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Volume 24 No. 113


The Hornets yesterday formally executed their transition away from the Bobcats brand, and though the new name "won't make the team any better," it will "make them more interesting," according to Tom Sorensen of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. The Hornets "finally are in position to become a factor in Charlotte." The team "more than doubled its victory total this season, and made the playoffs, and reclaimed its name." Sorensen: "That's synergy, good timing and good work." Hornets President & COO Fred Whitfield said that the team has "sold 2,000 more season tickets this offseason than last offseason, and their season-ticket renewal rate" is at 90%. The Hornets' uniforms will be "unveiled June 19," and the team's primary colors "will be the old Hornets colors, purple and teal, the secondary colors black, gray and light blue." The Hornets' new court will be unveiled June 26, and the Hugo the Hornet mascot returns June 5, but it "won't be the original Hugo." About 200 fans showed up at Time Warner Cable Arena "for the name-change news conference" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 5/21). Whitfield said, "For me, this day is almost surreal because I was a Hornets season-ticket holder. I know what it felt like in the old Hive and the energy and excitement that happened to be there." The AP's Steve Reed noted Whitfield also announced that "all the statistical information, records and history of Charlotte NBA basketball will be restored to the franchise." Whitfield said that Hornets' records from their years in New Orleans will "revert to the Pelicans' history" (AP, 5/20).

SOCIAL BUZZ: Over the last 24 hours, the official return of the Hornets moniker has provided a nice bump in popularity in social media for the team. The Hornets are up 16,400 new likes on Facebook (778,900 overall), an additional 8,700 new followers on Instagram (78,770 overall) and 5,900 new followers on Twitter (214,900 overall) (Ryan Baucom, Staff Writer).

Prominent NFL owners at yesterday's spring meetings in Atlanta "struck a supportive tone for Western New York" and keeping the Bills in Buffalo, according to Tim Graham of the BUFFALO NEWS. Their comments underscored what two sources had previously said, which was that any group that "wants to move the Bills probably won’t get enough votes to approve relocation." Giants President & CEO John Mara said, "We’re obviously hoping for the best possible ownership, and most of us are hoping for a situation that allows them to remain in Buffalo." He added, "It’s been a great franchise for the league. I think most of the people in that room would like to see it remain in Buffalo." Bills President & CEO Russ Brandon said that the team "is close to naming the investment bank and legal firm that will handle the sale." Those firms will "make a recommendation to the trust that has been overseeing the club" since Ralph Wilson Jr.'s death in March. Jaguars Owner Shahid Khan said the Bills franchise "definitely has a place in the NFL’s history and a place in its future." Graham notes when it comes time for the NFL to "vote on the next owner -- or whether the team will move -- Bills fans would need nine owners to block anything undesirable." Packers President & CEO Mark Murphy, a Buffalo native, said, "I will do everything I can to keep the team in Buffalo. I think it means so much to that community, very similar in some ways to what the Packers mean to Green Bay" (BUFFALO NEWS, 5/21).

JACOBS NOT IN BILLS SWEEPSTAKES:'s Mike Petraglia noted when Bruins Owner Jeremy Jacobs "expressed interest in buying" the Bills in April, fans "wondered if that meant the end of stewardship" of the Bruins. But Jacobs yesterday during the Bruins' season-ending press conference "made it clear that he has no such intentions and is quite happy" as the owner of the Bruins. Jacobs said, "I can't buy the Bills, because I own the Bruins. That's not a bad place to be. I kind of like where I am" (, 5/20).

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver prior to last night's Draft Lottery "spent most of his time" urging Clippers Owner Donald Sterling to "sell the team on his own accord," according to Mark Medina of the L.A. DAILY NEWS. Silver said, "If he wanted to sell the team on some reasonable time table, I'd rather he sell it than go through this process." He added, "We have an obligation to the Sterlings to ensure we sell it for the highest possible price. There's no doubt it's a highly valuable asset" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 5/21). Silver said, “I know we’re doing the right thing here. This is an unprecedented proceeding. Will there be bumps in the road? Presumably, yes.” In L.A., Broderick Turner notes the NBA “filed formal allegations Monday and set a June 3 hearing in its attempt to oust Sterling from the team he has owned for 33 years." Silver also said that the NBA has informed Sterling’s lawyer, Maxwell Blecher, that Sterling “will not be given three months to respond to the charges.” Silver said that Sterling’s wife, Rochelle, “wouldn’t be allowed to keep the team as well.” He said despite her lawyers saying she cannot be terminated as an owner, it "just doesn’t make sense" under the league’s bylaws (L.A. TIMES, 5/21). Silver: “I know I have the owners behind me” (, 5/20). Silver, when asked about his feelings on the issue, said, “It’s beyond anger. It’s a certain sadness, and you feel it. It’s almost a malaise around the league. ... It’s something deeper than anger” (, 5/20).

LESSON LEARNED? HBO's Bryant Gumbel said, "Before Donald Sterling officially joins the likes of George Preston Marshall, Calvin Griffith, Marge Schott and other bigots who used to own a professional team in sports, I'm hoping athletes will have learned something about their clout and how to use it.” Gumbel: “I'm hoping they'll note how long before he became a social piñata, Sterling's views and practices were a matter of record, and how none of those same athletes who now say they'll refuse to play for him, ever considered his sordid racial past before they signed on to play for him.” Gumbel added, “Among the owners of all pro teams, I do not think Donald Sterling's racial attitudes are the norm, not by a long shot. But only a fool would believe that he's the lone exception” ("Real Sports," HBO, 5/20).

Since signing star players Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley in January, Toronto FC has seen such considerable upticks in business metrics that it is on track to be MLS’ top grossing club by next season, says MLSE Chief Commercial Officer Dave Hopkinson. The club has yet to make the playoffs eight seasons into its existence and, after a string of lackluster campaigns, had nowhere to go but up. Still, fans returned in droves when MLSE President & CEO Tim Leiweke recruited the players after stints in Europe. Before the signings, only 62% of the team’s season-ticket holders indicated that they intended to renew for ’14 -- a figure Hopkinson called “cataclysmic” and described as the lowest he had seen in his 22-year career as a sports exec. After the signings, however, the club grew the renewal rate to 95%, which was a franchise high and led the league this offseason. The club also sold more than 3,500 new seats, leading MLS in new sales. Season-ticket sales at BMO Field were capped at 17,000 and the waiting list for season tickets is currently at 1,800 -- the first time the club had a waiting list of any kind in four years. With an average of 22,591, the club has increased attendance this season by 18%, the second-best figure in MLS. Hopkinson said every home game this season will be sold out. These figures help comprise a laundry list of positive trends that seemed unlikely before the signings. Hopkinson said MLSE execs at the end of last season were considering whether they were “teetering on the brink of this franchise failing.” While Leiweke in March admitted the club is currently not profitable and will lose money again this year after the $100M outlay on players this offseason, Hopkinson said for now, the signings “just put this enthusiasm back into the club.”

UP ACROSS THE BOARD: TFC has seen TV ratings on TSN jump by eight to ten times as much as last year, and its home opener this season was the most-watched MLS game ever in Canada. Elsewhere, sponsorship sales are up 35% year-over-year, with new partners including Unilever (Dove Men+Care, Vaseline, Axe brands), Canadian Tire (also includes Sport Chek, Marks), MasterCard and Cisco. Hopkinson said the new deals have generated "millions of dollars" in new sales since the last campaign. In many merchandise categories, sales are up by percentages that are well into triple figures. For example, sales of crested TFC jerseys -- as opposed to those without player names -- are up 948% from last season, with Defoe jerseys making up the majority. The club also is selling a lot of jerseys for G Julio Caesar, which is atypical in MLS for a goalkeeper. Merch sales at BMO Field are up 175% and merch sales overall are up 125%. Hopkinson said TFC is on pace for its best season yet in the merch category. TFC also is seeing concession sales jump at BMO Field, where beer sales are up 40%. On the digital front, the club since ’13 has tripled its number of followers on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms. TFC also posted a record high in visits to its website last month. Hopkinson: “Everything is taking a material step forward, which had to happen for us to make this investment in the roster that made sense. ... We had to do something pretty dramatic.”

DEEPENING TIES WITH TOTTENHAM: Another positive development for the club this season has been one that came from an unorthodox arrangement. In its deal with Defoe, the club signed off on a number of atypical agreements with EPL club Tottenham that were designed to foster the London-based club’s presence in Canada, and vice versa. Tottenham will play TFC at BMO Field in a July friendly, and a group of TFC sponsors journeyed to London two weeks ago. Hopkinson said many TFC sponsors describe the potential for dual sponsorships with both clubs as an “intriguing possibility," but declined to name which sponsors were currently eyeing a deal with Tottenham. For its part, Tottenham is going to return the favor and bring some of its top sponsors to BMO Field for the friendly. As part of the Defoe deal, TFC also agreed to carry Tottenham merch at the stadium and also displays the copy, “Tottenham Hotspur FC: Proud Partner of Toronto FC” on BMO Field videoboards. Hopkinson said that same message also will be displayed at Raptors and Maple Leafs games. Most of the aspects of the relationship were contractually obligated in the Defoe deal, but as the two sides have grown as partners, more synergies are being developed independent of the agreement. Hopkinson said that he could not think of another example where a partnership between two clubs was so specifically tied to a player transfer.

In Ft. Lauderdale, Craig Davis wrote the season-ending injury to Marlins P Jose Fernandez could "soon be felt at the turnstiles." The Marlins in Fernandez' five home starts this season "averaged 28,924 fans," and in the other 17 home games just 19,230. Fernandez also was the starter for the "largest Saturday crowd" of 35,188 on April 5 (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 5/20).

BETTER CALL SAUL? In N.Y., Josh Kosman cited a source as saying that Mets co-Owner Saul Katz "recently tried unsuccessfully to persuade brother-in-law and fellow owner Fred Wilpon that they should sell majority control" of the team. But Wilpon "balked at the move largely because he wants to turn over" the squad to his son, COO Jeff Wilpon (N.Y. POST, 5/18). 

GONE WITH THE WINDY CITY: In Chicago, Rick Morrissey wrote under the header, "Not Buying What You're Selling, Cubs." The Cubs’ marketing efforts have "finally met their white whale the last several seasons," as they can "only put an embarrassing product on the field for so long before the sideshows and the barkers become ridiculous." The marketing department and the baseball-operations department are "separate entities, but at some point, doesn’t somebody have to say, ‘Maybe we should tone down the sales job?'" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 5/18).

SITTIN' BY THE DOCK OF THE BAY: In S.F., Susan Slusser cited sources as saying that the Triple-A PCL Sacramento River Cats ownership is "looking to change" MLB affiliates from the A's, and is "particularly interested in switching to the Giants." The A's affiliate agreement with the River Cats is "up after this season," as is the Giants' deal with the Triple-A PCL Fresno Grizzlies. This would be a "blow to the A's, who can call up players from their top affiliate with two hours' notice if both teams are at home" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 5/19).