The Blackhawks "will raise season ticket prices" by an average of 8% next season, marking the team's "fifth straight year of boosting the price of admission" for games at United Center, according to Danny Ecker of CRAIN'S CHICAGO BUSINESS. Season-ticket prices for '14-15 "start at $42 per game for the cheapest upper deck seats -- up from $36 this season." The increase follows a 16% jump this year and "will bring the overall average ticket price for Hawks games to $78.79 per game." The new figures "would clock in as the fourth-most expensive average price in the NHL" behind only the Maple Leafs, Canucks and Jets. The price hike also will mean seats "will have jumped" by 68% since '09. Season tickets "comprise about" 75% of seats for the team (CHICAGOBUSINESS.com, 3/21). The Blackhawks said that those who hold season tickets "receive discounts" of 25-49% percent over single-game buyers. The renewal rate for season tickets last year "was more than" 99% (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/23).
Browns President Alec Scheiner does not anticipate the reaction to the team's new Nike uniforms set to be unveiled in '15 to be "quite as severe" as those of the Buccaneers, but he "isn't expecting universal accolades, either," according to Kevin Kleps of CRAIN'S CLEVELAND BUSINESS. Scheiner "isn't revealing design details" of the uniforms. Scheiner said the team and Nike have had "countless meetings back and forth" about the uniforms. Scheiner also touched on the recent firing of Browns CEO Joe Banner and GM Mike Lombardi. Scheiner said of how his role has changed since their departures, "My job is a little bit broader now than it used to be, but not tons. I haven't worked any less than I did before the change, and I doubt I will." He said of Banner, "Joe was great to me. Joe included me in everything, and the Cowboys (for whom Scheiner worked eight years) did, too. So I've always been very fortunate to basically see 360 degrees (of an organization)." Scheiner also gave an update on the progress of a $120M renovation to FirstEnergy Stadium, saying, "We've got Turner Construction, we've got Gensler as our architects. They planned for rough weather, which you have to do if you're doing construction on the lake in Cleveland in January and February. But we're right on target; things are going very well. This is going to be transformative. It's one thing to talk about it and show pictures. Our stadium is going to be very different next year" (CRAINSCLEVELAND.com, 3/21).
Astros Owner Jim Crane yesterday "made it clear he believes the Astros have to be better in 2014 than they were a year ago," according to Evan Drellich of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. Crane said, "We do not want to lose 100 games. That would not be good. We think the team's good enough to be very competitive and give some people some fits. ... I'd love to see us get to .500. Would be a big step for us. Or somewhere close to that." Drelich notes in the last week, it "became clear the Astros are big fans of contract extensions for young players, even ones who aren't established yet in the majors." Such contracts can "prove to be huge bargains." The subject at one point or another "has been broached, to varying degrees," with C Jason Castro, LF Robbie Grossman, 3B Matt Dominguez and RF George Springer. The Astros "clearly feel, from a philosophical standpoint, locking up young players early ... is an appropriate approach." Meanwhile, Crane is "hopeful some Astros games could be available this season without a local blackout" to subscribers of MLB's TV package. Although Crane "did not mention 'Extra Innings' by name, that's the name of a premium package of games offered through various TV providers." Crane said, "We're getting down to the rubber meets the road. Probably a decision will be made on it this next week, before Friday." Drellich notes CSN Houston is available to only 40% of cable subscribers in Houston, "leaving the team in a position to try to find other ways to allow fans to watch games." Crane indicated having games available "blackout-free through the Web isn't impossible, but it seems the TV package is more likely" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 3/24).
EAST BOUND AND DOWN? The AP's Chuck King noted Crane "hopes to have a deal for a new spring training home for his ballclub within six months." The Astros are "looking to replace their current home in Kissimmee with a site on the east coast of Florida." Osceola County Stadium was "considered state of the art when the Astros moved there in 1985, but Crane said the complex is 'probably the worst' in the Grapefruit League now." The Nationals and Astros have been "looking at sites in Palm Beach County, Martin County and Port St. Lucie." Crane: "There's a couple decent sites. I think it's just, approve the location, go ahead and verify the funding, and then go for it." Crane "pledged that much of the money to fund the complex construction will come from a local bed tax." Crane: "If you live here, it's not coming out of your pocket. I think people need to understand that" (AP, 3/23).
THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX: CBSSPORTS.com's Jon Heyman wrote the Astros "are not like other MLB teams," as they "just do things differently." They "employ a staff economist," they "employ a guy who left NASA, and another guy who used to design semiconductors." Finally, they "hired two guys who were bloggers, albeit very smart bloggers, in key front-office roles." GM Jeff Luhnow said, "New ideas are welcome. We're not afraid to try something new." If there is "indeed a box, the Astros couldn't possibly see it from where they are." It is MLB's "grand experiment, with perhaps half [of] baseball rooting against it and even reveling in their back-to-back all-time bad seasons, and half hoping it is a monstrous success, if only to show there is a different way to do things" (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/23).
Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones is "not as intrusive and overbearing as most portray," although he admits he has "taken a more active role these last two years with head coach Jason Garrett," according to David Moore of the DALLAS MORNING NEWS. Jones concedes he "listens to those outside the organization more than most general managers and wrestles with whether he collects too many opinions." Jones said, "I don’t want an opinion from anybody. Show me why you’re saying it. Show me the facts, show me details, show me reasons why. And if you need to show me three players to show me what the one does, show me. I probably have less show-me in personnel with coaches than I do scouts. But I weigh what the scout says more than the coach." He added, "I don’t mind sounding dumb because I’m not worried about the person thinking, ‘What the hell he’s talking about?’ I did my best work with the Cowboys when I didn’t mind sounding stupid asking the question. That was early." Jones: "I probably have not been unreasonable as much as I should have been over the last 25 years relative to coaches. Is that one of the disadvantages of sitting here being the owner and general manager? Yes. ... People ask, ‘Have you changed what you’re doing over the last few years?’ The last couple of years I’ve had more involvement than probably any time in my career relative to the nuances." Jones continued, "Yes, I’ve changed. What people actually thought I was before, now I am. ... I don’t hate the world and moan and groan because we’ve been 8-8 the last three seasons. But I’ll tell you this, I don’t gloat around here either. And that’s a change" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/23).
Heat Owner Micky Arison since last year has "expressed interest in buying the Marlins" from Owner Jeffrey Loria, according to an MLB source cited by Barry Jackson of the MIAMI HERALD. But Loria "isn't interested in selling." Arison has "informed the Marlins of his interest on more than one occasion but did not make a formal offer because he was specifically told that Loria would not consider it." Loria's associates said that he "loves owning a team and has no intention of selling unless health issues or some other unexpected circumstances arise" (MIAMIHERALD.com, 3/23).
The Twins last week released a TV ad that will air through Spring Training into the regular season in which team execs "not only acknowledged their struggles, they were brutally honest about them," according to Mark Townsend of YAHOO SPORTS. A boy in the ad states, "Even though the Twins have been stinkier than my socks the last few years, they’re still my team." Townsend wrote the ad is "to the point," and "most importantly, it’s accurate." But it also "sets the stage for a more uplifting message about sticking with your favorite team through the good times and the bad times" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/23).
AMUSING A's: A's Senior Dir of Marketing Troy Smith last week discussed the team's fifth season of the "Green Collar Baseball" marketing campaign. CSN Bay Area's Jim Kozimor said the ads are "always fun and funny." Smith said of getting the players to cooperate and be involved in the on-air spots, "We have a long history of funny spots and they've seen them. We show them old spots so they have an idea of what we're going for: Put them in funny situations but try to be authentic and something easy for them." Smith said the marketing staff will "start brainstorming when there's a great moment" in a game to use in a one of the spots but "really, it's in the fall, before the year turns over. We start thinking about who we want to use, what are the themes and what are their personalities like because we always try to be true to their personalities." The marketing team will "try to be sensitive" to the coaches and managers, who are attempting to prepare the team for the season -- but "they're such good sports. They are willing to do just about anything we ask them to do" ("Yahoo Sorts Talk Live," CSN Bay Area, 3/20).
Hurricanes President & GM Jim Rutherford is “expected to give up” his duties at the end of the season, according to Chip Alexander of the Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER. Rutherford today said that he did “not want to comment on his situation with the team or any potential changes until the season is completed.” Sources said that Rutherford “may stay as team president, although that decision has not been made.” Hurricanes Exec VP/Hockey Operations Ron Francis is expected to “succeed Rutherford as general manager” (NEWSOBSERVER.com, 3/24). In Boston, Fluto Shinzawa noted Rutherford is "close to owner Peter Karmanos, but the Hurricanes haven't qualified for the playoffs" since '08-09 (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/23).
OTHERS IN DANGER OF BEING LET GO: In Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch noted some GMs "are feeling the heat," and when the season ends April 13, "there could be changes in a few front offices." Some GMs who "could be in trouble" are the Predators' David Poile, Canucks' Mike Gillis and Capitals' George McPhee. Meanwhile, if the NHL chooses to expand and Seattle gets a team, "don't be surprised if former NHLer Jeremy Roenick is named the president of the club." The "whisper in league circles is that he has close ties with the group trying to bring hockey there." Returning to Quebec City "makes the most sense and construction of a new rink is well under way." There also is "talk a group in Las Vegas has made a pitch," with producer Jerry Bruckheimer behind the bid (OTTAWA SUN, 3/23).
NOT GOING ANYWHERE RIGHT NOW: In N.Y., Larry Brooks reported NHL Rangers President & GM Glen Sather "may be 70 and one year removed from successful prostate cancer surgery," but he is "not about to end his term." Sather on Friday said, "Everybody retires sometime, but I’m not intending to step away or retire from anything this year. I don’t know how stories like this keep coming up, because I haven’t said anything to anybody about retiring. … One day, yes. But not now." He added, "I'm not thinking about stepping back, or a change in my title or responsibilities" (NY POST, 3/23).
ISLAND OF ADVENTURE: Friday's edition of SNY's "Daily News Live" discussed who had the most difficult job as a front office exec of turning around the New York City-area teams. SNY's Marc Malusis said Islanders GM Garth Snow has a difficult job, but they will be "off the Island relatively soon and they're going to transition to Brooklyn." Malusis: "You look at the Nassau Coliseum, nobody wanted to play there. They drafted a young star in John Tavares, he's now done for the year. They've drafted well at times, but they cannot keep key component and key players there because they want to go someplace else. They don't want to play out there on the Island." Snow has to "live up to the great past of the early '80s where this team was a dynamic hockey team" ("Daily News Live," SNY, 3/21).
In Philadelphia, Chris Hepp noted the Phillies for the "second season running … are heading toward opening day at home with seats still to fill.” The team is “looking at a significant drop in season-ticket sales, as well.” Phillies VP/Sales & Ticket Operations John Weber said, “Our sales numbers are down. Last year, we had about 24,000 season-ticket holders. We are going to have between 18 (thousand) and 19,000 this year, which still ranks us in the top of baseball. It is a very solid number, but not where we have been." Hepp noted the development is not surpising "given the team's failure to make the playoffs the last two seasons.” Weber: “Things are a lot different than they have been in the past. The ticket climate is different than three or four years ago” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/21).
MONSTER MASH: In Boston, Callum Borchers reported Red Sox ticket sales for the '14 season are “up 14.5 percent” following last year's World Series win, but still not at the level following the ’04 championship. Red Sox COO and Fenway Sports Group President Sam Kennedy said, “I don’t think we’ll return to the crazed marketplace of ’05 to ’08. There’s an expectation now around winning.” Meanwhile, Kennedy said he was “very nervous about putting signs over" Fenway Park's Green Monster. He said, “I was worried about perception: Are you over-capitalizing? I remember [Red Sox Senior Advisor] Charles Steinberg brought a book into a staff meeting and said, ‘Sam, I appreciate that you’re worried about desecrating the Green Monster, but look at this.’ It was a cigarette ad and a shaving cream ad on the Green Monster -- in color -- from the ’40s and ’50s. I slept much better that night” (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/23).
DOG DAYS: In Milwaukee, Kathy Flanigan writes Hank the dog “is the distraction the Brewers didn't plan on but should be grateful for” after a disappointing ‘13 season. PR firm Mary Beth West Communications Strategic Development Dir Tim Wirtz said, “It's a great way for them to deflect some of the negative public relations around the Ryan Braun situation.” He added Hank “is going to put butts in the seats.” Brewers COO Rick Schlesinger and VP of Communications Tyler Barnes said that they have “turned down numerous requests for Hank appearances, including a few television ones that would require travel” (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 3/24).
MEET THE METS, FOR LESS: ESPN's Keith Olbermann noted the Mets had to "succumb to the embarrassing reality of Groupon" by offering $9 seats to "weekend games against the Reds, Marlins and Phillies." Olbermann said the $9 tickets were the "cheapest seats on Groupon" and are all for games prior to Mother's Day. Olbermann: "You know what you have to do if you have to offer $9 tickets on Groupon in New York? You either have to lower the prices or sell the damn team" ("Olbermann," ESPN2, 3/22).