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Volume 24 No. 158

People and Pop Culture

The Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem is the latest attempt by Patriots Owner ROBERT KRAFT to "meld his two passions: American football and Israel," according to Noah Bierman of the BOSTON GLOBE. Kraft for about a decade has been "trying to persuade a Jewish country in love with soccer and basketball to play" football. In five decades, he "has built businesses, charities, and an attachment to the Jewish state that is intimate, if less well known." While his Israeli profile "does not rival his status in New England, Kraft moves freely in Israel’s elite circles." Kraft and his wife, MYRA, who "has spearheaded the family’s charitable efforts in Israel, have longtime business ties and friendships with Israel’s small group of political players." Kraft's Israeli ventures "have paid off." He said that he "sold his packaging company in Caesarea 18 months ago for what he called 'a very handsome return,' though he declined to disclose a figure." Kraft "continues to ship 50,000 to 100,000 tons of paper to the country every year, part of an export business based in New England." He also has "invested in Israeli retail companies, a bread company, and a life sciences company." His "other passion," the American Football in Israel league, was "started by New York-born Israeli STEVE LEIBOWITZ as a flag league in 1989." It got a "big boost when the Krafts spent $250,000 to refurbish an old stadium in Jerusalem" in '99. After the grass field "turned into a sand lot, the Krafts spent another $500,000 on artificial turf." The stadium "was rededicated in 2005" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/22).

In L.A., Eric Sondheimer reports former Clippers VP/Basketball Operations ELGIN BAYLOR testified yesterday in his wrongful termination suit against the team, saying that he "felt 'insulted and humiliated' after receiving a letter in August 2008 that the team wanted him to become a consultant and retire after 22 years as an executive in the organization." Baylor, 76, is suing the Clippers, Owner DONALD STERLING and President ANDY ROESER for "wrongful termination based on age discrimination." Baylor testified that Sterling and Roeser "would constantly bring up his age in private conversations and ask, 'How much longer are you going to do this?'" (L.A. TIMES, 3/22).

ALL ABOUT WINNING: Capitals and Wizards Owner TED LEONSIS recently sat down with the WASHINGTON TIMES to discuss the state of his teams. Leonsis: "I've said the hardest accomplishment in (sports) is winning a championship. You have 29 competitors. In business you usually have a couple that are competing with you, and you have all these factors that you don't have in (sports). Never once at AOL did my HR director come in and say, 'You'd better sit down, close the door, the HTML coder blew his knee out and he can't go. He's gonna miss the next month. We won't be able to ship the product'" (, 3/21).

PLAYING THROUGH PAIN: In N.Y., Mehta & Myers note Jets Owner WOODY JOHNSON "showed up at the annual NFL league meetings in New Orleans Monday less than two weeks after being clipped by a car while riding a bike in South Florida." Sources said that Johnson, "who arrived in New Orleans on crutches and with his left ankle in a boot, had surgery on March 11." Johnson: "I just got nicked by a car. I wasn't wearing a helmet and all that stuff. You are supposed to do all that stuff. I didn't hit my head or anything. I broke my ankle" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/22). Doctors "advised him not to fly for the time being," but Johnson said that he "felt these meetings ... were too important to miss" (N.Y. POST, 3/22).

HONORABLE MENTION:'s Tim Graham reported Bills Owner RALPH WILSON, Titans Owner BUD ADAMS, Saints Owner TOM BENSON, Lions Owner WILLIAM CLAY FORD SR. and Chargers Owner ALEX SPANOS were honored last night with American Spirit Awards from the National World War II Museum in New Orleans (, 3/21).

Former Sonics Owner BARRY ACKERLEY passed away yesterday in Southern California at the age of 76 "after suffering a stroke on Saturday," according to Danny O'Neil of the SEATTLE TIMES. Ackerley "bought the Sonics in 1983, purchasing them from SAM SCHULMAN," and the team "reached the playoffs 13 times in the 18 years Ackerley owned the team." The "most sustained success in Sonics history came under" Ackerley. The team "won 55 or more games for six successive seasons beginning in 1992-93, and the Sonics didn't have a losing record in any of his final 14 seasons as owner." Ackerley "sold the Sonics in 2001 to a group of investors led by" Starbucks Chair, President & CEO HOWARD SCHULTZ (SEATTLE TIMES, 3/22). In Seattle, Steve Kelley writes Ackerley "will be remembered for winning more often than he lost." He also launched KJR-AM, the "first all-sports-talk radio station," and "tough-minded businessman that he was, Ackerley strong-armed the city into building an arena on the cheap, squeezing it into the Seattle Center's tiny footprint." He originally "had hoped to build a 20,000-seat, privately funded arena south of the Kingdome, but that plan failed when Ackerley couldn't guarantee the sale of 70 luxury suites." But the "best thing about Barry Ackerley was that he wasn't Howard Schultz." Kelley: "He didn't preen and pout in the front row, acting as if the cameras always were on him. In fact, he eventually vacated his courtside seats and watched games from the anonymity of the suites" (SEATTLE TIMES, 3/22). 

Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI) yesterday announced a series of changes to its BOD and exec team, including the retirement of Chair CARL POLLARD, effective June 16. The BOD has selected President & CEO ROBERT EVANS to succeed Pollard and to take the title Chair & CEO. CDI COO WILLIAM CARSTANJEN has been promoted to President & COO, effective immediately. Finally, the BOD appointed Dir G. WATTS HUMPHREY JR. as the board's Lead Independent Dir, also effective June 16 (CDI). In Louisville, Gregory Hall notes with Evans assuming the role of Chair & CEO, it is the “first time in decades that one person has held both posts.” Evans, 58, has been CEO since '06 and “will be the fifth consecutive thoroughbred breeder” to be chair. Carstanjen “takes on the additional role of president, more clearly establishing his role as the No. 2 executive at the company.” That change is “immediate and, for the interim between now and the annual meeting" on June 16, Evans will be CEO & Chair-elect. Carstanjen, when asked if the “changes mean he’s Evans’ heir apparent,” said, “This just means I’m the president and we’re focused on the now and the strategy for business going forward.” Evans’ contract runs through '16 (Louisville COURIER-JOURNAL, 3/22). The DAILY RACING FORM’s Marty McGee wrote Pollard’s impending retirement “signals an end to a long and prosperous era.” Pollard had served on the BOD since '85 before being named Chair in ’01.  CDI during his tenure has “undergone tremendous change and expansion” (, 3/21).

Mika joining TBA Global as
Senior VP/Digital Creative
Former NHL Senior VP/Creative ANDRE MIKA has joined engagement marketing and communications firm TBA Global as Senior VP/Digital Creative. Mika joined the NHL in '07 and helped design the creative direction of the NHL and NHL Mobile. The league parted ways with him in on March 3 as part of a restructuring of the creative department. Mika said he will help TBA Global launch a digital solutions division, and will help add a layer of digital creative to the company’s ongoing projects. TBA Global, which is partially owned by former Universal CEO IRVING AZOFF, has worked with Nike, Target and the NFL, among others. Mika will work out of the company’s Chicago offices. “I started my career as a jingle writer in Chicago 17 years ago,” Mika said. “(The new position) uses all of my talents on the creative side, not only in event production but also digital. I’m excited” (Fred Dreier, SportsBusiness Journal).

EXECS: Packers Dir of PR JEFF BLUMB "has resigned" after 22 years with the team. Packers Assistant Dir of PR & Corporate Communications AARON POPKEY is "filling in for Blumb this week at the NFL annual meetings." While the Packers are "under a hiring freeze during the NFL lockout, they will hire a replacement" (, 3/21). Packers VP/Administration & General Counsel JASON WIED said that Blumb "wanted to spend more time with his family." But a source said that the Packers "were ready to part with Blumb in part because he didn't have the best relationships with the media" (, 3/21)....The PGA Tour has named GERALD GOODMAN Exec Dir of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, effective immediately, replacing WADE DUNAGAN. Goodman most recently served as Tournament Dir of PGA Tour events held at Innisbrook Resort & Golf Club near Tampa from '95-'10 (PGA Tour)....Former European Tour Exec Dir KEN SCHOFIELD has been appointed to the Asian Tour BOD (Asian Tour).

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In London, Paul Kelso reports Asian Football Confederation President and FIFA presidential candidate MOHAMED BIN HAMMAM "is considering striking a deal with" UEFA President MICHEL PLATINI. The deal would see Bin Hammam "step aside in favour of the UEFA president after just one four-year term if he is successful in his campaign to unseat" current FIFA President SEPP BLATTER (London TELEGRAPH, 3/22). Meanwhile, Blatter today at the UEFA Congress in Paris said that if he wins re-election "he will definitely stand down in 2015" (, 3/22). The GUARDIAN's Owen Gibson reports Bin Hammam has challenged Blatter "to a TV debate" (GUARDIAN, 3/22).

: U.S. District Judge LARRY HICKS yesterday in a court order ruled that MANNY PACQUIAO's "defamation lawsuit against longtime boxing rival FLOYD MAYWEATHER JR. and others rests on firm allegations and can continue." Hicks "denied a motion to dismiss the case," saying that Pacquiao "has sufficient evidence to continue his lawsuit that alleges Mayweather and others acted with malice by accusing the Filipino boxer in a series of interviews of using" PEDs (AP, 3/21)....South Korean Olympic Gold Medal-winning figure skater KIM YU-NA's lawyer, LEE SANG-HUN, said that Kim is "suing her former agent for failing to pay the athlete part of her endorsement earnings." Lee said that IB Sports, "the agency Kim left in April last year, failed to pay her" about US$790,000 "earned from advertisement deals for Hyundai Motor and other companies." Kim "later set up her own agency, AT Sports." Forbes last year ranked Kim as "one of the world's highest-paid female athletes with annual earnings of" $9.7M (AFP, 3/21).

LOBBYING EFFORT OVER: In California, Rick Orlov reported Majestic Realty Chair & CEO ED ROSKI has "dropped his teams of lobbyists and public relations consultants" hired to help with his proposed NFL stadium in City of Industry, Calif. Majestic Senior VP JOHN SEMCKEN said that "contracts with JOHN EK and MAUREEN KINDEL in Los Angeles and DONNA LUKAS in Sacramento have ended," and that "work on their project has moved to a new stage and they no longer need the help they required." Semcken added that Roski "still retains a number of lobbyists in Sacramento, working on other projects being developed by" Majestic (CONTRA COSTA TIMES, 3/20).

NAMES: CBS announcer JIM NANTZ will join former Presidents JIMMY CARTER, BILL CLINTON and GEORGE W. BUSH as part of a celebration of former President GEORGE H.W. BUSH on March 21 at the Kennedy Center in DC (CBS Sports)....Bears QB JAY CUTLER and his girlfriend, reality TV star KRISTIN CAVALLARI, earlier this month went on a "trip to Kenya with the non-profit One Kid One World, which focuses on rebuilding schools and providing supplies to students and teachers in Kenya and El Salvador" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 3/22)....N.Y. Road Runners raised more than $4M for charity at Sunday's NYC Half, more than double the amount raised last year (NYRR)....The entire Grizzlies team attended Staxtacular '11 Friday night at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 3/22)....Retired golfer ANNIKA SORENSTAM yesterday gave birth "to a boy a little earlier than expected." Sorenstam on Twitter said she and her husband, former Int'l Golf Properties agent MIKE MCGEE, welcomed WILLIAM NICHOLAS MCGEE, who is "hanging in there fine for being 27 weeks." It is their second child together (AP, 3/21).