NHL VP/Player Safety & Hockey Operations Brendan Shanahan on Friday was named Maple Leafs President and "will be given the final say in all high-level hockey decisions made in the richest organization in the league," according to James Mirtle of the GLOBE & MAIL. Shanahan had "been courted by multiple NHL teams in the past year," and "talk in league circles was, after three tough-but-productive years, he had wanted out of the difficult disciplinarian job before next season." Coming "home to Toronto, where he grew up in the small community of Mimico, was too good of an opportunity to pass up." It is "expected major changes are coming to the management group underneath the newly created position." What he "walks into in Toronto is a bit of a mess" (GLOBE & MAIL, 4/11). In Toronto, Rob Longley writes MLSE President & CEO Leiweke will rely on Shanahan to "return the storied franchise to respectability -- and perhaps even another trip to the post-season." Shanahan will take over "one of the most visible and volatile positions in all of professional hockey." He should be "on board in time to participate with exit interviews of players and coaches, should he choose" (TORONTO SUN, 4/11). The GLOBE & MAIL's Eric Duhatschek writes apart from the "chance to perhaps run one of the New York-area teams, so he could stay put, there would be few hockey jobs more appealing to Shanahan" than the Leafs. Once the Leafs' interest in Shanahan "became clear, the fit seemed so logical that the only real question was going to revolve around the timing" (GLOBE & MAIL, 4/11).
LEIWEKE LEAVING HIS MARK: In Toronto, Damien Cox writes Shanahan's hiring is Leiweke's "latest eye-popping maneuver." Shanahan will have "an even more senior role that will extend beyond over-seeing" GM Dave Nonis. Shanahan may even "be groomed to become the heir apparent to Leiweke." It is a "gamble by Leiweke, given Shanahan's absence of NHL executive experience" (TORONTO STAR, 4/11). SPORTSNET's Chris Johnston wrote this is the "first of many significant changes that will be made to the organization in the coming months." Shanahan brings "a winning pedigree" to the Leafs' front office. His duties are "expected to be wide-ranging and include involvement in business, marketing and other league-related matters." In other words, he "won't be negotiating contracts or helping manage the salary cap." Those duties "will continue to be performed by Nonis" (SPORTSNET.ca, 4/10). The NATIONAL POST's Bruce Arthur notes Leiweke has "apparently been courting Shanahan for a while, surely with [NHL Commissioner Gary] Bettman's blessing and perhaps urging." There are "huge hockey decisions ahead for this franchise." Leiweke has "cleared out two of his three franchises already; this is his first crack at fixing the Leafs" (NATIONAL POST, 4/11).
IN SUPPORT OF SHANAHAN: YAHOO SPORTS' Nicholas Cotsonika wrote Shanahan has "never been a team executive," but he knows "how to bring people together and effect change, and he knows how to build and run a department -- have a vision, create a plan, manage people." He has "dealt with people throughout the hockey world" and has "handled scrutiny and criticism" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/10). In Toronto, Terry Koshan writes it is "hard to find a good reason to argue against" Leiweke's hiring of Shanahan (TORONTO SUN, 4/11). Also in Toronto, Curtis Rush writes under the header, "The Pros And Cons Of Hiring Brendan Shanahan" (TORONTO STAR, 4/11).
Several members of the Bills New Stadium Working Group said that they are "considering sites that would put it closer to the team's burgeoning Ontario fan base" in order to "bolster the team's long-term viability," according to John Wawrow of the AP. New York State Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, who co-chairs the stadium group, said, "We're looking at Niagara County. We're open to looking at a number of venues." Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster "confirmed Niagara County was discussed as an option during the inaugural meeting last week." Dyster said Duffy made it clear "that all options should be on the table." He added that those options include "Niagara County and even Batavia, about halfway between Buffalo and Rochester." Niagara Falls is "30 minutes closer by car than Orchard Park to a growing southern Ontario fan base." The Bills "estimate Canadians make up about" 18% of their season-ticket base. Another idea is "having the Bills relocate" their team HQ to the Univ. at Buffalo campus in the Erie County town of Amherst, where "a new practice facility would be built and shared with the school's football team." New York State Sen. Tim Kennedy favors the proposal "of linking the Bills and the university but is against a stadium site outside of Erie County." He added that a new stadium "with a dome or a retractable roof could be part of a larger development, including a new convention centre" (AP, 4/10).
EMOTIONS RUN HIGH: ESPN.com's Pat McManamon wrote L.A. or London "can call all they want," but Erie County's lease "won't let the Bills move." Still, the angst over the possibility of the team leaving is "something very real, and something people like" Erie County Exec Mark Poloncarz and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown "must fight." Poloncarz said, "If the team left, it would be devastating on the psyche of the community. I don't know if it would have as much economic impact as say a major employer leaving, but on the psyche and the long-term thought of what's going on here it would be huge." He added that the process of getting the Bills a new stadium "has just started, but he's not ready to call Ralph Wilson Stadium a fossil." Poloncarz "points out cities like Kansas City and Green Bay were able to renovate older buildings and modernize them" (ESPN.com, 4/10).
LIVING ON A PRAYER: QMI AGENCY's John Kryk noted musician Jon Bon Jovi "indeed wants to become an NFL owner and is part [of] a Toronto group expected to bid" for the Bills. Bon Jovi's publicist on Thursday "confirmed" he is a player. A source said that Bon Jovi is "the face of a Toronto-based group intent on obtaining an NFL franchise, via relocation, and expected to bid for the Bills." The source added that MLSE Chair Larry Tanenbaum "remains in league with Bon Jovi." But Kryk noted the financial standing of Bon Jovi's group "bears attention." Forbes.com shows that his "personal net worth" is about $300M. By NFL rules, the "controlling-stake threshold for NFL ownership is 30%" (QMI AGENCY, 4/10). In Buffalo, Tim Graham wrote Bon Jovi's involvement "should make Bills fans nervous about the team relocating to Toronto." Another "disappointing turn for the locals happened in Boston, where Bruins President Cam Neely declared Jeremy Jacobs is uninterested in purchasing the Bills." Neely said that Jacobs "doesn't want to part with the Bruins." NFL bylaws "prohibit an owner from having another sports team in a different NFL market." However, it remains possible for Jacobs "to maintain ownership of the Bruins while his sons buy the Bills." Jacobs is Chair & CEO of Buffalo-based Delaware North Cos. (BUFFALONEWS.com, 4/10).
The Fire seem like they have a "plan to create a much-needed buzz around the club" with a "seven-figure marketing campaign that will include TV advertising and digital advertising," according to Orrin Schwartz of the Illinois DAILY HERALD. The Fire's "re-engagement plan with Chicago soccer fans" includes buying time for "a one-hour Saturday morning radio program dedicated to the team on ESPN 1000-AM that will run throughout the season." The team also is "putting up billboards throughout the Chicago area" and "reaching out to soccer organizations throughout the area ... to coordinate activities where appropriate and assist where it can." In addition, the team is building a $20M soccer facility "on the North Side of Chicago with two full-size fields where rec leagues can play and the Fire can train in bad weather." The facility will include "retail, a training center, meeting areas and a Fire-branded pub." This is the "biggest, most important piece of the Fire's plan, with about 250,000 people a year expected to go through the 15,000-square-foot building." The overall goal is to get "more fans in the stands and a return to the atmosphere of 2009, the last time the Fire hosted a conference championship match." The team hopes to "sell 7,000 season tickets this season, a still modest number by MLS standards but a step up for the Fire." However, the "biggest challenge" for the franchise will "come at the end of this season, when its jersey sponsorship deal with Quaker expires." Fire COO Atul Khosla said that the club and the company "already are in negotiations to extend the contract" (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 4/10).
Cubs Chair Tom Ricketts on Thursday said if his family "can find a handful of guys that are great partners and value-added people ... that'd be the best answer" to their search for minority investors in the team. But Ricketts, appearing on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street," added, "It's really early. We don't know how exactly it's all going to go down or what the plan is. But we do know that we've got to start planning for it." He said of finding financing, "Most baseball teams have several dozen limited partners. ... I think for us, it's a matter of just finding the right partners." Meanwhile Ricketts noted the Cubs' payroll has "definitely come down." Ricketts: "Part of that is a lot of those contracts that we had a few years ago have rolled off and part of it now is we've assigned a lot of dollars for the Major League Baseball payroll, (but) this year we couldn't find a lot of great places to put them. So the payroll is where it should be for where we are. It'll grow over time." Ricketts said Wrigley Field attendance "is fine." But the "amenities at Wrigley Field just need to be upgraded." The Wrigley renovations could cost "well over" $300M and save the ballpark "for the next generation" ("Squawk on the Street," CNBC, 4/10).
MORE THE MERRIER: In Chicago, Phil Rosenthal wrote he cannot figure out why "anyone cares if the Ricketts family takes on minority shareholders" for the Cubs. Rosenthal: "Why wouldn't they? ... It's practically free money, and it's not as though the family must give up any real control of the team or its assets. Minority shareholders don't have a voice." Assuming the franchise "follows through on its plan" to start the renovations and build-out of Wrigley when this season is over, it "wouldn't hurt to have some extra money lying around" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 4/9).
The Jets were "scheduled to play a key role" in the new football-themed movie "Draft Day," but the club "pulled out just a few days before shooting was set to begin last year," according to Steven Zeitchik of the L.A. TIMES. Director Ivan Reitman said, "They were having something of a quarterback dispute, and the team said that this is just going to incite our fans a little more to criticize us, even though it’s all fictional." Desperate, Reitman "worked a personal connection to the Seahawks' ownership, and they joined just days before shooting was to begin" (L.A. TIMES, 4/11). However, ESPN N.Y.'s Rich Cimini cites a source as saying that the Jets were "open to participating in the movie, but they expressed hesitancy because the original script portrayed their fans in a negative light." The source said that when team execs "got back to the producers to discuss possible changes to the script, the Jets were told they were out of the picture." The source added that the team's reluctance to participate "had nothing to do with its uncertain quarterback situation." The Seahawks "apparently had no problem allowing themselves to get fleeced" by the Browns' fictional GM, played by Kevin Costner. Cimini: "Obviously, it didn't ruin the Seahawks' karma" (ESPNNY.com, 4/11).
AMERICA'S FANTASY TEAM: In Ft. Worth, Mac Engel wrote the Cowboys "are not what they once were," but "Draft Day" is proof that the "clout and charm of their owner still carries a significant amount of weight." It is "not a coincidence" that the Cowboys "are treated with reverence" in the film. Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones is "friendly with" Reitman and Costner (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 4/10).