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Volume 24 No. 114


The Rams have agreed to play a home game in the U.K. for the next three seasons, beginning with a game on Oct. 28 against the Patriots at London's Wembley Stadium. The club becomes the first team to play regular-season games abroad on an annual basis. The '12 game will be broadcast by CBS (NFL). In St. Louis, Jim Thomas writes for a fan base “already worried about losing the team to Los Angeles because of a stadium lease clause at Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis is now reduced to only seven home games for the next three seasons.” With a team that “has won only 15 of its last 80 games, the Rams have struggled to get home games on television in recent seasons.” Thomas notes club seats for the Rams-Patriots game “go on sale Jan. 25; general admission seats will be available Feb. 2-3.” Meanwhile, London is the home of EPL club Arsenal, which is owned by Rams Owner Stan Kroenke (, 1/20). NFL Network's Albert Breer notes the Rams' three-year deal "coincides with the three years running up to the out in their lease in St. Louis" (, 1/20). New Rams coach Jeff Fisher said playing the London games is a “very exciting opportunity for the franchise," and Kroenke “is very excited about it.” Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio asked Fisher if the issue of relocation came up "at all when you were talking to Stan Kroenke about taking over the team.” Fisher said relocation did come up and Kroenke was "very pointed about it and very direct." Fisher: "I was completely comfortable with where the situation is and what his outlook and his vision of this team is. It was something that was discussed. It was not a factor" ("The Dan Patrick Show," 1/20).

PLAYING ACROSS THE POND: SKY SPORTS' Paul Higham notes the move "could be a huge step towards an NFL team being based in London." There had been "talk of multiple games being played as the sport continues to grow across the Atlantic, but the NFL have taken another route in naming a team to make regular visits" (, 1/20). NFL Network's Jason La Canfora notes while there is a "growing sentiment that two regular season games will be heading to Europe," the Patriots-Rams game "will be only game played in UK in 2012." SI's Peter King wrote, "Next year not a great year for second int'l game in Europe, with so much attention and money spent on the London Olympics" (, 1/20).

TWITTER REAX: St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz wrote on his Twitter account, “Big stretch to assume this is part of plot to move Rams to London, but surely team knew such speculation was inevitable, unavoidable.” The Big Lead's Jason McIntyre wrote, "The NFL has been using the threat of LA to get favorable stadium deals; now, the NFL is using London." SI's King wrote, "I bet Rams fans are really happy about seeing their best home game in 2012 shipped to London. Brady will never play in St. Louis again." Panini America VP/Marketing Jason Howarth wrote, "If you can't sellout in STL it's worth giving up a game to int'l.” The Washington Examiner's Jim Williams wrote, "Let me get this straight. The @NFL is trying to grow their brand worldwide by playing in #London & they are using the @Rams? Interesting.”

A group led by Blues minority owner Tom Stillman “has signed a purchase agreement to buy the club,” according to a source cited by Jeremy Rutherford of the ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH. The Blues and Stillman “must now complete the sale and have it approved by the NHL, a process that could take several weeks.” The league's BOG will meet Jan. 28 in Ottawa during All-Star Weekend, but “it's expected that only an update on the Blues' situation would be discussed, not a vote.” Stillman's group “signing a purchase agreement comes 2 1/2 weeks after the NHL terminated a purchase agreement between the Blues and Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer.” The purchase agreement between Stillman and the Blues “is an adaptation of the Hulsizer deal.” The price of the package, which “includes the Blues, the team's top minor-league affiliate in Peoria, Ill., the Scottrade Center lease and significant interest in the Peabody Opera House, is expected to be approximately $130-135 million.” While Blues Chair Dave Checketts and TowerBrook Capital Partners “are listed as the sellers in the process, the league is guiding the transaction.” Sources have indicated that if the club “went much longer without the completion of a sale, bankruptcy was a strong possibility for the franchise” (, 1/20).

HOLDING PATTERN WITH COYOTES: The GLOBE & MAIL's Eric Duhatschek reported NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman attended Wednesday's Coyotes-Ducks game and "spent part of the day briefing" Coyotes GM Don Maloney on the "sale/no sale of the franchise, which continues to operate under NHL control." Bettman indicated "nothing is imminent" regarding a sale. He said, “At some point, if we can’t get it resolved for next season, we’ll have to consider our alternatives - but that’s not new news” (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/19). Bettman Thursday said on his weekly Sirius XM radio show said, “Nothing new to report. It remains a work in progress. I know people would be anxious to have me say, ‘This is the timetable. We’re done.’ We still have time. We’re still working on it and we still remain optimistic.” Bettman added that in the “absence of a purchaser, I don’t think the city is prepared to continue what it’s doing.” He said, “From our standpoint, despite all of our best efforts, if we can’t get it done … we may need to consider alternatives” (“The NHL Hour with Commissioner Gary Bettman,” NHL Radio, 1/19).

T'Wolves G Ricky Rubio has "flair" and "a bit of box office in him," according to Shaun Powell of He is "creative, which makes people want to watch, because you're all but guaranteed to see a show on at least one ball possession." The "no-looks, ball fakes, wrap-around passes, they can only awaken the basketball pulse in Minnesota, formerly the home of 10,000 yawns." Rubio is willing to "ditch the ordinary for the outstanding, which separates him from lots of other players." He is "patient on and off the floor, very comfortable in his skin, very composed in tense moments during games and completely unaffected by the mania surrounding him." Powell: "The Wolves are only asking Rubio to give the franchise a facelift, bring people to the games, play convincingly enough to make [F Kevin] Love sign long-term, turn into this generation's Pistol Pete, help turn the Wolves into winners and make free agents want to sign with Minnesota in the future. You know, simple stuff. Scary thing is, he might actually pull that off" (, 1/18). SI's Lee Jenkins notes the T'Wolves announced last month that they had "sold the most full season-ticket packages since the Kevin Garnett era, proof that the bounce pass can still push product." But the team is "careful to limit pressure on a player who has already been paralyzed by it" (SI, 1/23 issue). In St. Paul, Charley Walters noted after Rubio "averaged only 6.5 points and 3.6 assists in 20 games for Regal Barcelona in the Euroleague" last season," T'Wolves Owner Glen Taylor "began to wonder about the point guard his team had drafted No. 5 overall" in '09. Taylor said, "He'd have a good game, then a bad game." But this season, Taylor is "pleasantly pleased." He added Rubio is "stepping up sooner than I thought for a young guy. He has come in and made all the other guys better" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 1/19).

The Canadiens’ practice on Thursday was “watched by 23 fans” at Bell Sports Complex, “by far the tiniest crowd that has attended a Habs practice since the team opened its Brossard training facility four years ago,” according to Dave Stubbs of the Montreal GAZETTE. With the team currently “on the brink of tumbling too far out of the playoff race to catch up, many fans simply don't care.” They are “apathetic about a club perhaps not so much for its weak, near cellar-dwelling results as for an executive mismanagement that has dug a very deep hole from which escape will be a slow process.” At Bell Centre, team announcer Michel Lacroix “no longer makes the nightly announcement that the attendance is a sold-out 21,273." Wednesday's media notes for the Capitals-Canadiens game “hailed the team's 315th consecutive sellout.” But Stubbs writes, “If 21,273 tickets are sold for every game, many fans are now dressing as empty seats.” There are “not just one or two vacant seats scattered around the Bell Centre, but many chunks of them four and sometimes more abreast.” There are seats empty in the lower bowl, but “what should be more troubling to the Canadiens are the vacancies in the cheap(er) seats in the thin air near the ceiling.” And when the Canadiens are “officially excluded from the postseason, which only a miraculous recovery now will prevent, Montreal will live many long, dark days through February and March” (Montreal GAZETTE, 1/20).

In Denver, Adrian Dater notes to "honor American troops, the Avalanche will give the camouflage jerseys off their backs in a special 'Military Appreciation Night' on Feb. 10 when they play" the Hurricanes. Players will wear "specially designed camouflage jerseys, with the Avalanche logo on them, during the warm-up before the game." After the warm-up, the jerseys "will be auctioned off through Feb. 24 on" Proceeds will benefit Kroenke Sports Charities, which "includes charities for the military." The "Avs Better Halves -- wives and girlfriends of players -- also will wear signed camouflage T-shirts that night, then auction them off in the concourse during the game" (DENVER POST, 1/20).

LEAGUE HOLDING OUT HOPE FOR ISLES: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said it is the league's hope the Islanders will get a new arena “somewhere approximate to the fan base on Long Island.” Islanders Owner Charles Wang is “committed to the Islanders and Long Island," and he has been "extraordinarily frustrated in his efforts to get a new arena.” Bettman: "I believe that behind the scenes, at least the people in Nassau County are exploring the options again to see what’s available because it would be ridiculous if this team didn’t get a new arena.” Bettman said of Nassau Coliseum, “The team won’t and can’t stay in that building” (“The NHL Hour with Commissioner Gary Bettman,” NHL Radio, 1/19).

SABRE RATTLING: The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts wrote the Sabres, who have a 19-23-5 record, "sure give the impression of a team in need of a shakeup." The "stagnation seems odd considering the joy professed by the players over [Owner Terry] Pegula’s injection of cash into the operation" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/19).

In San Jose, Tim Kawakami writes in a "single golden season," 49ers President & CEO Jed York, "the unproven heir to the dynasty has suddenly proved so many things." The team is one game from the Super Bowl, QB Alex Smith is a "national sensation, the defense is ferocious, and the 49ers have financing in place for a new Santa Clara stadium." York is "not so young and untested anymore; he's just a winning NFL chief executive -- albeit still a fairly young one." York said, "It's been fun. It's been a great year. Everything we've done on and off the field has been fantastic" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 1/20).

CHOICE OR NECESSITY? In Boston, Dan Shaughnessy writes the Red Sox' '11-12 offseason "hasn't done much to boost fans' hopes." GM Ben Cherington said Thursday, "There’s been significant commitments made the last two offseasons which pushed our payroll further north, and we made those decisions knowing that it wasn’t going to continue to go further north at the same trajectory forever. At some point, there’s a limit. There’s no marker necessarily on where that limit is, but we made decisions over the last two offseasons knowing we were going to be closer to where that threshold is." Shaughnessy writes the Red Sox "charge fans a ton of money for tickets," and NESN "makes a bundle." Owner John Henry "and friends have demonstrated a willingness to spend in commensurate fashion during their 10-year stewardship." But now it "feels like they are pulling back, holding the line, worrying about luxury tax, and (gulp) monies spent on Liverpool soccer." Red Sox "spinmeisters need to cease promoting the notion that the ball club is tapped out and can’t spend more." Shaughnessy: "The money is there. Holding the line on spending is a choice, not a necessity" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/20).

PAYROLL ON THE RISE: In Phoenix, Nick Piecoro notes the D'Backs have "found themselves with a payroll they say will be north of $79 million, putting them in position to potentially lose money if things don't go according to plan." D'Backs President & CEO Derrick Hall said, "That's a credit to (Managing General Partner) Ken (Kendrick) and ownership. We now have some pressure to increase revenues, but we think we can." Hall added, "I think revenues will naturally go up after the season we had last year and the investments we made this off-season. With that, it's a bit of a roll of the dice, but we're just trying to break even, as you know. Do we think we can break even with an increased payroll? We certainly hope so, because our team is that much better." Hall said that the club's season-ticket "renewal rate is about 87 percent and added that the team sold 1,400 new accounts, which he said amounts to 'over $1 million in revenue right there'" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 1/20).

WHERE IS EVERYONE? In Milwaukee, Don Walker noted it is "still early in the season, but home attendance for Milwaukee Bucks games is down markedly." Through the team's "five home games so far, attendance has averaged 13,757, the third lowest in" the NBA. Only the Rockets, "with 13,474 fans per game, and the Detroit Pistons, at 11,719 fans per game, are lower." Last season, the Bucks "averaged 15,412 fans per game, finishing 23rd in the league" (JSONLINE, 1/18).