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Volume 24 No. 157


Nets Owner Mikhail Prokhorov on Thursday spoke to reporters in London and "seemed intent on allaying some of the criticism" regarding the "strength of his commitment to the team," according to John Burns of the N.Y. TIMES. The Nets-Hawks game at O2 Arena marked Prokhorov's "first appearance at a Nets game" since November, and he has "watched the Nets play in person only twice this season." But Prokhorov said that he "had seen enough to conclude that their disappointing start was not an accurate marker of their progress." He also disputed a recent rumor, saying, "I have not any idea, any desire, to sell the team." But Burns writes Prokhorov "sounded less sure that he would want to own the team once a championship had been won." Prokhorov: "You can address that question to me as soon as I have a championship ring. Before that, I'm proud to be the owner of the Nets" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/17). In N.Y., Stefan Bondy writes Prokhorov was "a little less bullish than his normal self when discussing the championship potential" of the Nets and "saved his most passionate words to defend himself against criticisms that he's an absentee owner." Prokhorov "predictably backed coach Jason Kidd and threw in his usual witty one-liners" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/17). Prokhorov said that he never considered "pushing the panic button and firing" GM Billy King or any other front office staff. Prokhorov: "I'm realistic in sports. We have a lot of new players. We have unfortunately a lot of injuries, so it's not an excuse. But what, for me, is important is what was atmosphere of the team. It was positive, it was full support for Jason Kidd. That means, like, we need to wait" (, 1/16).

OUT OF SIGHT, NOT OUT OF MIND? On Long Island, Roderick Boone writes Prokhorov in "his first true chat with the media" since July "staunchly defended his lack of appearances at games this season." Prokhorov said, "I'll be back to Brooklyn after Olympics. I am very busy because I am president of the Russian biathlon union. So I have a lot of jobs to do during the Olympics. But after the Olympics, I of course will be at more games. But frankly speaking, there's a lot of criticism that I am not in Brooklyn. But I just have a question for you: Do you really think you need me sitting in the arena to see a game? My friends, we are living in the 21st century. And in spite of the fact I have no computer, I still have a subscription for NBA games, and for me, it's like enough to even have a look on the stats so you can understand what is going on. They send it over with carrier pigeon after each game, and of course in two weeks I get it in Moscow. So like I'm full in, I'm all in for this team, and I think it's the only way how to reach championship" (NEWSDAY, 1/17).

BROOKLYN IN THE HOUSE: The N.Y. DAILY NEWS' Bondy writes the sellout crowd for the Nets' win over the Hawks was "decidedly pro-Nets," as black-and-white jerseys were "sprinkled throughout the O2 Arena." Still, Rock & Roll HOFer Paul McCartney and several pro soccer players "received the biggest ovations when shown on the video screen." NBA Commissioner David Stern was also in attendance (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/17). In N.Y., Tim Bontemps notes the Nets returned to the U.S. after "capping an eventful week with a victory" over the Hawks. Kidd said of the Nets players, "The credit goes to those guys. They had appearances, we had two practices, they had time commitments where they had to be at different places, and they never complained. They did everything we've asked from them on this trip" (N.Y. POST, 1/17).

The NBA Kings becoming the "first major pro sports team in America" to accept Bitcoin online currency gave "fresh legitimacy to a technology that's dimly understood and still fighting for acceptance among consumers and merchants, while burnishing the Kings' reputation as a forward-thinking organization," according to a front-page piece by Kasler & Lillis of the SACRAMENTO BEE. However, the team said that the move is "simply another means of becoming fan-friendly." Kings President Chris Granger said the team "has a growing number of tech-oriented fans, and we think (bitcoins are) yet another way to make the experience for those fans more seamless and hassle free." Kasler & Lillis note the team is partnering with Atlanta-based BitPay to "process all of the Kings' Bitcoin transactions." BitPay VP/Marketing Stephanie Wargo said that the company "converts bitcoins into dollars for merchants like the Kings, though the Kings’ owners have signaled they plan to keep some of their proceeds in Bitcoin instead of immediately converting to dollars." But Kasler & Lillis write keeping the funds in Bitcoin "potentially would expose the Kings to the wild price fluctuations that have become a hallmark of the currency in recent months" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 1/17). Kings Managing Partner Vivek Ranadive said that he "isn't concerned about the extreme volatility in the virtual currency's exchange rate because over time he expects to see increased trading and transactions in the currency and the development of more sophisticated exchanges and derivatives instruments." He added that he "expects other NBA franchises to follow his lead" (, 1/16). Ranadive: "We pride ourselves on being the first franchise of the 21st century. We want to be cashless, we want to be ticketless ... and Bitcoin facilitates all of that" ("Squawk on the Street," CNBC, 1/17).

The Dodgers "have a very good chance to eclipse" last season's payroll of $236.9M after signing P Clayton Kershaw to a record seven-year, $215M extension on Wednesday, according to J.P. Hoornstra of the L.A. DAILY NEWS. The Kershaw deal brings Guggenheim Baseball Management's total approved player contracts to "more than a billion dollars" since purchasing the team in April '12, including players "acquired via trade." The Dodgers are "expanding their team-record payroll higher each year, having blown through" MLB's $189M luxury-tax threshold "for the first time last year." The team has "already committed" at least $211M to 22 players for the '14 season. But Dodgers President & CEO Stan Kasten said, "I don't focus on payroll right now. I'm focused on building not just a team but an experience and a fanbase." Kasten "does not sound like a man intent on getting the Dodgers' payroll below any thresholds." He said, "I focus first and foremost on the product, on the team. The economics will work out over time. We don't look at (payroll) as a single snapshot. This is a long-term business. This is a long process of many different things" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 1/17). MLB Network's Kevin Millar said, "The Dodgers, obviously, are pushing the gas pedal all the way to the end and Clayton Kershaw is, no doubt, their priority” ("Intentional Talk," MLB Network, 1/16).

IS HE WORTH IT? L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke said the Kershaw deal was a "great signing" by the Dodgers because he is "more than a pitcher and an arm to the Dodgers." Plaschke: "He's a leader in the clubhouse, he's the face of the franchise, he's a sign to the fans than new ownership is committed to this team and this town" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 1/16). ABC's Matt Gutman said, "To Dodgers fans and fans of the game, a golden arm like Kershaw's is priceless" ("World News," ABC, 1/16). CBS's Jim Rome said, “If you’re going to pay it to somebody, you’re going to pay it to a franchise and a solid guy like that." But SI’s Jim Trotter said, “It sets the foundation for future deals when you have elite players. To me, now it only goes up from there and it escalates. I understand the Dodgers print money down in their basement with their TV deal out there, but still, I’m not giving up that kind of money” (“Rome,” CBSSN, 1/16). ESPN's Jemele Hill said "no player is worth the money" the Dodgers are paying Kershaw. However, ESPN's Michael Smith said, "This is a bargain if you ask me at $215 million, especially with the Dodgers' budget" ("Numbers Never Lie," ESPN2, 1/16).

HOW TV RUINED YOUR LIFE:'s Buster Olney examined the impact around MLB under the header, "Winners And Losers Of Kershaw Deal." Olney's winners included "Casey Close, Jim Murray and the other agents at Excel Sports Management." The firm landed a "record deal for Kershaw" and they "also represent" Japanese P Masahiro Tanaka. Olney pointed to MLB labor peace as one of the losers in the deal, writing, "All of this is leading to growing unrest among small-market teams, and the uneasy peace between those clubs and big-market teams could be in jeopardy if the small-market clubs demand greater concessions" leading up to the next CBA (, 1/16). GRANTLAND's Jonah Keri wrote the "only losers" in the Kershaw deal are MLB's small-market teams. The money from MLB's national TV rights deal "is, in many ways, a boon to all." But the league "failed to anticipate the massive gulf that would develop between the have and have-not teams once the wealthiest clubs signed their new local deals." The Padres make $60M a year "from their TV contract," while the Dodgers make $340M. The notion that these two teams "compete every year in the same division is kind of insane, and the existing, outdated revenue-sharing structure isn't going to fix that" (, 1/16).

FOREIGN RELATIONS: ESPN L.A.'s Mark Saxon examined why the Dodgers might pursue Tanaka and noted the team "dispatched a group of marketing executives to Asia this winter to drum up business, trying to capitalize on the fact" that Dodgers P Hyun-Jin Ryu "might be the biggest sports celebrity in South Korea." The team "would have similar opportunities in Japan" with Tanaka, despite the fact that he "wouldn't have the novelty factor for Japanese fans, who have seen plenty of players become major stars" in MLB. But Tanaka "would be the Next Big Thing, likely attracting 30 or 40 reporters to cover his every move." The Dodgers "are competing with the other West Coast teams to have the greatest brand penetration across the Pacific" (, 1/16).

The Cubs are "alienating some hard-core ... fans in Downstate Illinois, resulting in hard feelings and accusations they have surrendered Peoria to the archenemy Cardinals," according to Paul Sullivan of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. The "saga began last November when the Cubs told a Peoria booster club they would keep the annual Cubs Caravan nearer to Chicago." The banquets have "been in Peoria every January for four decades." Cubs VP/Communications & Community Affairs Julian Green said that the team is "focusing on local community projects, which they did Thursday during stops at local schools, hospitals and a Marine base, painting murals and serving meals." Sullivan writes, "No one disputes the Cubs' right to do community work in Chicago, and their charitable work is laudable." But it is "short-sighted decisions like this that make people wonder whether the Rickettses have any public relations sense whatsoever." Meanwhile, the Cardinals' fan caravan this year "has 19 stops in Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas and Illinois, where a group will travel Sunday to Peoria, Springfield and Mattoon." Peoria is considered "predominantly Cubs' territory, with the Cardinals a close second." But the Cubs last year changed their Single-A affiliate from the Midwest League Peoria Chiefs to the Midwest League Kane County Cougars, which "some see as the main reason for the team canceling the caravan stop." The Peoria Chiefs then "went back to being a Cardinals' affiliate" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/17).

GOING BEAR HUNTING: In Chicago, Gordon Wittenmyer notes the Cubs have "set aside a sizable chunk of their middle-of-the-pack payroll budget" to stay in the hunt for Japanese Pacific League Rakuten Eagles P Masahiro Tanaka, "sacrificing possible acquisitions early in the offseason to have the wherewithal to make a serious run." Sources said that the Cubs' front office is "making its strongest bid, based on the limits placed by a debt-strung, skittish-to-spend ownership." But the team "doesn't have the resources to be able to outspend big-ticket mistakes" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 1/17).

MLS Commissioner Don Garber on Thursday said that the league "expects to make an announcement next month" regarding David Beckham's prospective expansion team in Miami, according to Craig Davis of the South Florida SUN-SENTINEL. The comments marked the "most encouraging sign" yet that Beckham will "locate an expansion franchise in South Florida." Garber said, "Right now, we've got a lot of work to do, and we'll announce something in early February." Davis notes the Miami-Dade County Commission last month "authorized Mayor Carlos Gimenez to negotiate with Beckham's group on a stadium" at PortMiami, though the county "would not provide funding" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 1/17). Garber said, "We can't go to Miami without the right stadium solution. David understands that. The city understands that. That's an indisputable fact. We can't have different rules in Miami than we have in any other city" (MIAMI HERALD, 1/17).

CAROLINA IN MY MIND: MLL Charlotte Hounds President & Managing Partner Jim McPhilliamy said that he is "leading a group to buy the franchise rights" of the USL Pro Charlotte Eagles, and that he "intends to put the new team at Memorial Stadium" for the '15 season. He added that the "ultimate goal" is to bring MLS to Charlotte by '20. In Charlotte, David Scott noted the sale "must be approved by the USL." McPhilliamy said that the Hounds group "has an agreement in place to acquire the rights for about $500,000 at the end of the season" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 1/16).

In N.Y., Manish Mehta cites a source as saying that despite the Jets signing coach Rex Ryan to a contract extension, the team can "effectively opt out of the contract after the 2015 season because any salary Ryan is owed beyond that is not fully guaranteed -- if at all." Ryan's deal is "incentivized for playoff success, so if he fails to deliver, the Jets have a financially friendly escape hatch." It was a "master stroke" by GM John Idzik and Owner Woody Johnson, who "created a short-term, performance-based path for their head coach" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/17).

OHIO CLOUD COVER: In Cleveland, Terry Pluto wrote the "one problem" with Browns Owner Jimmy Haslam III's letter to season ticket holders is that it "came from Owner Jimmy Haslam and the Browns." Pluto: "Almost everything they say is met by most fans with skepticism or downright derision." The Browns "can't win the public relations game because they have lost so many games on the field." Haslam "lost a lot of credibility with the fan base when his Pilot/Flying J company was raided by the FBI" last April. The team then finished the '13 season with a 4-12 record, followed by "the quick firing" of coach Rob Chudzinski (, 1/16).

PLENTY OF FISH IN THE SEA? In Ft. Lauderdale, Omar Kelly writes of the Dolphins' GM search, "Problem is, because a handful of qualified individuals turned down the opportunity to interview for the position there is this perception the job is neither desirable, nor a good opportunity." While the candidates' "disinterest does create some questions," each of them "had their reasons to stay where they are." Kelly: "Just because one qualified candidate -- or four -- shoots you down, doesn't mean the right person isn't out their looking for you" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 1/17).