Fans attending Sunday's Falcons-Bills game at Rogers Centre can "expect another crowd of about 40,000," and for the "second consecutive year, that's a real number," according to John Kryk of the QMI AGENCY. That means the game will be "freebies-free." Rogers Centre was "papered up to its retractable roof for the first four games in the annual series to make up for sales shortfalls owing to ridiculously priced tickets." But starting last year, Rogers Media "not only further slashed ticket prices, but also stopped giving away tickets just to put bums in empty blue seats." Bills in Toronto Series Exec Dir Greg Albrecht said that the Bills have "sold about 82% of the tickets for Sunday's game," and that ticket sales from Western New Yorkers "are up slightly this year." Albrecht: "It's going to be about a 5% lift for people coming from Buffalo. It's definitely getting better." Another reason for the "slight bump in interest across the Niagara River is that the Bills aren't entirely out of the playoff hunt" (QMI AGENCY, 11/26).
NO SUCH THING AS COINCIDENCE? In Rochester, Leo Roth notes the report that Jon Bon Jovi is interested in purchasing the Bills "broke the week" of the Bills' game in Toronto. Roth: "You don't think the shrewd marketing folks working for the Bills and Rogers Communications would plant a story to create some buzz around a game featuring teams sporting 4-7 and 2-9 records, do you?" Story timing aside, a "wildly popular rock star buying a professional sports team isn't farfetched and the impact could be profound," as was the case when Jay Z joined the Nets' ownership group and "completely revived that franchise's relevance." Bon Jovi's interest in football and the NFL "is genuine," and his ties with the owners of Toronto's pro sports teams "make him a serious player in the future of the Bills" (ROCHESTER DEMOCRAT & CHRONICLE, 11/27).
The Blue Jackets "continue to struggle with attendance overall, but especially during the fall," according to Shawn Mitchell of the COLUMBUS DISPATCH. The team averaged 14,023 fans through 11 home games this season, which ranks 26th in the NHL "despite their season-ticket base increasing by more than 1,500 since a 19-5-5 finish last season." The Blue Jackets' move to the Eastern Conference "has yet to pay off at the box office." Team President Mike Priest said, "A few of those games are ones where we didn't see the typical single-game sale numbers that we expected. We’re not at all disappointed in the process of being (in the Eastern Conference), and we believe those teams will draw." Mitchell notes opponents at Nationwide Arena this season have "included Original Six teams and new Eastern Conference rivals" in the Canadiens, Bruins, Maple Leafs and Rangers. But the Blue Jackets "drew an average of 12,832 for those four games." They drew 13,930 for a Friday night game during which Maple Leafs fans "far outnumbered Blue Jackets fans in the lower bowl." Troubles at the gate could be due to a "number of factors, none of which are new to the Blue Jackets." Football -- high school, college and pro -- is "king in the fall in Columbus and elsewhere around Ohio." Additionally, flexible ticket packages "allow fans to pick some or all of their games later in the schedule." But "foremost is more than a decade of losing hockey." Still, the Blue Jackets have "drawn 924 more fans per game than they did through the first 11 games" in the '11-12 season, and 1,649 more during the same period in the '10-11 season, "their worst season at the box office" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 11/27).
WE'RE GOING STREAKING! In Pittsburgh, Rob Rossi notes the Penguins' home sellout streak "hits 300" Wednesday night against the Maple Leafs. The all-time NHL record "belongs to" the Avalanche at 487 consecutive sellouts, and the "current best" is the Maple Leafs with 409 games. The Penguins "never sold out an entire season" during co-Owner & Chair Mario Lemieux's playing days. This season would "mark a seventh consecutive of full houses" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 11/27).
The average NHL team "now has an enterprise value" of $413M, which is 46% "more than a year ago," according to Mike Ozanian of FORBES.com. For the "first time since Forbes began tracking NHL team values" in '98, three of the league's five most valuable teams are Canadian. This also marks the "first time that every Canadian franchise ranks among the top 16 in the 30 team league." Last season, "six of the seven Canadian teams charged an average ticket price for non-premium seats of at least $70, compared with a league average of $64." Also, the "five most expensive average ticket prices were charged by Canadian franchises" (FORBES.com, 11/25).
AROUND THE LEAGUE: FORBES' Tom Van Riper notes while 12 of 30 NHL teams "operated at a loss or close to it" during the '12-13 season, the Jets are "basking in a turnaround." In the first year following their relocation to Winnipeg, the Jets' revenues "shot up 48%" to $105M with operating profit of $13.3M. The MTS Centre, with 15,000 seats, may be the "smallest in the NHL, but it's always sold out, with average ticket prices of $81, third highest in the league" (FORBES, 12/16 issue). In San Jose, David Pollak noted half of the NHL's franchises "showed at least" a 50% increase in overall value, and the Sharks' increase "was the second highest" (MERCURYNEWS.com, 11/25). FORBES.com's Christina Settimi noted the Maple Leafs earn $40M per a year in local broadcast rights, "taking the top spot" in the NHL. In a deal that expires after the '14-15 season, Rogers Sportsnet "shells out over $700,000 a game for each Leafs game it airs or farms out to fellow broadcaster TSN" (FORBES.com, 11/25). FORBES.com breaks down the "NHL's Richest Local TV Deals."
MLS Sporting K.C.'s exclusive MLS Cup presale for season-ticket holders "was compromised" on Tuesday when Real Salt Lake fans "acquired the online code and began snapping up tickets" for the Dec. 7 game at Sporting Park, according to Tod Palmer of the K.C. STAR. It is "unclear how Real Salt Lake fans discovered the presale code, but it quickly spread through the fan base on social media and droves of their supporters took to Ticketmaster." Those purchases now "will be invalidated." But for Sporting K.C. season-ticket holders, that also "means their purchases using the corrupted code will be invalidated." MLS policy states that visiting teams are "allotted 1,000 tickets" for MLS Cup games (K.C. STAR, 11/27).
The MLL Florida Launch are "expected to play" their seven home games at Florida Atlantic Univ.'s football stadium, and if the team "succeeds, it'll be a rarity in a market that has given the cold shoulder to minor-league teams and second-tier sports," according to Jeff Ostrowski of the PALM BEACH POST. The AFL's Florida Bobcats and the Continental Basketball Association's Florida Beachdogs "fizzled after a few seasons in West Palm Beach" in the '90s. More recently, Women's Professional Soccer club magicJack "lasted just one season in Boca." Not even MLS "could succeed in South Florida, as evidenced by the brief tenure of the Miami Fusion, which played in Fort Lauderdale." But MLL Commissioner Dave Gross argued that the league is different from the others that did not last in the market "because it's the top organization in its sport." The Launch previously played three seasons as the Hamilton Nationals, and the team "averaged fewer than 2,000 fans a game" in Ontario. Meager turnouts "seem likely in South Florida, too." The market sees teams such as the Marlins, the Panthers and Univ. of Miami football "struggling to sell tickets." If the Launch "properly woos fans before its first game April 26, Major League Lacrosse might change South Florida's reputation as a place where minor-league teams go to die" (PALM BEACH POST, 11/26).
CRAIN'S DETROIT BUSINESS' Bill Shea examines the ownership succession plans for the Lions, Tigers and Red Wings and notes the value of pro sports teams have "dramatically increased" over the past 30 years, fueling "federal estate tax bills that require complex succession planning by owners who wish their teams to stay in the family and shield their heirs from tax bills that could force them to sell." Because of their wealth, the estates of Tigers and Red Wings Owner Mike Illitch and Lions Owner William Clay Ford Sr. "would be subject to the top federal estate tax rate" of 40%. The law "allows for" a $5.25M exemption before the 40% rate kicks in. A source said that the 88-year-old Ford "intends to keep" the Lions in his family. He could leave the team to his wife, Martha Parke Firestone, which would "delay any estate taxes until her death." The Fords have three other children in addition to Lions Vice Chair William Clay Ford Jr., but it is "unknown if they own any stake in the Lions or would inherit any." Shea also notes there are questions about the Tigers and Red Wings, including whether the teams will "remain in the family, or will one or both be sold?" Also, are the heirs "interested in keeping the franchises" and can they "afford them?" Ilitch Holdings President & CEO Chris Ilitch is a "possible contender to assume ownership of the Tigers." One of seven Ilitch children, he has "been the face of the Ilitch organization since assuming his current role" in '04. A source said that the Ilitches are "committed to continuing ownership of both teams as part of their investments in Detroit." A suggestion that Mike Ilitch "intends at least for the Red Wings to remain family-owned lies in a major investment: the new downtown hockey arena" (CRAINS DETROIT BUSINESS, 11/24 issue).