The NBA yesterday said that it is sending Thunder Chair Clay Bennett, head of the league's relocation committee, and an attorney to Sacramento on Thursday and Friday "for a look at the city's efforts to increase corporate financial support for the team and to finance a new sports-entertainment arena," according to Tony Bizjak of the SACRAMENTO BEE. NBA Commissioner David Stern said that Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson's "businesslike presentation last week to league owners in New York prompted the decision to give Sacramento a second look before deciding if the Kings may move to Anaheim next season." Johnson told the league that he "has lined up $7 million in new commitments from businesses for corporate sponsorships, ticket sales and luxury suite purchases." Johnson's office yesterday declined to "release details of those commitments, including who made them and how firm they are," though a "solicitation letter that has been sent to businesses ... indicates the mayor and his team are looking for what they describe as 'soft' commitments of at least $100,000 from companies that run from one to four years." Johnson "has scheduled a news conference today to discuss the Kings." Bizjak notes "key questions for the NBA appear to be whether the commitments are solid, and whether $7 million, or perhaps a few million more by week's end, is enough to support the Kings for a few more years until a new arena can be built." One "critical hurdle for Sacramento will be whether the mayor and downtown developer David Taylor can convince NBA officials that the city is on track to finance a new arena." Taylor, along with ICON Venue Group, "has been working on a feasibility study, but has not released details on how an arena can be financed, and is not expected to do so prior to the league visit this week." Kings co-Owner George Maloof yesterday said he respects the league's effort "to investigate what the mayor has to say." Maloof added that the team "also plans to talk to the NBA fact-finders" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 4/19). Kings broadcaster Grant Napear said the Kings' situation is about "one thing and one thing only: the building that the Kings currently play in is out-dated, it's antiquated" ("OTL," ESPN, 4/18).
The "pursuit of a professional basketball franchise for Louisville is on hold -- at least until" the NBA’s labor dispute with its players over a new CBA is settled, according to Sheldon Shafer of the Louisville COURIER-JOURNAL. Louisville lawyer J. Bruce Miller, who “has been paid by the city to lead the local effort to land a pro franchise,” said that the “uncertainty over the labor agreement has probably dampened Louisville’s hope of landing an NBA team.” He confirmed that he has “obtained a signed letter of commitment from a group of five overseas investors who have agreed to put a team in Louisville if they are granted either a new franchise or the rights to relocate an existing team.” Miller said the arrangement is “a no-shopping agreement,” meaning the investors “wouldn’t try to get a better deal in another city.” He has declined “to name the investors or even their country.” But with the labor situation “unsettled, the unidentified potential foreign investors in a Louisville team are ... reluctant to commit to putting up a substantial sum in connection with any deal.” Still, Miller “expressed guarded optimism that, if and when the labor dispute is settled, Louisville has a legitimate chance to land an NBA team.” He said that if Louisville “gets an NBA team, he would like to talk with the University of Louisville about sharing the new KFC Yum! Center, the Cardinals’ home arena.” But Miller said that “it appears that U of L and other commitments make it prohibitive for any new NBA team to play at the new arena and that Freedom Hall is a more feasible home court.” He said the overseas investors “have indicated a willingness to pay for upgrading Freedom Hall to acceptable NBA standards, at a cost of perhaps" $70M (Louisville COURIER-JOURNAL, 4/19).
The Yankees through 11 home games this season are averaging 41,685 fans, down 9% from last year, according to Ian Begley of ESPN N.Y. For "most home games thus far, the number of fans in the stands appears to [be] much smaller than the announced paid attendance." Still, the Yankees rank third in MLB in average attendance, and Yankees President Randy Levine said that the figures have been "affected by both the unseasonably cool April weather and more early-season home games." The Yankees "played 11 of their first 14 games at home (two were rained out) and had two straight new Stadium record lows in early April." Levine said, "Over the course of the season, we expect everything to equalize. But early on, the fact that the weather has been so bad (and) we've had so many games in April has hurt." Levine admitted that the "low attendance has affected concession sales." But he added, "Both on [the] hospitality side and the ticket side the expectations are, we are going to hit all of our targets." He also "quickly pointed out that the team has already sold 3.2 million tickets, which he said is a 'comparable number' to last year, when the team led baseball with 3.7 million tickets sold." Levine noted that the Yankees "have between 36,000 and 37,000 season ticket holders" (ESPNNY.com, 4/18).
NOT COMING OUT TO SEE THE METS: In N.Y., David Waldstein notes the Mets' "miserable 2010 was followed by a winter of frugality that has not inspired a lot of ticket purchasers." The Mets through six home dates are averaging 30,738 fans, down from an average of 32,401 fans over 79 home dates last season. The team ranked 12th in attendance last season and ranks 13th this season. As of Monday afternoon, "thousands of tickets" for tonight's game against the Astros were available on StubHub, "including 33 directly behind home plate for $69 and service charges." Face value for those tickets is $134. For most Mets games, fans also "can get into the ballpark for as little as $3 a seat." SportsCorp President Marc Ganis said, "Those are breathtaking drops in value. That has to be alarming for the Mets" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/19).
BREAKING THE WRONG KIND OF RECORDS: In Tacoma, Larry LaRue notes the 12,774 fans that attended last night's Tigers-Mariners game marked the "second lowest" in the history of Safeco Field, with the lowest being last Wednesday's game against the Blue Jays, which drew 12,407. LaRue: "Back-to-back crowds under 13,000? Yes, the weather was cold and no, two poor teams on a brisk April Monday probably isn't the strongest draw. Still, they've been playing baseball in this ballpark since 1999 and never had two smaller crowds" (Tacoma NEWS TRIBUNE, 4/19).
The "cross-border potential" of soccer is one of the factors that motivated Stan Kroenke to pursue majority ownership in Arsenal, according to Duncan White of the London TELEGRAPH. With the EPL club, "new markets have opened up to Kroenke that would be impossible to crack" with his other sports holdings. Arsenal has a "lot of catching up to do" commercially, as Manchester United "will be the first club to break the £100 million mark for commercial revenue alone," more than double Arsenal's reported £44 million last year. ManU is "so far ahead" because club officials have been "capitalising on the strength of their brand overseas." Arsenal officials "have done research that shows their 'brand awareness' is not that far behind" Manchester United and La Liga clubs Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. But the "problem is making money out of this global popularity." Arsenal is "looking to set up partnerships with companies, in Europe, the Far East and the US, that fit the club's profile." A new shirt sponsorship deal next season is "expected to bring in an extra £15 million per year." Club officials are "being very careful not to make it seem they are forgetting about the supporter who attends" games at Emirates Stadium, but the "logic is that the more money that can be brought in from overseas, the less pressure there will be on the club to generate revenue from match day." This summer, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will take his team "on a pre-season tour, of China and Malaysia, for the first time since he joined the club" in '96. But Wenger said the tour is a "compromise with the financial department." Wenger: "Ideally I wouldn't want to go but I go because we get sponsorship money that is higher than in Europe. We will go to Malaysia and China. We have less financial potential than the others so we cannot fall behind with commercial income" (London TELEGRAPH, 4/17).
SPREADING HIMSELF TOO THIN? In St. Louis, Bernie Miklasz wrote under the header, "Is Rams Owner Stan Kroenke Spread Too Thin?" Kroenke is "now an international man of mystery after his friendly but stunning takeover" of Arsenal. Kroenke "has added another prominent team to a collection of sports properties that includes" the Rams, Nuggets, Avalanche, MLS Rapids, NLL Mammoth, the Pepsi Center and the Altitude regional sports network. To comply with NFL ownership rules, Kroenke is "obligated to divest himself of the Denver sports franchises at some point," but "unless Kroenke sells the Denver teams to outside interests, it's naive to think he won't have some unofficial role in their operation" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 4/17).
HEIR TO THE THRONE: In Denver, Benjamin Hochman profiled Nuggets President and Avalanche Governor Josh Kroenke, who offered his "first wide-ranging interview since taking over the Nuggets last summer." Kroenke is the "billionaire heir to Wal-Mart" on his mother's side and "a sports empire" on his father's side. Kroenke "prefers to be just Josh, a humble, likeable guy carving out his own legacy." Kroenke: "Honestly, I think I'm a huge nerd." Kroenke "runs two of the four major pro franchises in town and will for years, fueled by his Midwestern work ethic, calculating business mind and a sizable chip on his shoulder." At "age 30, and just 10 months into the job, he's transformed his father's franchise into something all his own." Bucks GM John Hammond, who coached Kroenke as an assistant at the Univ. of Missouri, said, "He has many outstanding personal attributes, but by far his greatest attribute is his humility. I truly admire him for the man that he is" (DENVER POST, 4/17).
The N.Y. Cosmos' brand "is back," and club Chair Paul Kemsley is "touring the world to spread news of a second coming" for the soccer franchise that folded more than 25 years ago, according to the N.Y. TIMES MAGAZINE's David Segal, who writes under the header, "The New York Cosmos Want To Take The Field Again." Kemsley, a "former real estate mogul who flamed out spectacularly in England when the recession struck," recently acquired the rights to the Cosmos. Since then, the team "has been his all-consuming passion; he talks about building a stadium as well as Cosmos-related restaurants and hotels" in N.Y. Kemsley predicts that he and apparel sponsor Umbro will "sell a fortune's worth of shirts in Europe and Asia," and he "has a staff of 16 already." But for now, Kemsley is "missing just two essentials: players and a league to play in." MLS soon will "sell off rights to its 20th team," which Commissioner Don Garber has "earmarked" for N.Y. Garber said, "The Cosmos haven’t lived for 30 years. And unless it’s relaunched the right way, it won’t be successful." Kemsley said, "Bless Don. I accept it’s not a done deal. But he’s got to give me that franchise." In order to "drum the team back into the public consciousness, Kemsley hopes to recruit dozens of the world’s greatest players for a charity game to be played this year," perhaps at Citi Field. Kemsley notes his ultimate ambition is to turn the Cosmos into "the No. 1 soccer franchise in the world." Segal notes that is "precisely the sort of talk that spooks MLS." Garber: "They need to believe in the MLS system, which is not about one team dominating everybody else, like the Cosmos did 30 years ago. And if they don’t believe in our system, we won’t sell them the team" (N.Y. TIMES MAGAZINE, 4/17 issue).
BLOOMBERG NEWS' Levinson & Soshnick cite a source as saying that the Nets "won't furlough employees" if the NBA locks out its players after the CBA expires at the end of June. The source said that Nets CEO Brett Yormark informed employees at a meeting yesterday "that their jobs and salaries are safe." The source noted that Nets management "didn't feel the need for any changes because there's enough work for the staff as the club prepares to move" from Newark to Brooklyn for the '12-13 season (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 4/19).
KIND OF BLUE: SI.com's Jon Heyman reported Dodgers Owner Frank McCourt is "trying to come up with what sources say is $200-million-plus to pay off ex-wife Jamie in his divorce case while still holding onto the team, and it appears to be an uphill battle at this point" (SI.com, 4/18). MLB Network's Peter Gammons said Commissioner Bud Selig "would love to" intervene in the Dodgers' situation, but he "can't just step in and say he's going to get rid of the team." Gammons noted another team owner told him that Fox's $30M loan to McCourt is "almost as if the court has embezzled from baseball because all the money he's trying to get is simply to take care of his private (finances)." Gammons: "What's troublesome to Major League Baseball, basically the loan just doesn't go the Dodgers, it's so he can start to pay off the divorce and some of the lawsuits against him" ("The Dan Patrick Show," 4/18).
THE REAL THING: In Salt Lake City, Michael Lewis writes MLS Real Salt Lake is "facing a historic opportunity in the CONCACAF Champions League finals that begin" tomorrow night. RSL has "established itself as clearly the best team in the league -- it’s riding a 17-game regular-season unbeaten streak, and has won all four league games this season -- and one that can reach the prestigious FIFA Club World Cup if it can beat Monterrey of Mexico in the two-game Champions League finals series." RSL is the first MLS team to advance to the finals of the 24-club tournament since '00, and the "entire league has rallied around RSL, to the point that fellow owners have been calling and emailing" team owner Dave Checketts "with good-luck wishes" (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 4/19).