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Volume 24 No. 178


The city of Memphis yesterday had its “first opportunity to see if it would be sold” on the Grizzlies' new ownership group when Chair Robert Pera and CEO Jason Levien “unveiled the members in front of an audience in the FedExForum's lobby as part of Pera's introductory news conference,” according to a front-page piece by Kyle Veazey of the Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL. It is a “big group, with some 24 individuals or entities,” including “lifelong Memphians and those who may never have stepped foot in our city.” Pera’s ownership percentage is “known to be less than 50 percent, though Pera would not confirm the exact percentage.” Levien said that Pera will be “first in line to cover the team's operating losses, should they occur.” A source said that Pera’s ownership deal “includes $125 million in financing through the NBA's credit line and $50 million in financing through a bank.” Veazey notes L.A.-based Oaktree Capital Management Principal Steve Kaplan “has the title of vice chairman.” Kaplan “envisions his role as being a supporter of the team and one who brings his private equity background to help manage the team better.” He “would not say how much he owns, other than to say it is ‘significant.’” Veazey notes two other "non-Memphians stand out: Barry Klarberg and Michael Savit.” Klarberg “managed the business” of music group *NSync. Former band member Justin Timberlake is also an investor. Meanwhile, Savit has owned “several minor league sports teams and currently owns” the NBA D-League franchise in Springfield, Mass. In terms of local ownership, some of the same investors who were with former Owner Michael Heisley “remain a part of the team.” That includes AutoZone Founder J. R. "Pitt" Hyde and Southeastern Asset Management Founder Staley Cates. Also “confirmed to be involved” are investment firm founder Duncan Williams and financial services exec Edward Dobbs. Another investor, Ashley Manning, wife of Broncos QB Peyton Manning, “wasn’t at Monday’s announcement.” Levien said that he “had not met her yet.” He joked, “I met her lesser-known husband” (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 11/6).

Chair Robert Pera CEO Jason Levien
Vice Chair Steve Kaplan Staley Cates
Pace Cooper Edward Dobbs
Steve Ehrhart Harold Ford Jr.
Al Gossett The Hand Family
Anfernee Hardaway Paul Harless
J.R. "Pitt" Hyde Barry Klarberg
Ashley Manning Joseph Nicosia
Billy Ogrel Elliott Perry
Bill Rhodes Michael Savit
Justin Timberlake Mike Wharton
Duncan Williams Kemmons and Spence Wilson

SHARING A VISION: Pera and Levien yesterday “answered some of the most important questions about their approach to running the franchise.” Levien said of the structure on the business side, “I'll be the CEO and managing partner for the ownership group. We'll have someone leading the business side and someone leading the basketball side.” On whether the franchise can do better financially than under Heisley, Levien said, “If we didn't think so, we wouldn't be here. … Our belief and hypothesis is that, yes, we can get more people in the building, we can get more sponsors, we can engage more local business to want to be a part of this, and that's going to reap big benefits for us” (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 11/6).

: In Memphis, Geoff Calkins writes Pera came off “as earnest and genuine” yesterday, and he sounded “grateful, as much as anything else.” Still, there is “work yet to be done,” as the Grizzlies “didn't sell out Monday's game, to take one example.” Pera and Levien “have to prove they can actually run a team.” But last night’s game “was dazzling, for openers” (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 11/6). A Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL editorial states Pera “may live in San Jose, Calif., and Taiwan and call himself a ‘citizen of the world,’ but he's a quick study of the city the Grizzlies have called home since 2001.” Through his “first words and early actions, he clearly understands the Grizzlies' place in Memphis culture, not just as a basketball team but as a civic rallying point.” Now Pera is “officially the boss, and saying the sort of things that should put Memphians at ease.” This is a “civic institution, with the potential to make major positive changes in the community.” Pera “seems to grasp this fact -- and even better, to embrace it” (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 11/6).

Browns Owner Jimmy Haslam III said that he will “venture outside the immediate area, into Columbus and other parts south, in an effort to build ticket sales by energizing a fan base leery of still more losing and another push of the reset button,” according to Joel Hammond of CRAIN’S CLEVELAND BUSINESS. Haslam said, “We're selling the Browns, and it's not just in Cleveland. It's Northeast Ohio; it's all of Ohio. We're very respectful of the Brown (family that owns the Cincinnati Bengals), but there are a lot of Browns fans in Columbus. I don't know that we've taken advantage of that.” Scarborough Research data “seems to back up Columbus' status as a battleground market, at least in terms of pro sports loyalty.” The data showed that 37% of adults in the Columbus area "either have watched, attended or listened to" the Browns and that figure is about 32% for the Bengals. Meanwhile, Hammond reports the Browns in mid-October were “seeking bids from media companies for the rights to the team's flagship radio broadcasts.” Browns Senior VP/Business Development Jim Ross said that the team is “aiming to increase the number of radio affiliates statewide and to hook up with stronger affiliates in markets where the team already has a radio presence.” The Browns' radio network currently “spans 28 affiliates, with only four in Columbus or markets south” (CRAIN’S CLEVELAND BUSINESS, 11/5 issue).

MEETING OF THE MINDS: Browns General Counsel Fred Nance said that Haslam last week met with the "leadership of the region’s chamber of commerce, the Greater Cleveland Partnership, to talk about ‘points of intersection in economic development’ between the Browns and Cleveland.” CRAIN's Hammond in a separate piece notes the Browns are “part of a committee formed by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson that put together an RFP for developers to pitch their ideas for the lakefront, but neither Mr. Haslam nor Mr. Nance would commit to the team being a partner in development efforts.” In addition, the Browns have been “involved in negotiations with potential naming rights sponsors for Cleveland Browns Stadium, and there will be a naming rights deal in place for the 2013 season.” When Haslam was asked “why not Pilot Flying J,” he said, “I think there are other companies that would have more interest.” Haslam also reiterated that the team “would bring in top architects to study improvements to the stadium” (CRAIN’S CLEVELAND BUSINESS, 11/5 issue).

ROAD TRIP: Travel Channel announced that it is partnering with NFL Films and RIVR Media on a new series entitled, “NFL Road Tested: The Cleveland Browns,” set to premiere Dec. 4 at 10:00pm ET. NFL Films will provide access to the net for behind-the-scenes footage as the team travels to their remaining away games this season. Viewers will see how the Browns prepare each week through the eyes of the players and team management, including Haslam’s new role as owner (Browns). In Cleveland, Tom Reed notes Haslam’s wife, Dee, owns production company RIVR Media and “her television connections and Haslam's ownership will afford the Browns exposure they otherwise would not have enjoyed” (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 11/6).

Saints LB Jonathan Vilma had some strong words for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, saying that he did not think Goodell handled the team’s bounty scandal properly. Vilma said, “I don’t agree with the way he publicly chastised us, turned us into these media criminals, thugs, whatever you want to call us before even hearing our side of the story. March 2nd was the first time this ‘Bountygate’ exploded … and then it was Jonathan Vilma put $10,000 on Brett Favre. No one ever asked me, not one time before that, ‘Is this true? Did that happen? Why are they saying that?’ So I don’t think he handled it well at all.” Goodell last month recused himself from hearing the appeal of his suspensions of four players in the bounty scandal, and Vilma said, “It just doesn’t look good, and the reason why it doesn’t look good is because you can’t put anything on paper and show it to me and say this is what you did. I think if he handled it man-to-man, behind closed doors and asked, ‘What happened?’ and we work together from there. I think it would’ve been better off.” Saints coach Sean Payton is suspended this season for his alleged role in the bounty system, and Vilma said it is “tough” not to have him around. He said, “You have the real Sean that we know down here with the Saints. The organization knows him and New Orleans knows him. But then you have this outside perception of Sean that he’s some sort of a renegade coach and he hides stuff, and that’s just not true” (“Monday Night Countdown,” ESPN, 11/5).

TAGLIABUE NOT STEPPING ASIDE:’s Chris Mortensen cited sources as saying that former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue "denied a motion to recuse himself as the arbitrator for the appeals hearing" of players disciplined in the bounty scandal. Tagliabue "informed the players' attorneys of his decision, stating he will move forward with establishing a date for the hearing and also formalizing the process on which the appeal will be heard." Sources said discussions of the process will take "a fair amount of time." One source said that the hearing is "scheduled for Nov. 20" (, 11/5).

In Pittsburgh, Teresa Lindeman notes the Penguins “started dabbling with Pinterest around the beginning of this year." Penguins New Media Coordinator Melissa Marchionna said that it is “still not entirely clear where the site is going to go, but the visual focus works well for hockey fans.” She said that one popular board is "Weddings on Ice," and a fan “posted a great image of a wedding cake shaped like the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup.” She added that participating in those kinds of boards “isn't really about selling gear, but about creating relationships with fans.” Any images of Penguins merchandise that the team organization posts on Pinterest “are linked to the NHL shop, but the league splits revenue among the teams, so that doesn't directly generate a lot of money for the Pittsburgh team” (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 11/6).

PADDING THE WALLET: SPORTING NEWS’ Anthony Witrado wrote it is “almost a sure thing” that Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik will “have more money to play with than the nearly $82 million the payroll was set at to start 2012.” Estimates of just how much more money “have ranged from $25 million on the high end to about $16 million on the low end.” Either way, that is “a luxury Zduriencik has not been afforded since his first season, when the payroll was nearly $99 million.” This winter will be the “most important for the franchise in the last four years, and money won’t be a hindrance this time around” (, 11/5).

HOUSE KEEPING: In Jacksonville, Gene Frenette wrote Jaguars Owner Shahid Khan “has to start contemplating major changes” following the team's 1-7 start, and GM Gene Smith’s four-year “rebuilding project looks bleak as can be right now.” The Jaguars have been “outscored 126-34 in four home games.” Frenette: “The Jaguars have NEVER been this bad. Not during the 1995 expansion season, when Tom Coughlin's first team was 4-12 with only three blowout-type losses. Not during a 1-7 start in 2003, when Jack Del Rio's first team was more competitive and went 4-4 in the second half” (, 11/4).

PACKAGE DEAL: In Miami, Barry Jackson reported the Dolphins “have sold hundreds of prorated season tickets since the season started and have managed to eclipse last year’s season-ticket sales count (42,584), which was its lowest since 1983.” If you buy a season ticket “to the final five games, you get the Titans game free” (, 11/4).