SBJ/Feb. 7-13, 2011/Franchises

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  • Power of the ring

    The largest World Series ring on earth has a secret.

    Conceived by owner Jeffrey Loria in the afterglow of the Florida Marlins’ unlikely World Series victory in 2003, with a baseball-shaped top fronted by a leaping fish, the ring sparkles from the cut of 228 white diamonds, one rare teal diamond, 13 rubies and two shades of gold. It weighs in at 110 grams, or about equal to a small apple, putting it in a dead heat with the 2004 ring honoring the New England Patriots and the 2008 ring made for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    Sunday’s Super Bowl winner may well demand something larger.

    The Saints ring, designed by Tiffany, features an etching of the Superdome.
    Driven by one-upsmanship and often fit to be worn by men the size of a VW bug, championship rings have grown from the quaint Americana of a class ring into ornaments that would fit comfortably on the hood of a Rolls Royce. Understated in comparison to some of its siblings, the ring Tiffany produced for the New Orleans Saints last year features about 60 diamonds, a fleur-de-lis, an etching of the Superdome, a parade float and the opening notes from “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

    The latest Los Angeles Lakers championship rings were designed and produced by a Beverly Hills jeweler whose client list reads like the seating chart from the Grammys or the Golden Globes. Each player’s ring includes a bust of his face, done in three-dimensional relief, along with a piece cut from the ball used in Game 7 of the Finals. Custom-made display boxes feature a rotating platform and LED lights.

    “The one we landed on the last time [with the Detroit Pistons] was less a ring and more a bracelet,” said Tom Wilson, who as CEO of Palace Sports won nine championship rings, including three with the Pistons. The last of them, claimed in 2004, featured more than 100 diamonds, including a half-carat oval balanced on the edge of the Larry O’Brien trophy.

    “It was so big that it is virtually unwearable,” Wilson said. “But the guys don’t wear them anymore, so let’s make it a trophy. It’s going to stay on the shelf of a cabinet anyway. There’s bling and then there’s these things.”
    In the coming months, Sunday’s winning team will consider designs, negotiate costs, decide who should get a ring and how, ever mindful that the recipients will weigh them — perhaps literally — in comparison to those that have come before.

    Still, no matter the breadth, weight or stone count of the rings that adorn the fingers of Sunday’s winners, they are unlikely to match Loria’s Marlins ring in at least one facet. Grandiose as the standard issue rings are, he and a handful of Marlins senior executives have a version that trumps them, as it has all others made before or since.

    Here and there, people around sports have heard whispers of the ring’s secret. But none say they know for sure.
    “I can’t talk about it,” Marlins President David Samson said two weeks ago when told of a rumor that has made the rounds in the ring business. “I will neither confirm nor deny that, and please don’t read anything into what I’m saying. We just don’t talk about it.”

    After a bit of prodding, Samson offered to phone Loria to see if he’d clear him to speak about it. He said he’d be surprised if he would.

    “I spoke with Jeffrey,” Samson said a few minutes later. “It’s true. You should call him at his office.
    “He’s very proud of this ring.”

    After 22 years in sales and marketing with the Chicago Cubs, who had not played in a World Series since 1945, Jay Blunk moved across town in 2008 to the Blackhawks, who had not won a Stanley Cup in 48 years.

    The Blackhawks share their arena with the NBA’s Bulls, who collected six NBA championships in the 1990s, so Blackhawks staffers and Bulls staffers frequently cross paths. It wasn’t long before Blunk noticed that his Bulls counterparts not only wore their rings, but would switch models from day to day or week to week. Some days they’d wear the ’92 ring, others the ’98, then maybe the ’96. Blunk often asked for a closer look.

    “How did that work?” Blunk would ask, wondering about the process. “Did Michael Jordan pick them? Do you have designers?”

    Jostens has crafted 28 of 44 Super Bowl rings going into Sunday’s game. The ring that it created two years ago for the Steelers features 63 brilliant-cut diamonds that total 3.61 carats.
    They’d chuckle and change the subject, leaving it unexplained.

    So when the Blackhawks finally broke their drought last year and won the Stanley Cup, Blunk found that he still had those same questions about the rings. Only now, he was managing the process, serving on a committee of six that would help design the ring, choose a manufacturer, decide who would receive rings, and determine how much the team would spend. There also would be other matters he had never considered, like whether to create lower-cost tiers of rings for front office staff, whether to make jewelry available for friends and family, and what lines of commemorative pieces to create for fans.

    “You don’t know a thing about it one day, and the next day you’rein the middle of it,” said Blunk, who last year was promoted to executive vice president of the franchise. “There’s a lot to learnand you have to get itright.”

    Blunk remembers gawking at Andy Pafko’s ring from 1945 when he came to Wrigley Field, and that was for a humble NL pennant. It looked like a class ring. But every time he’d see Pafko, he’d ask to put it on. He’d flash it at his boss, John McDonough, who would later leave to run the Blackhawks and bring Blunk with him. They’d both smile.

    “We always dreamed of that day when we’d get one,” Blunk said. “Wouldn’t that be something? The day you get your ring is really the ultimate moment in your professional sports career. So the process is surreal, talking about diamonds and logos and phrases to put on the side of these rings.

    “There was a part of me that thought we may never get one. You don’t want to mess it up.”

    Once a straightforward exercise during which teams typically chose between two dominant class ring makers — Jostens and Balfour — and then made a few tweaks on a uniform style, the path between trophy presentation and ring presentation has evolved considerably during the last 15 years. As rings have gotten larger and more ornate, cost has risen. Though teams and ring makers guard the financial terms of their deals closely, jewelers say the current generation of player rings cost $5,000 to $10,000 each to manufacture, with this year’s rings likely to move even higher with gold selling at $1,300 an ounce. Player rings that reach the resale market typically fetch $30,000 to $40,000. Staff member rings can go for about half that.

    Because competition is so fierce, ring-maker margins are tight. The NFL says it limits teams to spending about $5,000 per ring, adjusted for increases in gold and diamond prices, with teams that have won multiple Super Bowls in the last 10 years allowed to spend slightly more on stones. One jeweler that has designed NFL rings said that, because of gold prices, this year’s winner likely will be cleared to spend closer to $7,000 per ring.

    And it still might not cover the cost.

    The ring makers chase the business because it offers a high-profile marketing tool, and because they can generate far larger profits on the ancillary lines that they sell to family, friends and fans.

    “Championship sports are a nice business to get into, but our margins definitely aren’t there,” said Bryan Smith, sports and special markets manager for Masters of Design, which made rings for the Philadelphia Phillies and San Antonio Spurs in recent years and last year was purchased by Herff Jones. “Our moneymakers are the class rings. To go into a local high school or college right after you did the Phillies rings, that carries some weight. So, absolutely, when somebody wins a championship we’ll be in there making our calls.”

    The process begins similarly for all teams. Soon after winning a championship, likely after the champagne has dried on their clothes but before they’ve returned from the cleaners, the calls, letters and e-mails offering congratulations will pour in. As many as a dozen will come from jewelers offering to design and/or manufacture their championship ring.

    The manner in which teams proceed from there varies. Most form a committee, typically made up of the principal owner, a senior executive or two from the business side, the general manager and, sometimes, a player or two. But committees come in many sizes.

    When the Red Sox won in 2004, principal owner John Henry and partners Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino chose longtime ring manufacturer Jostens because of its reputation and prior work, Lucchino said. From there, they invited a chorus of voices into the design process. General manager Theo Epstein joined the committee, as did players Tim Wakefield, Johnny Damon and Kevin Youkilis. David “Big Papi” Ortiz, known to be fond of bangles and baubles, was brought in near the end.

    “David Ortiz was in charge of ensuring there was enough bling because I was trying to minimize that,” Henry wrote in an e-mail response to questions about the ring. “I wanted something wearable every day. When I was a Yankee partner the four rings I received there kept getting bigger and bigger. I said to George [Steinbrenner], ‘If you go any bigger, we’ll have to design a glove!’

    “It’s all about winning rings in American sports. So you should be able to wear them.”

    When the Bulls went on their two championship runs, decisions on rings were made by a committee of one: owner Jerry Reinsdorf. He chose Jostens as the manufacturer, but entrusted most of the design decisions for five of the six rings to his wife, Martyl. The exception was the ’96 ring, which was designed by Steve Schanwald, who then held the title of vice president of marketing. Schanwald put four NBA trophies on the head of the ring, then encircled it with 72 diamonds, one for each win, the most ever in a season.

    “Our rings were all subject to Jerry Reinsdorf’s approval, and he didn’t really ask for anybody’s opinion,” said Schanwald, now the team’s executive vice president of business operations. “In every case it was a ring that he liked, and I think the players liked them too. … If the players had been involved [the rings] would have been substantially bigger, but we wouldn’t have worn them.”

    Schanwald said he still wears the rings on occasion, one at a time, gravitating toward the second one, from 1992, because it’s smaller, he likes the look, and it’s easiest on his hands.

    “They’ve gotten so obnoxious, to the point where people can’t wear them comfortably,” Schanwald said. “So everybody wants the ring, but nobody wears it. They put them away in a case. They just keep getting gaudier and gaudier. Each new one is a ‘can you top this?’”

    That was the greatest concern of Cardinals management when the team won the World Series in 2006. Owner Bill DeWitt remembered the rings his grandfather received as treasurer of the “Gashouse Gang” Cardinals of the 1930s. The last thing he wanted was to top, or even approach, the Marlins ring.

    “My dad is a traditionalist,” said Bill DeWitt III, the Cardinals’ president, who directed the design with the help of ring maker Intergold, the same company that worked with Loria. “To see the modern ring reach its full level of absurdity with the Marlins a couple of years earlier; that wasn’t going to happen with us. We wanted to go back to something more wearable and predictable.”

    On the trip to the White House with the team, DeWitt III brought along a few samples to show the players. They volleyed by pulling out the rings that reliever Braden Looper won with the Marlins and World Series MVP David Eckstein collected with the Angels. Both were considerably larger than his samples. When DeWitt told them the Marlins ring was a “nonstarter,” a few veterans suggested they shoot for something like Eckstein’s.

    “I went back to my father and told him the guys were kind of looking for something bigger than what we had,” DeWitt III said. “So he agreed to go with the larger size. I know it’s not what he wanted. But he could live with it. It’s kind of become the standard now in baseball.

    “The last thing you want is for the players to say they don’t like the ring.”

    When it came time to plan the Lakers’ ring in the summer of 2009, owner Jerry Buss asked management to consider a Beverly Hills jeweler who was a friend of his sons.

    Jason Arasheben, proprietor of Jason of Beverly Hills, had never designed a championship ring. But his résumé includes custom pieces for a litany of stars, as well as more than 300 professional athletes, including 18 of last year’s 24 NBA All-Stars.

    “I have a knack for understanding what players like and want more so than even the team does,” Arasheben said, “because I work for them on a daily basis on their personal jewelry.”

    Up until the last two decades, the production of rings for league champions was dominated by a handful of companies that specialize in class rings, most notably Jostens, Balfour and Herff Jones. Championship rings looked similar to college class rings, so the production was easy. And they made splendid marketing tools. If Jostens rings were up to snuff for the Green Bay Packers and Balfour was the choice of the New York Yankees, certainly they would suffice for Harmony Valley High — which needed not only class rings, but yearbooks and caps and gowns, and the many other items those companies produced.

    Jostens and Balfour had the market to themselves, for the most part, until the ’90s, when a handful of jewelers who saw similar branding potential joined the fray. To compete, they offered something that dazzled more than a typical class ring.

    The last few years, the boutiques have gotten the better of the big boys. Of the dozen championship rings produced from 2007 to 2009 in the four big pro leagues, Jostens did three, Herff Jones did two and Balfour did none. Intergold, a boutique company based in Calgary, made four. Masters of Design, a small New England firm created by those left behind when Jostens and Balfour closed plants in that region, also made two. Jason of Beverly Hills made one.

    Jostens bought Intergold last year for $5.9 million, naming its founder, Miran Armutlu, as its master jeweler. Herff Jones bought Masters of Design.

    Last year, Balfour did the Yankees, Jason of Beverly Hills did the Lakers, Jostens (with Intergold) did the Blackhawks, and Tiffany — which intensified its push for championship ring clients in the past year — did the Saints.

    TIFFANY (3)
    Tiffany designers go over plans for last year’s Saints ring, which features about 60 diamonds, a fleur-de-lis and the opening notes from “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

    The interest of a high-end retailer such as Tiffany speaks volumes about the way brands view championship rings. Before last year, Tiffany had made them only because a few owners asked. Jack Kent Cooke wanted a Tiffany ring when his Redskins won titles in the 1980s and early ’90s. So did the owners of the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Giants. It stayed that way for decades.

    But in recent years, as Tiffany built out a premium award business that started with the NFL’s Lombardi Trophy, the company began thinking more seriously about making championship rings.

    Now, it is in with both feet, ramping up its design and manufacturing capacity and expanding to offer not only player rings but also commemorative merchandise for fans.

    Almost 90 percent of Tiffany’s transactions trace back to a celebration or recognition of an accomplishment, said TomO’Rourke, vice president of business sales for Tiffany. And while much of the jewelry from the store is worn by women, it is purchased by men.

    “I wouldn’t call it a loss leader, but there’s little to no margin on a Super Bowl ring,” O’Rourke said. “Our hope is to break even on the cost of the ring. If we really drilled down into overhead and the expense of the pitch, we probably end up losing a little money. But you come back to the value of winning that opportunity and the media exposure related to being able to say we made the ring for the Giants or the Saints.”

    This year, with the old-guard Steelers and Packers matched in the Super Bowl, most in the ring business expect the NFL pendulum to swing back to Jostens. Jostens made the first Super Bowl ring for the Packers at the request of Vince Lombardi. Since then, heading into Sunday’s big game, it has made 28 of 44 Super Bowl rings, including five of six for the Steelers and all three for the Packers.

    “We’ve seen the change in the business,” said Chris Poitras, who joined Jostens as director of sports marketing and development 18 months ago after stints in the front offices of the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Wild, Sacramento Kings and Boston Bruins. “But we like to think we are the only fully integrated company, from A to Z. We can handle all the programs, from manufacturing the most elegant piece of fine jewelry to taking care of every single fan.”

    Initially, Lakers management worried whether Arasheben, of Jason of Beverly Hills, could design and produce the quantity of custom pieces they would need in time to meet their deadlines and within budget. But before long, he convinced them he could. The design ideas he brought, such as a slightly pitched face that paid homage to the angled roof of the Staples Center and the idea to etch each player’s face into the shank of his ring, set him apart from all others.

    “Dr. Buss got him in the room, but Jason impressed us beyond anything else we saw,” said Tim Harris, Lakers senior vice president of business operations. “Everybody wants to do your ring. He did such a great job on the first one that it wasn’t a hard decision on the second.”

    Arasheben brought two elements to the second ring that may prove to be game-changers. One was to embed a small circle of leather from an NBA Finals game ball inside each ring, allowing each player to wear a piece of that memory against his skin. The other was to turn the facial etching from the previous ring into a partial bust.

    No manufacturer had done either before. The latter was more difficult than even Arasheben anticipated. Typically, a feature like that requires a digital scan of a player’s face, allowing for much of the production work to be done by machine. But, because the Lakers were scattered not only across the country, but across the globe, Arasheben had to work from photos and game video and hire artisans to sculpt and engrave each piece by hand, using needle points under a microscope.

    “I went after it because I consider the Laker family to be part of my family, and because I’m a huge fan,” Arasheben said. “But now, yeah, I’d like to do more. For most of the other ring manufacturers, this is their business. Our business is selling to the entertainment business. This builds prestige and adds something to our company résumé. But because it’s not an important source of income for us, we’re able to offer prices no other ring manufacturer can offer and do things in ways that haven’t been done.”

    Armutlu, the founder of Intergold, built his reputation among sports franchises by delivering innovations, but found the business realities made it tough to hang in against a company like Jostens, or a suddenly motivated giant like Tiffany.

    “We could not afford to give things away,” Armutlu said. “And we did not have the distribution network to piggyback on the sale. So it was a tough situation in the sense that other people could write it off as a marketing game when we couldn’t. That’s part of the reason that joining forces with the No. 1 company [Jostens] made sense.”

    On the last ring Intergold did on its own, the Penguins’ Stanley Cup ring in 2009, the up-front investment in gold alone was almost $650,000, Armutlu said.

    “Forget about diamonds and everything else; that’s just to buy gold,” Armutlu said. “It just didn’t work anymore. It’s a very competitive business. It has its rewards on the back end with the marketing of your other products. But it is a very expensive game.”

    When the Detroit Pistons won the NBA championship in 2004, management awarded more than 300 rings, dividing them into four grades. Players, coaches and ranking executives received the top-level ring, which cost about $8,000. Most employees got rings that cost about $6,000, $4,000 or $1,000, depending on their level and seniority.

    Regardless of which ring they were getting, Wilson made sure to create a memorable moment for employees. While players received their rings during a typical pregame ceremony, Wilson doled out employee rings in the Pistons’ offices. He set up shop in a conference room, with boxes stacked along the wall, then invited recipients in, one by one. He reminded each of them of what they had done to contribute, then presented them with their ring.

    They entered through one door and exited through another, allowing Wilson to sneak peeks down a hallway to watch their reactions.

    “That was the most wonderful part of it, for me,” Wilson said. “Most of them held it together pretty well in the conference room. But every one of them was either excited or in tears once they went out that door.

    “That was the special time, seeing that. You couldn’t put a price on it. Whatever that ring cost, that is someone who is going to be forever a part of that organization, and I’m glad we acknowledged that. I’ll treasure that memory forever.”

    The design of a ring is only one item on the agenda. Distribution is equally important and sometimes as daunting. There is no standard practice for determining how many rings to pass out or to whom to give them. But, of late, most teams err on the side of inclusion.

    NFL policy calls for the league to pay for the first 150. Teams that award more than that foot the cost themselves. NBA and NHL teams receive no ring allowance from their leagues. MLB clubs get a stipend so small, those asked about it weren’t even sure of the specifics.

    In 2004, the Red Sox gave rings to all players, the entire front office staff and even some former players who spent years with the club but never won big.

    “We ended up being as inclusive as possible given that 2004 was the first time the Red Sox had won in 86 years,” Lucchino said. “We were inclusive and we did not want to have an ersatz version. We had a large ring or a jumbo ring, but they were of equal quality. We left it entirely as an individual choice.”

    After the Marlins won the 2003 World Series, Loria charged Samson and general manager Larry Beinfest with determining who would receive each of three grades of ring. The C-level was a match for most of the Marlins’ predecessors. The B-level was larger. The A ring was a coffee table.

    “The Rules of the Ring, we called it,” Samson said. “It took Larry and I a month, because you had to think of everything. We considered everyone, from Pudge Rodriguez to the assistant to the traveling secretary; from Pudge to Costanza. We wanted to be consistent. No exceptions. Every single person in the organization fell into a category.”

    The guidelines ran eight pages long. And even with that, the Marlins still ran into a beef with a player who filed a grievance through the MLB Players Association because he received a B-ring when he thought he deserved an A. The team prevailed, Samson said, because it was able to produce a document that outlined who qualified for what and why.

    “We were as meticulous about the rules as we were the design of the ring,” Samson said, “because it’s something that really matters.”

    The Bulls’ Schanwald earned rings commemorating each of the team’s six championships, and he cherishes all of them. But the ring that puts a slight quiver in his voice is a far smaller, relatively plain one: The World Series ring he received as director of promotions for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1979.

    “The first one, I could’ve cried when I opened up the box and saw a championship ring with my name on it,” Schanwald said. “It’s every little boy’s dream. I was 24 years old. My first job in pro sports; first year in pro sports. It’s sad in a way because you think it never will get better than this.

    “It ended up getting better. But that one … it was extra special.”

    Lucchino and Charles Steinberg, two old friends who were linked at the hip in jobs with the Baltimore Orioles, San Diego Padres and Boston Red Sox, tell similar stories. Lucchino won a World Series ring with the Orioles and a Super Bowl ring with the Redskins, when he worked with both teams on behalf of owner Edward Bennett Williams. Then he won two more World Series rings with the Sox. Steinberg won one with the Orioles and two with the Sox.

    Both say they treasure the rings they earned with the Red Sox, Lucchino as president and Steinberg as executive vice president of public affairs. But there’s nothing like your first.

    “It was an overwhelming honor,” said Steinberg, now a senior adviser to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig in Milwaukee, who earned his first ring when the Orioles won the AL championship in ’79. “I was an hourly college student doing the statistics for Earl Weaver. So to receive that memento, it’s overwhelming. It really is. And for all that we have enjoyed with various franchises, no ring means more to me than that first one.”

    When the Marlins visited Fenway Park a few years ago, a fan pressed against the front row yelled to Loria, asking if he could see the ring. From behind, another fan, who happened to work for a ring maker, leaned over with a tip.

    “Ask him what time it is,” suggested Smith, the sports manager from nearby Masters of Design.

    Loria didn’t hear him, but someone with him spun in surprise.

    “You know?” she asked.

    “I’m in the business,” he said.

    “I’ve never seen it,” Smith said. “But if he’s really got a watch in there, that’s something else.”

    The story begins during spring training in 2003, when Loria addressed the team, as is his wont. Most pundits were picking the Marlins to finish near the bottom of the standings. Loria wanted to say something to convince his players he expected far more.

    “Guys, this team is good enough to win it all this year,” Loria told them. “But you have to believe in yourselves. Do that, and you will win. And when you do, I’ll get you what I know every player wants: The greatest ring ever made.”

    The Marlins’ ring has 228 white diamonds, 13 rubies, one teal diamond and a secret.
    As the season progressed and the Marlins proved to be contenders, players started asking how he planned to make good. On a team bus on the way to a game one afternoon late in the season, closer Ugueth Urbina struck up a lengthy conversation about whether the ring should be yellow gold or white.

    It ended up white, covered in diamonds, accented by rubies that formed the seams of a baseball. There was a leaping gold marlin with a teal diamond for an eye.

    “When you spend 40 years of your life dealing with paintings and sculpture, you get ideas,” said Loria, who amassed his fortune dealing art. “It brought together my two worlds. I wanted it done well.”

    The “piece,” as Loria sometimes calls it, came together over about two months, with Armutlu, the founder of Intergold, flying from Calgary to New York each week to show Loria a tweaked prototype. About three quarters of the way in, Loria raised a new possibility.

    He and several of his ranking executives liked exotic watches. He asked Armutlu if he could design a few of the rings similarly to pocket watches, with a head that popped open to reveal a small timepiece when you pressed one of the diamonds on the head.

    “Jeffrey, even if I can make the watch fit, how am I going to make it work?” Armutlu asked, stunned by the suggestion.

    The typical pocket-watch lid weighs about 7 grams. The head of the Marlins’ ring was 40 grams. Armutlu agreed to try. He worked on it for months, but every spring mechanism he tried popped after a few tries. He couldn’t get Loria what he wanted in time for the ring presentation. They went ahead and issued the jaw-dropping rings, sans watch.

    Then, about six months later, Armutlu phoned Loria with good news. He had constructed a spring that would work.

    One night late in 2004, Loria surprised Samson and five other executives with the new rings over dinner. He pulled one from his pocket, pressed the proper diamond, and the head opened to reveal a gold face with a Marlins logo, etched with the tiny words “World Champions.”

    “All the time, people ask, ‘Why so big?” Loria said. “It’s big because the players wanted it big. It’s a watch because some of my guys like watches. I did it to celebrate their success.

    “I wanted it to play ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game,’ but we couldn’t figure it out. Maybe next time.”

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  • Massachusetts sets pace in team lottery games

    Sales of instant lottery tickets that bear a Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots, Boston Celtics or Boston Bruins logo account for more than half of $763 million that has been spent on 51 licensed team-based lottery games now in retail stores across the country.

    These games, in turn, have brought new, incremental revenue to each of the participating teams. Since the debut of their respective games, the Red Sox have brought in $10.4 million in related revenue. The Celtics have added $1.1 million and the Bruins $900,000.

    As for the Patriots, a Pats-branded game in Massachusetts last month became the first NFL team game to post more than $100 million in retail sales, and the $2.5 million the club received from the game is the highest fee ever paid for an NFL lottery ticket.

    The Massachusetts teams benefit from being in a state that shows strength for lottery sales even beyond team-specific games. Nationwide, however, especially since the NFL in 2009 gave its clubs the go-ahead to work with state lotteries to produce instant-game tickets, teams have been able to scratch extra revenue by capitalizing on fans' passion.

    NFL teams account for 32 of the 51 active team-based sports tickets.

    "The NFL was the big kahuna," said Steve Saferin, president of MDI Entertainment, the exclusive lottery ticket licensee for the NBA, NHL and MLB.
    Saferin had been meeting on and off with the NFL for several years before the league signed on for participation in 2009. Although the league decided against selling the rights to use the NFL shield, it did tell its clubs that MDI should be their vendor of choice when trying to negotiate with state lotteries.

    Twelve states launched NFL team games in fall 2009, with 17 games in all. Nearly all the games sold well, and state lottery officials in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts said the NFL games were the most successful instant-game launches in their respective commission histories.

    Most team deals are based on flat fees, paid by MDI, the lottery or both. A few NFL teams receive bonuses based on ticket sales. In addition to the Patriots, teams that added at least $1 million in revenue from their most recent scratch-off efforts include Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

    MDI acts as the liaison between leagues and their members and the state lotteries. The company pays a royalty fee to the league for the rights to team marks, then sells those rights to state lotteries. MDI also buys merchandise and apparel at wholesale prices from league vendors to distribute as second-chance prizes for non-winning lottery tickets. The company, for example, has distributed more than 100,000 New Era hats in its five seasons as the exclusive vendor of MLB lottery prizes. Other second-chance prizes include draft-day and road-game ticket packages as well as season-ticket packages for life.

    "It's a double bonus for us," said Mike Napolitano, MLB's licensing director, noting the dual royalty and merchandise revenue streams. "And the teams benefit from incremental advertising and sponsorship dollars from the lottery games."

    Teams and leagues acknowledge that while the financial risk to them of launching a lottery game is relatively low, there are several challenges. Among those hurdles is the fact that team-based lottery tickets have a "fad" factor. That's in part why the NFL, with 32 teams, has the most active games of the 51 team-based games available nationwide, while the three other big leagues, which debuted games earlier, now have fewer teams with games in play.

    The NBA was the first pro sports league to authorize its imagery to be associated with government lottery tickets, starting in 2002. Since then, 20 NBA clubs have fielded a lottery ticket, but only four teams have games this season: Boston, Portland, Orlando and Miami.

    A dozen NHL clubs have had a game since NHL games debuted in 2003, with half of them leaving the space after one campaign. The Bruins, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Chicago are the only teams with a ticket this season.

    MLB clubs first began games in 2006, and more than half of the league's teams have fielded a game since then, but only the Red Sox, Cardinals and Yankees had singular games last season. The Yankees, Mets and Phillies also shared a game in New Jersey.

    "It's not unlike the apparel or footwear marketplace," said Rob Millman, senior vice president, international licensing and business development, at the NBA. "Consumers are always looking for the next new thing."

    Once a game fails to meet a certain threshold for percentage of printed tickets sold — typically 70 percent — the game is replaced in a state's lottery lineup.

    In Massachusetts, the state's lottery, for years, has been considered by nearly every measure significant to the industry to be the most successful of the country's 43 state lotteries.

    Residents in 2009 spent an average of $671 a person on lottery tickets, according to the 2010 LaFleur's World Lottery Almanac, and 73 percent of the $4.4 billion in ticket sales generated by the state's commission was redistributed in the form of prizes. Both figures far exceed the national average.

    The commission in 2006 capitalized on local fans' passion for sports consumption by launching a Red Sox game. The $5 scratch-off was a sellout and generated $188 million. A total of 10 tickets have been issued since then, generating $1.1 billion in revenue for the state and $14.5 million in fees for Boston's most recognized pro teams. The Red Sox's five Massachusetts games have generated nearly $800 million of those sales and brought $10 million to the team. Similar Red Sox games in other New England states have generated $19 million in sales.

    The Celtics have sold more than $137 million in tickets throughout New England, and the current Massachusetts game Celtics Cash 2010 has already sold more than 60 percent of its 15 million available tickets.

    The Celtics have had a total of four games through the years. No other NBA club has had more than two.

    "We're blessed not only to be in a sports-crazed market, but also in the state with the biggest lottery in the country," said Ted Dalton, Celtics vice president of corporate partnerships and business development.

    Massachusetts launched its first Bruins game in the fall of 2009, printing 25.2 million tickets priced at $2 each. For a new game introduced last year, the price was increased to $5, the printing order was cut by two-thirds, and the grand prize increased from $25,000 to $250,000. With the NHL season a little less than half done, more than half of this year's tickets have been sold, matching last year's pace.

    "What we like about it is that we have a goal that is a real number," said Amy Latimer, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the Bruins. "Both sides know that we need to sell a fixed amount of tickets. We get updates from the lottery every week … so the excitement and the challenge is that the success of these deals is measured ticket by ticket."

    Team-based lottery games*

    State Team Game launched No. of tickets printed Ticket
    Retail sales of tickets  Total cash prizes available

    Cash prizes

    Top prizes
    Revenue to team^
    California Oakland Raiders Aug. 31, 2010 4,800,000 $3 $13,467,869 $8,036,000 $6,627,752  $20,000 (8) $609,679
    California San Francisco 49ers Aug. 31, 2010 3,600,000 $3 $9,738,871 $6,027,000 $4,888,598  $20,000 (6) $572,389
    California San Diego Chargers Aug. 31, 2010 3,000,000 $3 $7,787,118 $5,022,500 $3,818,102  $20,000 (5) $552,871
    Colorado Denver Broncos Aug. 9, 2010 2,040,000 $5 $6,630,000 $6,989,000 $6,400,000 $100,000 (3) $475,000
    Connecticut New York Giants Aug. 31, 2010 1,400,000 $5 $6,820,000 $5,058,900 $1,757,495 $50,000 (4) NA
    Connecticut New England Patriots Aug. 31, 2010 1,400,000 $5 $6,550,000 $4,854,650 $1,707,080 $50,000 (4) NA
    Connecticut Boston Red Sox 27-Mar-09 1,400,000 $5 $6,300,000 $4,676,710 $3,457,050 $50,000 (6) NA
    Connecticut New York Yankees 27-Mar-09 1,400,000 $5 $6,300,000 $4,674,700 $3,355,290 $50,000 (6) NA
    Florida Miami Dolphins 26-Jul-10 3,960,000 $5 $17,898,933 $13,970,000 $12,000,000 $100,000 (6) $656,174
    Florida Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26-Jul-10 3,240,000 $5 $15,038,460 $5,540,000 $4,800,000 $100,000 (5) $525,580
    Florida Jacksonville Jaguars 26-Jul-10 1,560,000 $5 $6,949,353 $11,350,000 $10,100,000 $100,000 (3) $300,150
    Florida Orlando Magic Jan. 11, 2011 2,160,000 $5 $730,321 $7,180,000 $479,000 $100,000 (3) NA
    Florida Miami Heat Jan. 11, 2011 2,640,000 $5 $683,417 $8,950,000 $524,000 $100,000 (3) NA
    Georgia Atlanta Falcons 20-Jul-10 6,480,000 $5 $23,500,000 $23,950,000 $16,000,000 $500,000 (4) $318,000
    Illinois Chicago Blackhawks Dec. 1, 2010 3,000,000 $5  NA $10,076,750 $384,000 $100,000 (3) NA
    Indiana Indianapolis Colts Aug. 4, 2010 4,080,000 $5 $11,400,000 $5,306,990 $2,822,560 $100,000 (7) NA
    Kansas Kansas City Chiefs 21-Jul-10 300,000 $10 $2,200,000 $2,076,875 $1,424,985 $75,000 (3) $30,000
    Louisiana New Orleans Saints Aug. 2, 2010 1,472,550 $5 $6,615,000 $4,258,035 $3,800,695 $100,000 (5) $275,000
    Maine New England Patriots 30-Jul-10 1,200,000 $5 $3,014,000 $3,845,950 $1,700,580 $50,000 (4) $400,000
    Maine Boston Red Sox 1-Apr-10 600,000 $5 $3,000,000 $2,059,090 $1,977,675 $100,000 (2) $120,000
    Maryland Baltimore Ravens Aug. 9, 2010 3,417,000 $5 $17,085,000 $13,316,729 $12,231,033 $1,000,000 (3) $1,264,750
    Massachusetts New England Patriots Aug. 11, 2009 30,240,000 $5 $100,300,000 $116,906,250 $87,679,688 $1,000,000 (10) $2,500,000
    Massachusetts Boston Red Sox 30-Mar-09 30,240,000 $5 $81,200,000 $109,364,000 $98,427,600 $1,000,000 (10) $1,800,000
    Massachusetts Boston Red Sox 30-Mar-10 12,096,000 $10 $69,900,000 $95,765,200 $71,823,900 $3,000,000 (3) $1,500,000
    Massachusetts Boston Bruins Oct. 19, 2009 25,200,000 $2 $47,100,000 $32,380,000 $29,142,000 $25,000 (25) $450,000
    Massachusetts Boston Bruins Sept. 21, 2010 8,064,000 $5 $17,500,000 $26,836,400 $17,980,388 $250,000 (5) $475,000
    Massachusetts Boston Celtics Oct. 4, 2008 10,080,000 $5 $45,700,000 $34,822,000 $31,339,800 $200,000 (10) $400,000
    Massachusetts Boston Celtics Sept. 24, 2010 15,120,000 $2 $19,000,000 $18,903,000 $12,665,010 $25,000 (15) $400,000
    Minnesota Minnesota Vikings 20-Jul-10 2,160,000 $10 $11,800,000 $14,913,800 $8,150,000 $200,000 (6) $357,000
    Missouri St. Louis Cardinals 27-Mar-10 2,207,100 $5 $10,483,845 $7,512,158 $6,882,496 $70,000 (3) NA
    Missouri Kansas City Chiefs Aug. 28, 2010 1,251,900 $5 $5,988,015 $4,178,370 $3,705,250 $70,000 (2) NA
    Missouri St. Louis Rams Aug. 28, 2010 1,256,160 $5 $5,652,720 $4,189,240 $3,053,675 $70,000 (2) NA
    Nebraska Kansas City Chiefs 29-Jun-10 376,000 $5 $1,692,000 $1,193,500 $942,225 $30,000 (3) $100,000
    New Hampshire Boston Red Sox 29-Mar-10 1,046,800 $5 $4,480,015 $3,172,000 $2,831,140  $50,000 (3) $100,000
    New Hampshire Boston Red Sox 16-Mar-09 1,048,400 $5 $4,016,935 $3,171,600 $2,532,875  $50,000 (3) $100,000
    New Jersey N.Y. Mets/N.Y. Yankees/Philadelphia Phillies (a) 10-May-10 3,960,000 $5 $14,850,000 $11,000,000 $6,600,000 $100,000 (3) NA
    New Jersey New York Giants Aug. 16, 2010 2,160,000 $5 $4,730,000 $6,500,000 $2,560,000 $100,000 (3) NA
    New Jersey New York Jets Aug. 16, 2010 2,160,000 $5 $4,170,000 $6,500,000 $2,390,000 $100,000 (3) NA
    New Jersey Philadelphia Eagles Aug. 16, 2010 2,160,000 $5 $3,170,000 $6,500,000 $1,970,000 $100,000 (3) NA
    Oregon Portland Trail Blazers Jan. 5, 2010 1,018,771 $2 $982,466 $1,490,850 $674,662 $10,000 (3) $61,000
    Pennsylvania Pittsburgh Steelers 20-Jul-10 5,400,000 $5 $20,700,000 $19,225,000 $14,800,000 $100,000 (5) $1,000,000
    Pennsylvania Philadelphia Eagles 20-Jul-10 5,400,000 $5 $15,300,000 $19,225,000 $11,100,000 $100,000 (5) $1,000,000
    Pennsylvania Philadelphia Flyers/Pittsburgh Penguins (b) Dec. 24, 2009 6,000,000 $2 $10,900,000 $7,320,000 $6,600,000 $20,000 (10) $360,000
    Rhode Island New England Patriots Sept. 22, 2009 20,333,240 $5  NA $6,906,550 $3,417,285 $100,000 (2) NA
    Tennessee Tennessee Titans Aug. 3, 2010  NA $5  NA $5,000,000 NA $100,000 (1) NA
    Texas Dallas Cowboys Aug. 2, 2010 6,178,700 $10 $46,340,250 $39,389,410 $24,670,355 $250,000 (12) $1,150,000
    Texas Houston Texans Aug. 2, 2010 5,682,000 $5 $21,307,500 $17,952,790 $15,901,305 $75,000 (14) $1,150,000
    Vermont Boston Red Sox 16-Apr-10 300,000 $5 $1,350,000 $990,795 $971,760 $20,000 (5) $60,500
    Virginia Washington Redskins Sept. 12, 2010 3,840,000 $5 $17,800,000 $27,009,650 $16,152,700 $1,000,000 (3) NA (c)
    Washington Seattle Seahawks 20-Jul-10 1,605,500 $5 $5,119,775 $5,452,150 $2,901,065 $50,000 (4) $321,100
    Wisconsin Green Bay Packers 26-Jul-10  NA $10  NA NA NA  NA NA

    NA: Not available* Ongoing games, as of mid-January. These games include contests for which retail sales have ended but instant prizes can still be redeemed and/or second-chance prizes are still being awarded.^ Revenue from licensing fees, sale incentives and sponsorship. Teams receive additional revenue from the sale of items to be used as second-chance prizes. That revenue is not included in the totals listed here.(a) One ticket with all three team logos.(b) One licensing contract covered two different game scenes, each with one team logo.(c) Lottery commission did not pay a licensing fee, but paid the club an undisclosed amount for advertising, marketing and prizes.Compiled by David Broughton    Source: State lottery commissions

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  • Billboards herald Timbers' arrival

    The campaign cost $200,000 and features Portland residents and their logging tools.
    In a push to drive fan awareness in the lead-up to their MLS debut, the Portland Timbers have used a campaign that featured 21 building-sized billboards in downtown Portland as well as a follow-up social media element that launches today.

    The campaign, which is titled “We Are Timbers” and cost about $200,000, launched late last year and features images of local Portland residents clutching axes, chainsaws and other logging tools next to a small Timbers logo. From Jan. 28-30, the club also photographed 1,500 local fans in similar poses at its team store in downtown Portland for a social media campaign. The images will appear on the team’s website and Facebook page, and allow fans to download their own “personal billboard” photos to be displayed on any social website of their choice.

    “We put a ton of effort and resources behind [the campaign]. We had never done something this big,” said Merritt Paulson, Timbers president and owner. “We wanted the images to be conversation-provoking and generate buzz, and I think our expectations have been exceeded.”

    The enormous billboards received coverage in local and national media, and have been labeled “eyesores” as well as “brilliant.” It’s the team’s second campaign built around controversial billboards — in September the Timbers purchased a billboard next to Qwest Field in rival city Seattle that read, “Portland Oregon: Soccer City, USA 2011.” Seattle is home to the MLS Sounders.

    The latest campaign was developed by Portland designer Jelly Helm, who formerly created soccer and basketball campaigns for Nike as executive creative director at the advertising agency Wieden & Kennedy. Helm said he wanted the campaign to feel authentic, so he reached out to local soccer clubs as well as the Timbers’ supporters group to find models.

    “We thought it would be unique — [the billboard] doesn’t say ‘buy tickets’ or show the team name, or a phone number or URL,” Helm said. “We bought [advertising] space on buildings clustered downtown so that it doesn’t feel like marketing space, it feels like the fans have taken over the city.”

    Paulson credits the campaign for helping the club sell more than 1,500 season tickets in December, which has been the club’s best sales month since it announced its entry into MLS in 2009. The Timbers will make their MLS home debut April 14.

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