The Islanders will not rebroadcast their "infamous brawl-filled Feb. 11 game against the Penguins at a fan viewing party scheduled" for Friday, according to Stu Hackel of SI.com. Sources said that the "party will go on, but the Islanders and MSG Network have agreed to switch the game to a victory over the Sabres" in which RW Michael Grabner recorded a hat trick on the game-winning goal. Islanders Dir of Communications Kimber Auerbach said that MSG in May had "selected and scheduled eight games from last season to be shown this summer." Auerbach said that the Islanders "didn't choose the games," but did take "the opportunity to plan viewing parties around each of them." The Feb. 11 game "was just one" of the eight scheduled. Auerbach said that the game against the Penguins "had aspects to it, other than the brawl, that the Islanders found appealing." They scored "nine goals in that game, the first time they did anything like that since 2003." But the reaction to news of the viewing party "put the Isles in a bad light, so sometime during this week they contacted MSG Network and asked if it could replace the Feb. 11 game with another." That "was done on Thursday." Auerbach said, "That game is behind us and we want to look forward" (SI.com, 8/18). NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly earlier this week said, “We do not approve of the use, based on what we know.” Daly on Thursday “did modify his comments.” Daly: “As I understand it, the game selection issue was really MSG’s decision as opposed to the Islanders. Having said that, the Islanders proactively acted to change the selection, and prevailed” (NEWSDAY.com, 8/18).
NBA Commissioner David Stern said the Hornets are “starting to show signs they can achieve long-term viability in New Orleans and have attracted interest from four or five potential buyers who would keep the franchise” in the city, according to John Reid of the New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE. Stern declined to identify the prospective buyers, but said, “We have four or possibly five buyers that engaged us about the purchase of the franchise to remain in Louisiana. We have said that we’re happy to continue conversations, but we need to complete all of the things we’re working on and have a better idea on where the collective bargaining agreement is going to land.” The Hornets are “just 1,000 season tickets shy of meeting their sales objective of 10,000 after having 6,300 last season.” Stern said that he is “confident the Hornets will continue making progress toward securing their long-term future in New Orleans.” Hornets Chair Jac Sperling has been “charged with making the franchise more financially attractive for a local buyer and has spearheaded the team’s ‘I’m In’ campaign.” Stern said, “We think if all of these things happen, this is a franchise that doesn’t have to be viewed as a weak NBA franchise” (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 8/18).
PRICE OF SUCCESS: In L.A., Mike Bresnahan reports Lakers season-ticket prices “increased about 4% across the board, with courtside seats up to $2,700 each, a $100 bump from last season.” Season-ticket holders who “did not pay for tickets with a lump sum earlier this summer will owe the second of three payment installments next month and a third installment in November.” The Lakers said that “if games are canceled because of the lockout, pro-rated refunds will be given along with an added 1% cash refund” (L.A. TIMES, 8/19).
AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes officially assumed ownership of EPL club Queens Park Rangers on Thursday and "vowed to review contentious ticket price rises before the club's next home match and to reconnect with disenfranchised fans," according to Owen Gibson of the GUARDIAN. Fernandes “pledged funds to invest in the long-term development of the club’s academy and infrastructure," but he said that fans "should not expect a benefactor with limitless funds." He added, “I don’t believe you can run any venture that isn’t profitable.” Fernandes' business partner Kamarudin Bin Meranun "has also invested in the deal and will join" the QPR board, while former club Chair Amit Bhatia will return as Vice Chair. Fernandes said that he and Bhatia “would explore possibilities for exploiting QPR in Asia and India and said his AirAsia and Malaysian brands would be ‘heavily involved’ in the club.” One of the brands "is likely to be emblazoned on QPR’s shirts.” Fernandes, an avid Tweeter, said that he hopes “to use social media to bring the club closer to fans” (GUARDIAN, 8/19). The GUARDIAN’s David Conn notes Fernandes “made no secret that he was motivated to buy QPR ... not only for the love of football, but as a sponsorship, marketing vehicle for AirAsia.” Fernandes said, “Many people do not realise the power of sport to market a brand. You can spend £40M on advertising and have nothing like the same effect. Around the world, everybody watches Premier League football” (GUARDIAN, 8/19). While no financial terms of the deal were revealed, sources indicated that the price "would have been nowhere near" the US$165.8M that former QPR Owner Bernie Ecclestone "had been reported to be seeking” (FINANCIAL TIMES, 8/19).
CONFLICT OF INTEREST? BLOOMBERG NEWS' Tariq Panja reported AirAsia parent company TuneGroup "sponsors the referees" in the EPL. Tune Group “agreed on a three-year contract last year to have its brand emblazoned on the uniforms of match officials.” Fernandes said that he spoke with EPL officials "about the agreement and doesn’t think it’s a problem.” Fernandes: “I actually conveniently forgot about it. I don’t think any referees are going to say ‘Tune is sponsoring me so I am going to make sure QPR win’” (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 8/18).
A consortium led by U.S. private equity investor Thomas DiBenedetto “has become the first foreign owner of an Italian top league football club, after agreeing on Thursday to buy a controlling stake in AS Roma,” according to Giulia Segreti of the FINANCIAL TIMES. The 67% stake, for which the consortium “is paying [US$100.6M], is being sold by UniCredit, Italy’s largest bank.” DiBenedetto is President of investment company Boston Int'l and a partner in Fenway Sports Group. UniCredit will "retain an interest in the club ... as it owns 40 per cent of Neep Roma, the vehicle that bought the stake” (FINANCIAL TIMES, 8/19). The SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL’s John Lombardo reports after DiBenedetto’s deal closes, he “will handle day-to-day operations for the franchise with RaptorAcclerator executives taking a role in restructuring the front office.” RaptorAccelerator “will look to boost the business fortunes” of AS Roma as the recently created sports and entertainment consultancy “begins an operational overhaul of the franchise.” RaptorAccelerator was launched in June by Raptor Group Chair & Managing Dir James Pallotta and “is run by former HSBC Holdings banker Mark Pannes" and former MSG Sports and Celtics exec Sean Barror. The company “will be responsible for increasing AS Roma’s revenue with a strategy calling for an expansion of media rights fees, an increase in global marketing and merchandising efforts, and a plan to tour outside of Italy” (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 8/19 issue).
As a companion to his cover story in this week’s SportsBusiness Journal about the state of EPL club Arsenal, reporter Tripp Mickle talks about the business stories surrounding the storied franchise. He elaborates on the expectations surrounding top executives Ivan Gazidis and Tom Fox (“there were high expectations for the two of them”), some of the challenges they face (“the challenge they face is leading a cultural revolution at Arsenal”) and what they have been doing over the last few years to improve the fan and hospitality experience at Emirates Stadium. Mickle also touches on Fox’ five-year marketing and sales plan and the focus on aligning Arsenal with high-end brands like Carlsberg. Finally, Mickle talks about reporting the story and the heavy focus on top executives at EPL clubs, saying “In the U.K. … there is a huge spotlight on executives at EPL clubs. There is such a focus on what they are doing. And there is a particular focus on Ivan and Tom.” Read Mickle’s full story in this week’s issue and watch the full video below.
SBJ/SBD&rsquos Abe Madkour (left) talks with reporter Tripp Mickle
Whitecaps CEO Paul Barber on Wednesday said that season-ticket prices "will increase slightly next season to cover higher operating costs" at the renovated BC Place. The increases for '12 range from about 1-3%, meaning a season ticket that cost $319 (all figures Canadian) for 17 MLS games and two Nutrilite Canadian Championship matches this year "will rise to $329 for the 2012 season while a $418 season ticket will increase to $429." The expansion club "has about 15,500 season ticket holders, who will receive an invoice and renewal information by email this week." The Whitecaps own the worst record in MLS, but Barber said that the club "has received just two emails from season ticket holders complaining about being asked to renew already after such a tough season on the field" (VANCOUVER SUN, 8/18).
GIVEN A RED CARD: Sporting KC Exec VP/Operations Chris Wyche Thursday said that four fans "were removed" from Livestrong Sporting Park Wednesday night after Sporting KC G Jimmy Nielsen was "struck in the face by the piece of a bobblehead doll thrown from the stands." Wyche said that the club "used its high-resolution cameras to identify two men, both wearing Sporting KC gear, who threw objects onto the field." The team is scheduled to have one more bobblehead night this season -- on Sept. 28 -- and Sporting KC VP/Communications Rob Thomson said that "no decision has been made on whether the club will change the distribution of the bobbleheads or cancel the promotion altogether." Club officials "will meet -- likely this week -- to discuss the matter" (K.C. STAR, 8/19).
IN ORDER TO FORM A MORE PERFECT UNION: GOAL.com's Christopher Savino reported "more than two hundred members of Philadelphia Union supporters group Sons of Ben were at PPL Park on Wednesday evening for the first annual Supporters Summit hosted by the club." MLS Commissioner Don Garber attended the meeting, joined by Philly Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz, coach Peter Nowak, F Sebastien Le Toux and G Faryd Mondragon. In light of "several recent events," Sakiewicz "discussed the sale of supporters section tickets on sites such as StubHub who are not able to control who those tickets are ultimately sold to." He said, "We cannot prevent it. ... What we can do though is we can police our stands for people who do purchase those tickets on StubHub and make the owner of those tickets, the season ticket holder, responsible for that. A good example of that was the Colorado game where we had a fight that broke out that was started by some people that bought the tickets" (GOAL.com, 8/18).
On Long Island, Ken Davidoff reports Yankees co-Chair and Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner Thursday "expressed his confidence" in GM Brian Cashman. Steinbrenner said that the future of Cashman -- whose contract "expires after this season -- wouldn't be resolved until the conclusion of the Yankees' likely postseason run." Steinbrenner added that "nothing had changed from earlier this year, when he professed a desire to keep Cashman in his current role." Meanwhile, Steinbrenner said that he "intended to be a baseball owner for a very long time." Davidoff notes officials around MLB "have privately wondered whether the Steinbrenner family would sell the franchise." But Steinbrenner "reiterated that his family has no such plans" (NEWSDAY, 8/19).
SABRE RATTLING: In Buffalo, Mike Harrington reports the Sabres are "living in a world far different than at just about any time in their history, a stunning turnaround in the first six months of Terry Pegula's reign as owner." The team is "suddenly a big-money team with a bloated payroll" due to "new contracts for some returnees and some previously unheard of strikes in free agency." The Sabres currently have a payroll of $68.4M for the '11-12 season, "more than $3.6 million over the NHL's cap of $64.8 million." The Sabres' salary cap figure is "more than $3 million higher than the next biggest spender's" (BUFFALO NEWS, 8/19).
JUST ATTEND, BABY: In San Jose, Tim Kawakami reports Raiders Owner Al Davis "hasn't made a single appearance during more than three weeks of practice." There is "simply no record of Davis ever missing this much field time during his almost 50 years in control of the Raiders." Davis is "behind closed doors," but it is "clear that the Raiders function differently on the practice field -- and maybe in general -- when Davis is not present" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 8/19).
RARE WIN FOR MCCOURT: In L.A., Bill Shaikin reported Suffolk County (Mass.) Superior Judge Janet Sanders ruled Thursday that Dodgers Owner Frank McCourt does not need to "defend himself against a preemptive lawsuit from the law firm that drew up his faulty marital property agreement." Bingham McCutchen sued McCourt in April claiming he "had refused to pay legal bills because of alleged malpractice and [asked] for a ruling that the firm had done nothing to warrant a malpractice lawsuit." However, Sanders threw out the suit. McCourt expects to "sue Bingham for malpractice, in a claim that his attorneys could be worth 'hundreds of millions of dollars' if McCourt loses control of the Dodgers" (LATIMES.com, 8/18).
THE PRICE IS RIGHT: The Twins announced that season-ticket prices for the '12 season at Target Field will remain unchanged from those of the '11 season. The team plans to add to season-ticket holders' value with the addition of benefits for the Sweet Spot rewards program (Twins).