The Seahawks and MLS Sounders on Thursday jointly announced that the Sounders' business operations will become independent, effective April 30. The Sounders will move business operations and full-time business staff to the Pioneer Square neighborhood, while team operations and practice facilities will remain at Starfire Sports Complex. The teams had shared business operations since the Sounders were admitted to MLS in '07 (Seahawks). In Seattle, Joshua Mayers writes with the Seahawks' "invaluable help, the Sounders hit the ground running" as a pro franchise and "quickly grew" into one of MLS' biggest brands. Such "stability has enabled the Sounders to break free, as was the organization’s intention all along, in pursuit of even larger goals." Sounders Minority Owner Paul Allen "will continue to hold" his 25% stake in the Sounders on top of his ownership stake in the Seahawks, and fans "shouldn't expect to notice much change." Home games "still will be played at CenturyLink Field" (SEATTLE TIMES, 3/21). In Tacoma, Don Ruiz notes Sounders and Seahawks President Peter McLoughlin "will surrender his soccer responsibilities" as part of the move. There was "no announcement of who will become Sounders president." However, Sounders Minority Owner & GM Adrian Hanauer said that he "could assume that title" in addition to his GM duties. Hanauer said of the move to split up operations, "The organization is very capable of standing on its own two feet. I’ve used the phrase ‘taking the training wheels off.’ ... Our fans should not lose anything. (Sounders FC) can dream big dreams about where the brand goes from here" (Tacoma NEWS TRIBUNE, 3/21).
Packers President & CEO Mark Murphy has been "integral in the Packers remaining among the NFL's elite both on the field and off" during his six years in the role, according to Rob Reischel of the MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL. Murphy said the 7,000 seats added to Lambeau Field prior to the '13 season were a "boost" from a revenue standpoint. Murphy: "In terms of home-field advantage, we'll see over time, but I think it was significantly louder." He added the Packers "don't have any plans to expand." Murphy acknowledged the "next thing we have to look at is continuing to look at the fan experience." He said, "An issue, especially with more and more of our fans being younger, is connectivity and can they use their phones and Wi-Fi. That's a challenge, though." Asked about developing around the stadium, Murphy said, "We're certainly looking at developing more generally around the stadium. The start was getting the Cabela's. We thought that would be a really good retail anchor and that's been great in terms of bringing people." Meanwhile, Murphy said his involvement in football operations was "just enough so they know that I'm supportive and I know what's going on." However, GM Ted Thompson "knows that he has the final say." Murphy said he spends "probably 75-80%" of his time on the business side. Murphy: "I spend a lot of time on league issues, so that's a combination of football and business" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 3/21).
Astros Exec Advisor Nolan Ryan in his new position is "in more of a consultant's role now than a prime decision-making spot," according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com. When Ryan is "not serving as a sounding board" for Astros Owner Jim Crane, he will be "dispensing advice to his son," Astros President of Business Operations Reid Ryan. The Ryans share a "mutual passion for baseball, their distaste for losing and their vision for the franchise." Reid Ryan said, "Sometimes you don't know what you're getting into until you get there. I took the job last May and as I started going around town, I saw there's a pride with the Astros. People are tired of losing." Crasnick noted Reid Ryan has "won high marks for his attention to detail, lack of ego and communications skills." He has "fostered a more inclusive, upbeat environment than his predecessor, George Postolos." Meanwhile, Nolan Ryan after resigning as Rangers CEO is "all about looking forward to the salvage job that awaits in Houston." He "refuses to paint" Rangers President of Baseball Operations & GM Jon Daniels "as a villain in what was clearly an uncomfortable arrangement." He instead "suggests they were part of a dynamic that was set up to fail." Nolan Ryan said, "When I came into that situation, I was dropped in J.D.'s sandbox. He had his organization and his group of people, and all of a sudden -- boom! -- Nolan Ryan was there. It was a dimension they didn't anticipate. It probably wasn't handled properly with my coming in." For those "who wonder" if Nolan Ryan and Astros GM Jeff Luhnow can "find a harmony that eluded Ryan and Daniels, the two men talked everything through with Crane before the Astros brought" Ryan aboard. Luhnow: "I was very comfortable with the value added that Nolan could provide and he was very comfortable with the approach that we were taking. So far it's been a wonderful fit. I can't see any downside to it, to be honest" (ESPN.com, 3/19).
Expansion beyond U.S. borders remains the biggest opportunity for pro sports leagues, a group of four team owners said during a panel session at the '14 IMG World Congress of Sports. Jaguars Owner Shahid Khan said his team has benefited from playing some of its home games in London. “Shockingly enough, we thought a year-and-a-half ago when we were planning this thing that it was going to be ex-pats and people who were in London buying tickets,” Khan said. “But they are less than a third of it. The biggest segment we have is people coming from Europe buying this. A lot of them really don’t know football. They have no idea where Jacksonville is. It’s wonderful. You see people speaking different languages wearing Jacksonville Jaguars T-shirts.” Khan described the U.S. market as saturated with limited growth opportunities for the league. “Our upside is going to come from overseas,” he said. 76ers Managing Partner & Devils Managing Member Josh Harris identified international expansion as a priority for both the NBA and NHL. “Basketball is making enormous strides all over the world, particularly in China,” he said. “Hockey also is growing internationally.”
* IceArizona partner & Coyotes Owner Daryl Jones, on buying the team: “We bought a bankrupt hockey team in the desert, which to most people is a crazy proposition. We can probably get to break-even in the next couple of years, which is a big route for a franchise that had been losing $30 million plus per year.”
* Padres lead investor Peter Seidler, on buying back into baseball: “The business has changed so much, if you compare it to 1998. At that time, baseball had probably something like 30 years of consecutive battles with the players union, and that was damaging to the game. A season was cancelled. A World Series was cancelled. Since then there’s been labor peace, which is a big driver to the success of baseball, as well as the explosion in national TV contracts and local TV contracts.”
* Khan, on buying a team: “If you set the NFL aside, all of the other sports franchises' value is something of a state of mind. I don’t think you should get into a sport just because the value is going to go up. You have to see the kind of money and some of the benefits you are going to get out of it.”
* Harris, on operating teams as businesses: “These businesses are flipping from being live entertainment businesses like an event to being media businesses. The value of these businesses are going up and the cash flows are going up. Certainly the NFL is the most profitable sport. Both the NBA and NHL are making great strides in terms of improving profitability and getting to significantly positive free cash flow."
* Harris, on revenue sharing: “It’s amazing to see some of the richest people in the world argue over revenue share in the NBA. I won’t name names. There are so many issues that come up that if the league can get the ownership groups to take off their individual city hats and team hats and put on a team hat, it may be a little less good for you than, maybe, for someone else. The league does a very good job in focusing the ownership group on the greater good, whether that be sponsorship deals, media contracts or tricky issues like revenue share, where you can’t have a league five big market teams. You need to work out how the small market teams are going to be able to survive. That’s a tricky issue.”
* Khan, on the difference between the NFL and the EPL: “The NFL is partnership. It’s a centrally controlled institution. The NFL would be bigger than some of the 32 clubs put together. The EPL is like a loose collection of federations, something like Italy in the 1840s. With relegation [and] promotion, you really don’t know who’s going to be in it or not be in it. So you don’t have all the best practice sharing and the camaraderie, the fellowship and the partnership that you have in the NFL.”
* Jones, on hockey’s biggest challenge: “For hockey, especially in our market, it’s really growing the game. Hockey is the fourth sport in the U.S. and the top sport in Canada. The challenge for the league and owners is to broaden, educate and expand the game in the U.S.”