Brewers LF Ryan Braun's 65-game suspension has left the team "with an incredibly awkward and major public-relations problem on their hands," according to Michael Hunt of the MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL. The team until Spring Training "must distance themselves somewhat from their best player under the guidelines" of his suspension. But the Brewers also "must create a gap between the franchise and Braun as a means to prevent the alienation of primary sponsors, suite-holders and fans." The decision "whether or not to trade Braun will start" with Brewers Owner Mark Attanasio, who has to "weigh whether Braun's presence will cause fans to stay away from Miller Park." Brewers VP/Communications Tyler Barnes yesterday said that the team has "reached out to key sponsors, suite-holders and many season-ticket holders to get their input." However, it may be "weeks or months before the Brewers know the extent of the fallout." Hunt notes the Brewers, in the "absence of big-market TV/radio revenue, depend on attendance more than many franchises." A bad season this year has "hurt them at the gate," and the team has "got to make sure Braun doesn't put a drag on attendance next year as well." Meanwhile, the Brewers "have yet to symbolically remove" Braun's presence. He is "still prominently featured in a promotional video the team plays an hour before each game," and his pictures "still hang in the stadium" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 7/24).
A DIFFICULT SITUATION: In Milwaukee, Tom Haudricourt in a front-page piece writes the entire Brewers organization is "in a difficult spot with a player who became the face of the franchise two years ago." Even with the $3.4M in salary that Braun "forfeits while on suspension," the Brewers "owe him approximately" $130M over the remainder of his contract. Braun is "basically an untradeable player." The Brewers are "in the awkward position of having to support their best player as well as the MLB drug policy" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 7/24). In N.Y., Pat Borzi notes many Brewers fans viewed Braun "as the current link in a succession of franchise stars that included" Baseball HOFers Hank Aaron and Robin Yount (N.Y. TIMES, 7/24).
TIME TO GO? A MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL editorial states the Brewers "should end their relationship with Braun," as Attanasio has an "opportunity to make the most powerful statement any owner has ever made about what the game of baseball should be and what it should not be." There has been "a lot of talk about 'moving on'" from Braun's situation from players, GM Doug Melvin and Attanasio in the past 24 hours that indicates "they still don't get it." Only by cutting Braun "can the organization 'move on.'" His drug use "taints the team's National League Central Division championship in 2011 and its victory over Arizona in the playoffs that fall." Attanasio has a "chance to make the Milwaukee Brewers franchise an example for the rest of professional sports: He can do that by getting rid of Ryan Braun" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 7/24).
Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia is closing in on a seven-year, $100M extension, which would make him, “at least temporarily, the highest-paid second baseman in the game,” according to Peter Abraham of the BOSTON GLOBE. The deal would “take Pedroia through the end” of the ’21 season, when he will be 38. It would be the first $100M “deal for a second baseman in baseball history.” Pedroia is "regarded as a model player both for his performance and personality." Although Pedroia "compares favorably" to Yankees 2B Robinson Cano statistically and is 10 months younger, Cano could "realize an average annual value of close" to $20M. If Pedroia had "waited for Cano to set the market, his extension could have been worth more." Pedroia: "I don't look at it like that" (BOSTON GLOBE, 7/24). In Boston, Nick Cafardo notes Pedroia "heard the right numbers and the right number of years and he pounced." Cafardo: "So much for the Red Sox showing restraint in future contracts." The Red Sox had Pedroia "under control" through '15 with a team option worth $11M. With this new agreement, starting in '15 he will "receive an average" of $14.28M a season with a full no-trade clause. The Red Sox "got a bargain when they signed Pedroia to his last contract." They "probably feel this is a bargain as well because Cano could get double the money if a team such as the Dodgers gets involved." The Red Sox made an "exception to their recent statements that they don’t want to exceed five years with a player" (BOSTON GLOBE, 7/24). Also in Boston, Scott Lauber writes since the "ill-fated signings of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, the Red Sox have been allergic to contracts that exceed three years in length." But Owner John Henry last week said that they would be "more inclined to make that commitment to one of their homegrown players, citing Pedroia as a prime example" (BOSTON HERALD, 7/24).
MLS Sporting KC's home city, host of the MLS All-Star Game on July 31, "has become an unlikely hotbed for professional soccer," according to Sam Borden of the N.Y. TIMES. Sources said that the "rise of the sport in the heart of the United States has been so sharp ... that it now rivals the standard set by the league’s two most prominent success stories" in the Sounders and Timbers. Attendance at K.C.'s soccer stadium, Sporting Park, is "at capacity." The U.S. men's national team has "made the area a regular part of its rotation for important international matches." Even TV ratings, which have "long been disappointing for MLS, are at least increasing on a relative scale." The turnaround has been "startling: as recently as seven years ago," when the team was called the Wizards, merchandise sales "ranked last in MLS." As recently as three years ago, the number of people watching games on TV "frequently came in at numbers that one might be only slightly above those for public-access shows." The team's "relevance cannot be denied." Local sports talk radio segments now are "dedicated to soccer -- something unimaginable in the past" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/24).
MODEL FOR TORONTO: The CP's Neil Davidson reported Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment is "looking at ways to improve BMO Field." MLSE President & CEO Tim Leiweke is "dispatching some of the MLS club’s front office" to the All-Star Game to see the US$200M-plus Sporting Park, which opened in June '11. Leiweke said, "Kansas City’s stadium is fantastic. They market it the right way, they sell it the right way. [Sporting KC CEO Robb Heineman and co-Majority Owner Cliff Illig] do the best job in the league. ... They are phenomenal and we should all aspire to be Kansas City and Portland and Vancouver and now Montreal." Leiweke added, "We owe our fans more. We need to figure out a way to take it to the next level" (CP, 7/23).
The Bengals are preparing for their second appearance on HBO's "Hard Knocks" this season, and the "biggest reason" team Owner Mike Brown is receptive to doing the show again "is to show the Bengals are a different team on and off the field," according to Joe Reedy of the CINCINNATI ENQUIRER. Brown said, "Over the years we dug ourselves into a hole, and I’m probably the one who did it. We would bring in guys and work with them. Sometimes they came around, sometimes they didn’t." Reedy notes the team is "still a frequent punch line whenever a troubled player is on the market."But now being a "solid person counts just as much as what a player can do on the field." Brown: "The thing I do regret is how it came to make us, or put on us an image that I don’t think was ever anything but a very small part of what we were and sometimes not a part at all. In recent years I’ve tried to go the other way. I’ve just thought it’s too heavy a price to pay and we were going to go back to square one and bring in here guys that were sound people. We’d brought in sound people before, it’s just that on occasions we made exceptions. Now we’re not making exceptions." Brown said of the team's current roster, "These are good people, people that they should be proud to have represent them, to be the team from their city. That’s what we have and I want the public to know it" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 7/24).
CHANGE EXTENDS BEYOND ROSTER: While the Bengals' roster has had a makeover in recent years, ESPN's Michael Wilbon wondered whether the Bengals' business dynamic between the front office and the coaching staff was different than it had been in the past. SI's Peter King said, "The way that they're different is that I'm convinced that (coach) Marvin Lewis … and some of the guys on his coaching staff can walk into Mike Brown's office -- I'm not saying get whatever they want, but if they make a good argument for something, Mike Brown is going to give it to them.That's different from the old days when Paul and Mike Brown basically were running it their way and they weren't sort of in the modern NFL." King said Brown "has gotten to the point where he trusts Marvin Lewis and will listen to him about personnel and all decisions" ("PTI," ESPN, 7/23).
In St. Paul, Charley Walters reported the Vikings "apparently did their share to sell out their Sept. 29 regular-season game" against the Steelers in London. The team yesterday said that it has "sold out its allotment of several thousand tickets to season-ticket holders." The team said that it "won't make any more money playing in front of 84,000 spectators in England than it would playing before 65,000" at the Metrodome. A team official said, "We'll basically break even." The Vikings said that they "don't intend to play any overseas games when they move into their new stadium" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 7/23). Meanwhile, the Vikings yesterday announced that they have reached a three-year contract with Minnesota State Univ.-Mankato, to continue holding their training camp on campus through '15, which would be the team's 50th at the school (Vikings). WORK THAT OUTFIT: In Charlotte, Scott Fowler noted in an NFL.com contest this month, the Panthers' alternate '12 uniform with black jerseys, black pants, and blue socks has "advanced to the finals of the 64-team 'Greatest Uniform in NFL History' bracket." The Panthers have "worn that color combo only once." This "tells us that the Panthers have to wear this black-on-black combo more often ... because their fans apparently love it" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 7/23).
BANDING TOGETHER: In K.C., Adam Teicher wrote everyone on the Chiefs "finally seems to be pulling in the same direction, which hasn’t been the case ... for some time." Chiefs Chair & CEO Clark Hunt’s move to "divide the power between general manager and head coach is working the way he intended" (K.C. STAR, 7/21).