The Eagles yesterday hired Univ. of Oregon coach Chip Kelly, and "within the confines of the current moment, Kelly is a great hire for the Eagles," according to Dan Graziano of ESPN.com. It is "hard to imagine how they could have done any better." The hiring of Kelly is a "triumph of persistence by the organization, and news about which its increasingly disgruntled fan base has good reason to be excited." Graziano: "I believe this is a football decision by the Eagles first and foremost. I am confident that [Owner] Jeffrey Lurie and [GM] Howie Roseman have selected the man they believe is right to lead their team into the post-Andy Reid future, and that public relations was not the most important thing on their minds when they decided to go back and do whatever they did this week to convince Kelly to change his mind." But if "you think P.R. is no factor at all, then you haven't been paying attention to the Eagles the past couple of years." A team that has "averaged 10 wins a year and made the playoffs in nine of the past 13 seasons has nonetheless engendered strongly negative feelings among its own fan base." Lurie "believes he's running one of the best franchises in the league and doesn't like the idea that the fans dislike the team." Graziano: "So you'd better believe that one of the things on Lurie's mind throughout this process has been the impression the ultimate decision would make among Eagles fans." In "that respect, he's hit a home run" (ESPN.com, 1/16).
NO LOVE: In Philadelphia, Sam Donnellon writes Kelly's hiring "is not bold" and "is not a risky move." The truth is "Kelly is Lurie's safest bet, at least from a public-relations standpoint." When the NFL season ended, Kelly was "the most coveted coach out there." Donnellon: "We know only this: Either way, he will make a big splash." After "more than a decade of fool's gold and unfulfilled promise, that's the best Jeffrey Lurie has to offer right now" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 1/17). Also in Philadelphia, Phil Sheridan writes by hiring the "latest offensive genius from the college ranks, Lurie has turned his franchise into a laboratory." It could be "fantastic and entertaining and lead, finally, to a Super Bowl title." It just as easily "could be a disaster." The only thing "we can be reasonably sure of is that it won't be boring" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 1/17).
BEARING DOWN: The CHICAGO SUN-TIMES writes Bears' GM Phil Emery "diligently navigated the franchise-defining process" of hiring of CFL Toronto Argonauts coach Marc Trestman for the same position. Emery despite "stiff competition ... laid out an ambitious plan and seemingly avoided any major setbacks or issues." A source said, "He was as thorough as anyone I've ever heard of" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 1/17). YAHOO SPORTS' Michael Silver wrote "in a vacuum, there is reason for the Trestman and Kelly hires to be celebrated." So many NFL franchises are "unimaginative when it comes to choosing coaches that when two of them take chances on men who aren't among the usual suspects, it's refreshing." Yet a "look at the larger landscape highlights a depressing overtone." More than "ever before, NFL teams are looking for offensive gurus as head coaches -- and the pool from which they're choosing is almost exclusively white" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/16).
Wild COO Matt Majka said that not even halfway through yesterday the team "already had its biggest ticket-selling day in franchise history," according to Michael Russo of the Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE. Two games, including Saturday's season opener against the Avalanche, were "sold out in the first hour." Hundreds of fans "swarmed the three Hockey Lodge locations and emptied shelves during a half-off sale." And 13,096 "enthusiastic fans arrived early" last night to watch an intrasquad game featuring, for the first time, LW Zach Parise and D Ryan Suter in red Wild sweaters. Majka said, "We are extremely grateful and humbled, but we know we continue to have a lot of work to do to earn everybody's trust and faith again." Majka "wouldn't divulge Wednesday ticket-sale numbers, but he said the Wild sold 10 times the number of jerseys it would on a normal game night and five times the volume of merchandise sold in the 12 days of the State Fair" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 1/17). Majka said that the Wild is "prepared to offer mea culpas as long as necessary." In Minneapolis, Rachel Blount notes though Majka heard "plenty of anger during the lockout, he anticipates the Wild can regain its entire fan base -- and perhaps add to it -- if it follows sincere apologies with high-quality play." Majka said that the NHL "consulted with franchises about post-lockout marketing plans, but allowed them to formulate their own strategies to cater to local markets." In addition to last night's activities, the Wild will "offer merchandise specials throughout the month, give away T-shirts on Opening Night and award autographed jerseys to selected fans." Season-ticket holders will be "offered a 20 percent discount on additional single-game tickets through Feb. 28, and they will be given waivers of some ticket fees, reward-program points and recognition during games." Majka acknowledged that the "state's love for the game gives the Wild a leg up, especially compared to nontraditional hockey markets." The signings of Parise and Suter "generated sales of 4,000 season tickets over the summer, and the lockout did not seem to diminish fans' excitement to see whether the Wild can meet heightened expectations." The Wild is "running newspaper ads this week asking for fans' forgiveness, and players will offer their personal thanks to selected fans before Saturday's game" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 1/17).
Marlins Owner Jeffrey Loria chose to cut payroll by more than $60M this off-season because the Marlins "dramatically overestimated their revenue at Marlins Park, largely because they expected much higher attendance," according to two MLB officials cited by Barry Jackson of the MIAMI HERALD. One MLB official said that the Marlins "told people they overestimated stadium revenue by a whopping $40 million." The organization "expected per-game attendance would be 33,000 to 35,000," instead paid attendance was "announced at 27,400." That "ranked 18th in baseball and was worst for a first-year ballpark in the modern era." Moreover, the figure actually was "a bit lower because some people got in free, including using tickets given away by MLB." And the number of people who "actually showed up to games was, on average, 17,000." Season-ticket sales were "widely reported at 15,000," but that is "not true." The Marlins "actually sold 12,000 season tickets and will be fortunate to reach 7,000 in 2013." Because attendance was "much lower than expected, concessions and merchandise revenue fell far below expectations." The Marlins were "required to pay the county $10 for 5,000 parking spaces every game," with parking being "included in prices for season ticket holders." The organization "expected to make a modest profit," but instead it "had to cover the cost of a lot of empty spots and ended up losing $300,000 on parking." The team's new ESPN/Fox/TBS TV deals will "deliver twice as much annual revenue as the old deal, which should theoretically give the Marlins a reason to boost payroll in 2014." However, Loria has not "told his people if he will" (MIAMIHERALD.com, 1/15).
The T'Wolves yesterday launched their "season-ticket renewal campaign, offering a 10 percent refund off next season's tickets if the team doesn't make this season's playoffs," according to Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE. The campaign includes "price increases in many ticket levels as the team transitions from bargain prices it instituted in recent seasons to bring fans back to Target Center." Some fans who "participated in a flat-pricing 'loyalty' plan from last year's labor lockout will see their ticket prices ... nearly double or more next season." The team still will "sell 1,000 lower-level seats for $20 per game and 8,000 upper-level seats at $7 and $4 each per game." The team also is offering "perks such as a team dinner, coach's chalk talk, open practice and boat cruise as part of a membership program in which the current 10,000 season-ticket holders will be separated into five levels ranging from gold to president's club" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 1/17). Team President Chris Wright said, "We needed to put some skin in the game for our membership. This discount is something we discussed months ago. And if we don't fulfill our goal of making the playoffs, for whatever reason, we still want to do it." In St. Paul, Ray Richardson notes among the "features in the new campaign is the creation of membership levels titled President's Club, Diamond, Sapphire, Platinum and Gold." The levels are "available only to current season-ticket holders who plan to renew." Based on the "membership level purchased, the benefits include early arena entrance, dedicated concession lines, discounted parking and a 20 percent discount at the Wolves Pro Shop." Price increases in season-ticket plans "range from 1.1 percent to 21.7 percent." Pricing for two categories "remained the same from last season, and prices in two other categories were decreased by 22.3 percent and 33.4 percent" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 1/17).
BUCK STOPS HERE: In Milwaukee, Rich Kirchen notes so far this season, the Bucks' "average home attendance is the lowest since the team started playing in the Bradley Center in 1988 and ranks 27th in the 30-team NBA at 14,029." The timing for the attendance "dip is worth examining as the Milwaukee community prepares a discussion on whether to build a new downtown arena that would house the Bucks plus other sports teams and entertainment events" (MILWAUKEE BUSINESS JOURNAL, 1/11 issue).
ESPN BOSTON’s Gordon Edes noted Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein “addressed criticism of Red Sox ownership in a new book co-authored by former Sox manager Terry Francona.” He said, “My quote about how 'they told us... we needed sizzle' was in response to a question about the meeting to discuss the consultants' study on NESN ratings. It was specifically about the consultants' meeting; it was not about ownership." Epstein added, “There is no direct link between that meeting and the Red Sox moves that winter. I take full responsibility for those moves.” Epstein disagreed with Francona saying the team’s ownership did not love baseball (ESPNBOSTON.com, 1/17).
BREW MASTERS: MLB.com's Adam McCalvy noted the Brewers Tuesday "whittled down to three finalists in their 'Design a YOUniform' contest and opened online balloting." The contest, which will see the winning uniform design "worn on the field by the Brewers twice" in exhibition games, began with 700 proposals. Fans can now view the final three designs on the team's website and "vote for their favorite." The fan vote, along with "an internal panel of judges that includes Brewers closer John Axford, will select the winner" (MLB.com, 1/15). Meanwhile, the Brewers organization yesterday announced it had “sold its 1 millionth ticket for 2013, reaching that milestone on the second-earliest date in franchise history” (MLB.com, 1/16).
ON THE DOCK OF THE BAY: In S.F., John Shea noted the A's Jan. 27 FanFest at Oracle Arena "is sold out." All 10,000 tickets have been sold, "at 10 bucks a pop for the general public and $5 for season-ticket holders." The sellout comes a year after only "7,500 fanfest tickets were sold." The A's at the event will "sell individual-game tickets and, at no charge, stage autograph, photo and Q&A sessions" (SFGATE.com, 1/15).
MARCHING ORDERS: The Yankees yesterday announced they will play an exhibition game on Saturday, March 30, at 2:00pm ET against the Army baseball team at West Point’s Johnson Stadium at Doubleday Field. It will be the 22nd exhibition game between the clubs at West Point and the first since ’76 (Yankees).
In San Diego, Michael Gehlken writes former Packers GM Ron Wolf “consulted this month in two searches” that “led to the hirings” of GM Tom Telesco and coach Mike McCoy by the Chargers. The team said that “looking back, his presence served its purpose.” Gehlken asks, “Did Wolf hire the men? No. Was he asked to be a decision-maker? No.” But he "lent his voice." Chargers Dir of College Scouting John Spanos said of hiring McCoy, “When you’re interviewing candidates who have never been a head coach, I think one of the No. 1 questions is, ‘Is this guy ready to be a head coach?’ And Ron, when it was all said and done, agreed with all of us. ‘This guy is ready. There’s no doubt. This guy is ready’” (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 1/17).
OWNERS MAKING AN APPEARANCE: In Liverpool, James Pearce reports Liverpool Managing Dir Ian Ayre “insists” Fenway Sports Group co-Chair John Henry “remains totally committed to taking Liverpool FC forward.” Henry “has yet to visit Anfield so far this season,” but Ayre said that Henry “remains heavily involved in the running of the club.” Ayre said, “John’s commitment to Liverpool isn’t about him being at games. It’s about him being involved and committed and being supportive. All that happens on a consistent basis.” FSG co-Chair Tom Werner is “set to attend” the Norwich City-Liverpool game on Saturday (LIVERPOOL ECHO, 1/17).
TARP PROGRAM: In DC, Steven Goff noted MLS DC United fans this year will see a "rise for single-game seats" from the '12 price range of $23-52 to a range of $26-55. For the second consecutive year, DC United "will not sell tickets in the upper deck of the 45,000-seat stadium, except for special events." To cover empty space in the upper deck, the club last year "proposed selling advertising tarps," but no corporate sponsorships "have been reached to enact such a plan" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 1/15).
SINKING SHIP? In Virginia, Tom Robinson reported the UFL Virginia Destroyers "owe a lot of people a lot of money." The "lion's share" is roughly $2M unpaid to coaches and players that played four games before the league's October announcement that it would cancel the season and resume play in the spring. But the team also has "left local fans searching in vain for refunds and local vendors for payment of bills." Destroyers President John Wuehrmann yesterday wrote in a text message the team's ownership is "still very engaged in finding a solution to fix the problem." Wuehrmann: "(I'm) confident that it will get cleaned up. Just not sure exactly when" (Norfolk VIRGINIAN-PILOT, 1/16).