Hunt Sports Group yesterday announced that S.F.-based investment firm Precourt Sports Ventures has acquired the operating rights to the MLS Crew after the two sides "began seriously discussing a deal in the past six weeks," according to a front-page piece by Adam Jardy of the COLUMBUS DISPATCH. The Crew is a "charter member" of MLS, was founded in '96 by the late Lamar Hunt and had "a dozen or so local, minority investors who dropped away over time." Hunt Sports Group Chair Clark Hunt "tried to bring back local investors in recent years." But when that failed, Precourt stepped in and "eventually acquired 100 percent of the Crew and Crew Stadium." Both Hunt and Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman said that a "key point in the sale was that the Crew remain in Columbus -- although the contract does not contain language tying the team to the city." PSV Managing Partner Anthony Precourt, who becomes the team's Chair, "declined to disclose the purchase price" and "assumes ownership immediately, inheriting a team that has publicly identified two remaining objectives necessary to bring financial stability: selling naming rights to Crew Stadium and reaching 10,000 season ticket-holders." Precourt's original business, Precourt Capital Management, "has primarily worked in the energy industry and formed" PSV in '12 to "make sports-related investments." This is the "first acquisition by the group" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 7/31).
PRECOURT'S PLANS: Hunt said that his family contacted Precourt about "becoming a minority investor in the Crew, but Precourt said he was only interested in becoming principal owner." In Columbus, Jeff Bell noted the Hunts, who also own FC Dallas, "have been encouraged" by MLS in recent years to "sell one of its teams as the league moves away from its old model of one group owning more than one franchise." Precourt said that his "goal is to make the Crew the 'standard bearer' in" MLS and "believes Columbus is the place to do that" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 7/30). Also in Columbus, Bob Hunter writes of the sale, "There are plenty of reasons to feel good about this: Precourt was oozing enthusiasm during and after the news conference where he was introduced, and he seemed genuinely excited to tackle any problems the franchise has." Still, the community "probably would have been better served if the Hunts had found a way to transfer the team to local ownership." Hunt said of that notion, "I wouldn’t be concerned. We were trying to count it last night -- there are eight or nine owners of MLS teams who live in California, so I don’t think it’s a problem as long as he’s committed to it, and I get the sense he’s going to be very committed. He’s going to spend a whole lot of time here in the market" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 7/31).
WNBA Fever officials on Monday said that the team "would be profitable this season for the first time in its 14-year history," according to Anthony Schoettle of the INDIANAPOLIS BUSINESS JOURNAL. Fever President & GM Kelly Krauskopf said, "We’re going to be profitable this year and we’re budgeted to be profitable next year." That is "especially good news" to Fever and Pacers Owner Herb Simon, who has "long championed women’s sports, but has stressed that eventually the Fever franchise has to stand on its own financially." Krauskopf said that the team "will make enough money to cover the team’s player payroll (the WNBA salary cap is $913,000) plus front office, travel and other expenses." Team officials said that the "momentum for the Fever" has been building since '09, when the franchise "made it to its first WNBA final and came up just short." Krauskopf said that around that time the team "started gaining traction with several big sponsors." A "major deal" with Kroger was inked in '09, and "a sizable deal with Finish Line, which includes a company logo on players’ jerseys, was signed" in '12. Sponsorship sales "are up 64 percent this season." Merchandise sales are "up 40 percent and rank fifth" in the league. Attendance year-to-date "has grown" 8%, and the "number of new season tickets has grown" 25% (IBJ.com, 7/30).
In K.C., Sam Mellinger wrote Chiefs GM John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid report to Chair & CEO Clark Hunt now, "instead of the old way where the coach reported to the GM." This could be "the most significant football-related change Hunt ... has made since taking over" in '06. Like the decision to hire a coach before a GM, this is a "symbol of a man learning on the job, of self-evaluating mistakes and attempting to correct them." It is "a departure from how the organization has always run, ever since Clark’s father founded the team" in '60. Clark Hunt "saw the logic in hiring football men to run the football team and then stay out of the way." He "still sees the logic, which is why one of his challenges with this new setup is to be involved without being overbearing" (K.C. STAR, 7/30).
FEELING THE HEAT: In Detroit, Dave Birkett writes the hot seat for Lions GM Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz is "discernibly hotter than almost anywhere else in the NFL." Team ownership has been "more visible than usual through five days of training camp," with Owner William Clay Ford "watching a camp practice Friday for the first time since at least" '11, and Vice Chair Bill Ford Jr. at the facility on Sunday and Monday. The Lions have more than $175M in "player cash commitments on their books this fall, by far the most in the NFL" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 7/31).
LET THE PAST BE THE PAST: ESPN's Hannah Storm was at Patriots training camp in Foxborough and said the Aaron Hernandez scandal "appears to be a world away from what's happening here. ... This team appearing extremely focused."Patriots Owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady are the "pillars of the organization" and that could help the team be "able to withstand some of the events of the offseason."ESPN's Tedy Bruschi, a former Patriots LB, said, "In this organization, they all stay on the same page. They stay on the same message, most importantly, and the message now is moving on to this practice field and what they're doing here today in full pads and all the work that they're putting in" ("NFL Live," ESPN, 7/30). PARTY LIKE IT'S 1999: In St. Louis, Jim Thomas notes the Rams are "breaking out their 1999 throwback uniforms twice this season." The team will wear the uniforms against the Titans and Buccaneers (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 7/31).
The Pirates regained first place in the NL Central last night after sweeping a doubleheader against the Cardinals, and in Pittsburgh, Dan Majors reports the doubleheader "technically" was not a sellout, there "just weren't any seats left to sell." The "rare doubleheader ... became a popular pick as soon as it was scheduled." But because of the team's "liberal ticket-exchange policy -- which allows season-ticket holders to trade unused game tickets for future weekday games -- the only tickets available at the PNC Park windows were 'standing room only'" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 7/31).
TRYING TO MAKE THINGS BETTER: ESPN's Max Kellerman said the Brewers giving fans a $10 voucher good for concessions, merchandise and game tickets is a "good start" to help them get past the recent OF Ryan Braun PED scandal. The Braun scandal is a "huge blow" to the organization because he is the "face of their franchise, the guy they chose over Prince Fielder."ESPN's Marcellus Wiley said the $10 voucher is "good on the surface," but "underneath it shows a separation of the organization and what Ryan Braun did."Wiley: "That's a smart move by them" ("SportsNation," ESPN2, 7/30). CBS Sports Network’s Jim Rome said, “Sorry the face of the franchise is so scummy, have a beer-and-a-half on us. It’s nicely played” (“Rome,” CBSSN, 7/30).
TALE OF TWO TEAMS: In Illinois, Mike Imrem writes the White Sox "have to compete with the Cubs for the hearts and minds of Chicagoans," but the Cubs now "appear ready to wipe the chuckles off all White Sox faces." If the Sox "think they're in a Cubs town now, imagine if the Cubs' grand plans evolve into reality." Already the Cubs are "collecting promising young players while by comparison the Sox appear to be collecting dust." The Cubs are "building an empire throughout Wrigleyville while by comparison the Sox are building a hole for themselves in Bridgeport." But the Sox "always are fighting the good fight to remain relevant in and around the city" (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 7/31).