SBJ/October 15-21, 2012/Franchises

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  • Jaguars get keys to U.K.

    The NFL is allowing the Jacksonville Jaguars to market their brand and sell commercially in the United Kingdom, becoming what is believed to be the first U.S. sports team of any league with significant overseas sales and sponsorship rights.

    The Jaguars will begin playing annually one game a season in London next year through 2016, and the marketing extension is part of an effort to reshape the club as the U.K.’s “home” NFL team.

    NFL Chief Marketing Officer Mark Waller (left), with Jaguars owner Shahid Khan at a conference in London, confirmed there was a new marketing model for the Jaguars and the U.K.
    Photo by: NEWSCOM
    “We are expanding our territory, under certain conditions, into one of the world’s great countries,” said Mark Lamping, the Jaguars’ president, who flew with team owner Shahid Khan to London last week to meet with business leaders.

    The conditions Lamping referred to are designed to ensure the Jaguars do not compete with the NFL’s own international backers. So the Jaguars can sign sponsorships in the U.K., but not with companies that compete with the NFL’s sponsors.

    International markets are controlled by the U.S. sports leagues and off limits to individual clubs, one of the reasons why it’s been far tougher for U.S. teams to create an international brand for themselves than, say, English Premier League teams, which do not operate under such league-imposed restrictions. So Manchester United, for example, considered the world’s top sports team brand, can market itself in Asia, or anywhere else in the world.

    Within the U.S., teams are tightly regulated by the leagues on where they can sell their marketing rights. In the NFL, teams are restricted to a 75-mile radius around their home stadiums, though exceptions are made in areas with no NFL team. In fact, it was in part the Jaguars’ frustration with that restriction that led them to the U.K.

    Khan earlier this year acquired the club, which is located in the NFL’s fourth-smallest market by population and has had recent difficulty filling seats. He made inquiries with the league about expanding the team’s marketing footprint into central Florida, sources said, but was informed this would not be possible as areas such as Orlando are considered Tampa Bay Buccaneers territory. It was then that the Jaguars’ discussions began about not just playing multiple home games in London but receiving marketing rights as part of that, the sources said.

    The Jaguars are not alone in being able to market in a foreign country. The Buffalo Bills market in Toronto, where the club plays an annual game, and part of the city falls outside the club’s 75-mile radius.

    “The Bills’ home territory is an area extending out 75 miles in all directions from Buffalo,” said Mary Owen, the team’s executive vice president of strategic planning and a member of the NFL international committee. “This includes a large chunk of southern Ontario, including the [Greater Toronto area]. However, because it is in international territory, we coordinate our efforts with the NFL. We have been actively pursuing this territory since the late [1990s] when we did the last major renovation to the stadium.”

    The Jaguars’ rights, though, clearly are more expansive than the Bills, who extend not far into an area adjacent to their home market.

    Lamping said he aims to sign deals not just in the U.K., but to sign U.K. companies to sponsorships in Jacksonville. While it is unclear if there really is a commercial marketplace for any NFL team in the U.K., Lamping stressed the Jaguars will not be flying solo but working closely with the NFL on the marketing plan. While some consideration had been given to having a Jaguars executive based in London, for now the team will rely on trips there and the league’s London office.

    Mark Waller, the NFL’s chief marketing officer, confirmed there was a new marketing model for the Jaguars and the U.K., but he was not available to discuss the issue in greater detail.

    The NFL started its international series of regular-season games in London in 2007. The teams to date have been limited to activation events around the game, which will be no different for the St. Louis Rams, the home team later this month.

    The Rams “have game-day activation rights but not territorial marketing rights,” said Kevin Demoff, the team’s chief operating officer. “Most everything we did was in partnership with [the] NFL.”

    The Rams themselves had committed to a fuller slate of games, before backing off from all but this year’s contest after local stadium officials protested losing the home dates.

    The league is working to have a second team play more than one home game annually in London. That club may be the Minnesota Vikings, who might be willing to play an annual game overseas until their new stadium is completed. Vikings President Mark Wilf did not respond for comment.

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  • Sounders GM discusses life on the hot seat

    Seattle Sounders FC has empowered its supporters to decide the fate of general manager Adrian Hanauer. In a program modeled after ones run by European superpowers Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, Sounders season-ticket holders and fans in the club’s members association — which comes with a $125 fee — have from now until Dec. 7 to vote on whether Hanauer should be retained. At least 10,000 ballots must be cast for the vote to be valid and a simple majority wins. The idea came from comedian/game-show host Drew Carey, who owns the team with Hanauer, Paul Allen and majority owner Joe Roth. Staff writer Christopher Botta spoke with Hanauer about being the man in the middle of the controversial concept.

    Fans will decide whether Seattle Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer, hoisting the U.S. Open Cup trophy, stays or goes.
    Photo by: SEATTLE SOUNDERS
    What was your reaction to the implementation of the fan vote?

    HANAUER:
    It wasn’t a surprise. The fan vote was actually part of our initial ownership meeting with Joe Roth and Drew Carey when the franchise got started in 2008, before I was named GM. Keep in mind that I volunteered to be GM; I don’t get paid and I don’t have a contract to be GM. Drew knew about these votes with the teams in Europe and wanted to do it. Our agreeing to the vote was one of the criteria for Drew to invest in the team. I signed up for it. I’m not going to go on a campaign and give stump speeches, but I welcome the fans’ input.

    Being the owner of one-third of a successful club — you’re averaging more than 40,000 fans a game this year — must soften the blow of a potential thumbs-down from the supporters.

    HANAUER:
    Put it this way: I’m not getting a lot of sympathy from other executives around the game. Of course, I like the concept more than a typical GM — the guy who doesn’t own one-third of the team — would. This vote will not alter my approach as manager. The Sounders are successful because we’re obsessed and, yeah, a bit paranoid. None of us are going to lose the drive that makes us successful.

    What has been the reaction from your colleagues around the league? Are they concerned this may start a trend in MLS?

    HANAUER:
    I’ve gotten some needling, but I don’t think anything we do at the Sounders surprises the other teams anymore. They know we tend to do things differently around here. When we lost a home game two years ago to L.A., 4-0, we gave a refund in the form of a game credit to all of our season-ticket holders. I heard from other teams about it — “What are you guys doing?”

    Do you expect to lose any sleep at all until the polls close?

    HANAUER:
    Probably not. You sleep better at night when you feel you’ve done everything you can to build a good team, and when things are going well. But in all the hype about the vote, there’s something a lot of people don’t realize. The vote is traditionally every four years, but there is a recall rule in place at all times. If, say, a season turns into a bit of a disaster, the supporters can call for a special petition. So the reality is, a referendum on my job can happen at any time.

    Whenever the day comes when you step down or are relieved of your duties as GM, will your replacement be subject to the fan vote?

    HANAUER:
    I can assure you that there WILL be a day when the Sounders hire a GM without an equity stake in the club. Anyone interviewing for the position will have to accept that the fan vote comes with the territory. I will wish them luck.

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  • Sporting KC retools sponsorship department, aims for jersey deal

    Sporting Kansas City has consistent sellouts and a team capable of contending for the MLS Cup when the playoffs begin early next month, but the hard work is only beginning in the front office. The club’s corporate partnerships department has just been given an overhaul, with the goal being the acquisition of the first revenue-generating jersey sponsorship deal in Sporting KC’s 16-year history.

    Sporting KC regularly sells out its games but is looking to bolster corporate partnerships.
    Photo by: BRIAN DAVIDSON / SPORTING KANSAS CITY
    “We have to continue to grow the commercial side of our business,” said Robb Heineman, the CEO of Sporting Club, the parent company of Sporting Kansas City.

    To that end, Heineman recently promoted 29-year-old Jake Reid from vice president of sales to chief revenue officer. Last week, Reid brought on Jamie Guin — a longtime sponsorship executive with the New Orleans Hornets — as Sporting KC’s new vice president of corporate partnerships. Reid will work with Guin to hire at least three more corporate sales staffers by the end of October.

    Heineman said Reid’s promotion “speaks to the opportunities this organization provides to young and talented people,” but it is also a call to action for the club. When Sporting KC, as expected, has a capacity crowd for its Oct. 24 regular-season finale against Philadelphia, it will have sold out 16 of its 17 games this season at Livestrong Sporting Park. (The only game not sold out was on a cold and rainy night in late March). In its second year at the 18,467-seat Livestrong, Sporting KC has sold standing-room tickets to reach an average attendance of 19,403 this season.

    Sporting KC leads MLS in season-ticket renewals (86 percent) and new season-ticket sales (more than 1,000 as of last week) for the 2013 season. In addition, all 34 suites at Livestrong are sold and under contract through at least 2013.

    Despite the success at the box office, the lack of a jersey sponsor is a big hole in Sporting KC’s potential revenue streams. Sporting KC is one of only three MLS teams, along with the Colorado Rapids and San Jose Earthquakes, without a jersey sponsor. According to Reid, the valuation of a jersey sponsorship deal for his club is $2.5 million annually. Sporting KC hopes to sign a deal for a minimum of three years.

    “We view this as a long-term play, and we’re looking for a marquee partner,” said Reid, who added that the club will keep its search in-house instead of using an agency. “We’re getting closer. The success of our team on the pitch and at the gate certainly helps.”

    Heineman said there are four years left on the deal signed in 2011 with Lance Armstrong’s charity, Livestrong, for the naming rights to the stadium. Livestrong does not pay a fee, and the soccer club donates a portion of ticket sales proceeds to the charity. Although the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released its doping file on Armstrong last week, the Sporting Club will continue to honor its commitment to the former Tour de France champion.

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