• Sales of MiLB licensed merchandise up for fourth consecutive year

    Sales of licensed merchandise for Minor League Baseball teams came in at $55.4 million last year, according to newly available data from MiLB. That marks a fourth-consecutive annual increase for the MLB affiliated clubs and surpasses the $54.7 million sum posted in pre-recession 2008, an amount that had been a high in recent years.

    There was, however, a year two decades ago when the total was even higher — $60 million — setting a mark that still stands as the best year ever for MiLB merchandise sales. That year: 1994 — the year future NBA hall of famer Michael Jordan spent the season playing for the Class AA Birmingham (Ala.) Barons.

    The Barons’ attendance that year was 467,868, a Southern League record that has never come close to being broken, and fans throughout the country were calling the team to order Jordan’s #45 jersey. (Remember: Those were the pre-online store days.)

    MiLB does not have specific sales data for the Barons’ 1994 season, but Jordan’s stint in Alabama clearly spiked interest in the team and in the minors overall. Also helping was MLB having introduced, several years prior, a set of minimum standards for new and existing ballparks designed to improve the fan (and player) experience. Any new or renovated ballpark whose construction began after Jan. 1, 1991, had to adhere to the new standards, and all other venues had to meet the standards by the start of the 1995 season. The decree ignited a surge in minor league ballpark construction, including a then-record 10 new facilities that opened in 1994. Attendance gains followed, with MiLB topping 33 million for the first time in 1994.

    New or significantly upgraded ballparks
    1991: 5
    1992: 3
    1993: 9
    1994: 10
    1995: 10

    Attendance
    1991: 26.6 million
    1992: 27.2 million
    1993: 30.0 million
    1994: 33.4 million
    1995: 33.1 million

    Tags: On the Ground, Leagues and Governing Bodies, Marketing and Sponsorship
  • The NHL Shift: News and notes, 5/02/2014

    Bracket Challenge Results

    More than 500,000 brackets were submitted in the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs Bracket Challenge powered by Can-Am Spyder, and after the first round of the playoffs, 10 entrants are tied for first place. Those 10 entries each correctly picked the winner of all eight first-round series, along with the exact number of games that seven of the eight series would last. (No one went 8-for-8 in predicting the victor and duration of each series.)

    Less than 1 percent of the more than 500,000 entries (submitted via NHL.com) picked the winning team for all eight first-round series. The biggest upset, in the eyes of the participating fans: Only 14 percent predicted Minnesota would defeat Colorado.

    As for the entrants who correctly predicted the first-round results, here are their second-round picks:

    84 percent picked Boston to defeat Montreal
    78 percent picked Chicago to defeat Minnesota
    72 percent picked Pittsburgh to defeat the New York Rangers
    57 percent picked Anaheim to defeat Los Angeles

    BY THE NUMBERS

    48 games: Number of games played in the first round of this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, a number that matches the average of the last four years (2011: 49 games, 2012: 48 games; 2013: 47 games). All 48 games this April were sold out.

    0: Number of postseason series played between the rival Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks before their series that starts tomorrow night. The series is a rarity across all pro sports in Southern California: The Lakers and Clippers and the Dodgers and Angels — and, formerly, the Raiders and Rams — have never met in the postseason. (The LA Galaxy and Chivas USA did face each other in the 2009 MLS playoffs).

    30 miles: The distance between the Staples Center in Los Angeles and Honda Center in Anaheim, the shortest distance between two playoff foes in the second round.

    399 miles: The distance between the United Center (Chicago) and Xcel Energy Center (St. Paul), the longest distance between second-round foes. That path for Chicago-Minnesota edges out the Pittsburgh-New York separation by about 30 miles.

    33 minutes: The amount of time it took to play the full first overtime of last night’s Game 1 of the second-round series between the Bruins and Canadiens. The NHL remains commercial-free during overtime in the playoffs, so OT periods run far more quickly than regulation periods.

    283,390 households: The audience for Fox Sports North’s telecast of Game 7 of the Minnesota-Colorado game on Wednesday night. It was the most-watched local telecast of a Wild game in franchise history and the highest-rated telecast in the history of the regional sports network, averaging a 16.4 rating and a 32 share. The numbers peaked in overtime, rising to an 18.3 rating and a 49 share.

    $16 million: The total value, combined, of the contracts of fired Vancouver Canucks general manger Mike Gillis and head coach John Tortorella. Each was relieved of his duties with a reported four years and $8 million dollars left on their contracts. Tortorella was hired last summer and fired on Thursday; Gillis was hired in 2008 and fired April 8. New Canucks President Trevor Linden is now charged with hiring a general manager and then, subsequently, a coach.

    STICK-TAP

    For the third straight year, the NHL/Thurgood Marshall College Fund is providing four-year academic scholarships to a pair of students involved with the league’s youth hockey development program, Hockey is for Everyone.

    NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman serves on the board of directors of the college fund. Money is raised through the annual Congressional Hockey Challenge, a charity hockey game in Washington, D.C., between congressional staff and lobbyists.

    This year’s winners are Devan Abercrombie, 17, of the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club in Washington, D.C., who will attend Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia; and Nicholas McCurdy, 17, of the Hockey Education Reaching Out Society program in Calgary, who will attend the University of Calgary.

    Tags: On The Ground
  • Nationwide signs on to Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 car in 3-year deal worth more than $30M

    Nationwide Insurance has signed a multi-year sponsorship agreement to become a primary sponsor of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 car for 12 races beginning next year.

    The three-year deal, which increases to 13 races in 2016 and 2017, closes out all of the open inventory on Earnhardt’s car. It is valued at more than $10 million a year.

    Nationwide Insurance has endorsed Earnhardt since 2009 and has featured him in national advertising campaigns during the last five years. The deal with Hendrick Motorsports allows the Columbus-based insurance company to continue to use Earnhardt in advertising while also being featured on his car in Sprint Cup races for the next three years.

    It is unclear whether Nationwide Insurance will continue to sponsor Roush-Fenway Racing’s No. 17 car driven by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 

    Nationwide Insurance could not be reached for comment. Hendrick Motorsports declined to comment.

    In a rarity, Nationwide will join a current insurance sponsor already aligned with the team. Sources said Hendrick Motorsports is close to finalizing an extension with Farmers Insurance on the No. 5 driven by Kasey Kahne. The company is expected to reduce the number of primary races it currently sponsors from 20 races a season.

    The deals underscore the strength of Hendrick Motorsports, the most decorated team in the sport, and could set a precedent in the sport. NASCAR teams typically offer sponsors category exclusivity across an entire team. As a result, most teams only have one sponsor in most categories, but Hendrick Motorsports is expected to have two insurers, Nationwide and Farmers, in the same garage. If Hendrick Motorsports is successfully able to service both sponsors, other teams could look to follow suit.

    “The quality of the [Hendrick] team, the iconic nature of their drivers and the fact that they deliver means that they can do this,” said Mike Boykin, a former executive with GMR Marketing. “For other teams to do this, it would depend on what the assets are and who the drivers are. But when you get two big brands staying in the sport, that’s a real good thing for NASCAR.”

    Wasserman Media Group works with Nationwide. JMI works with Farmers. 

    Tags: Nationwide Insurance, CES, ING, AIG, Motorsports, Sprint
  • TV Timeout: Silver Star

    NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s punishment issued to Clippers Owner Donald Sterling for racially insensitive comments have drawn mostly praise. ESPN's Mike Tirico said, "Knowing that leadership is lonely, he did one a heck of a job in being able to speak with some owners and gauge their interest level in this enough to say, 'You're banned for life'"  ("OTL," ESPN, 4/29). Actor Matt Damon: “A lot of us are really excited to get (Sterling) out of the NBA" ("Worldwide Exchange," CNBC, 4/29). Clippers broadcaster Ralph Lawler: "The cloud was lifted from the players' heads, the fans' heads. You see a ray of sunshine. You see some blue sky. You think, ‘Hey, there’s hope’” (“Clippers Live Pregame,” FS Prime Ticket, 4/29) TNT’s Shaquille O’Neal: “There’s no room for the mistakes that Mr. Sterling made and I’m just glad that Adam Silver is around protecting our league” (“Inside The NBA,” TNT, 4/30).. TNT’s Steve Kerr said, “It was a great reminder of the fact that sports and basketball actually break down barriers. That’s the beauty of sports beyond the entertainment and the competition. You think about what it does bringing people together from all races and backgrounds and that’s what the NBA is all about” (“Wizards-Bulls,” TNT, 4/29).

    NOT ALL POSITIVE: ESPN's J.A. Adande said the NBA in the past by "allowing Donald Sterling to fester and allowing him to get away with what he did encouraged him, empowered him and led to this moment now where because that problem wasn't removed earlier the NBA found itself in this position today, but I think they dealt with it in the perfect manner” ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 4/29). ESPN's LZ Granderson: "For Adam Silver to try and characterize this as, 'Well, this is what we know of right now.' No, the NBA and many of those owners knew this man. They knew him, they're just embarrassed because now it's a lot more public … but this is not news" ("OTL," ESPN2, 4/29).

    SILVER LINING: San Jose Mercury News’ Tim Kawakami said of Silver’s announcement, “I’m not surprised by the force of it; maybe the emotion of it I think is what hit everybody" (“Yahoo Sports Talk Live,” CSN Bay Area, 4/29). NBA TV’s Brent Barry, on the Clippers possibly being sold: "It might set precedent in terms of how quickly a new ownership group actually takes over a franchise in the league” (NBA TV, 4/29).

    LAYNG DOWN THE LAW: FS1’s Andy Roddick: “(Silver) won today in the court of public opinion, but beating Sterling in an actual court of law, that’s a different question” (“Fox Sports Live,” FS1, 4/29). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said of possible litigation, "If the franchise is devalued while this is going on, that's not good for the league. Does the league put someone in there (to operate the team)?" ("PTI," ESPN, 4/29). ESPN’s Mike Golic, on the eventual owners’ vote to strip Sterling’s ownership of the Clippers: “I don’t care how private they make it. You know it will get public somehow and you want to be that three, four, five owners that voted to keep him? How is that going to work with your sponsorships when that comes out? There’s no way this isn’t going to be twenty-nine to zip” (“Mike & Mike,” ESPN Radio, 4/30).

  • SBJ/SBD's NHL Wrap-Around Podcast

    As the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue, staff writers Christopher Botta and Alex Silverman discuss the latest hockey news in SBJ/SBD's "NHL Wrap-Around Podcast." Among the topics:

    Ted Leonsis prepares to hire his first general manager in 15 years of owning the Washington Capitals.

    Ron Francis being promoted to GM of the Carolina Hurricanes.

    The Calgary Flames finally hire their GM.

    The latest on the New York Islanders' ownership situation.

    And what are the NHL's options should the league ever be faced with a Donald Sterling-type of scandal?

    Tags: NHL, SBJSBD Podcast
  • NBA owners take to Twitter to support Silver's actions

    According to the NBA, it will take a vote of three-quarters of the league's owners to force a sale of the Los Angeles Clippers by owner Donald Sterling.

    But will 23 owners be willing to take that kind of stand against a fellow owner?

    If you look at Twitter for hints on what owners owners are thinking, then 25 of them (so far) have already indicated support of the punishment handed out today by Commissioner Adam Silver, either on their personal feed or on the team's official account. That doesn't mean they'll follow through with a vote against Sterling, but it's interesting to watch.

    Here are the tweets:






















































    Tags: Twitter, NBA, ING, ACC, GE, Los Angeles Clippers, SEC, British Petroleum
  • SBJ Podcast: A more flexible NBA schedule

    Media writer John Ourand, NBA reporter John Lombardo and executive editor Abraham Madkour discuss what the NBA's TV partners want in their next deal and the difficulty of incorporating a more flexible NBA schedule to accommodate that.

    Tags: NBA, Media, SBJSBD Podcast
  • The NHL Shift: News and notes, 4/25/2014

    Financial document outlines Isles’ offer

    The New York Islanders this week released an offering memorandum for majority ownership to potential bidders for the team, according to a source in the finance industry.

    In the memo, Islanders owner Charles Wang offers 75 percent ownership of the club, with a five-year option on the other 25 percent. The memo also states that the Islanders sustained an operating loss during the 2013-14 season of $4.8 million, with the loss minimized greatly by $15 million received from NHL revenue sharing and escrow payments.

    According to the memo, total revenue for the Islanders in the just-completed season was $84 million. That included $22 million in ticket revenue. The Islanders played 40 home games at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum and one game (as part of the NHL’s Coors Light Stadium Series) as the home team at Yankee Stadium against the New York Rangers.

    The value placed on the team in the memo: $370 million.

    The memorandum was released by the team on behalf of Wang, who has yet to utilize the services of a bank or financial consultants in the ongoing sales talks. Wang’s finances are handled by Islanders alternate governor Arthur McCarthy, who has been an executive with the club since 1985. McCarthy is the chief financial officer of technology company NeuLion, for which Wang is chairman of the board.

    On Wednesday, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed what has been reported in this space over the last two weeks: Although Wang is soliciting and listening to offers for the Islanders, he may not be ready to say goodbye to the team.

    Wang acquired the Islanders in 2000.

    “Charles hasn’t decided whether or not he’s definitely going to sell,” Bettman said on WFAN-AM/New York on Wednesday. “He’s very attached to the Islanders. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. He’s looking forward to the move to Barclays.”

    The Islanders begin play at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in the 2015-16 season.

    In earlier discussions with prospective buyers, before the offering memorandum was released, Wang was offering between 30 percent and 49 percent of the team at the start, with Wang remaining the Islanders’ majority owner for at least the next two seasons.

    Philadelphia hedge fund manager Andrew Barroway is the lone suitor whose name has been made public. A league source said a finalized deal between Barroway and Wang “is not close,” and that Barroway “does not have a leg up on anyone else interested in buying the Islanders.” Barroway has been in search of partners to help him fund the purchase.

    As reported in The Shift last Friday, there are at least two additional suitors for the Islanders, besides Barroway. Strike one name from that list, though: Brooklyn-born billionaire Nelson Peltz.

    Peltz, CEO of asset management firm Trian Partners, has been linked to bids for the New Jersey Devils and Ottawa Senators in the past, and the 71-year-old Peltz is a hockey advocate: He once described after-school life for his children as “gym, ice and homework,” and he has a rink inside his Bedford, N.Y., home. His son, Brad, also was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the seventh round of the 2009 NHL draft.

    However, a source close to Peltz told The Shift on Thursday that he has “no interest” in bidding for the Islanders.

    SportsBusiness Journal staff writer Daniel Kaplan contributed to this report.


    BY THE NUMBERS

    More than $3 million(CAN): Gross revenue, according to an NHL source, for each of two first-round playoff home games of the Montreal Canadiens, who swept the Lightning in four games. That figure will be even higher in the second round, with higher ticket prices.

    3.8 million viewers: The average combined TV audience in Canada for each of the four games of the Canadiens-Lightning series. The games averaged 2.3 million viewers on CBC and 1.5 million viewers on RDS.

    31 of 31: Sold-out first-round playoff games, through Thursday night.

    $378: The most-expensive ticket available on the secondary market for an NHL playoff game this weekend, for Game 5 of the Rangers-Flyers series at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon, according to ticket price aggregator TiqIQ.

    $148: The least-expensive ticket available, for Game 5 of the Ducks-Stars series at the Honda Center tonight.

    500,000: The number of entries submitted by fans on NHL.com for the Stanley Cup Playoffs Bracket Challenge powered by Can-Am. The grand prize is a choice of a 2014 Can-Am Spyder RS or $15,000. Among those submitting brackets were celebrity hockey fans Jon Hamm, Alyssa Milano, Martina McBride, Pat Sajak and Boomer Esiason.

    205: Consecutive home games sold out by the San Jose Sharks, through Game 2 of their first-round playoff matchup with the Kings. In last Friday’s post, we listed seven NHL teams with sellout streaks of more than 100 combined regular-season and playoff games. Turns out, there is an eighth: San Jose. We apologize to the Sharks.

    Tags: On the Ground
  • American Builders Using Cobb County Ties

    A group of four construction firms calling itself American Builders is competing for the job to build the Atlanta Braves’ new ballpark, and it’s tapping into the loyalties of Cobb County officials.

    Minnesota-based Mortenson Construction, now building the Vikings’ new stadium, and Michigan-based Barton Malow, contractor for Daytona International Speedway’s renovations, joined forces with two Atlanta-based firms, Brasfield & Gorrie and New South Construction.

    The group produced a promotional piece that says it has built a combined 335 sports projects, including 51 facilities tied to Populous, the Braves’ architect. All told, the American Builders group says its projects in Atlanta, including sports, are valued at $8.6 billion.

    But what’s most interesting is that the piece says that 150 employees across the four firms live in Cobb County, where the Braves have decided to build their $672 million stadium, on a site 12 miles north of Turner Field. The team’s research shows most of its fans reside in Cobb County.

    A passage in the American Builders material reads: “This is our home. Beyond working here, it is where our children go to school, our families attend church, shop and dine.”

    The piece, printed in red, white and blue, says the team combines 225 years of construction experience as “privately-owned American firms.”

    Len Moser, Barton Malow’s Atlanta-based vice president, said this about his group’s name: “Our American Builders 2017 team is proud to be American-owned builders, just like the Atlanta Braves are American-owned and often referred to as America’s Team.”

    American Builders’ competition for the project includes Sweden-based Skanska, a construction firm partnering with Clark Construction for the Braves’ job. Skanska in 1994 acquired Beers Construction Co., a firm that built Turner Field and the Georgia Dome.


    Tags: On The Ground
  • SBJ/SBD's 'NHL Wrap-Around Podcast'

    One week into the NHL playoffs, staff writers Christopher Botta and Alex Silverman discuss the latest hockey news in SBJ/SBD's "NHL Wrap-Around Podcast." Among the topics:

    Assessing NBC's coverage of the playoffs thus far.

    The Columbus Blue Jackets' effort to hold down their building against Pittsburgh Penguins fans and whether it was succesful.

    An update on the New York Islanders being on the block and who might be interested in making a bid, as well as who's not interested.

    And the resurgence of the Dallas Stars under owner Tom Gaglardi.

    To listen to the inaugural "NHL Wrap-Around Podcast," click here.

    Tags: NHL, SBJSBD Podcast
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