Fox late last night denied interest in buying the Dodgers after the Wall Street Journal reported that the company signed a non-disclosure agreement with the bankers handling the sale of the team. A Fox spokesperson last night said, “Fox has no interest in owning the Dodgers" (THE DAILY). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Matthew Futterman reports a Fox exec "signed the nondisclosure agreement on the same day that lawyers for News Corp. settled a lawsuit with the Dodgers that threatened to cripple the sales process." The reported signing of the agreement is the "latest indication that the company ... plans to do whatever it can to hang onto the team's valuable media rights." Sources said that News Corp. "doesn't want to reclaim full ownership of the team," as it instead is looking to "become a minority investor to improve its chances of keeping the team's television rights." The sources said that News Corp. is "interested in a 15-20% stake and is also offering to use its resources to help finance an acquisition of the team." Futterman notes media rights beyond '13, when the Dodgers' current TV deal expires, are "at the center of the sale of the franchise, with several potential bidders planning offers based on how much the team will earn from its next local media rights deal or even future revenue from a new Dodger-themed regional sports network that a new owner could choose to launch before the 2014 season" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/12). In L.A., Bill Shaikin cites a source as saying that Fox has "reached out to prospective bidders to indicate its interest in acquiring a minority share of the club -- essentially offering to pay part of the Dodgers' purchase price so as to lock up the TV rights." Shaikin notes more than "a dozen prospective buyers have been publicly identified" after Beverly Hills-based developer Alan Casden made known that he "would like to buy the team." Opening bids for the Dodgers are due Jan. 23 (L.A. TIMES, 1/12).
The Pistons are averaging just 11,710 fans through six games at The Palace of Auburn Hills this season, the lowest since '81-82 when the team "averaged 9,910 fans at the Pontiac Silverdome during Isiah Thomas' rookie season," according to Terry Foster of the DETROIT NEWS. Not counting the opening-night sellout of 22,076, the Pistons “are averaging just 9,631 fans and last week were outdrawn by Michigan State women's basketball.” The Pistons averaged 16,660 fans per game last season. The team is trying “to lure fans by turning games into events,” but there are “so many live musical acts that some fans joke that the Pistons parade a basketball game in between concert sets.” Palace Sports & Entertainment President Dennis Mannion said that there will be “more direct marketing and more concerts and acts.” There are also “giveaways for just about every home game, including a Greg Monroe jersey on Sunday, Pistons hats and posters.” But the Pistons “are working on their fourth consecutive losing season,” and Mannion admitted that the “product on the floor must be better to lure fans.” Fans have grown “accustomed to ticket giveaways, but Mannion said the club has no plans to do that.” Instead, the Pistons are “working to increase the value of a game at The Palace with concerts, hip hop dancers, an improved dance team and louder music.” Mannion said, “The strategy is to reestablish The Palace brand and the Pistons brand” (DETROIT NEWS, 1/12).
The Hornets' search for a team owner “continues on a somewhat smooth path with the possible announcement of a new caretaker, as well as a long-term lease extension, coming within the next few months," according to Jimmy Smith of the New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE. Hornets Chair Jac Sperling said that he “foresees no difficulties reaching that goal.” Sperling: “I think we’re making excellent progress in connection with the sale of the team. One thing I want to note is that the team is being sold on the condition that there’s a long-term lease here with the New Orleans Arena and the state. That’s being made clear to all the potential purchasers.” Sperling said, “We have had excellent interest from a number of different potential purchasers." He added, "I don’t want to get into the number, just to say that there’s significant interest from a good number of groups.” Sperling also has been “engaged with the Superdome Commission in negotiating a 10-year lease extension -- with no escape clauses -- that would bind the Hornets to New Orleans Arena for the next 12 to 13 years.” Sperling has been in New Orleans “full time recently after splitting time between here and his home in Minnesota.” He plans on remaining in New Orleans "until the deal is consummated" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 1/12).
Jaguars Owner Shahid Khan and GM Gene Smith yesterday introduced Mike Mularkey as the third full-time head coach in the history of the franchise during a news conference “with little fluff and an emphasis on substance,” according to Tania Ganguli of the FLORIDA TIMES-UNION. Khan said that he “passed over flashier candidates, whom he did not name, in favor of the one he and Smith thought could help the Jaguars win.” Certain details of Mularkey’s contract “have yet to be finalized, but the Jaguars reached a three-year agreement with him -- the same length of Smith’s contract.” Khan said, “I wanted to see how I connected with him. I mean a key point -- you can’t come in and have a grid. This is my system and you impose it on the Jacksonville Jaguars. You have to come in with the flexibility and the brain power that, ‘I have these players, and how do I win with them?’” (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 1/12). Khan said that it “will be a challenge for the Jaguars, who finished 5-11 this season, to get the fans off their couch into the stadium.” He said that “his definition of a Jaguars fan is a season-ticket holder.” Khan: “The game-day experience has to be better than their couch experience. I think it’s a two-way street. We have to make the experience be so over the top for them so they want to come out. It is not a sense of entitlement. I want to make that clear. We want to earn the right for them to go out there” (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 1/12).
NOT THE FLASHY HIRE: The TIMES-UNION’s Ganguli wrote Mularkey’s hire “wasn't a flashy hire,” but that is “not important” for Khan. Ganguli: “What's next matters more.” The introduction “starkly contrasted with that of former Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio nine years ago,” where fans were invited to “a hybrid pep rally and press conference and led in a cheer of Del Rio's last name” (JACKSONVILLE.com, 1/11). In Jacksonville, Gene Frenette wrote the Jaguars “did the safe, practical thing” (JACKSONVILLE.com, 1/11). Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw said of the Mularkey hire, “I don't know how they greet this with any kind of real enthusiasm. You saw Jaguars games last year, all those empty seats. I don't want to call him a retread; two years is not a long time to be in Buffalo. He may deserve another chance, but they need somebody who can sell tickets.” SB Nation's Bomani Jones asked, “Who are they going to get on the coaching wire that was going to sell tickets?" L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke: “You would think that a pro football team in the middle of SEC country could find some great football coach somewhere than a guy who was 14-18 in Buffalo. … I thought it was an uninspired hire” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 1/11).
SOCIAL STUDIES: In Jacksonville, Vito Stellino writes Khan in choosing Mularkey used the mantra: “Think smart instead of splash.” Khan said that the Jaguars “made the smart choice even though making a splash might have made it easier to sell tickets.” Khan: “It was about after the splash, are they going to be successful? When you start sobering up, how does it feel?” Khan compared the reaction to Mularkey’s hire “to the mixed reaction when it was announced he was buying the team" from Wayne Weaver. Khan: “If you look at social media, I don’t know what the numbers are, it’s probably half and half. Some people say it’s great, other people say it’s not so good. That’s OK.” He added, “I think when Wayne announced he was selling the team, probably more than half said, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is a disaster. The team is going to move. Who is this guy coming in? Are we going to have beer in the stadium? Gosh, it’s some Muslim.’ The social media was abuzz. (But) if half thought it was good that the team was being sold, we only have to work on the other half. This is just like that” (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 1/12).
SLIM PICKINS: In DC, Dan Daly wrote of the current pool of possible NFL head coaching candidates, “It’s a desert out there, folks. For every oasis, every proven winner like Jeff Fisher, there are a dozen prospects who do virtually nothing to excite the fan base.” He continued: “You get the sense these head coaching positions aren’t quite as desirable as they used to be -- that they’re invitations to burnout, as much as anything, and aren’t necessarily worth the bother, despite the attractive compensation and general ego boost” (WASHINGTON TIMES, 1/11).
Colts Owner Jim Irsay introduced Ryan Grigson as the team's new GM yesterday, and Grigson made a "strong first impression, tall, self-assured," according to Phil Richards of the INDIANAPOLIS STAR. Grigson "has a four-year contract with a team option for a fifth year." He "admitted he has little experience in dealing with the salary cap," and said that he will "lean on Irsay and his people for support." Grigson also said that he will "attempt to strike a balance between humility and confidence and dive in." Irsay said that the Colts' structure will be the "traditional owner-G.M. model: the general manager will have control over the 53-man roster and the coaching staff with the owner retaining the final and ultimate vote." Irsay added that a decision on whether to retain or replace coach Jim Caldwell and his staff "probably won’t come until early next week" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 1/12). In Indianapolis, Bob Kravitz writes Grigson arrived yesterday with a "nice mix of confidence and humility, even if he was a bit uncomfortable under the klieg lights for the first time." Kravitz: "Irsay wanted a young, up-and-comer who could grow with a rebuilding team. And he got one." Eagles offensive line coach Howard Mudd, who previously worked for the Colts, said, "He has very definite opinions but he’s not unwilling to listen to other people. He’ll go in there, roll up his sleeves and get to work" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 1/12).
NOT WORRIED ABOUT THE HEAVY LIFTING: CBSPORTS.com's Will Brinson writes there are a "number of issues Grigson will face when he steps into his new role, but the two hardest decisions may not even be on him." Irsay has said that he will be "handling the call as to whether or not Peyton Manning is retained and it's believed that the Colts are all but locked-in on Andrew Luck as the No. 1-overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft" (CBSSPORTS.com, 1/12). NFL Network's Michael Lombardi noted Manning's future with the team “is on the owner’s level and only the owner’s level.” Lombardi: “This is going to be Jim Irsay’s call. Ryan Grigson is going to concentrate on the draft and improving the Colts’ roster moving forward” (“NFL Total Access,” NFL Network, 1/11).
YAHOO SPORTS’ Michael Silver wrote Raiders Owner Mark Davis dismissed coach Hue Jackson Tuesday “to project an image of authority,” as Davis “needs to surround himself with employees who didn’t see him routinely disparaged and condescended to by his legendary father.” A former Raiders coach said he “saw (Al Davis) tell Mark to ‘shut the (expletive) up’ all the time. It was a regular occurrence. He treated him like his opinion didn’t matter.” Silver wrote Mark Davis is “Tommy Boy, trying not to face-plant on a table full of beers,” and the thought of “presiding over a team with a brash, intelligent and charismatic coach who knew how dismissively his father used to treat him had to be a daunting prospect.” Davis will encourage new GM Reggie McKenzie to “clean out as many people on the football side of the building as he can, if only to start fresh with a new crop of employees who don’t have visceral images of his inglorious past” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/11). Meanwhile, ESPN's Jim Rome said, "If anybody needed a change in culture, it's the Oakland Raiders. Al Davis dominated that organization for decades and his mission and philosophy never changed, but their record did, for the worse. Jackson was Davis' last hire, drunk on his authority, and he had to go" ("Jim Rome Is Burning," ESPN2, 1/11).
CHANGE IN PERCEPTION: In Miami, Greg Cote writes the Dolphins need to "win" Jeff Fisher as their next coach for the “perception even more than for the reality.” The perception, “at least for Miami, is that the Dolphins are mismanaged by a star-struck, novice owner in Stephen Ross and by an inexperienced, lightweight general manager in Jeff Ireland.” Getting Fisher “won’t solve the QB reality holding this club back, but it would go a long way to mending the perception that hounds the Dolphins -- a perception only underlined a year earlier when Ross was rebuffed in his play for Jim Harbaugh.” Fisher joining would “enhance the club’s turned-ragged image.” Dolphins fans “at this point need experience and proof to hold onto” (MIAMI HERALD, 1/12).
BEAR SEASON: ESPN CHICAGO’s Wright & Dickerson noted the Bears in their search for a new GM “received permission to interview" Chiefs Dir of College Scouting Phil Emery, Patriots Dir of Pro Personnel Jason Licht, Chargers Dir of Player Personnel Jimmy Raye and Giants Director of College Scouting Marc Ross. A source said Raye and Ross "are high on (the Bears') short list." In addition, Bears Dir of Player Personnel Tim Ruskell “remains under consideration” (ESPNCHICAGO.com, 1/11).