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Volume 24 No. 156


The Astros plan to hold a press conference today "to announce the transfer of ownership from Drayton McLane to a group led by Jim Crane," pending approval from MLB, according to a source cited by Zachary Levine of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. The sale process is "not officially over" until MLB "puts its stamp of approval on the $680 million transaction, which if done would be done later this summer." McLane yesterday said that a "deal was not yet signed." He said, "The lawyers are still looking at it. Major League Baseball is still looking at it. The Crane group is still looking at it" (, 5/15). McLane on Friday said of Crane: "He has a great passion, and he cares about Houston and the Houston Astros. So that’s the best of all ingredients." But in Houston, Jerome Solomon noted to "remain a baseball town, to get attendance back up to 3 million where it was in 2006, the new owners must find a way to rebuild the fans’ confidence" by winning. The current "downturn -- consecutive losing seasons for the first time since McLane’s second and third years of ownership -- didn’t come about overnight and won’t be exited quickly." Solomon: "All of those empty seats at Minute Maid Park won’t fill up because somebody else’s signature stamp likely is to be on the bottom of team checks next season. It’ll take more than that to get Astros fans excited" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/14).

FINALLY GETTING THE CALL: In Houston, David Barron noted for the last three years, Crane "has gone down swinging in an effort to buy his way into baseball -- a tentative deal in 2008 to buy the Astros that fell through and unsuccessful bids" for the Cubs in '09 and the Rangers last year. Unlike McLane, who "was a novice at the traditions and intricacies of baseball when he bought the Astros, Crane already has a mind for the game and, 40 years ago, had the skills to play it successfully" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/15). Proskauer Rose is "taking the lead representing Crane on his negotiations with McLane to purchase the Astros, the latest in a string of major sports deals" for the law firm (, 5/14).

TIME TO HANG 'EM UP: McLane yesterday said, "It’s time for me to move on to something else." He said that he "has plenty to keep him busy." McLane plans to "focus this next chapter of his life on charitable works and various projects with Baylor University, Scott and White Clinic, etc." In Houston, Richard Justice writes, "But nothing he does is going to put him on stage the way baseball has. ... Through the years, McLane has garnered praise and criticism, and he has taken both in stride. As far as I know, he has returned every phone call and attended every news conference. He has been there when times have been really good and when times have been really bad" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/16). Justice wonders, "Will we remember good Drayton or bad Drayton? Years from now, we surely will appreciate that he gave us some special memories and put the Astros in a better place in terms of being able to win in the future" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/16).

With "no more than three weeks left before a decision has to be made on the fate" of the Thrashers, a source said that he "believes the 'chances are good' the Thrashers will relocate to Winnipeg," according to Eric Francis of the CALGARY SUN. The schedule-makers "can wait until no later than the first week of June before the NHL needs to know where the franchise will play during the 2011/12 season." There "simply appears to be no interest in anyone keeping the poorly-run team in the eighth-ranked U.S. TV market." The relocation fee would be $60M "on top of the sale price" (CALGARY SUN, 5/15). In Atlanta, Chris Vivlamore noted there is "no timetable on the possible completion of a deal" with Winnipeg-based True North Sports & Entertainment. It also is "not known if such an agreement could be reached in time for next season" (, 5/13). Atlanta Spirit co-Owner Bruce Levenson said in an e-mail, "We are still trying to find someone to buy the team and keep them in [Atlanta]. Nobody has pushed forward with an offer" (AP, 5/13).

MOVING TO THE EAST? In Columbus, Aaron Portzline reported if the Thrashers move to Winnipeg, the franchise would "almost certainly be shifted to the Western Conference, forcing a club in the West -- likely Columbus or Detroit, both in the Eastern Time Zone -- to move to the East, specifically the Southeast Division." It has been assumed for years that the Red Wings have "first dibs on moving East," and some have said that the team was "promised the first ticket back to the East" when it landed in the Western Conference in '93. But NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said that "no such agreement -- written or unwritten -- exists, that it would be up to a vote" by the NHL BOG. The Red Wings "might have a hard time coming up with support; the team helps sell tickets throughout Western Conference arenas" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 5/15). 

DIFFERENT CIRCUMSTANCES: USA TODAY's Kevin Allen wrote if the Thrashers move, it "certainly will seem as if the NHL didn't do as much to save the Thrashers as they have in their attempts to save" the Coyotes (, 5/13). The GLOBE & MAIL's Stephen Brunt noted a spokesperson for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has acknowledged that the city "wouldn't even consider a handout like the one offered by Glendale" to the Coyotes. Brunt: "So there is the significant difference between the two places. Not the size or desirability of the television market (Atlanta wins there), or the fan support (mediocre to lousy in both), or the local hockey culture (let’s just say it’s a minority passion), or the availability of an actual, cheque-writing potential owner (no sign of one in either place). It’s the fact that in one, there are patsies in local government who, whatever the prevailing economic climate, are willing to offer up a no-questions-asked handout because they’ve gone all in trying to build their backwater around professional sport" (GLOBE & MAIL, 5/14).

STUCK IN LIMBO: The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts cited sources as saying that the NHL wants to take the purchase agreement it has with Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer for the Coyotes, the Arena lease and the terms of the municipal bond sale, "drop it in the lap of a judge and ask for a ruling." If the judge "says the deal is legal," the Goldwater Institute, which has opposed the deal, "would be told to go pound salt and the bonds go to market." The "trouble is, a judge's job is to issue rulings on actual lawsuits or other court actions, not make declarations on hypothetical situations." So the plan is a "non-starter, for now." Meanwhile, Hulsizer is "said to be less-than pleased Glendale is courting" Bulls and White Sox Chair Jerry Reinsdorf again (GLOBE & MAIL, 5/14).

Dodgers Owner Frank McCourt Saturday said that "even if the team didn't have financial problems, it would be made up of the kind of players it has now," according to Dylan Hernandez of the L.A. TIMES. The Dodgers' payroll of about $110M ranks 12th in MLB, and McCourt contends that the roster is not a "reflection of the organization's economic troubles." McCourt was "vague about his future payroll plans if a proposed multibillion-dollar television contract with Fox were to be finalized." Asked if a completion of the deal would result in increased spending, he said, "I've said over and over again that the media transaction that this team has before it is a very, very important transaction. ... It is a very important piece of the overall puzzle for us to be able to compete at the same level as our competitors who have those media deals in place." MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has said that he "won't accept or reject the Fox contract until his office has completed an investigation of the team's finances." In addition, Fox "doesn't intend to move forward with the deal until the company is assured it won't be contested by Jamie McCourt, Frank McCourt's ex-wife." On Saturday, Frank "offered no insight into his recent conversation with Selig." He only said, "I think there was a little progress made" (L.A. TIMES, 5/15). The Dodgers reportedly are at risk of missing payroll at the end of this month, and in N.Y., Bill Madden wrote, "The Dodgers' finances are the mess everyone thought they were, and it's going to take a lot longer than May 31 when the next payroll is due, to figure them out" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/15).

IN THE NAME OF THE LAW: In L.A., Paul Pringle reported despite "complaints about drunken hooliganism at Dodger Stadium, state regulators rarely visit the ballpark and have issued no citations for liquor-law violations there since 1999." That is not because investigators "haven't had ready access to the stadium, where beer stands and margarita bars now line the concourses." The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control "requires the company holding the Dodgers' two master alcohol licenses, Levy Premium Foodservice, to grant the agency four passes and free parking for each game." Joseph Cruz, Assistant Dir for ABC's southern division, defended the agency, saying, "I don't see a lot of issues that are arising inside the stadium. At any venue you're going to see some boisterous fans. I don't know if it's all driven by alcohol." Cruz said that investigators "drop in on Dodger Stadium only once or twice a season." Pringle noted the Dodger Stadium-ABC "experience is not unusual." No citations for "violations at Angel Stadium have been filed since at least 1992, and the most recent allegation against a Staples Center vendor came in 2002" (L.A. TIMES, 5/14).

The MLB Cardinals' average attendance of 36,769 through 19 home dates this season is down 5.5% from '10 and "the lowest at this point in any season" at Busch Stadium, according to Derrick Goold of the ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH. At the current pace, the Cardinals "would not draw 3 million for the first time" in Busch Stadium's six-year history. But Cardinals VP/Ticket Sales Joe Strohm said that team officials "still expect to hit that mark." Goold notes when it "comes to the dip the Cardinals have seen in attendance so far this season, the chief culprits have been soggy, violent or chilly weather and a parade of opponents unable to generate any heat of their own." Warmer weather and better opponents are "expected to boost crowds at Busch Stadium." Strohm: "If we had perfect weather in April and we still saw this (drop) in attendance or the no-shows, then it would be an issue. If we see it in July and you see the empty seats all over the ballpark, then there's a story, and it's a major story." The Cardinals introduced dynamic pricing this season, and so far team officials have found that it "has lowered the cost of a majority of tickets" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 5/16).

WHERE'S THE SUNSHINE BAND? In K.C., Sam Mellinger noted this year's Royals "may be the franchise's best team" since '94, but it seems that fans "couldn't care less." The Royals have the third-lowest home attendance in the AL, behind the Rays and Indians. While attendance is "up ever-so-slightly" at Kauffman Stadium at 18,293 fans per game, "fewer than 10,000 have showed up twice, and more than half the games have been watched by crowds small enough to fit comfortably in Allen Fieldhouse." The Royals have "had rotten luck with the weather" so far this season, and team officials also can "blame skepticism, at least in part." There are "other factors, too, but at least with the image of vast sections of empty seats it's easy to build a case that Kansas City is ignoring what is so far an exciting and promising team" (K.C. STAR, 5/14).

APRIL SHOWERS: In N.Y., Tyler Kepner notes the Indians "blitzed to a 14-2 start at home for the first time in the 111 years of the franchise," yet the team "ranks last in the majors in attendance this season, averaging 15,648 a game" at Progressive Field. Bad weather is "partly to blame -- two of three games this weekend against Seattle were rained out -- but the Indians also ranked last in attendance" in '10. Indians LF Shelley Duncan said, "The fans here, they’re either all in or they’re sitting home. They don’t want to dive in completely and get their hearts broken. That’s happened enough with people here. You see what happened with LeBron, with the Browns’ history, this team’s history. It’s understandable. I don’t blame them at all." Indians President Mark Shapiro: "We need to pull back and do a better job of strategically assessing what we were and not look at ourselves through the lens of the mid-’90s. It’s just not the same operating circumstances and not the same city" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/16).

Herb Kohl's decision to "leave the U.S. Senate in January 2013 after four terms in office will give him more time to pursue his other passion: the future of the Milwaukee Bucks," according to Don Walker of the MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL. Since Kohl bought the Bucks in '85, he "has kept a close watch over the team, both on the court and on the business side." Since '88, however, "his tenure as an NBA owner had to be balanced with his primary duties as a U.S. senator." But with the news that Kohl will not run for re-election, "that will change, and may very well give Kohl, who is 76, the freedom and the opportunity to spend more time finding ways not only to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee and locate new ownership when he decides to sell the team, but play a role in developing a community-endorsed plan to build a new arena for the franchise." On Friday, Kohl said that he "would continue to own the Bucks." Kohl: "I feel good about my run as owner of the team." Bucks VP/Business Operations John Steinmiller, who has worked with Kohl since he bought the team, said that Kohl "has always been accessible and public about the Bucks." Steinmiller: "I don't know how much more public he can get. He has not been an absentee owner. He has been a constructive, contributing owner." Still, Steinmiller agreed that Kohl "might have more room and freedom to work toward a more secure future for the Bucks." Kohl on Friday reiterated that he "would only sell to an owner or group that is committed to keeping the team in Milwaukee" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 5/14).