said Chris Verros, executive vice president of Boston Culinary Group.

    Chris Bigelow, the consultant managing the process, confirmed the finalists but would not say a decision was made. Officials with Sodexo and Magic Johnson Enterprises did not return phone calls for comment.

    The deal would be the first in sports for three-year-old SodexoMagic, 51 percent owned by Johnson’s Magic Food Provisions, a subsidiary of Magic Johnson Enterprises. Sodexo, a company with $6 billion in annual revenue, owns the remaining 49 percent.

    Centerplate has handled Rose Bowl
    concessions for more than 20 years.

    The 10-year joint venture’s original plan was to pursue opportunities including dining and high-end catering service at college campuses, hospitals and corporate locations. To date, however, SodexoMagic has done few deals, according to SportsBusiness Journal research. In sports, the joint venture bid unsuccessfully in 2006 for the New Jersey Nets’ food contract at Barclays Center, the franchise’s planned arena in Brooklyn, N.Y., team officials confirmed. The Nets chose Levy Restaurants.

    Sodexo, based in Gaithersburg, Md., is entrenched in college sports concessions and has stadium food contracts at four Pac-10 Conference schools: Arizona State, California, Oregon State and Washington, Bigelow said.

    “They have a big presence on the West Coast, but their bigger division is in campus dining,” he said.

    Johnson has a presence in Pasadena, Calif., home of the Rose Bowl, with an ownership stake in a local Starbucks, Bigelow said.

    SodexoMagic would replace Centerplate, a company that held the Rose Bowl contract for more than 20 years. The deal, with two one-year options, expires in 2011, when Rose Bowl officials hope to start an estimated $160 million renovation.

  • MLB Network building August around youth tourneys

    Having picked up the rights to three tournaments, MLB Network is dubbing August “Youth Baseball Month.”

    “It’s a great branding opportunity for us during August,” said MLB Network President and CEO Tony Petitti. “We want to cover all things baseball, like we do with the World Baseball Classic.”

    MLB Network youth baseball schedule
    Date Event
    Aug. 9 Senior Boys RBI World Series
    Aug. 14 Girls RBI Softball World Series
    Aug. 21 Cal Ripken World Series International Championship, U.S. Championship
    Aug. 22 Cal Ripken World Series World Championship Game
    Aug. 27 New Era National Youth Baseball Championships
    Aug. 28 New Era National Youth Baseball Championships
    Aug. 29 New Era National Youth Baseball Championships 10 & Under Semifinals and Finals
    Aug. 30 New Era National Youth Baseball Championships 12 & Under Semifinals and Finals

    Rights to August’s biggest youth baseball tournament, the Little League World Series, remain with ESPN, and Petitti admitted that he’s unsure how his network will cover it. He expects to show highlights and discuss LLWS results during MLB Network’s live shows.

    Petitti also plans to use MLB Network’s on-screen talent for each of the tournaments, citing Harold Reynolds’ experience with the Little League World Series. “All of our guys have showed a lot of interest,” he said. “We’ll probably spread it around a little bit.

    MLB Network’s youth baseball coverage kicks off Aug. 9 with the Senior Boys RBI World Series Presented by KPMG, which will be held at the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla.  It also plans to carry the Cal Ripken World Series Aug. 21-22.

    The network will wrap up its youth baseball coverage with the New Era National Youth Baseball Championships Aug. 27-30. The tournament, which launched last year, crowns national champions in the 10 and under and 12 and under divisions.

  • More colleges turn to sports retail pros

    The small crew managing Ohio State’s sports retail still counts inventory by hand for football games at Ohio Stadium, and the 10-year-old point-of-sale system at Value City Arena’s team store makes it difficult to keep sales data consistent.

    That will change starting in June, when the athletic department plans to turn over its merchandise operation to a sports specialist who will run the arena’s retail shop, eight permanent game-day souvenir stands at 102,329-seat Ohio Stadium and a team shop at the new student union.

    Ohio State and other universities looking to boost on-campus and online merchandising revenue are turning to national vendors with extensive sports experience to expand their business, duties that in many cases had been handled in-house or by campus bookstore operators.

    Interest in those college accounts has even moved marketer Learfield Sports, known more for multimedia deals, to make a stronger push into merchandise. Learfield has an agreement in principle to acquire Collegiate Marketing Services, an Overland Park, Kan., firm that has online retail deals with Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska, and operates game-day merchandise for the Longhorns in Austin.

    Universities with outdated retail outlets at aging facilities are relying on those vendors to pay for upgrades that will help increase sales. In Columbus, the new firm will be responsible for upgrading retail operations, including a computerized point-of-sale system at Ohio Stadium, with across-the-board improvements potentially reaching seven figures.

    “As the economy has gone downhill, these institutions are looking to unload risk, and the old model — bookstores dabbling in event merchandise — is disappearing,” said Jeff Newman, co-owner of Denver-based XP Events, one of the four finalists for the Ohio State contract.

    Sports specialists are among
    the finalists at Ohio State (top),
    which has handled merchandise
    in-house. Below: At Alabama,
    Learfield Sports subcontracts
    the game-day merchandising
    rights to Centerplate.

    Ohio State faces a $1 million budget shortfall in athletics for the fiscal year ending June 30, so it’s imperative the school find a retail operator to increase business for its brand, one of the top sellers in college sports, said Ben Jay, senior associate athletic director for finance and operations.“We have a strong brand and we want to take advantage of that,” said Jay, who can see the Buckeyes eventually opening a chain of retail locations throughout the state. “Our general feeling is we are leaving money on the table.”

    The Buckeyes’ in-house retail operation now generates between $3.2 million and $3.6 million annually in on-site and online retail sales, of which about $500,000 is profit, Jay said. Under the two-year deal with a two-year option that Ohio State is offering, the new retailer will pay Ohio State a minimum yearly guarantee of $300,000 in addition to a percentage of sales above an agreed-upon benchmark.

    The finalists, which also include Sports Avenue, Collegiate Marketing Services and Barnes & Noble, the school’s bookstore operator, have proposed varying benchmarks, and those terms are negotiable after Ohio State selects the winning bid, he said.

    The trend for outsourcing college sports retail falls in line with what’s been happening the last 10 years with schools hiring third parties such as Learfield Sports, Nelligan, ISP Sports, CBS Collegiate and IMG College for media rights deals, said Todd Stansbury, Oregon State’s executive associate athletic director.

    “Merchandise is the next logical step that athletic departments are looking at to try to maximize that revenue stream,” Stansbury said.

    Learfield’s deal for Collegiate Marketing Services was near completion last week, said Learfield Sports President Greg Brown. It would provide his company with the chance to pitch that piece of the business to the 50 schools for which Learfield owns the media rights. Learfield already owns the game-day merchandise rights at Alabama, where subcontractor Centerplate is the operator.

    CMS leveraged the Learfield takeover in its proposal to Ohio State. Another Ohio State finalist, Rock Island, Ill.-based Sports Avenue, was recently selected by Arizona State to manage its sports retail business at Sun Devil Stadium and Wells Fargo Arena. The two parties were still negotiating terms of the five-year contract last week, said Steve Hank, associate athletic director for revenue.

    Sports Avenue operates online sites and mall retail locations for five MLB and two NFL teams, and also has a roster of six colleges, including Kansas and Kentucky, and two bowl games at the Superdome in New Orleans.

    The company logs $46 million in annual revenue. Sports Avenue owner Jeff Collins declined to provide revenue figures for individual schools, but did say his company spent $400,000 about four years ago to build a new team shop at KU’s 54-year-old Allen Fieldhouse.

    Centerplate, one of the four biggest major league concessionaires, has its deal with Learfield at Alabama, and at Louisville, where the firm will run the team store at the new downtown arena opening in 2010.

    XP Events has brought big increases to Oregon
    State through its Beaver Authentics line.

    XP Events, which has a client base primarily of MLB, NBA and NHL teams, signed Oregon State as well as California as its first two college accounts in the last two years, taking over for campus bookstores that had managed online and on-site merchandise operations.

    XP took over Oregon State’s retail operations from the campus bookstore last fall, and developed a new line of exclusive athletic apparel, Beaver Authentics, that has been a big hit online and at Reser Stadium and Gill Coliseum, the school’s basketball arena.

    In the last nine months, the athletic department has seen a 200 percent increase in sports retail income, primarily because of the concessionaire’s ability to select the right gear instead of purchasing a “bunch of T-shirts that nobody’s going to buy,” Stansbury said.

    Bringing in specialists can allow a school to concentrate not only on the big-dollar teams but also on some sports further from the spotlight. At UC Santa Barbara, Athletic Director Mark Massari is negotiating final terms on a deal with XP Events, just as he helped bring in the firm at his former school, Oregon State. Santa Barbara does not have a football team, but fields a strong men’s soccer program that topped the NCAA in attendance the last two seasons.Massari’s plan is to expand retail in the school’s high-profile sport — which he said is negligible at this point — in a hybrid deal. XP Events will redesign the school’s sports logo and buy the merchandise, and UC Santa Barbara will provide the real estate, labor and warehouse space.

    “I look at it from an administrative standpoint like a Major League Baseball CEO,” Massari said. “There are two ways a fan shows you passion — when they buy tickets and [when they] wear your gear, and you can’t cheapen the two. You need complete focus on retail to maximize revenue potential.”

  • New team working to revive the DEI brand

    Dale Earnhardt Inc. is planning a series of events at its Mooresville, N.C., campus that reflect the late driver’s personality and lifestyle, much the same way Graceland offers an insight into the life of Elvis.

    A new leadership team, put in place less than two months ago by company CEO and Earnhardt’s widow, Teresa Earnhardt, is working to resuscitate the DEI brand since it merged its Sprint Cup racing operations with Chip Ganassi Racing late last year.

    Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing lives on as a NASCAR team, while DEI’s headquarters is now the home for Earnhardt’s legacy business and other ventures. DEI’s once-bustling race shop, which used to employ more than 300 workers, now is home to 58 employees.

    Those who remain have a renewed focus on what Jeff Steiner, executive vice president and general manager, calls a “brand freshening,” to include “better and more open public relations, a licensing plan that represents Dale and his legacy, and a focus back on the core of what makes Dale Earnhardt.”

    At DEI Fan Day in Mooresville, N.C. (from left):
    Taylor, Teresa, Kerry and Jeffrey Earnhardt

    One of Steiner’s first steps was taken two weeks ago when DEI signed Victory Management Group, Charlotte, to lead its event marketing, public relations and licensing endeavors. Victory’s president, David Hynes, was chief marketing officer at Action Performance from 1998 to 2003 and his expertise in the licensing business was one of DEI’s key attractions to Victory.

    “It’s about emphasizing what Dale really meant to the sport and getting specific on the milestones that led him from rags to riches and endeared him to the fans,” Hynes said. “There are so many stories that haven’t been told.”

    Telling those Earnhardt stories through select events is ultimately what DEI hopes to do.

    While it’s a work in progress, Steiner envisions staging a classic car show from Earnhardt’s collection of 50-some cars, including everything from his 1957 Chevy to race cars and other personal vehicles. There also figure to be opportunities around next year’s opening of the NASCAR Hall of Fame — Earnhardt is a shoo-in to be a member of the charter class.

    Most recently, DEI entertained hundreds of fans on its Fan Day, which it holds each year around race week in Charlotte.

    “From a fan experience standpoint, there are going to be opportunities for fans to get closer to the life and lifestyle of Dale Earnhardt,” Steiner said. “We’re talking about doing some things, like a classic car event, maybe with a sponsor, that reconnects with the fans in unique ways. There are a lot of things within Dale’s properties that have never been seen.”

  • NHLPA’s Kelly pushes for TV change

    NHL Players’ Association Executive Director Paul Kelly is calling for league TV partners Versus and NBC to do more to promote the NHL and NHL players, citing players’ growing frustration over hockey coverage.

    “We have to push our two partners to do a better job of covering our sport … or we have to go in a different direction when that contract comes to an end,” Kelly told the Sports Lawyers Association on May 16. Kelly has called in the past for the NHL to return to ESPN.

    Kelly said the fact that people in the U.S. could not watch most of the Boston-Carolina playoff Game 7 earlier this month because Versus was airing Anaheim-Detroit Game 7 “is a source of great frustration” to NHL players as well as the union.

    Kelly conceded that Versus has improved production and has increased the number of homes and sports bars where it is available. However, he said, “There are still problems.”

    “It is not ESPN,” Kelly said. “It doesn’t have a sports highlight show. It doesn’t have a lot of properties people want to tune in to, unless you are a hunter or a fisherman or you like turtle wrestling.”

    Versus President Jamie Davis, responding to Kelly’s comments, said Versus made a significant commitment to the NHL when it agreed to a deal to take it over from ESPN in 2005. Versus “has televised significantly more hours of hockey coverage per night in the first two rounds of the playoffs this year than ESPN did in the same time span during the last several years of their deal.”

    Total viewership for NHL regular-season games on Versus increased by 20 percent this year, and viewer numbers are up by 35 percent through the first two rounds of the playoffs.

    During his Sports Lawyers speech, Kelly said that although NBC has improved the reach of the sport, he was concerned about the limited amount of coverage that the network provided to hockey.

    NBC said in a statement, “On NBC, the NHL has had the highest-rated regular-season game in 34 years [this year’s Winter Classic on New Year’s Day] and the most-viewed Stanley Cup Final in seven years.”

    NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, who was at the Sports Lawyers Association conference and spoke to the group before Kelly, said in an e-mail, “I believe Paul was trying to be supportive, while at the same time expressing hope that things could be improved.”

    Daly would not comment on whether Kelly’s statements could hurt the NHL’s bargaining position in future TV talks. The Versus deal runs through the 2010-11 season.

    “I think Paul would be the first to admit that it’s easier to be critical in his position — where he doesn’t have the benefit of the history or the necessary understanding of our relationships,” Daly wrote. “Suffice it to say, we’re very pleased with our current national broadcasting relationships.”

  • Numbers have some MLB owners upbeat

    Amid declining attendance totals and continuing waves of bleak economic news, an increasing number of MLB owners and executives believe the worst of the fiscal meltdown is now behind the sport.

    While not a celebration by any means, last week’s owners meetings nonetheless showcased noticeable levels of optimism, fueled in part by attendance being on par with preseason expectations, albeit down; a strong start for the MLB Network; and buoyant sales for subscription products, among other elements.

    The sport’s roughly 6 percent drop in attendance thus far this season, while tracking to be the league’s sharpest fall in seven years, is an improvement from April numbers showing decreases of about 10 percent. In addition, industry sources said online ticket sales at and the team sites since Opening Day are up 7 percent compared with the same period in 2008.

    “I think we have bottomed out in a number of areas and that there are some semi-positive signs as many of the … initiatives begin to get some badly needed traction,” said Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff.

    Baseball typically gets a lift in many fan-related economic and affinity metrics as warmer weather approaches and schools let out for the summer. But beyond that normal seasonality, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig issued his most hopeful economic remarks to both owners and press since before last fall’s credit market collapse.

    “It’s still awfully early, but as we sit here on May 21, I’m encouraged by our start,” Selig said at the meetings’ conclusion. “Clubs have, of course, been very aggressive on pricing and promotions, and I told the clubs today I’m proud of how they’ve reacted on that front, and I meant it.”

    MLB’s sales progress has been keenly followed due to several key factors: the league sells more tickets than any other major professional sport, it relies on attendance as its largest single revenue source, and baseball was the first sport to go through its entire offseason sales cycle in the depths of global recession.

    The Minnesota Twins’ Jim Pohlad
    said there are no significant
    changes planned for the club’s
    operating philosophy.

    “It’s definitely a challenging backdrop in terms of the broad economics, but we’re still seeing strong shows of support, and with regard to sponsors, companies are still coming forward and taking a long view, that we’re going to come out of this,” said Minnesota Twins owner Jim Pohlad.

    Beyond the sport’s core ballpark-related sales, meaningful gains are being registered within the league-controlled media arms. The five-months-active MLB Network continues to garner strong reviews with regard to programming and production, and ad sales have begun to pick up. Within MLB Advanced Media, sales for subscription-based products such as MLB At Bat and MLB.TV, as well as online All-Star Game balloting, are up by double-digit percentages.

    NEW POHLAD, SAME AS THE OLD POHLAD?: Pohlad, son of late Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohladand newly installed as the club’s designated control executive, said following the meetings there are no significant changes planned to the club’s operating philosophy in the wake of the power shift.

    The senior Pohlad left a huge legacy as one of the key architects of the sport’s current revenue-sharing system, igniting controversy during fractious stadium and contraction battles and, more recently, developing a plucky, cost-conscious organization that routinely outperforms the economic might of the Twin Cities’ market.

    “I don’t think it’s going to be a huge difference. We’ve been emphasizing the concept of family ownership, which this is,” Jim Pohlad said.

    On league matters, it remains to be seen whether the junior Pohlad will be the kind of influential adviser to Selig that Carl Pohlad became.

    “I’ve been going to league meetings for some time, and we, like all clubs, have strong opinions on certain issues,” Pohlad said. “As to the extent that we get specifically involved in a major project, we’re always happy to help, but there’s nothing of that sort active right now.”

  • PORTAL puts some pop into stats

    The NHL is generating league-record levels of audience growth on through its extensive PORTAL strategy, introduced last month for the postseason.

    Through roughly a month of postseason play, the NHL recorded 12.9 million unique users on its site for all of April and is projecting more than 11 million unique users for May, according to internal metrics. Both are best-ever marks for

    The NHL recorded 12.9M unique
    users on its site for all of April,
    its best mark ever.

    For the playoff period specifically, unique users, page views and total visits to the site are all up by 35 percent compared with last year, countering a trend where many leading sports Web sites are flat or slightly down in raw traffic relative to 2008.

    Additionally, video starts on are up by 147 percent since the postseason began. That growth is fueled by both a heavy increase in overall video material through such content as postgame press conferences, and a temporary time shift and rebranding of “The Hockey Show” to a Cisco-sponsored daily whip-around show that previews each night’s contests.

    Perhaps most heartening to league officials, though, is the relative lack of attrition in traffic in markets that have had their local teams eliminated from the playoffs during the early rounds. Typically, traffic to falls off sharply as the postseason progresses and more teams are defeated. But beyond heavy, anticipated Web traffic growth in resurgent hockey markets such as Chicago and Washington, D.C., first-round knockout markets such as New York and St. Louis are also showing double-digit growth in unique visitors during May.

    “We’ve reversed a lot of historical trends,” said John Collins, NHL chief operating officer. “Markets are sustaining themselves much stronger than they have in the past, and we’ve been able to provide a deeper, more meaningful experience to the fan.”

  • Prices steady for golf title sponsors

    The PGA Tour and Champions Tour are holding prices firm for title sponsorships despite the pinch in marketing budgets, but they have stopped demanding once-standard annual escalators, which could bring about a long-predicted flattening of prize money.

    Title sponsors on the PGA Tour generally pay in the middle to high seven figures annually in rights fees and media commitments, depending on the stature of the event. Industry sources said prices were roughly flat or increased only nominally on title sponsorship extensions signed this year with Accenture in Arizona, Travelers in Connecticut and Zurich in Louisiana.

    Tour officials are also decreasing or dropping annual 5 percent escalators that once were considered a standard part of title sponsorships, said sources. Those escalators are tied to purse increases that can cost an average sponsor low to mid-six figures annually.

    A lack of escalators may flatten out
    prize money on the PGA Tour.

    Whether the steady prices are a sign of the resiliency of the PGA Tour or just the affinity of a few existing partners remains to be determined. Multiple sources said the starting price on available title sponsorship inventory is flat with prices paid by the incumbent, suggesting they could come down slightly in negotiations.

    U.S. Bank in Milwaukee and Stanford Financial in Memphis are the only confirmed title sponsors on the PGA Tour that will not return in 2010. More than a third of title sponsorships expire at the end of 2010. FBR in Phoenix will not extend, and the tour is quietly shopping titles in at least three other markets: Miami; Fort Worth, Texas; and Palm Springs, Calif.

    Flat title sponsorship prices with smaller escalators mean average purses will likely flatten in the final three years of the current television deals. The average purse of an official money event on the PGA Tour this year is $5.9 million, up about $80,000 from last year. Total year-over-year prize money dropped for the first time since 1975.

    Purses on the PGA Tour have more than doubled since 1999, and the number of players earning more than $1 million in a single year increased from 61 in 2002 to 104 last year.

    Early returns show that the Champions Tour is also maintaining its $2 million to $3 million annual title sponsorship prices despite expectations that extensions on the senior circuit would be hit hard. The Champions Tour lost four events this year but extended or signed new title sponsorships with six of its remaining 25 tournaments.

    However, tour officials are relaxing annual purse escalators in the middle of contracts when title sponsors have asked for assistance, which can save a company up to $100,000 a year.

  • Smith hits books, Goodell hits back

    Any flickering hope that new NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith could quickly help settle the burgeoning labor dustup between the league and the players died quickly last week.

    Smith’s calls for the league to open its financial books as an initial gesture of partnership were rebuffed in near-derisive terms by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

    “There is a very clear understanding of our economics. If De being new to the situation needs a better understanding of our economics, we will certainly be willing to go through that with him,” Goodell said last week, a comment seen in some quarters as a not-so-subtle dig at Smith.

    A source close to the league accused Smith of using the financial transparency issue to gin up a phony campaign against the league.

    “De is using the owners’ reluctance to disclose every single item in their books as a PR weapon,” said the source, who requested anonymity because the person is not authorized to speak publicly.

    Taken together, the comments mean that it has taken about two months since Smith got his job to return to the type of back-and-forth public disagreement, often in cynical terms, that marked the terrain of league and union discourse prior to the August death of former Executive Director Gene Upshaw.

    DeMaurice Smith has tempered
    earlier talk of reaching a deal
    with the league.

    It also means that the collective-bargaining talks expected to begin early next month almost certainly will yield little and may not even move to the owners’ core issue of the players’ percentage take of league revenues.

    Smith, who took his position in mid-March and talked soon after optimistically about reaching a deal, has in recent weeks tempered his remarks. Gone are the comments about his new friend Goodell and predictions of reaching a deal. Instead, Smith has begun saying it would not be the players’ fault if the owners locked them out in 2011.

    Asked how he would respond if the owners did refuse to back down on the financial issue, Smith told the Sports Lawyers Association last week, “If we can’t get to a point where we understand the importance of financial disclosure as the bedrock of those negotiations, then I guess that is where we start.

    “When we understand the profit-loss per team, we will be partners,” Smith said. “When we understand the average rate of return per game per team, we will truly be partners.”

    Said Denver’s Pat Bowlen, the lead owner on the league’s labor negotiating committee, “The idea we are all going to open our books and let the NFLPA have a look at them, that is not the way we operate.”

    Smith spoke at the lawyers association meeting in Chicago before traveling to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to speak directly with owners gathered there for their spring meeting.

    The league’s position is that the union knows all its revenues and a majority of costs, because of player salaries. Goodell also contends that the union knows about the league’s stadium costs, though the union has said previously that was only partially true.

    Notably, Smith’s comments are focused on how NFL teams have performed over the last 10 years, a sure sign he will not be impressed with the league’s talk of shrinking profit margins in just the last few years. The union’s position is that if the league wants major changes to player compensation, the NFL has to prove why that is necessary. 

    Additionally, Smith sent a letter to Goodell last week asking for an explanation of the league’s decision last year to opt out of the agreement, ending the CBA two years early.

    “We would like to get a better understanding of why they opted out,” said Scott Fujita, linebacker and player representative for New Orleans Saints. “Players want to be involved now more than ever and they recognize the importance of a CBA and getting a deal done.”

    The current CBA expires after the 2010 season, though if a deal is not reached by early next year, that final campaign will have no salary cap.

    The full makeup of the negotiating teams remains uncertain. On the NFL side, the top negotiators are Goodell, general counsel Jeffrey Pash and outside counsel Bob Batterman. Three years ago, the two key owners were Pittsburgh’s Dan Rooney, who is now U.S. ambassador to Ireland, and Carolina’s Jerry Richardson, who is recovering from heart transplant surgery earlier this year.

    Bowlen said he presumed he would be at the talks, but Goodell has apparently not yet either chosen or notified the owners he wants at the table. Pash said not to count out Richardson, whose health is improving.

    On the union side, in addition to Smith, general counsel Richard Berthelsen and outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler are expected to be there. NFL players are also expected to be at the table.

  • Thaw took months of talks

    The roots of last week’s surprise resolution between Comcast and NFL Network over distribution of the league’s five-year-old network were planted half a year ago.

    That’s when, after three years of public barbs and stalled negotiations, league Commissioner Roger Goodell reached out to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts. The duo, along with two new negotiators, commenced a series of face-to-face meetings that ultimately would break the logjam.

    “If I had to pin something” on when the situation began to turn, Goodell told SportsBusiness Journal, “it was a little bit more serious [in] about November.”

    That month, the network launched its third season of live NFL games without digital basic carriage deals on seven of the eight biggest cable operators. League executives held little hope that anything would break the stalemate in the ensuing months and were in the midst of a legal and political strategy that could have dragged on for years.

    For much of 2008, the league struggled for solutions to the network’s cable problems. Earlier in the year, the NFL talked with ESPN about a partnership, but those talks fizzled. In November, Goodell initiated high-level talks with Fox, but those discussions met the same fate.

    Around that time, Goodell chose to re-engage Comcast and decided that a fresh perspective was needed. The network’s president, Steve Bornstein, who had advocated taking a hard-line approach, would stay in the background, away from direct talks with Comcast executives. Bornstein authored several public opinion columns earlier this year arguing the NFL’s case, but he was no longer directly involved in the face-to-face negotiations. He instead worked on other media deals, like the broadcast extensions with CBS and Fox, the DirecTV Sunday Ticket deal and an EchoStar carriage deal.

    Roberts brought in CFO Mike
    Angelakis, who is rarely involved
    in direct negotiations.

    In Bornstein’s place, Goodell brought his chief financial officer, Anthony Noto, a former Goldman Sachs media analyst hired by the NFL in early 2008. Until November, Noto mainly handled the league’s debt and other financial issues. But then the West Point graduate became a critical player in the Comcast talks. Noto, sources said, counseled compromise and settlement over confrontation and litigation.

    On the Comcast side, the company’s chief financial officer, Mike Angelakis, also took a central role in bridging the gap. While Angelakis is well-known to cable network affiliate sales executives, several said that he rarely is involved in direct negotiations like this. Hired by Comcast in the spring of 2007, Angelakis’ background is rooted in cable and finance, which was key in this negotiation.

    The initial meetings in November were designed to try to repair the fractured relationship. The talks continued even as the two sides continued to bash each other in legal and regulatory proceedings.

    Several league and media sources credit the teams of Goodell/Noto and Roberts/Angelakis for breaking the deadlock.

    Goodell reached out to Roberts
    and added CFO Anthony Noto
    for fresh perspective.

    “[Noto] understands the perspective of a Comcast and a Disney/ESPN,” said Bob McNair, the Houston Texans owner. “I think that makes it easier for him to make suggestions and recommendations that [were] meaningful for both sides.”

    Neither Noto nor Angelakis would comment for this story.

    Goodell’s negotiating approach with Roberts was also noted.

    Robert Kraft, the New England Patriots owner and chairman of the broadcasting committee said, “Roger and Brian developing a good working relationship, a trusting relationship, that was the key.”

    While relations between the NFL and Comcast were improving, there still was little movement in the negotiations for months.

    In February, Goodell enlisted his top two owners on media issues, Kraft and Dallas Cowboys chief Jerry Jones, the chairman of the NFL Network committee.

    “Both Bob Kraft and Jerry Jones were very helpful,” Goodell said. “Both came to important meetings back in February and were instrumental.”

    At the end of February, Kraft, Jones and Goodell visited Comcast's Philadelphia offices to try to break through the impasse. Sources described the meeting as productive.

    But animosity between the two sides flared up again when news organizations started asking about the meeting almost immediately afterward. Both sides accused the other of leaking details to the media, and talks cooled off for several weeks, sources said.

    By April, the two sides were talking again.

    NFL Network’s carriage deal was set to expire at the end of April, providing a real deadline for negotiations. If the two sides did not make any progress, NFL Network was prepared to pull its signal.

    On April 29, one day before the Comcast deal expired, Goodell and Noto met Roberts and Angelakis in a conference room at Philadelphia’s Four Seasons Hotel. The group decided to meet away from Comcast’s office to keep news of their meeting from leaking out. The executives believed the media scrutiny was making it more difficult to complete a deal.

    During the six-hour meeting, from 4 to 10 p.m., Goodell, Noto, Roberts and Angelakis outlined the broad principles they were looking for in a deal.

    A lack of digital basic cable deals has kept
    a lid on the NFL Network’s household count.

    Comcast wanted a long-term deal and a much lower license fee. The NFL wanted digital basic carriage and a resolution to the legal battles.

    To complete the deal, the NFL agreed to lower its license fee, from more than 70 cents to an average of more than 50 cents over the lifetime of the nine-year deal. In the first year, Comcast agreed to pay the NFL 42 cents per subscriber per month.

    By the end of the meeting, Goodell and Roberts agreed on the general framework and an extension to work out specific details, a process that sometimes takes months.

    Two weeks later, though, the deal was imminent. The NFL wanted to have a deal finalized by the start of its owners meetings, which were held in Florida last week, so Comcast and NFL officials started working around the clock to finish it. The night before the announcement, the NFL’s lawyers were busy at the Fort Lauderdale Ritz-Carlton hammering out final details.

    One complicating factor in the final week was Comcast’s focus. The company simultaneously had been talking with ESPN about a broad carriage deal that would give ESPNU digital basic carriage, ESPN360 broadband carriage and move ESPN Classic to the sports tier.

    With ESPN executives in one conference room and NFL executives in another, a team led by Comcast’s Matt Bond, executive vice president of content acquisition, shuttled between the two. ESPN’s deal closed Friday night. NFL Network’s closed three days later.

    So what finally sparked the NFL agreement? 

    Clearly, the NFL’s decision to lower the price proved critical, as did Comcast’s concession to allow digital basic carriage.

    But even the principals aren’t quite sure what pushed the deal over the top.

    Asked last week in a press conference what moved the needle, Goodell’s political skills abandoned him and he first responded, “I don’t know,” before pressing into talk about partnership.

    Later, questioned by SportsBusiness Journal, Goodell replied there was no light-bulb moment.

    But Pat Bowlen, the Denver Broncos owner and media committee member, concluded, “It was one of those negotiations that seemed to be dragging on and on and finally the light went on.”

  • Tickets served up from roving Dodgers truck

    Call it the latest in mobile marketing.

    In an effort to sell more tickets to minorities, the Los Angeles Dodgers are taking to the streets with a ticket sales truck that next month will begin patrolling Hispanic and Asian neighborhoods in Los Angeles.

    Fashioned somewhat after the many taco vending trucks that roam the city’s streets, the truck is intended to give the Dodgers a presence at shopping areas, parks and festivals, and provide an easier way to position Dodgers tickets as an impulse buy. The truck is equipped with LCD screens and satellite TV to show games, along with computers and ticket printers.

    The Dodgertown-branded truck is one of a number of new ticket initiatives launched by the team in an effort to boost sales hit by a lagging economy.

    “This gives us a presence in neighborhoods where typically we don’t sell a lot of tickets online,” said Dennis Mannion, president and COO of the team, which has drawn more than 3.4 million fans in each of the past five seasons. “With all our inventory and pressure on disposable income, we set a goal of increasing our output sales capacity for tickets, and this is part of that.”

    The Dodgers’ ticket sales truck looks like
    the taco trucks that populate Los Angeles.

    Representing another mobile effort are “ticketeers,” team employees with mobile ticket printers roaming in and around Dodger Stadium who can sell upgrades or tickets to future games on the run. The Dodgers also have increased their community and ethnic initiatives to snare group sales, have amped up their ad budget, and have added more branded sections, like the Bleacher Beach all-inclusive section with a luau/barbecue theme open each Sunday, with a premium item exclusive to the section.

    Through 20 games this season, Dodgers attendance was averaging 42,479, a drop of 6.5 percent. League attendance for approximately same period was down 6.1 percent.

    “More of our consumers are making up their mind at the absolute last minute, so teams need to make it easier for them to buy tickets and add value where they can,” Mannion said.

    Some examples of that added value are the nine Webkinz plush pet gate premium Sundays on the Dodgers schedule, along with no less than 13 fireworks nights, up from three last year.

    With purchase decisions coming later, the team’s walk-up sales are at historically high levels, leading the Dodgers to consider whether additional public transportation to the game or cheaper parking would boost ticket sales.

  • Tracing the NFL-Comcast story line

    The NFL Network was launched in November 2003 and has been in a carriage dispute with Comcast ever since the cable company moved it to a sports tier in 2006. The following looks back at what was said during the disagreements between the sides.

    “This is a three-way street. I mean, the consumer has to tell the distributor what they want. That’s been my experience.”
    —  NFL Network President Steve Bornstein, in April 2007, on the net failing to reach carriage deals with Comcast and others, asking consumers to take action

     “This decision breathes new life into the concept of sports tiering. Niche, expensive sports programming belongs on a sports tier.”
    — Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen, in May 2007, on a New York State Supreme Court judgment granting Comcast the right to place the NFL Network on a dedicated sports tier

    “I know firsthand that if instead of the NFL Network it was called Versus or the Golf Channel, you don’t have to have any guesswork what carriage it would have. The company we are talking about here [Comcast], I guess I should go ahead and say it, is a company that depends upon privileges at the government level, and they shouldn’t use those privileges to keep fans here from seeing the NFL.” 
    — Dallas Cowboys owner and NFL Network Committee Chairman Jerry Jones, on Oct. 29, 2007, referring to two channels owned by Comcast

    “If you give our customers access to your [Sunday Ticket] out-of-market package, we will accede to your demand that we carry your elite channel on a reasonably well-penetrated digital level of service. If you deprive us of access to your out-of-market package and you give it exclusively to a competitor, then we will protect our customers from having to pay for a network that we don’t think all of them would necessarily want to view.”
    — Comcast’s Cohen, on Nov. 12, 2007

    “I think they’re baffled that there hasn’t been a fan uprising to be able to get these games.”
    — Comcast’s Cohen, on Nov. 16, 2007

    “[Cable operators] treat the NFL Network in a sharply different and clearly less favorable way than networks they own a stake in.”
    —  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, during a March 5, 2008, hearing held by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet

    “Some cable operators talk out of two sides of their mouths. One minute they say it’s about the price, the next they’re saying it’s about access to Sunday Ticket.”
    Steve Bornstein, in an April 15, 2009, interview in The Wall Street Journal

    “It’s a chapter that’s behind us and not worth going over.”
    — Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts, on May 19, the day Comcast and the NFL Network announced their resolution

    “We don’t like to be fighting with our partners. We like to be creating value.”
    Goodell, after the resolution

    Research by: David Broughton and Brandon McClung
    Sources: SportsBusiness Journal/Daily archives

  • UFL will offer its sponsors on-field options

    The fledgling United Football League is coming to market with an integrated sponsorship package it is claiming is assault proof.

    While acknowledging a lack of sponsorship dollars in the market, Frank Vuono, the former NFL consumer products chief who is the league’s COO, said the UFL will offer a package not available at most large sports properties.

    “The NFL model has evolved as one where networks pay huge rights, so they have to protect their advertisers, and they can’t let any sponsors on the field,” Vuono said. “So you end up with sponsors who feel like they are getting ambushed on the broadcast.”

    Consequently, the UFL sponsorship package set to hit the market includes integration that features an LED field-level perimeter signage system from ANC Sports, similar to the one installed at the MLS Seattle Sounders home field in Qwest Field this year. Sponsor logos on uniforms and fields are also being promised, as the league sells eight top-tier categories that include media exclusivity for the national broadcasts on Versus, which begin in October and end with a championship game from Las Vegas scheduled for the Friday after Thanksgiving. Title sponsorship of the championship game is also available. The league is also hoping to include rights to players and broadcast talent in its packages.

    Vuono said that he has initially been concentrating on vendor relationships for everything from helmets to tackling dummies. But now he’s beginning to take sponsorship packages, priced in the middle six figures, to the street.

    “The biggest objection we are getting [from potential sponsors] is the economy,” Vuono said. “No one’s telling us there is too much football already for us to succeed.”

    As far as its TV productions go, the league wants its telecasts to look and feel like the NFL’s, said its television and broadcast consultant Mike Trager. It will use 10 to 14 cameras per game and use graphics packages that are a similar quality. All games will be produced in HD and will be streamed live via

    To underscore that quality, the league earlier this month hired TV veterans John Gonzalez and Peter Lasser to direct and produce the telecasts, respectively.

    “All people working on the key elements of production have NFL or major college experience,” Trager said. “We’d like to be a professionally produced football game.”

    The league is planning some new production wrinkles, Trager said. Producers will be allowed more sideline and locker-room access, and coaches will be made more available for on-camera interviews.

    “We’re not planning any tricks,” Trager said. “There’s no comparison to the XFL. We’re going to show football the way football fans want to see it.”

    The league, with owners including financier Bill Hambrecht, AOL’s Tim Armstrong and Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and college roommate of former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, plans an initial season with teams representing four markets — Las Vegas/Los Angeles, New York/Hartford, Orlando and San Francisco/Sacramento. The teams will play a six-week schedule and will feature an average ticket price of $20.

    Eric Bechtel, managing director of Rule 1.02 Marketing, is assisting with sponsorship sales. Former NFL Properties licensing executive Jeff Sofka is consulting with the league and is orchestrating apparel, licensing and branding efforts.

    Staff writer John Ourand contributed to this story.

  • USOC hires Fleischer for communications issues

    The U.S. Olympic Committee has hired Ari Fleischer as a communications consultant, bringing on board the former White House press secretary at a critical time for the organization and Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Olympics.


    Fleischer will not be a spokesman for the organization but will counsel it on communications issues and support the USOC in its search for a new communications chief.

    Longtime communications executive Darryl Seibel, who resigned from the organization earlier this month, is due to leave June 1. The USOC has hired a search firm to help it replace Seibel but has not publicly set a timetable for when it hopes to hire someone. Fleischer will advise and consult the USOC during the search.

    “[Ari] has done considerable work for a number of sports organizations in recent years and we’re pleased to have him on board,” USOC acting CEO Stephanie Streeter wrote in an e-mail. “He will help us with a variety of important communications matters.”

    Fleischer said he’ll work on overall communications issues by helping “the USOC to think about the big picture” and working with the organization’s communications staff as it goes through a transition period with the impending leadership change. He’ll also be able to offer the organization both domestic and international political expertise as it pushes Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Olympics. The IOC will vote on the host Oct. 2.

    “The USOC is one of the most exciting brands in sports,” Fleischer said. “Everyone looks up to Olympians, and it’s an honor to be able to work with them.”

    Since Fleischer joined IMG last year to form the Ari Fleischer Sports Communications company, he has been a consultant for MLB and the Women’s Tennis Association, and done media training for seven NFL teams and NASCAR. MLB didn’t renew his contract this year.

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