The Heat begin defense of their NBA title tonight against the Celtics, and Miami changing from a “football town to basketball town ... hasn’t happened yet, but the idea it could no longer is either blasphemous or ridiculous," according to Greg Cote of the MIAMI HERALD. Winning South Florida, “owning it, will enter the broad civic discussion if the bar measuring Heat success continues at the championship level.” Still, it will “take another title this season (and the giddy assumption of more) to properly begin that conversation.” Cote: “I don’t think the Heat is there yet, not even with two championships in the past seven years. ... But I think the Heat is getting there." Heat F LeBron James is the "only player on the planet capable of agitating the monumental change.” As the Dolphins’ “halcyon days turn by degrees to nostalgia,” the Heat’s current reign “is more and more relevant in a transient community getting younger and younger.” Cote: “I don’t doubt that for every one of you who think the Heat already has taken over this town, there might be five who think it will never happen.” If anything “can change that, in perception or reality, it is this marvel that [Heat President Pat] Riley has assembled, this machine fronted by a beloved Dwyane Wade and by the incomparable locomotive LeBron James” (MIAMI HERALD, 10/28).
NEW THREADS: The Heat are scheduled to wear six different uniforms this season. Tonight's jerseys feature gold trim elements outlining the team name, along with the Larry O’Brien Trophy affixed to the right shoulder of the uniform and on the back of the warm-up jacket. The team on Nov. 24 will wear its White Hot uniform and will re-christen the traditional “Black Friday” date as “White Hot Friday.” A red Christmas Day uniform will include white trim outlining just the team name, player name and numerals. The red throwback 25th Anniversary Hardwood Classics uniform pays homage to the mid-90’s Heat teams. In addition, the ‘12-13 season marks the seventh year the Heat will celebrate the NBA’s Noche Latina initiative (Heat).
TURNING UP THE FIRE: The AP’s Tim Reynolds notes there have been “a slew of upgrades” at AmericanAirlines Arena “over the summer -- slightly different looks here and there, a new nightclub and restaurant, more concessions and bars for ticketholders to enjoy.” The Heat will “even offer fans the chance to purchase championship-ring-related merchandise, designed in the same manner as the players' title-reward jewelry” (AP, 10/30).
The Trail Blazers have hired AEG Sports COO Chris McGowan as President & CEO. McGowan replaces Larry Miller, who resigned as the team's President in July to accept a position with Nike. McGowan will begin his new position with the Blazers on Nov. 12, and will manage all business operations of the team and the Rose Garden. Meanwhile, Seahawks and MLS Sounders President Peter McLoughlin assumes the role of Vulcan Sports & Entertainment CEO, which manages the professional sports properties of Paul Allen. McGowan will report to McLoughlin (Trail Blazers). In Portland, Joe Freeman notes McGowan has "worked with AEG since 1996" and was elevated to AEG Sports COO "after a successful stint as chief operating officer of the [NHL] Kings, during which he did the impossible: Sell the Kings -- and hockey -- to Los Angeles." AEG President & CEO Tim Leiweke said of McGowan, who this year was on SBJ/SBD's Forty Under 40 list, "He’s intense and driven and he wants to win and be successful. But he does it in a respectful way that is all about bringing people together" (Portland OREGONIAN, 10/30). Also in Portland, John Canzano writes the hope is not that McGowan "will walk on water, or help a basketball team that feels headed to another NBA Draft Lottery find a miracle way out of this mess." Rather, the hope is that McGowan "can work closely enough with [GM Neil] Olshey to end the convoluted decade of madness and again make the basketball, not the business (or some gobbled combination) feel like it's driving the bus again." Canzano: "I know [Owner Paul] Allen wants to turn a tidy profit, and regain market enthusiasm, season-ticket renewals and piles of lost sponsorship dollars." But what the Blazers have been "woefully ignorant" about following Bob Whitsitt's departure in '03 is "just how successful sports franchises turn into successful businesses." Allen "isn't known as a great businessman," and his "biggest mistake has been an inability to recognize what's made him successful in the first place" (Portland OREGONIAN, 10/30).
LEAVING TOWN: In Portland, Andy Giegerich noted the Blazers "passed over" team Exec VP & COO Sarah Mensah, who had "been expected to be a top candidate for the post." The McGowan announcement came "just after Mike Fennell, the team's longtime counsel, revealed he was leaving the Blazers" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 10/29). Giegerich in a separate piece noted Fennell "had been with the team for the past 20 years." He will now "serve as a legal consultant for the team as it looks for a replacement." In-house counsel Ben Lauritsen "will fill Fennell’s role as acting general counsel." Fennell has "worked on such matters as player contract negotiations during his tenure" and also has "served as general counsel for other" Allen-owned Portland affiliates (BIZJOURNALS.com, 10/29).
The Grizzlies are “netting an increase in corporate sponsorships and ticket sales thanks to momentum from last season,” according to Michael Sheffield of the MEMPHIS BUSINESS JOURNAL. The Grizzlies have “new sponsorship deals with Chick-Fil-A, which will give away chicken sandwiches as part of the ‘Grizzlies Win, You Win’ promotion that will still include free offers from Sonic, Golf & Games Family Park and Jason’s Deli.” The team also has “finalized a deal with Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous Charcoal Ribs to provide barbecue in FedExForum.” adidas also will have “branded souvenir stands” in the arena. Grizzlies VP/Corporate Sales & Service Chad Bolen said that playoff runs during the last two seasons have “spurred more local interest from corporate sponsors.” The Grizzlies “don’t release exact ticket sales numbers, but the team has reportedly increased season ticket sales by about 1,200 in the last year.” After the ‘10-11 playoff run, the team “increased ticket sales by about 2,600.” Grizzlies VP/Ticket Sales & Service Dennis O'Connor said that the Grizzlies “had their highest renewal rate in team history this summer, hitting about 90 percent.” Grizzlies President of Business Operations Greg Campbell said that the team is “close to matching its all-time high for season ticket sales in the 2004-05 season when it first moved into FedExForum” (MEMPHIS BUSINESS JOURNAL, 10/26 issue).
MAKING IT OFFICIAL: In Memphis, Ronald Tillery reports Robert Pera “is officially the Grizzlies' majority owner.” Sources yesterday said that Pera “closed his deal to buy the NBA franchise from Michael Heisley.” A source said that Pera's purchase price was “recorded at $377 million in documents presented last week” to the NBA BOG. Tillery notes Pera is “expected to speak publicly soon about the purchase now that the deal has closed.” He has “made no public comments about the Grizzlies since agreeing to purchase the team on June 11.” NBA Commissioner David Stern said that he “expects to be in Memphis on Nov. 5, the date of the team's home opener, suggesting that the team may also be introducing Pera then" (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 10/30).
The Warriors are introducing a variety of digital upgrades to Oracle Arena this season. Changes include an advanced digital display platform developed by Cisco known as Stadium Vision, a new HD scoreboard, an LED press table signage system, a mobile device app called Bypass Lane that allows fans to order and pay for food from their seats, and a partnership with Pogoseat to allow fans mobile ticket upgrades. The team also has set up iPad kiosks throughout the arena and implemented a paperless ticket method for select fans. The team hopes to move the entire arena to paperless tickets in '13-14 (Warriors). In S.F., Eric Young noted the Warriors are "spending about $8 million on various upgrades to the 19,596-seat facility." Team President Rick Welts said, "We have five more great seasons of Warriors basketball right here (in Oakland). We’re going to continue to invest in the team and the arena." Young notes the new scoreboard is "twice the size and resolution of the one it replaces." Other upgrades include the "placement of 600 high-definition screens around the arena that will show live game action as well as advertising." Stadium Vision allows sponsors to "customize their ads each day or each quarter if they like." Sponsors also can have "one set of ads running in the passageways while a separate ad runs in the luxury boxes." CMO Chip Bowers said that the team "can now sell access to the new Stadium Vision system based on time and arena location ... giving the team a chance to boost revenue" (S.F. BUSINESS TIMES, 10/26 issue).
SMALL PIECE OF THE PUZZLE: In Cleveland, Joel Hammond reports the Cavaliers "will announce a Wi-Fi buildout at Quicken Loans Arena." Cavaliers Senior VP/Communications Tad Carper said that the effort is "part of a larger digital platform upgrade, details of which still are being ironed out" (CRAIN'S CLEVELAND BUSINESS, 10/29 issue).
The Hawks’ ownership group “considers itself fortunate that its deal to sell a majority stake in the team to a Los Angeles businessman fell through” one year ago, according to Tucker & Vivlamore of the ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION. Hawks co-Owner Bruce Levenson “described in detail for the first time how and why he and his partners moved from having one foot out the door to a full re-engagement.” He said that the group has “made no effort to sell the team since the deal with Alex Meruelo was called off Nov. 4, 2011.” He noted that the group “hopes to add minority investors, but is focused on building the franchise and owning it long-term.” Levenson said that ownership had “come to regret the decision to sell by the time the Meruelo deal collapsed.” Levenson: “We had not long before gone through this very public, very fractious dispute among our ownership group, and even though we were pleased with the result of that [the buyout of former partner Steve Belkin], it was still a very painful dispute. On top of that, we had just gone through the sale of the Thrashers, another very painful and public process. And on top of that, we were going into an uncertain period in the NBA with the collective bargaining agreement.” Levenson said that a year later, as a new season approaches his group would “like to add minority investors who could contribute to the organization in ways beyond financial, but added ‘nothing is imminent’ on that front.” Levenson said that the Hawks “continue to lose money, but not nearly as much as previously.” The Hawks reported that the owners “invested $9 million on capital improvements in the past year, including LED boards and a restaurant in Philips Arena and an exterior marquee, and recently approved five new positions in basketball operations and player development” (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 10/28).
It is possible that "fewer than half of the 2.2 million television households in the Greater Houston area will have access" to CSN Houston in time for tomorrow's Rockets-Pistons game, according to David Barron of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. A network spokesperson yesterday said that “'active negotiations’ continue with local TV providers.” As of yesterday afternoon, CSN Houston was “available only on Comcast, the area’s largest cable provider, and a collection of smaller systems that together represent approximately 40 percent of the market.” A “significant segment of the market -- perhaps up to one-third -- does not have cable or satellite service, and Dish, DirecTV and U-verse account for at least 700,000 subscribers.” Rockets CEO Tad Brown was among those “left in the cold." Brown said, “The product is terrific. It’s everything we hoped and thought it would be. We were told this is the normal course of business as it relates to carriage discussions. We are optimistic that Comcast can work out distribution leading into our game” (CHRON.com, 10/29).
LAKERS FANS LEFT OUT: In California, Michael Lev notes the “first of 57 exclusive" Time Warner Cable SportsNet broadcasts of Lakers games is tomorrow night against the Trail Blazers. Lev: “For all those Lakers fans out there whose cable or satellite provider has yet to strike a deal with TWC -- a group that dwindled over the weekend -- I feel your pain. Your angst is completely justifiable. But the real message here is that some things are worth waiting for. Yes, the possibility of missing Lakers games that count absolutely stinks. But the long-term benefits of the Lakers' $4 billion contract with TWC clearly exceed the frustration of the moment.” If the TWC deal helps the Lakers re-sign C Dwight Howard next year, "a handful of missed games this fall will seem like a small price to pay” (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 10/30).
TWC NOTES: MEDIA POST's David Goetzl reported TWC SportsNet will offer games in Korean via secondary audio programming, something the net believes "marks the first time the option has been available in the U.S. for an RSN." The net is "working with Radio Seoul on the initiative," which will begin next month. Southern California has the "largest population of Koreans in the country, with some 330,000 people" (MEDIAPOST.com, 10/29). TWC SportsNet yesterday announced that it has signed a deal with the WCC to air at least 15 live men’s basketball games this season. Nine of the telecasts will air as “WCC Game of the Week” matchups on Saturdays this winter, paired with a weekly half-hour program on WCC athletics. Meanwhile, Kurt Rambis will appear in studio on TWC SportsNet for select Lakers games this season. His first game will be tomorrow’s Lakers-Blazers game (THE DAILY).
NBA Commissioner David Stern sat down with President Obama fundraiser and former UBS President & COO Robert Wolf for an interview on REUTERS.com, and discussed the changes to the league during his time in office. Stern said the reason the NBA has grown and been successful under his leadership “is taking advantage of things of which I have no control.” That includes the “television explosion in this country” from three channels to hundreds, the arena “building boom,” the “digital economy,” and the globalization of the game. Stern: “All are phenomena that happened around us and that positioned us really well.” Stern said he is trying to globalize the game because “it’s good for business," and it “builds the game.” He added, “In the future we will have teams in Europe. I think Asia is a little far with the travel. But I think Europe is doable and I would say in a decade or so.” Stern addressed last year’s lockout and said both the league and the NBPA “had to go through the dance.” Stern: “There has to be some pain before the parties on both sides decide where the midpoint is. It wasn’t to be avoided, although we were able to make a deal and we saved the season.” Stern said with the new CBA, the two sides “think we have a reset for the next decade.” Meanwhile, Stern said of President Obama's basketball skills, “He’s not that good. He’s a lefty and he goes the same way every time. I’m sorry, and I’m a loyal Democrat, a passionate Democrat. He’s not as good as he thinks he is” (“Impact Players,” REUTERS.com, 10/29).
TIDYING UP: In Cleveland, Bill Livingston writes Stern by "dictating the terms of his own farewell" can now spend the 15 months before his retirement "trying to spiff up a tarnished and ultimately failed stewardship." Stern can "legitimately bring up some huge achievements in popularizing the league." When Stern "globalized the NBA brand in 1992 with the 'Dream Team' at the Barcelona Olympics, he opened ports of call everywhere to basketball." However, no other sport, "not even golf in Tiger Woods' heyday, is as dependent as pro basketball on a small group of instantly recognizable faces." The NBA "star system brings with it inherent drawbacks in creating a sense of entitlement, a need for instant gratification and the ubiquity of stooges known as players' posses" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 10/30).
Basketball HOFer Magic Johnson two weeks ago "campaigned" to bring the NBA back to Seattle four years after it left for Oklahoma City, according to Percy Allen of the SEATTLE TIMES. Johnson spoke to donors and kids at the A Plus Youth Program in Seattle and said, "It would be outstanding." Johnson said of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who is part of an investor group looking to bring a franchise to Seattle, "Steve has been working on this for a lot of years. He's been sitting in the back working on this. He's such a hoops fan. He loves this city." Johnson: "I think it's going to be great building a new arena. The city deserves that. The fans here deserve that. I think no question once all the pieces are put together, [hedge fund manager Chris] Hansen and Mr. Ballmer will come together and a team will end up here and it will be great, just like it was." Allen writes the "biggest Sonics opponent is now changing sides" as NBA Commissioner David Stern "appears to be an advocate for a team returning, judging by pro-Sonics comments he made this summer during a goodwill trip overseas." Hansen said that his "relationship with the league office has deepened the past year, since his plans to return a team to Seattle became public." Hansen said, "People may have misconstrued David's comments a little bit because they're looking at them through a very hopeful lens. The great part of that comment is David is really supportive in getting basketball back to Seattle" (SEATTLE TIMES, 10/30). In Seattle, Jerry Brewer writes Stern is "primed to be an ally at the end of his Sonics-depriving tenure as the NBA commissioner." According to a recent report by YAHOO SPORTS' Adrian Wojnarowski, Stern is "determined ... to bring the NBA back to Seattle." But "most important, he wants to expunge that enormous mistake." The "Sonics' mess is one of the greatest fiascos sullying his legacy." And that is why "Seattle, which hates Stern the most, is primed to benefit from his desire to exit on more positive terms" (SEATTLE TIMES, 10/30).
Clippers F Blake Griffin is featured in a series of five 30-second commercials for Kia Motors' latest TV ad campaign that depict Griffin during various years. The first two spots -- titled "Free Throw" (circa '95) and "Football" (circa '97) -- began running yesterday, while the remaining three spots are scheduled to roll out throughout the NBA season. The campaign was created by Kia's agency of record, David&Goliath. In addition to the TV spots, Griffin will have a presence on all Kia social and digital platforms including Facebook, YouTube and Kia.com (NBA). In N.Y., Stuart Elliott noted Griffin in the campaign "drives a Kia Optima sedan as if it were a time machine." The spots feature Griffin "using the Uvo voice-activated entertainment and information system inside his Kia Optima to send him back to different years from 1995 to the early 2000s." In each commercial Griffin "meets a young actor playing a younger version of himself." For the first spot, Griffin "asks to go back to 1995 and Uvo summons up the song 'This Is How We Do It' from that year." He meets up with a "version of himself who, based on his birth date in 1989, is about 6 years old." Kia Motors America Exec VP/Marketing & Communications Michael Sprague said that Griffin's family "provided images of him as a child to make it easier to cast the children in the commercials." Kia also announced it would "return as a Super Bowl sponsor, buying time during Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3, 2013." While Sprague "declined to talk about what the Super Bowl spot will be about, he did rule out a couple of possibilities." He said that it "will not be a commercial featuring Mr. Griffin ... nor, as of now, will it be a spot with the popular hip-hop hamster characters for the Kia Soul" (NYTIMES.com, 10/29).
Priority Sports & Entertainment Founder & CEO Mark Bartelstein, who represents Wizards rookie G Bradley Beal, said that his client has “agreed in principle to a shoe deal with Nike." Terms were not disclosed, but Bartelstein said that Beal "plans to sign 'a multi-year' deal" with Nike. In DC, Michael Lee noted Beal “has worn Nike throughout his high school, AAU and college career, but Under Armour made a push for his services as well” (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 10/26).
LEAVING A MARK: Digital Li-Ning USA GM Ray Grady said since the China-based sportswear company signed Heat G Dwyane Wade as an endorser and minority owner earlier this month, “We’ve seen an uptick in Twitter followers, Facebook friends and direct traffic to the brand’s website.” ADWEEK’s Joan Voight noted Li-Ning has “more than 24,300 followers on Twitter and 372,000 Facebook friends” (ADWEEK.com, 10/29).
IN THE CARDS: In this week's SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, Terry Lefton notes the NBA and Panini Group yesterday formally announced a multiyear extension of their partnership, under which Panini will continue to be the league's exclusive trading card and sticker partner globally. The tie-in has been extended for "another five years" through the '16-17 season. Panini under the new deal has "expanded global rights, allowing it, for example, to sell a Chinese-language version of NBA cards" in China. It also can issue "as many as 25 annual NBA releases; this season it will have 22" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 10/29 issue).
BEARD TRIMMING: In Oklahoma City, Jennifer Palmer notes with the Thunder’s trade of G James Harden to the Rockets, T-shirts featuring Harden’s signature “The Beard,” have “moved from fan favorite to the clearance rack.” The shirts were “marked 50 percent off” at USA Screen Printing & Embroidery Co.’s retail store in Oklahoma City. Store officials “contacted Adidas to ensure they wouldn't receive any more Harden gear and ordered shirts for the new players, which should be available in a couple of weeks” (OKLAHOMAN, 10/30).