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Volume 24 No. 154


The NBA is expected to announce Friday afternoon that the league has a deal to sell the Hornets to a group led by Saints Owner Tom Benson for $338M, according to a source. The league paid approximately $318M for the franchise when it bought the team from George Shinn in December '10. NBA Commissioner David Stern is expected to talk about the deal following the NBA BOG meeting in N.Y. (John Lombardo, SportsBusiness Journal). Benson will own 100% of the team (, 4/13). California-based swimsuit manufacturer Raj Bhathal was also bidding for the team. In New Orleans, Jimmy Smith in a front-page piece this morning cited sources as saying that Bhathal and former Hornets Minority Owner Gary Chouest, who is part of Bhathal's group, “met in New York on Monday with league officials, and possibly" with NBA Commissioner David Stern, while Benson reportedly "also spoke with the NBA on Monday, but was not in New York." All parties involved in the negotiations to purchase the league-owned franchise “have signed a confidentiality agreement,” though in the last two months, the Bhathal group “has been publicly identified, as has Chouest’s interest in becoming a minority partner in that consortium.” Benson's “bid for the team when the initial solicitation process began but dropped out,” but he has “re-emerged into the picture." Smith reported it is "unclear whether the NBA sought to bring Benson back into the bidding." Sources said that it "has been Bhathal's focus from the beginning to keep the team in New Orleans and that Bhathal has the financial wherewithal to consummate a purchase" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 4/13).

The record $2.15B sale of the Dodgers to Guggenheim Baseball Management is set to be approved at a bankruptcy court hearing scheduled to begin Friday morning in Wilmington, Del. The Dodgers late Thursday responded to some of the limited, outstanding concerns to the pending sale and reorganization, saying they will have Guggenheim assert on record that Time Warner Cable is not involved in the sale or is "otherwise indirectly funding it." Fox Sports Net had been concerned one of its key rivals may have been involved in the sale as a means to secure the club's TV rights beginning in '14, and has said that if Time Warner does obtain the rights, the viability of Prime Ticket will be severely threatened. The club will additionally assert under oath there is no formal or informal agreement with Time Warner for the future cable rights. The Dodgers also said that Guggenheim, and not the club, should be responsible for roughly $8M in legal fees stemming from the case MLB wants to recover, if the court deems that money is in fact owed (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal). In L.A., Bill Shaikin notes MLB wants former Dodgers Owner Frank McCourt to "pay, since almost all of that money covers the league's legal fees for the bankruptcy case." Under the MLB constitution, teams are "forbidden from suing the league and, if they do sue, they must cover the league's legal bills." McCourt's attorneys said that any bills "should be assumed by the new owners" (L.A. TIMES, 4/13).

Marlins President David Samson said no sponsors have threatened to leave the team following manager Ozzie Guillen's recent comments about Fidel Castro. Appearing on WAXY-AM’s “The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz,” Samson noted the team has spoken to their sponsors and "they accepted and we accepted Ozzie’s apology." Samson: "They appreciated the fact that we acted and took this as seriously as it deserved to be taken and did not sort of stand and wait to be reactive. We were proactive. Again, this is about an overall view of baseball in Miami and the support that this team has” (“The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz,” WAXY-AM, 4/12). In West Palm Beach, Joe Capozzi reports although “a few Cuban Americans burned Marlins tickets Thursday outside Marlins Park, the team is not planning to add extra security for the series against the Houston Astros” that begins Friday. Fans protested outside Marlins Park Tuesday while Guillen held a press conference to apologize for his comments and some Marlins players said that they “would not be surprised if protesters show up again Friday.” Marlins LF Logan Morrison said, "Will it become a distraction at that point? They'll be on the outside. It's nothing that I'm worried about.” Capozzi notes an ESPN poll of more than 900 adults in the Miami media market found that “nearly two-thirds of Miami residents -- and 56 percent of Cuban-Americans -- think Guillen should keep his job.” The survey revealed that “only 27 percent of Miami-area Cuban Americans view Guillen favorable” (PALM BEACH POST, 4/13).

TIME HEALS ALL?’s Richard Justice wrote, “I know Guillen well enough to know that he would never praise someone as vile as Castro if he only knew the truth. Instead, he was doing what he has always done.” Guillen “wants to give an answer outside the box, an answer that will shock and titillate,” but he “meant no harm.” Justice: “Nor is he stupid. He's a smart man, a funny man, but a man who ventured far outside his area of expertise.” Guillen may “eventually win back the sons of Cuban exiles.” For them, the wounds “are as fresh today as they were in 1959,” and his “sins were unforgivable” (, 4/12). In S.F., Bruce Jenkins writes Guillen has “lost the trust of his most valued fan base: Miami's Cuban exile community.” Theirs is “a rage that will not die -- not after what Guillen said about Fidel Castro.” He has “to win now, and win big, but success will be but a temporary cure,” because there is “no surviving the forces of doubt” (S.F. CHRONICLE, 4/13).

Following the Red Sox' collapse last September and "poor start to this season, ticket sales have slowed, putting the" team's sellout streak "in jeopardy and curbing prices in the resale market," according to Peter Schworm of the BOSTON GLOBE. Even as Fenway Park celebrates its 100th season, plenty of seats "remain for many games this season, a clear step down from the frenzied demand of a few years ago." On resale sites, reasonably priced seats "remain for even Friday’s home opener, a perennially tough ticket." The Red Sox consider a game a sellout when "paid and complimentary tickets equal capacity, so the streak could continue even if paid attendance falls slightly short." Capacity is 37,495 for night games and 37,067 for day games, when the team "closes a section of the center-field bleachers to improve visibility for batters." The Red Sox have sold 2.66 million tickets "so far this season, roughly 2 percent off last year’s pace." Red Sox Exec VP & COO Sam Kennedy said that the front office is "watching sales closely, particularly with the team stumbling out of the gate, but remains confident the first slate of home games will sell out." The drop-off in sales "signals that the runaway popularity that sustained the sellout streak since 2003, a span that saw the Sox make the playoffs six times, is tapering off." Author and Red Sox historian Glenn Stout said that he "believes the sellout streak will continue this season, with sales propped up by the centennial fanfare around Fenway, the league’s oldest park and a baseball mecca." Stout said, "It’s difficult to overestimate the pull Fenway Park has for people across the country. There are more fans of Fenway Park than there are Red Sox fans’’ (BOSTON GLOBE, 4/13). In Massachusetts, Mike Fine wrote the "pitiful start by the team they have assembled could serve to scuttle not only the opening-day goodwill that’s usually oozing, but it could also hit them in the pocketbooks, where they’re looking at a 712-game sellout streak." Make that 713 after "opening day, but lingering resentment by the fans over last September’s collapse and the subsequent charges of player indifference, coupled with the current start, aren’t going to make the natives very happy" (Quincy PATRIOT LEDGER, 4/12).

HOW OLD IS TOO OLD? In Boston, Steve Buckley notes while fans in other cities have "demanded new ballparks, Red Sox fans continue to pay top dollar for the privilege of squeezing themselves into a ballpark that was built for people who were born in the 19th century." While current Owners Fenway Sports Group are "solid citizens, they shouldn’t get a pass on passing off this antiquated ballpark on loyal fans." The Red Sox are to be "applauded for the many fine renovations they have made at Fenway Park over the years, but each new luxury suite and each new concessions stand and each new coat of paint only puts off the day in which a new Fenway Park will open." The Red Sox remain "stuck in the mud, filing into a ballpark fit for tourists and glitterati, but no longer suitable for real fans" (BOSTON HERALD, 4/13).

No team goes to "greater lengths" than the Yankees to make sure its players are "prepared to deal with the media and avoid the trouble that can accompany their positions with one of the most-followed sports franchises in the world," according to Paul White of USA TODAY. Yankees Senior VP & GM Brian Cashman said of his team's media training program, "We want to be the guardrail at the top of the cliff rather than the ambulance at the bottom." Cashman mandates that the first act of spring training every year for Yankees players "is watching a 25-minute video as part of their media training." They also receive a "four-page handout, which includes advice from journalists and former Yankees, plenty of examples of how not to deal with the media, and photos of all the journalists who regularly cover the team." This year's video begins with former MLBer Randy Johnson "having a sidewalk confrontation with a photographer the day before his 2005 introductory press conference when he signed with the team." Yankees Dir of Media Relations Jason Zillo said, "We make it a point to be strategically proactive." Other teams have media training programs, and MLB "includes it in the annual Rookie Development Program for top minor leaguers." Zillo said that he "hasn't given the video to numerous other teams that have requested it after hearing about the Yankees program, but is happy to lend advice." Several of the beat reporters "speak in the video and all 11 were asked by Zillo to address the team before its final exhibition game." While most teams have two or three beat reporters, the Yankees have "11 who travel to every game and some newspapers often send a second reporter." A typical Yankees home game "has 25 to 30 reporters and, Zillo says, 75 to 100 credentialed media members including photographers and broadcast crews." Zillo and Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez have "have worked closely to find strategies to minimize controversy around Rodriguez yet keep him available to talk about his role in the game" (USA TODAY, 4/13).

Wild Owner Craig Leipold is "disappointed but very optimistic" about his team, which has not made the playoffs in the four full seasons since he purchased the club in '08, according to Michael Russo of the Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE. In a recent Q&A, Leipold discussed "his disappointment, the future," and the need for the Wild "to land a big fish." Below is an excerpt of that Q&A.

Q: It’s clear [Sharks RW Martin] Havlat did not fit in well here. Do you regret signing him and do you think you guys succumbed to the pressure of replacing [Rangers RW] Marian Gaborik immediately when he left in 2009?
Leipold: Yeah, there was definitely not just a hockey need, but there was a PR need. We had to make a splash. We just lost Gaborik, and we had the money. We needed to go out and do something. Havlat can make a difference, and probably didn’t fit in here. I think he’ll fit in well in San Jose, but yeah, there was pressure on us.

Q: I know you can’t name names, but how essential is it for you guys to finally land a big fish or two?
Leipold: It’s important to our franchise that we become one of those markets where players want to come to, they want to play for the fans here, they want to play because the culture’s the way it is, because the coaches are the way they are, because management treats their players a certain way. We want to get to that point. I mean, this is such a great market.

Q: The white elephant in the room is the fact that the collective bargaining agreement expires Sept. 15. In '04-05, we lost an entire season. Will this season start on time?
Leipold: What I can say is that we are preparing to start next year on time. I have no reason to believe that we’re not going to start on time. The relationship is good with the players union.

Q: Are you making money?
Leipold: We’re not making money, and that’s one reason we need to fix our system. We need to fix how much we’re spending right now. (The Wild's) revenues are fine. We’re down a little bit in attendance, but we’re up in sponsorships, we’re up in TV revenue. And so the revenue that we’re generating is not the issue as much as our expenses. And (the Wild's) biggest expense by far is player salaries.

Q: Are you still committed to being owner of this franchise for the long haul?
Leipold: Absolutely. No question, no question. I’m not going anywhere (, 4/11).

LIGHTNING STRIKES: Lightning CEO & Minority Owner Tod Leiweke, on how to build a likeable sports brand, said, "It's a thousand bricks, it isn't any one thing. First, you have to love your fans and you have to do that unconditionally. We knew there was a fan base here and I'm surprised at the depth of it. You build a fan base by committing to serve. There are fans here and they're passionate, so therefore it is easy to serve them." He also said it is important for the Lightning to give back to the community because "that's how I've done my business and that's one of the things that really attracted me to owner Jeff Vinik." Leiweke: "That wasn't a philosophy I had to articulate to him, it was one that already lived within him and within his heart" (BRADENTON HERALD, 4/12).

Sabres President Ted Black said Wednesday that GM Darcy Regier and head coach Lindy Ruff are "safely entrenched in their positions," although the team missed the playoffs for the third time in five seasons and sixth in 10, according to John Vogl of the BUFFALO NEWS. Black said, "They'll be back next season. I didn't see a need to do anything otherwise at this juncture." He added, "The fact that we didn't make the playoffs this year when we had high expectations, that is a colossal disappointment. Sometimes success and winning aren't necessarily the same thing. I think we're building a successful franchise that can win the Stanley Cup." Black also said, "The few players that I've talked to, and it's not in a formal interview process, they universally said that they're disappointed that they didn't win for [Owner Terry Pegula]. I think there was a real sense of pride that they play for Terry. ... They want to be Buffalo Sabres, and they want to win for this owner" (BUFFALO NEWS, 4/12). In Buffalo, Jerry Sullivan writes Black has come up with a "new, even more imaginative way to rationalize missing the playoffs" than his predecessors. The Sabres "decided not to conduct a season-ending press conference," and evidently, Pegula "did not feel compelled to explain why he kept his general manager and coach for a 16th season." Most NHL teams "don't trot out the owner after the season." However, most teams "don't have an owner like Pegula, an avid fan who is the unquestioned face of the franchise." Sullivan writes, "I don't expect management to be happy when people are calling for changes. But by hiding, they seem as thin-skinned as the previous regime. Pegula has been treated like a conquering hero in this town. He can handle a few tough questions" (BUFFALO NEWS, 4/13).