Heat F LeBron James yesterday "confirmed he has interest in joining" David Beckham to bring an MLS team to Miami, according to Shandel Richardson of the South Florida SUN-SENTINEL. James said, "There's some interest on both sides. David has become a good friend of mine over the last few years. I think it would be great for this city to have a football club for sure. There's interest on both sides but it's preliminary talks." James added, "The research is still being made out. I think it could be huge. You never know. I think this is a great town for soccer." Richardson notes James' backing "could perhaps raise the profile of the venture." Beckham and James are "two of the most well-known athletes in the world," and James would bring the franchise "local credibility because he is easily the area's most popular athlete." James is "no stranger to the soccer world," as he is a minority Owner of EPL club Liverpool. James said that he has "gained an interest" in soccer since joining Liverpool, and the NBA has "no rule prohibiting players from owning pro sports teams in their own market" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 11/19). In Miami, Joseph Goodman writes for Beckham, having James "to market the MLS to Miami is just another important step in a very difficult and complicated process of making sure the product thrives in South Florida" (MIAMI HERALD, 11/19). In Ft. Lauderdale, Ira Winderman noted James could become a free agent in '14, and if his MLS plans "pan out, that's one more South Florida bond" for him, because "they don't have and aren't getting MLS soccer in Cleveland." L.A. already has two MLS teams, "which is why Beckham is looking elsewhere in the first place" (SUN-SENTINEL.com, 11/18).
STILL ISSUES TO DEAL WITH: ESPN’s Alejandro Moreno said James' potential collaboration with Beckham "gives credibility to MLS" and is "good news for Major League Soccer, it’s good news for a potential franchise in Miami." However, he cautioned there is "still a lot of work to do.” Moreno: "The challenges remain for Miami. This is an issue of creating a sustainable fan base and once you have a sustainable fan base then you have the stadium issues in south Florida. Those have been the challenges in the past for the Miami area and they will continue being the challenges going forward” (“ESPN FC,” ESPN2, 11/18).
NFL special investigator Ted Wells "met with select Dolphins players Monday as he began his on-the-ground investigation of the team's workplace conduct scandal, indicating his inquiry might be more targeted than wide-reaching," according to Adam Beasley of the MIAMI HERALD. Some thought that "all Dolphins players might be subject to an interview" with Wells. But sources yesterday said that that "was not the case." Instead, it is believed that Wells "wanted to use his short time in Miami to deal directly with the allegations of abuse against Jonathan Martin." Wells met "primarily with players Monday, and had hoped to be finished with them by day's end." Dolphins coach Joe Philbin and several team administrators also "carved out time" with Wells. Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said that he "has a meeting with Wells" scheduled for today. By front-loading player interviews, Wells may be "trying to avoid interfering with the team’s preparation" for Sunday's home game against the Panthers. Wells is expected to "spend three days" at Dolphins HQs (MIAMI HERALD, 11/19). In Ft. Lauderdale, Chris Perkins notes Sherman was hopeful that the interviews "would be taken care of in one day" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 11/19). In West Palm Beach, Andrew Abramson cites legal experts as saying that Dolphins players "are under no legal obligation to talk." Indiana Univ. Robert H. McKinney School of Law Dean Emeritus Gary Roberts said Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross "can tell them to cooperate, but if there's nothing in their player contract that requires it, he really doesn't have much leverage over them other than in this business players can be cut under the pretext that they're not playing well enough." South Florida-based player agent David Canter said that he would "recommend to any of his players that they be accompanied by an agent or attorney" (PALM BEACH POST, 11/19).
HOLD, PLEASE: ESPN.com's Chris Mortensen cited sources as saying that the Dolphins have "requested a delay for suspended guard Richie Incognito's non-football injury grievance against the team while the franchise cooperates with an independent investigation of the alleged violations that led to his suspension." Incognito was "granted an expedited hearing before a neutral arbitrator when he filed a non-football injury grievance late last week." The grievance hearing "is not part of the independent investigation headed by Wells" (ESPN.com, 11/18).
EDUCATION THE ANSWER? In Boston, Gary Washburn noted the Martin-Incognito situation has "exposed a locker room culture that has existed for years, and has left coaches shaking their heads." Middle-aged coaches have "tended to take a hands-off approach to locker-room politics out of respect for the players' territory." But because a player is tenured in the NFL, NBA or MLB "doesn't necessarily make him capable of being a role model." What pro sports teams need is "more education on these topics, including sensitive ones of a racial and sexual nature." Teams should "bring in retired players or those who have experienced racism, sexism, or extreme hazing to speak to the athletes." Pro sports franchises "have enough resources to provide educational courses on some of these uncomfortable subjects" (BOSTON GLOBE, 11/18).
The Ducks have been "at or near the top of the standings most of the season, but they're closer to the bottom in home attendance," according to Helene Elliott of the L.A. TIMES. Their announced average of 15,367 in eight home games "represented 89.5% of capacity at Honda Center, which was 22nd after Sunday's games." NHL teams overall had "played to 94% capacity, down from last season's final 97% but a solid number because attendance traditionally increases after New Year's." Ducks Exec VP & COO Tim Ryan said, "None of us are ever happy unless we're completely sold out, but I think there's a lot of good signs right now." Elliot writes among those signs is "a 20-year pattern of attendance spiking in the second half of the season, especially when the team plays well." Ryan also cited "increased season-ticket sales, which reached 11,000 to start the season." That is "up from 9,500 last season and the highest" since '10. Ryan said, "If I had to guess, we will be sold out of suites in the next 12 months." Meanwhile, the expanded team store and opening of the Grand Terrace restaurant "also boost their bottom line." Ryan: "We've set records for both merchandise sales and food and beverage sales for single games that stood for 20 years. That says that we're moving in the right direction" (L.A. TIMES, 11/19).
While the Astros "sort out their plans for a new spring training site in Florida, there remains a parallel hope to build a new park in the Houston area for their Class AAA team," according to Evan Drellich of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. Astros Owner Jim Crane said that he "expects to again talk to the development company that purchased Camp Strake, a site near Conroe, once the new year arrives." The Astros are currently affiliated with the PCL Oklahoma City RedHawks through '14, but minor-league ownership and franchise agreements "are separate deals," as Mandalay Sports Entertainment owns the RedHawks. For the Astros to move a team to the Houston area, the club "must first buy a franchise." The Triple-A PCL New Orleans Zephyrs "have been reported as [a] possible target for the Astros to acquire." Having a Triple-A team in "close proximity makes the logistics of player movement easier, and it too can help acclimate players to the major-league environment they may eventually play in." If a deal "were to be struck when Johnson Development takes control of the property, Crane estimated that it would take 18 months to two years to make the move happen" (CHRON.com, 11/18). Meanwhile, MLB today announced that the Astros will play host to the '14 Civil Rights Game, scheduled for May 30 against the Orioles at Minute Maid Park (MLB).
RYAN EXPRESS ON TRACK? Drellich reported the Astros have not extended a "front-office or advisory job offer" to former Rangers CEO Nolan Ryan, "at least not yet." Crane said, "I have talked to Nolan. We haven't really discussed anything about him joining the team yet. But that certainly could be a possibility down the road. It depends what Nolan wants. ... I think he’s still cleaning up some of the stuff he has in relationship to the (Rangers)" (CHRON.com, 11/15). MLB.com's Tracy Ringolsby noted there has "been speculation that Ryan could rejoin" the Astros with son Reid now President of Business Operations. It is an idea that has "been encouraged" by Crane. But Ryan "has declined, at least so far." He said, "Obviously, with Reid, I've enjoyed working with him over the years. ... With what I have accomplished, working with someone who does not embrace me and my opinion is not the place for me" (MLB.com, 11/18).
MEDIA AND MISERY? Drellich also reported, "In perhaps a worst-case scenario where some deal to restructure Comcast SportsNet Houston is not reached, the Astros are prepared to investigate whether an alternate means of broadcasting games is viable." Crane said that landing a "workable TV deal could lead to a higher payroll" (CHRON.com, 11/15)....Drellich wrote "nothing could have prepared" Astros GM Jeff Luhnow for the "feeling he's dealt with the last two years." Assembling an MLB team that has "yet to crack 60 wins under his watch is trying and painful, no matter if the bloodletting has been by design." Luhnow said, "Ultimately, it will be worth it, but it doesn't feel like it when you're going through it" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 11/17).
In Australia, Adrian Proszenko reports the Dodgers and D-Backs "will warm up" for their '14 Spring Training games at the Sydney Cricket Ground with March 20-21 "matches against the Australian national team." The games give the Dodgers and D-Backs a "chance to adjust to local conditions before their two-game series starts the following day." With the official games "all but sold out, the additional fixtures will give the Australian public another chance" to see the Dodgers and the D-Backs (SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, 11/19).
HEADED TO THE DESERT: In Las Vegas, Todd Dewey reports the Mets are traveling to the city to play the Cubs "in a pair of exhibition games March 15 and 16 at Cashman Field on the annual Big League Weekend." The Mets, parent club of the Triple-A PCL Las Vegas 51s, are "making their first appearance" in Vegas since '97. Both games will feature split squads, but 51s President & COO Don Logan "expects the Mets to bring their A squad" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 11/19).
SKYDOME'S THE LIMIT? In Toronto, Richard Griffin writes while the Blue Jays "increased their attendance" by 436,899 over last year, GM Alex Anthopoulos' "job is officially on the line." The Blue Jays "cannot afford to take a step back in attendance," which means that "another losing season is unacceptable." Griffin: "Jays fans are not in a forgiving mood. Attendance is the key. Thus the GM's job hangs in the balance" (TORONTO STAR, 11/19).