END OF AN ERA? SI's Phil Taylor notes for Bird, it "appears that the curtain might soon come down on Act III, in which he has been a quietly effective team president, rebuilding the Pacers into an upper-echelon team again, the likely third seed in the East in the upcoming playoffs." The rumor of his departure "may be premature," but it is "not hard to imagine him deciding to return to his home in Naples, Fla., for good." With each career move he "recedes further into the background, leaving center stage to others." Taylor: "We may not see another like him again. Has anyone pulled off Bird's trifecta -- star for a team, coach a team, build a team -- with so much success?" Bird had the "rare combination of playing ability, coaching patience and an eye for talent -- a basketball man in full." He "may have been most at home on the court, but he wasn't out of his depth on the bench or in the office" (SI, 4/23 issue).
In the Grizzlies' "quest to further build their fan base, to further repair a season ticket base that dwindled a few years back, and to help fortify the team's financial health for the future, they'll look to capitalize on what they hope is the team's most exciting stretch of the year," according to a front-page piece by Kyle Veazey of the Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL. Team President of Business Operations Greg Campbell said, "We will take whatever enthusiasm we derive from this playoff run and we'll use [it] in the summertime to collectively add on throughout the whole summer." Veazey noted last year's playoff "run provided the blueprint." Team officials said that despite the lockout, the Grizzlies sold 2,600 "new season tickets." The club said that that was "among the five best new sales numbers in the league." Entering this past Saturday night's game, attendance was up 6.4% from last year, the fourth-best "improvement in the NBA." The club also said that the Grizzlies retained 85% of their "season-ticket holders after last season, setting a franchise record." Grizzlies VP/Ticket Sales & Service Dennis O'Connor said, "We're ahead of last year's renewal pace, which is obviously good, but even better because our season-ticket base is so much higher than it was last year." Team Senior Dir of Marketing Communications John Pugliese said, "This is the time to capitalize. We're buying additional billboards, additional TV, radio and print and we're being very aggressive in starting this weekend and through our playoff run with our messaging: playoffs, guaranteed with season tickets. Again, it's a very season ticket-driven campaign." During last year's playoff run, the Grizzlies' "Believe Memphis" slogan "blossomed." Club officials said that the slogan will "continue to be part of the team's branding through the playoffs and likely for years to come." Veazey noted earlier this year, Grizzlies Owner Michael Heisley "created an advisory board of local business leaders," and Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau CEO Kevin Kane said that he "hopes it results in a 'rallying call' of Memphians to bump up their support of the NBA in town." It also "could help lead the franchise to a lucrative pool of money, one that could help balance the books and make it more attractive to a prospective owner," as Heisley has been looking to sell the team (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 4/22).
The Broncos this season will give personnel "iPads that feature the week's game plan, scouting reports, video clips and other relevant data," according to Andy Vuong of the DENVER POST. This could "give the Broncos a competitive edge," as only two other NFL teams -- the Ravens and Buccaneers -- have "discarded the printed playbook in favor of a tablet and an app." Broncos GM Brian Xanders said, "The advantage is that when they leave the building, they can take everything home with them very easily and watch tape at night and review the game plan installation. This is their full-time job -- to prepare and do whatever they can to help us win each week." While consumers have purchased millions of iPads since Apple introduced the tablet computer two years ago, the NFL is "starting only now to adopt the technology." The NFL does not "allow electronic devices such as tablets on the sidelines during games," but Broncos Dir of Football Information Systems Tony Lazzaro said that for the first time, "players and coaches this season will have access to those devices in the locker room up until kick off." For their digital playbook, the Broncos partnered with Colorado-based techn firm PlayerLync. The PlayerLync app "allows players and coaches to write notes and highlight the plays using the tablet's touchscreen." The playbooks are then "saved on remote computer servers, allowing players to access notes from previous games." With paper playbooks, those notes "are trashed each week." PlayerLync President & CEO Bob Paulsen said that the company "is in discussions with a handful of other NFL teams on similar initiatives" (DENVER POST, 4/23).
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman Friday said that the sale of the Blues to club minority Owner Tom Stillman "could be completed 'soon.'" Bettman met with Stillman recently and said when the “lawyers are done doing their things,” the sale will move forward. In St. Louis, Jeremy Rutherford reported the next, and final, step for Stillman will be "to meet with the NHL Board of Governors for final approval.” Stillman signed a purchase agreement on Jan. 20 to buy the Blues for $180M, but “that figure includes close to $50 million in future interest that will be divided among the current Blues owners” (STLTODAY.com, 4/20).
JAMISON STILL WORKING ON COYOTES: Former Sharks President & CEO Greg Jamison said that he is “still working on financing” the purchase of the Coyotes and has “additional work to do with both Glendale and the NHL.” Jamison said, "We’re working on it. There’s been progress made. We are optimistic that this can get done, but this is not a guarantee that this can get done.” In Phoenix, Lisa Halverstadt noted Jamison’s comments "followed months of silence about his bid” to buy the team, as he has not "spoken much about his bid ... since Glendale and the NHL confirmed his interest last August.” Jamison said that “he could not say how soon a deal could be reached to buy the team, just that he hopes he can” (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 4/22).
SEEING A SPIKE: In Nashville, Nicole Young wrote that advancing to the second round of the NHL playoffs for the second straight year “is propelling Predators frenzy to the highest level ever seen in Nashville.” The “mounting hockey craze could mean a financial boost” for the team and the city. After "steep drops" in spending in '08-09, sports sponsorships have “bounced back somewhat” over the past two years and are “likely to be aided by a deeper playoff run that matches or exceeds last season’s success.” Winning “generally breeds fans and corporate spending” on items such as T-shirts and beer before and after games, and merchandise and souvenir sales are “a substantial money maker, too, with each home playoff game giving the team another chance to sell merchandise” (Nashville TENNESEAN, 4/22).
RAT RACE: In Miami, Christina De Nicola reports a sellout crowd of 19,513 attended Saturday's Devils-Panthers Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Game Five at BankAtlantic Center. The crowd "was the largest to see a Panthers playoff game in franchise history." Meanwhile, the Panthers are “really struggling to control the practice of rubber rats being thrown onto the ice” after goals and during play. The Panthers figure Devils fans “are to blame for the rodents being tossed onto the ice in the final minutes as officials could call a delay penalty on the home team.” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen: “It was so nice playing here in front of our home fans. It was electric. I am a little concerned about the rats. I know there are a lot of Devils fans throwing them out there” (MIAMI HERALD, 4/23).