Heat F LeBron James will "exercise his early termination option and become an unrestricted free agent on July 1," but the move does not necesarrily mean James "has decided to leave the Heat," according to sources cited by Chris Broussard of ESPN.com. James had until June 30 to "decide whether to opt out of the final two years of his contract with the Heat" (ESPN.com, 6/24). In Miami, Barry Jackson writes the move "isn't surprising, because James likes to have flexibility." The Heat have "long been considered the favorite to retain him, but several teams ... will court him" (MIAMIHERALD.com, 6/24). In Ft. Lauderdale, Ira Winderman notes Heat G Dwyane Wade and F Chris Bosh hold "similar early-termination clauses" in their contracts, and they are "now expected to follow James' lead." Those moves "could make it easier" for Heat President Pat Riley to "rework a roster that has advanced to the past four NBA Finals" (SUN-SENTINEL.com, 6/24). ESPN's Broussard said the message James is sending the Heat is he wants to see "what improvements we'll make." James has "great respect" for Riley, and opting out "does not mean he's leaving Miami by any stretch." The timing of the announcement helps the Heat "formulate a better plan to improve." ESPN's P.J. Carlesimo said the move gives the Heat time "to start putting things together." He added, "This still may be an enormous plus for Miami because he could end up going back there and helping them out and giving Pat Riley the flexibility he needs to make them a better team." ESPN's Tom Penn said the move "makes it much easier" on Riley to improve the roster ("SportsCenter," ESPN2, 6/24).
ON THE CLOCK: ESPN's Brian Windhorst said by opting out of the deal six days before he had to, James is "sending a signal that he is going to be available on July 1, and he wants there to be maximum availability for teams to make moves." That "includes the Heat." In this next "seven to 10 days, you are going to see scrambling of teams trying to clear salary cap space." The move is a call to teams to "make moves to get LeBron's attention." Windhorst: "It's an open invitation to impress him. ... I expect this to potentially kick off a frenzy of talks across the league (to sign James) ... using the Draft as a leveraging point. He's definitely played that into his thinking" ("SportsCenter," ESPN2, 6/24).
Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark is "featured in a video that will be sent to current Islanders season-ticket holders starting on July 1 along with the new marketing campaign slogan, 'Tradition Has a New Home,'" according to Arthur Staple of NEWSDAY. Yormark said that the slogan to promote the team's move from Nassau County to Brooklyn "came from many months of focus-group testing and communicating with the Islanders' fan base" on Long Island. Yormark: "When we did this deal with [Owner Charles Wang] two years ago, we started consulting with them to understand the hockey fan a little better, to understand what the Islander fan was really thinking. ... There is that hardcore fan base out there who cares about their team, who cares about the identity of their team and they didn't want it changed overnight. And you know what? I got it." The Islanders will keep their orange, blue and white color scheme, but fans can "expect a new third jersey that looks more like the black-and-white" Nets jerseys. Yormark said that he has "met with the adidas/Reebok apparel makers to start the third-jersey design process." Yormark is "very visibly spearheading" the charge by Barclays Center to "entice Long Islanders who have dedicated their time and money to the team to come to Brooklyn" when the Islanders begin playing there in the fall of '15. The first wave of marketing for the move is "aimed solely at Long Islanders." Yormark said that his group in the fall "will target Brooklyn residents who may be newer to the team and the game." Staple notes it is a "similar playbook" that Yormark "followed when the Nets moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn two years ago" (NEWSDAY, 6/24).
Attendance for Fire games at Toyota Park is up nearly 21% "compared to this point last season, reaching a total of 109,222," according to Danny Ecker of CRAIN'S CHICAGO BUSINESS. That is an "average of 15,603 per game." There are several reasons for the increase, including that last year's early season games "suffered especially poor attendance because of bad weather." That followed the "earliest start to the season in MLS history, which left many teams struggling to draw fans to games in freezing temperatures." Fire COO Atul Khosla said that the team's "beefed up ad campaign this season is also paying off." He added, "The fans are engaging with us in larger numbers than before." Khosla said that the Fire have seen "a significant uptick in group ticket sales in conjunction with the most aggressive marketing campaign in its 17-year history." Ecker noted while the team's season-ticket base is "slightly higher than last year's number of about 6,300, single-game ticket sales have been pulling more of the weight, with a jump" of between 20-30% year-over-year (CHICAGOBUSINESS.com, 6/23).
In K.C., SamMcDowell reports Sporting KC D Matt Besler and MF Graham Zusi are seeing their "international stock ... rising" after their play so far for Team USA in the FIFA World Cup, which could lead to a "cascade of new opportunities upon their return from Brazil." Sporting KC manager and technical director Peter Vermes said that neither Besler nor Zusi have "expressed a desire to pursue an overseas operation," but the "timing could be prime for such a leap." Vermes: "We'll have to deal with that as it comes. The window is opening up here not too long from now. ... We can't shy away from it -- especially if they continue to go deeper and deeper into the tournament" (K.C. STAR, 6/24).
READY TO GET THINGS STARTED: In Orlando, Paul Tenorio reported Orlando City SC has "sold more than 5,000 season tickets for its inaugural MLS campaign in the eight days since making packages available." The news that the club is "poised to sign" Brazilian MF Kaka as its first designated player "adds to the momentum that started when Orlando City unveiled its new logo in May and renderings" for its new $115M stadium on June 10. Two days after that, the World Cup kicked off and '15 season tickets went on sale. Orlando City plans to "cap season ticket sales at around 14,000." It already has reached 35% of that number "in a little more than a week" (ORLANDOSENTINEL.com, 6/20).
REVOLUTIONARY WAR: In Boston, Thomas Grillo noted Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said that he will "consider a soccer stadium to house" the Revolution. Walsh: "It's something I'd be interested in. It's worth looking at. I'm open to a lot of ideas. ... It's something I wouldn't turn down. There will have to be a lot of discussions about the location. I don't know where it would go. We will have to see." The Revolution play at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, but the Kraft family, which owns the team, has "been searching for a smaller setting with better access to public transportation." Meanwhile, Revere Mayor Daniel Rizzo and Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone both confirmed this month that they "haven't talked to the Krafts in roughly a year" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 6/23).
IN MEMORY: In Portland, Casey Parks noted the Timbers have "created a jersey" for 14-year-old Emilio Hoffman, who died June 10 "after a 15-year-old freshman shot him" in a local high school locker room. The green uniform, unveiled Sunday, "bore his last name and '29' -- the number he wore for the club team Crystal" (OREGONLIVE.com, 6/22).
In Jacksonville, Ryan O'Halloran noted the Jaguars have "introduced variable ticket pricing for two games on this year’s home schedule." Single-game tickets for the team's Oct. 5 game against the Steelers and Nov. 30 game against the Giants will be 40% and 20% higher, respectively, "than prices for the other seven games at EverBank Field." The new pricing program, which includes preseason games, "does not impact season-ticket plans" (JACKSONVILLE.com, 6/23).
LET'S SEE ACTION: In Phoenix, Nick Piecoro writes D-Backs Chief Baseball Officer Tony La Russa "has made no major changes" since being hired in May. When given opportunities to "speak to the futures" of GM Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson, La Russa "chose not to." But the club's "first big transactions of the La Russa era might not be far off" with the non-waiver trade deadline about five weeks away. With a "franchise-record payroll" of close to $112M, the D-Backs are "expected to try to unload salary while keeping an eye on the future." La Russa "sees it as a chance to be both a buyer and a seller." La Russa: "You may make a deal to help somebody have a better chance this year, but you're going to buy a better chance in the near future" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 6/24).
ALL THE RIGHT MOVES? MLB Network's Jon Heyman discussed Josh Byrnes being let go as GM by the Padres and noted there is a "new regime" with the club and Byrnes "wasn't their guy." Combined with the fact the Padres are not "having a good season," it "adds up to" the change being made. However, when adding up "all of his good moves and bad moves, I think there are more good moves than bad moves" ("MLB Now," MLB Network, 6/23). IT WAS ALL A DREAM: WNBA Dream President Angela Taylor said of rookie G Shoni Schimmel, who is Native American, "We’ve taken a proactive approach in making sure we’re aware of the support that Shoni has internationally. It’s been interesting to see. We’ve partnered with Native American organizations and taken their advice to heart in using this platform that Shoni has provided to the Dream and the league. Every road trip, there are at least 30 to 50 people by the bus waiting to take pictures with Shoni, and she’s driving ticket sales everywhere we go" (SEATTLE TIMES, 6/24).