SBJ/September 26-October 2, 2011/Franchises

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  • Sporting KC owner will offer tech help to other teams, leagues

    Sporting Club, the company that owns Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City, has launched a technology and entertainment business that’s designed to use the knowledge gained from the club’s tech-friendly Livestrong Sporting Park.

    Sporting Innovations, a consulting firm that will be unveiled Wednesday, comes just four months after the club opened Livestrong Sporting Park, a $200 million soccer-specific stadium. The new business will consult with other pro sports teams and leagues on how to use high-density wireless technology and ultra-high-speed broadband networks — both of which the club is familiar with because of the high level of technology built into its new stadium.

    “It’s based off of what we’ve learned with the stadium and the key relationships we have with tech companies,” said Sasha Victorine, director of business development for Sporting Club. “There are a whole host of technologies we feel are going to change the way sports connect to fans.”

    Livestrong Sporting Park was built with two one-gigabyte broadband feeds from Time Warner, and the team’s partnership with Cisco installed 196 wireless routers throughout the park. It is the only Major League Soccer stadium to use Cisco’s StadiumVision customized-video distribution product currently used at Yankee Stadium and Cowboys Stadium, along with a handful of other MLB and NFL venues.

    According to Asim Pasha, CIO for Sporting Kansas City and managing partner for Sporting Innovations, the wireless connection speed inside Livestrong Sporting Park is three to five times faster than inside Cowboys Stadium.
    Livestrong Sporting Park’s technology infrastructure is not unlike that found at the other stadiums, but Victorine said that specific software produced by Google, matched with the design of the network, gives the stadium’s system a faster connection speed.

    “They are out in front of everybody with their hardware, and it sounds like with their software, too,” said Keith Ritter, former head of NHL Interactive who now runs his own consulting firm.

    Sporting KC sources said representatives from the NFL, MLB, NBA and English Premier League, as well as from Verizon, AT&T and Cisco, will be present at Wednesday’s announcement. Team sources declined to discuss the cost structure for their consulting services. Victorine declined to say whether the firm had signed any clients yet.

    According to league and team sources, the spin-off tech business is a first for Major League Soccer. Pasha said the business will launch with 30 full-time employees. He added that the team will share details of its upcoming tech offerings with clients.

    In November, the company will debut a mobile application that allows fans to watch live video feeds on their smartphones from various camera angles. Another planned application will allow fans to order apparel during the game.

    “The stadium is our living lab, and what we do here we can make available nationally and internationally,” Pasha said.

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  • Court papers disclose NHL’s loan of $51.7M to Stars

    The NHL has lent $51.7 million to the Dallas Stars since 2009 to keep the troubled franchise afloat, according to court documents and financial sources. The NHL, whose regular season begins next week, itself borrowed the money from current lenders to Stars parent company Hicks Sports Group, the sources said.

    The figure is disclosed in the bankruptcy filing the Stars submitted earlier this month. The document shows an entity called CFV I LLC as the Stars’ runaway top creditor, owed $51,691,783. The mailing address for CFV is care of NHL Enterprises and William Daly, and the sources said the hockey league owns CFV.

    Daly, NHL deputy commissioner, declined to comment.

    GETTY IMAGES
    Former Stars coach Marc Crawford (left) is the team’s third-biggest creditor, according to documents.
    The Hicks Sports Group lenders have about $200 million due to them, including the Stars-NHL debt, the sources said. The ongoing effort to sell the Stars is not expected to net that much in the sale, meaning many of the lenders will not be paid back in full, a point several sources confirmed.

    “There is some serious blood in the water,” one financial source said.

    The bankruptcy filing was intended to ease the path for the sale of the team to Canadian businessman Tom Gaglardi, though others could step forward and offer more. Gaglardi is believed to have valued the Stars and its 50 percent interest in American Airlines Center at $240 million, though that includes a $90 million mortgage note, sources said. Of the $150 million remaining, not all of that will be cash paid to lenders, the sources said, because they have agreed to finance Gaglardi’s offer.

    The Stars are the final chapter in the troubled franchise ownership saga of Hick Sports Group. The entity, which once owned the Texas Rangers too, had borrowed $525 million. Hicks Sports Group defaulted on its debt on March 31, 2009, moving the NHL to begin assisting the hockey franchise.

    The group tried to sell the Rangers to buyers led by Nolan Ryan, but the lenders objected over price. Hicks Sports Group threw the team into bankruptcy, and Ryan ultimately emerged with the club, though at a far higher price. The proceeds went to pay off the debt.

    The Stars, the final Hicks Sports Group asset left for sale, clearly are hemorrhaging money, evidenced by the NHL loan. Financial sources, who requested anonymity because they do business with the NHL, wondered if the red ink was due to neglect by Hicks Sports Group or, instead, to the league’s general struggles in Southern cities. The former Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg this summer, and the financially ailing Phoenix Coyotes remain owned by the NHL. Florida and Nashville are two other clubs that have been mentioned as franchises that could find greater success in Northern markets.

    After the NHL loan, the Stars’ biggest creditor is a fellow team, the New York Rangers. According to the bankruptcy filing, the Rangers are owed $2 million for a contractual obligation for a player picked up on waivers. Former Stars coach Marc Crawford is listed as the third most-owed creditor, with $1,101,654 due to him.

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  • Phoenix Suns hiring social media sideline reporter to track hot topics during televised home games

    The Phoenix Suns are boosting their social media strategy by offering a discounted ticket package for social media users and adding a social media sideline reporter during homes games at US Airways Center.

    Both are first-time efforts for the club, team officials said.

    Officials said the Suns will be the first NBA club to hire a dedicated social media sideline reporter for its home game broadcasts, which are shown on Fox Sports Arizona. It’s a new twist for one of the more active NBA teams using social media as a major marketing tool.

    “We will still have our sideline reporter, but the [social media sideline] reporter is a new addition,” said Jeramie McPeek, vice president of digital for the Suns. “We want to try something different and add a new element and a social media personality into the broadcasts. Our fans [using social media] are most active and engaged about the Suns during games.”

    The team’s plan for the reporter will include providing updates on where Suns topics are trending on social media during games, reading tweets and adding other social media game broadcast enhancements, McPeek said.

    In addition, the team’s sideline social media reporter will be used throughout the team’s in-game presentation.
    The team is expecting to sign a presenting sponsor for the new social media feature.

    The Suns also will offer social media users a 5 percent discount for a five-game ticket package. In past seasons, the Suns offered one-off discounts to social media users, but this year they are planning theme nights for users of Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn and Google+.

    The Suns also recently created a new front-office position dedicated to their social media efforts by hiring Greg Esposito, a columnist for ArizonaSports.com, as the team’s social media specialist.

    Barring any disruption to the NBA’s regular season because of the NBA lockout, the Suns are scheduled to open their home season at US Airways Center on Nov. 2 against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

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