The NHL Panthers reportedly will be sold for $230M, with former Nets investor Vincent Viola as leader of the purchasing group "buying out several of the team’s minority owners," according to Jackson & Richards of the MIAMI HERALD. Letters of intent "have been executed, but the transaction still needs to be signed and approved by the NHL." A source said that it is "conceivable the deal could fall through, but both sides want to make it happen." The Panthers are "expected to remain in South Florida," with the team’s lease at the BB&T Center running through '28. A source confirmed that the sale was "in the works" and that Exec VP & GM of Hockey Operations Dale Tallon has been "telling players interested in coming to the Panthers ... that a new owner would be in place soon." Panthers D Ed Jovanovski said, "Someone new coming in must be eager to take over the team. You have to look at that as a positive. We’ll see. Anytime you have an ownership group that wants to win and wants to spend money, that’s exciting for a player." Jackson & Richards note Viola is "a successful commodities dealer" who previously was New York Mercantile Exchange Chair and is now Virtu Financial Chair (MIAMI HERALD, 9/19). In Ft. Lauderdale, Dave Hyde reports Viola allowed Tallon "to spend some minimal money to bring in" G Tim Thomas and "a couple of other free agents." That "doesn't mean Viola ... will be the owner the Panthers need to really bring this franchise back from hockey oblivion." But it "offers an opening glimmer of hope" and "represents a small change in a good way." Viola will be "the fifth owner for the team in the past 13 years." No franchise can "overcome that instability at the top, especially when no owner since H. Wayne Huizenga had the deep pockets or necessary conviction to make hockey work here" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 9/19).
Nationals manager Davey Johnson yesterday said that players on the team "never asked to wear" Navy hats during a doubleheader against the Braves on Tuesday "partly because not all of them fit," according to Kilgore & Wagner of the WASHINGTON POST. The players "felt honored" when they received the caps in recognition of the Navy Yard shooting victims, and "called MLB to ask permission to wear them during batting practice." Johnson said, "Everybody cherished the hats. I just think it was a show of solidarity that we wear them through the anthem, in respect toward the military, tragedy and the service." Many Nationals players "wanted to keep them on for the games, but the decision was made above their heads." Nationals 1B Adam LaRoche "wanted to wear the caps during the night game so he tried spreading the word among teammates." He was "willing to wear the Navy cap during the game and gladly pay any accompanying fine," but LaRoche "feared he would send the message that he was drawing attention to himself, and preferred a team-wide effort." He said, "It would have been great. I think MLB throws all rules at the window at that point. I know they’re Under Armour, but whatever. None of that matters." The Nationals and other teams have "asked to wear non-standard issue gear during games to honor other causes and incidents, such as 9/11, this year and in the past and have been rejected." Nationals President of Baseball Operations & GM Mike Rizzo said, "We had asked several times before and were not allowed to do it. Knowing that, we requested that could we at least wear them for our pregame batting practice and the national anthem. We thought that we had a better chance of getting an okay for that than we did for the game" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 9/18).
A's Owner Lew Wolff yesterday continued talking about the low attendance figures the team has drawn at O.co Coliseum this season despite heading to the postseason for the second straight year, noting the fans "that we have are loyal fans that come," but adding it would be "nice for the ballplayers and the energy to have more people here." The A's are averaging 22,140 through 77 home games this season, and Wolff said on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area's "Yahoo Sports Talk Live" of the team's attendance woes, "It's a mystery to me. Is it the venue? Is it the market? Is it the fan base? Is it the corporation base?" The Indians and Rays are also struggling to draw despite still being alive in the wild card race, and Wolff said, "Here's Cleveland with a pretty new stadium. Tampa Bay and we are sort of mutual bedfellows. Their owner has written me a couple of times today already and we're confused. We don't know." Wolff said in terms of getting a new ballpark, "Baseball is the one that told me we needed a new home. But right now, all that is sort of irrelevant." He doubted a long run in the playoffs would help the A's efforts to land a new park, saying, "If I haven't been able to get it by now, I'm not sure that anything further helps anymore than what we've done. I just want a new location, more compact, a single sport, just like the Raiders want for themselves. I'm getting a little older, so maybe somebody in my office will have to take care of that." Following the interview, the S.F. Chronicle's Ann Killion said of Wolff, "He probably should kind of button his lips right now. He shouldn't be talking. They just had this amazing sellout where they sold out all the divisional games in like two hours." San Jose Mercury News columnist Tim Kawakami said, "The reason he hasn't gotten it done is because he's 'buffoonage,' because he's irresponsible, because he says the wrong thing at the wrong times with the wrong mood" ("Yahoo Sports Talk Live," CSN Bay Area, 9/18).
TROUBLE AT THE TROP: CBSSN's Doug Gottlieb said of the Rays' small home crowds at Tropicana Field, "They're giving you great baseball down the stretch. ... I don't want to tell people how to spend their money, but this is really amazing." CBSSN's Allie LaForce: "Baseball attendance in general has been down, but you would think that with this one extra wild card game, which has done incredible things for baseball. You have six teams fighting for three-and-a-half spots that more people would show up to the games, especially late in the season. But it just isn't a sport anymore where people would rather watch in person" ("Lead Off," CBSSN, 9/18). ESPN's Buster Olney noted there has been "some criticism from players and some members of the media over the lack of fan support." Olney said, "It's a really, really bad idea for any member of an organization or media to criticize people for not going to games. People are allowed to spend their money the way they want to spend their money. They're not obligated to hand dollars over to any business." However, "you can't blame the Rays for working to move to another ballpark because it's not working in St. Petersburg. The location of the ballpark there is something that chases fans away and the ballpark itself is kind of a mess. But nobody -- nobody -- should get on fans for not shelling out their money" ("Baseball Tonight," ESPN.com, 9/18).
Ducks Owner Henry Samueli said that the current NHL CBA "was needed for more financial stability for his franchise," according to Eric Stephens of the ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER. Samueli "ultimately wants to keep ownership of the Ducks within his family and is hopeful that the new CBA ... will trim the annual losses." Samueli yesterday "wouldn't specify how much the team lost last season but previous estimates of double-digit millions each season remain the case." He said, "We'll know this year for sure what the impact is. We're optimistic we'll turn the corner and start heading in the other direction.” Samueli was reportedly "seen as one of the 'hawks' who pushed for a lengthy NHL lockout." Samueli: "My position was do what you can to help the teams in the bottom half of the league get to profitability. That was my goal all along. And the commissioner knew that. He tried to negotiate a CBA that moved in that direction.” Samueli said his long-term goal is to keep the Ducks “forever and pass it on to the kids and keep it in the family.” And it appears that could "be realized as their books are not bathing in red ink." Samueli: “We're just hopeful that the financial situation will correct itself to the point where that will allow us to do that in the long term" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 9/19).
NBA NOT IN THE CARDS: Samueli said that he "doesn't anticipate bringing an NBA team" to the Honda Center "as a tenant any time soon but he remains committed to backing his money-losing NHL team and maintaining a state-of-the-art arena." In L.A., Helene Elliott notes Samueli since buying the team in '05 has spent $80M "on arena improvements." That includes "upgrading locker rooms to NBA standards and undertaking" the $20M Grand Terrace entertainment project that will open Oct. 10, coinciding with the Ducks' home opener. Samueli said of adding an NBA tenant, "If an opportunity presents itself we'll look at it but we haven't had any contact with the NBA for quite a while. You never give up, but clearly it's not going to happen in the near term" (L.A. TIMES, 9/19).
MLSE President & CEO Tim Leiweke "already has an eye" on ensuring Maple Leafs fans at the Air Canada Centre this season "get back to their seats when the intermissions end," according to James Mirtle of the GLOBE & MAIL. The swaths of empty seats behind the home team’s bench that "appear on Hockey Night in Canada each week have become a running joke in the rest of the country." Leiweke "wants to see that particular tradition end, even if it means needling those paying $400 a night to become more invested in what’s taking place on the ice instead of their catered suites under the stands." He said, "One thing I’ll do is get back out there. Out of respect. That’s one thing we’re trying to tell everyone. I think it’s hard for these guys when they come out and the seats are all empty. From my standpoint, I’ll probably be more focused on the environment we’re creating for the team and maybe that’ll be a good thing." Meanwhile, he spoke on Monday to the arena's staff "just before" the Maple Leafs' preseason home opener. Leiweke said of the feeling of sitting in the ACC’s platinum seats behind the Leafs bench for the first time, "Strange. I was 19 years in LA and this is the first home game. I’m just learning my way around the arena and experiencing it. When you’re in hockey, no matter what team you’re with, you look at the Leafs and you look at that sweater and you understand the history and the tradition here. So it’s a little strange to be sitting here and realizing I’m a part of this team now. It makes me understand the pressure here" (GLOBEANDMAIL.com, 9/17).
CHANGE OF MIND ON OLD PHOTOS? In Toronto, Dave Feschuk reported Leiweke made "an about face" on the decision to get rid of pictures of former players in the ACC's hallways. It "appears as though he’s beginning to grasp a few key realities about life in the centre of the hockey universe." Leiweke said he "wasn’t as diplomatic as he should have been." There are "many among the club’s alumni who appear willing to forgive and forge ahead while wholeheartedly backing the new CEO’s championship vision." Leiweke said that he has "reached out to ex-players who 'buy in' to his philosophy, and his efforts at bridge-building continue." When Leiweke "spoke to the throng at the team’s annual Leafs and Legends charity golf tournament a couple of weeks back, other luminaries of history said they appreciated his conciliatory tone." Former NHLer Bob Nevin said, "I think he’s sort of sorry he said what he said. I think he’s maybe realizing that people take their hockey seriously here" (TORONTO STAR, 9/18). Also in Toronto, Curtis Rush reported former NHLer Johnny Bower "talked to Leiweke to try to change his mind about taking down those old photos from 1962 that hang outside the Leaf dressing room." Bower said that a more in-depth meeting with Leiweke "will take place soon, perhaps next week" (TORONTO STAR, 9/18).
LIGHTS, CAMERAS, ACTION: The CP's Stephen Whyno reported HBO’s “24/7” crew yesterday made its first appearance at the Maple Leafs’ practice facility, “more than three months before the Winter Classic.” It was a “one-day cameo and a taste of what players and coaches will encounter once daily shooting gets underway in December for the league’s annual behind-the-scenes series.” Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said, “This is just a precursor to what’s coming. ... We’re not going to see them again, probably, till Dec. 1.” Carlyle "doesn’t think it’ll be a major change for his players, given the attention they already get in Toronto" (CP, 9/18).
The Lakers announced that they will wear black "Hollywood Nights" uniforms for select games this season. The team in a release said that it has "consistently heard from fans that a black uniform was desired, and have been working to make that a reality for years." The "Hollywood Nights" theme in part acknowledges the team's celebrity following, but also recognizes the number of Lakers fans who work behind the scenes in the film industry. The team has created a video and photo gallery featuring the new uniforms, and its online shop is accepting pre-orders for replica versions (Lakers). USATODAY.com's Sean Highkin wrote, "These jerseys are a thing of beauty. The purple and gold are still intact in the lettering and side piping, and it brings a contemporary look to their classic jersey style. Personally, I wouldn’t mind if these jerseys permanently replaced the Sunday whites" (USATODAY.com, 9/18). YAHOO SPORTS's Kelly Dwyer wrote, "Unlike most of the recent jersey additions we've seen come down the pike recently ... these are kind of good." Dwyer noted while he was "averse to the Lakers adding yet another jersey to the arsenal," the team "seemed to have created a winner" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/18). CBSSN’s Allie LaForce said, “I like them. I always like a black uniform. It’s always intimidating. Players always love wearing the black." CBSSN's Doug Gottlieb: “Their third uniform is already the white, which I liked. I prefer the classic old-school Lakers back when they had the baby blue, the Jerry West ones.” But he added, "They're going to sell” (“Lead Off,” CBSSN, 9/18).
The MLS Sounders were featured on HBO's "Real Sports" on Tuesday night, and HBO's Jon Frankel noted the franchise has been "called the greatest expansion team in American sports history" because of the tremendous fan support the team has received. Frankel said of the loud and enthusiastic fans at CenturyLink Field, "It's an atmosphere you might expect to see in England or Brazil, not in a country that has long regarded soccer with a collective yawn." Sounders Majority Owner Joe Roth said of acquiring the franchise, "I just felt like I could contribute something to the league which I felt was under-marketed and under-utilized." Frankel said Roth "felt the sport just needed a little bit of show business and fortunately, this is his specialty." Roth: "We made a business plan that said we'd average 12,000 people a game." Frankel noted, "Five years and 82 games later, the Seattle Sounders have sold every ticket they've ever printed and are averaging more than 42,000 fans per game." Frankel said the success and atmosphere for the Sounders has "sparked excitement beyond Seattle" and has the "lords of American soccer daring to hope that just maybe, their impossible dream is within reach: That soccer might finally become relevant and popular across the USA." But ESPN's Alexi Lalas noted that "just because one town has caught soccer fever does not mean it will spread," as MLS national TV ratings "remain low and show few signs of life." Lalas: "It's dangerous to say that what happened in Seattle, you just take that and pluck it down in other markets and that's how it's going to work. It doesn't work like that" ("Real Sports," HBO, 9/17).
PLAYING FAVORITES: In DC, Steven Goff reviewed the "Real Sports" episode and wrote, "The intensity, passion and commitment, not to mention counter-culture quirkiness, of the Sounders’ masses are captured in all of its march-to-the-match revelry." For casual sports fans "unaware of the Sounders’ success ... the episode enlightened, educated and entertained." However, the story "lacked context and short-changed the rest of the league." It portrayed Seattle "as the lone ship in tumultuous seas, carrying the precious cargo of American soccer’s hopes and dreams." The show implied that without the Sounders, MLS would "capsize like its alphabet-soup predecessors." MLS is "a much better place with the Sounders aboard." But while Seattle’s "in-market popularity is unmatched ... several clubs have succeeded in their own way" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 9/18).
EPL club Manchester United has "created a designated singing section" for games at Old Trafford that will have a trial run during the team's UEFA Champions League game against La Liga club Real Sociedad in October, according to Oliver Pickup of the London TELEGRAPH. ManU was "forced to shelve one previous attempt at the venture, mooted last April, after police objected to the relocation of visiting supporters to the third tier of the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand, opposite the manager's dugouts." A section with a capacity of 1,400 at the Real Sociedad game "will be available to season ticket holders who express an interest." If those seats "are not snapped up by season ticket holders they will go to members who have also registered an interest." Although it is a "fan-led initiative, United are backing it after employing acoustic engineers earlier this year in an effort to increase noise levels" (London TELEGRAPH, 9/19).
MAN UP: In London, Martin Booth reported ManU has "announced record annual revenue" for the last financial year. Total revenue for the FY ended June 30 was up 13.4% to $582.4M (all figures U.S.). Sponsorship revenue alone "was up" by 44.1% to $146.2M and profit for the period "leapt to" $235.4M -- an increase of more than 500%. Matchday revenue increased to $175.4M (LONDON TIMES, 9/18). Also in London, David Conn reported ManU spent $114.1M in '12-13 "financing the cost of the Glazer family's debt-laden takeover of the club" in '05. Investment analyst Andy Green said that the total cost to ManU "in interest, fees, bank charges and debt repayments" for the takeover is $1.1B. ManU Exec Vice Chair Edward Woodward stressed that commercial income from recent sponsorship deals is now 42% of ManU's total at $246M, "far exceeding" the $164M from broadcasting (GUARDIAN, 9/18).