The Dodgers, in the "latest response to criticism over safety issues at Dodger Stadium," have hired former L.A. mayoral candidate Steve Soboroff as Vice Chair, with responsibility for "leading efforts to improve the fan experience at the stadium," according to Tony Jackson of ESPN L.A. Soboroff, "who wrote an op-ed piece in support of unpopular Dodgers owner Frank McCourt that appeared in the Los Angeles Times last Sept. 26, will report directly to McCourt." He said that he "wasn't given an ownership stake in the club, nor was he given a contract." Soboroff's responsibilities will include "strengthening ties to the region's community and philanthropic organizations and expanding conservation and sustainability programs at the ballpark." Soboroff "will begin his role immediately and will be in charge of coordinating and implementing the recommendations made by former Los Angeles police chief Bill Bratton and his team from the Kroll company." Amid "widespread complaints that the overall atmosphere at the ballpark has taken a turn for the worse in recent years," Soboroff said that he "will take a grassroots approach to changing that culture that begins not at the ballpark, but in the community." Soboroff "plans to meet with fans and other Dodgers stakeholders to hear their ideas for improving the overall experience" (ESPNLA.com, 4/19). Sources said that McCourt, in a meeting to introduce Soboroff to Dodgers employees, "said he would be more involved in the team's day-to-day operations." The sources added that Dodgers COO Geoff Wharton is "being phased out of his role." Wharton "has overseen the Dodgers' business operations since the team parted ways with president Dennis Mannion in October" (L.A. TIMES, 4/20). POSITIVE FIRST IMPRESSION: In L.A., Steve Dilbeck noted Soboroff becomes the "seventh current club executive to report directly to McCourt." Soboroff "comes off just like someone who has spent a large portion of their lives in politics would." He is "smooth, bold, unafraid of a little self-promotion and vague when the questions became pointed," and "meeting with reporters in the Dodgers dugout during batting practice, he was Mr. Positive to the max." Soboroff said that he "has seen the Dodgers' financial statements and is convinced McCourt will be able to continue to own the team." Soboroff: "To me that is a non-issue. I can read a balance sheet and I can read an income statement. ... Frank McCourt is financially fine" (LATIMES.com, 4/19).
CLEARING THE AIR: The L.A. TIMES' Dilbeck noted there is an investigation by the California attorney general's office "into more than $400,000 paid to Howard Sunkin" from the Dodgers Dream Foundation, but the team yesterday said that "as a first step they have repaid the salary" to the charity. Sunkin's salary "accounted for one-fourth of the foundation's nearly" $1.6M budget in '07. Sunkin now serves as Dodgers Senior VP/Public Affairs, a position that "would seemingly overlap" with Soboroff's (LATIMES.com, 4/19).
Vancouver businessman Tom Gaglardi "has emerged as the leading candidate to buy the Stars," according to sources cited by Mike Heika of the DALLAS MORNING NEWS. Gaglardi "has been interested in the team for more than a year," and the "push by Gaglardi could mean that the sale of the Stars is picking up steam." A source said that the Stars "lost $15 million this season" and that the club missing the playoffs "has motivated the lenders to move the team." The Stars and the lenders, who are currently running the team, "hope to have a sale in principle by July 1." There are "other groups also interested in the Stars, including two local groups," but sources said that Gaglardi "has done the most to appease the lenders and his bid could be the first solicited by lenders to prevent low-ball offers in a bankruptcy case." The MLB Rangers "were sold in a similar fashion," but a source said that "every case is different and that while it would be intelligent to draw some history from the Rangers case, that a previous case is not a blueprint for how the Stars' sale might take place." However, a different source said that a buyer "would almost have to go through bankruptcy to ensure separation from all of the lenders" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 4/20). Heika notes Gaglardi "could become the stalking horse in what could eventually become an organized bankruptcy case that would allow the exchange of the ownership from a group of lenders led by Monarch Investments." A bankruptcy case "would allow other buyers to outbid Gaglardi, but they would have to do so by a stated amount, and Gaglardi would receive compensation if he does not get the team" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 4/20).
The first Sunday of the '11 NFL season “falls on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the NFL planned a matchup of the Giants and the host Washington Redskins to recognize the day,” according to Judy Battista of the N.Y. TIMES. There had been “speculation that the Jets would host the Giants to mark the Sept. 11 anniversary.” A source said that the NFL “gave the matchup consideration, but given the complexities of the schedule, the league could not make that game work for the opener.” Instead, the Jets will host the Cowboys at New Meadowlands Stadium in the first of the Jets’ five primetime games. The Giants and Jets “will play Saturday, Dec. 24, in a Jets home game” (N.Y. TIMES, 4/20). Jets coach Rex Ryan said of the Sept. 11 opener, “That stadium is going to be full of emotion, not only the people from the area but in the entire country.” The AP noted Pittsburgh was the “third NFL city most closely affected by the terrorist attacks after Flight 93 crashed” near Shanksville, Pa., and the Steelers will visit the Ravens on Sept. 11 (AP, 4/19). YAHOO SPORTS’ Dan Wetzel wrote the NFL “did the right thing Tuesday by announcing a pair of meaningful matchups for this historic date.” Wetzel: “In many ways this is what the NFL does best: Bring the country together” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/19).
NORTHERN EXPOSURE: In Toronto, Chris Zelkovich notes the Bills will host the Redskins on Oct. 30 at Rogers Centre in Toronto in the latest edition of the Bills Toronto Series, which "has been a financial success for the Bills, but hasn't been an on-field hit." The game "will be the fourth in the Bills' Toronto series, all of them losses." Based on last year's standings, the matchup "doesn't look all that thrilling." The Redskins "finished with a 6-10 record and were at the bottom of their division," while the Bills "were also last in their division with a 4-12 record." Zelkovich notes the game "will come two days after the Toronto Argonauts play a Canadian Football League game in Winnipeg." Last year, the Bills' game against the Bears was "played the same day the Argos took on the Alouettes in Montreal" (TORONTO STAR, 4/20). In Toronto, Mike Ganter reports "actual ticket sales and prices will not be announced until the work stoppage is resolved," though fans "looking to reserve a seat for the game can do so by ... putting down a refundable $25 deposit." Fans "who have already purchased tickets for the game through Series packages will receive a full refund if the game is not played" (TORONTO SUN, 4/20).
Tonight's Red Wings-Coyotes Western Conference Quarterfinal Game Four may be the Coyotes' "last game in the desert," but TV is "one big reason why the NHL has fought long and hard to prevent a possible franchise move to Winnipeg," according to David Shoalts of the GLOBE & MAIL. Several current and former NHL governors "highlighted the league's need to keep the Phoenix market," the 12th largest in the U.S., "in order to maximize a U.S. TV contract." One governor: "It's not that they don't want to go back to Winnipeg, it's that they want to keep the Phoenix market. All our broadcast partners want to keep that market." Another governor said, "To be truthful, we hate to lose a big market like Phoenix. That's it in a nutshell." That governor said that it "would be hard to sell a team from a small Canadian city, like Winnipeg, to fans in his market, 'especially on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.'" Shoalts notes the governors "did not know if the possibility of losing Phoenix as a market played a role in the price" of NBC and Versus' 10-year, $2B deal with the NHL, but all "were sure it played a role in the negotiations." One former governor said that the new contract "probably calls for 'a credit back and forth' depending on what happens in Phoenix" (GLOBE & MAIL, 4/20).
NOT PART OF THE WHITE OUT: In Phoenix, Mark Faller reported prospective Coyotes Owner Matthew Hulsizer is not expected to attend tonight's game, a "troubling" sign for the team's future in Arizona. Hulsizer has been "mysteriously quiet and invisible for weeks," not attending a single playoff game to date, and the "silence has proven toxic." People close to Hulsizer "insist that all is well, that he is as committed as ever." But Faller writes, "Another absence by the would-be owner of the Coyotes would send an unmistakable message to fans and players: He can't save the team, the move to Winnipeg is imminent, and all that's left is for the NHL to blow the whistle" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 4/20).
During a 40-minute interview with the Portland OREGONIAN's Jeff Baker to promote his new memoir, Trail Blazers and Seahawks Owner Paul Allen talked briefly about his NBA franchise and the league in general. Below is a portion of the Q&A.
Q: Let's start at the present and work back. I know you made a point in the book about the league's economic model being difficult to sustain, even though things have stabilized somewhat here. Allen: Well, obviously we're in the lead-up to some kind of a discussion with the players' union about our future collective bargaining agreement, so I'm kind of constrained, I am constrained, about what I can say. I've been on record many times in the past about the challenge of being competitive with NBA teams in smaller markets. You're seeing that recently with what's happening with the Kings and before that with the Sonics, people looking for other places where they think they can be in a better financial situation. There are substantial challenges and as an owner you just hope for the health of the league and for teams in smaller markets that whatever new collective bargaining agreement we arrive at that those teams in those markets are in a better place. But it's true for all leagues.
Q: You had a sentence in your book about [former Trail Blazers GM] Kevin Pritchard not working out on the management side, which I think is your first public comment about why he left. ... Care to expand on that? Allen: Obviously you don't make a change unless there are issues, whether they're communication issues or style issues or substantive issues, and so in the end I felt like I had to make a change there. I wouldn't have done otherwise and it wasn't really a time of my choosing but I felt I had to make that decision.
Q: When you declared bankruptcy with the Rose Garden, do you think people had a grasp of what was going on? Allen: Well, I think it's a very complicated ... and at least once I tried to tell the people covering the story, you know, maybe you should sit down with an attorney and have them walk you through it because it's complicated stuff. I'm not sure that happened. From what was written it probably may not have, but there were some things written that weren't correct: that declaring bankruptcy was a big mistake, etc., etc. They were necessary steps that we had to take toward getting a resolution, which we finally got. ... Certainly going through that whole bankruptcy phase was very complicated and went right up to I think it was 15 minutes before we were going to make another filing and we finally got an agreement with the lenders to get the Rose Garden back, so it was high-stakes legal (Portland OREGONIAN, 4/19).