Pilot Flying J, the trucking company run by Browns Owner Jimmy Haslam III, has agreed to pay a $92M penalty as "part of a federal investigation of fraud against the company’s customers," but Haslam "won't be penalized by the NFL," according to Michael David Smith of PRO FOOTBALL TALK. The league said that it "sees no indication in the investigation into Haslam’s company that Haslam personally did anything that constitutes a violation of the NFL’s personal-conduct policy." NFL Senior VP/Communications Greg Aiello said, “There have been no allegations of any personal conduct that is in violation of NFL policy" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 7/14). Haslam yesterday said that Pilot Flying J has been "committed to making right the losses inflicted on customers in the fuel rebate investigation that has engulfed his Knoxville, Tenn.-based company." In Cleveland, Alison Grant notes Haslam has said since the April '13 FBI raid on his business that he "had no prior knowledge that Pilot's sales team was cheating trucking customers" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 7/15). In Akron, Marla Ridenour notes Haslam "is not off the hook." The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee in a release said the agreement “provides no protection from prosecution to any individual” and emphasized that Pilot must continue to cooperate in the investigation. Ridenour notes there is "still time for the government to find proof that Haslam had knowledge of the fraud." But what is "more pressing" is whether the $92M fine will "affect the Browns’ football operations." Ridenour: "I presume it won't hurt the Browns. ... But the federal investigation hung over the Browns like a black cloud" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 7/15). In Cleveland, Cliff Pinckard noted federal investigators and Flying Pilot J officials said that individuals "may still be prosecuted." Still, yesterday was a "day of good news for Haslam" (CLEVELAND.com, 7/14).
SERVICE ANIMALS: In Cleveland, Tom Reed noted the Browns are "entering the live mascot business." Browns VP/Fan Experience & Marketing Kevin Griffin said that the club "will use a bullmastiff as its mascot this season after years of just having costumed canines roaming the sidelines." The dog will be "named Swagger and lead the team onto the field before games" (CLEVELAND.com, 7/13). In Akron, Nate Ulrich noted some Browns fans have "voiced complaints about the dog’s name via social media, but the team did not name the dog." The Browns will become the "latest NFL team to use a live animal as part of their game-day festivities." The Seahawks "have a hawk named Taima," the Broncos a white Arabian horse named Thunder and the Ravens "use ravens named Rise and Conquer" (OHIO.com, 7/14).
The Maple Leafs are "looking to host" the NHL All-Star Game, the NHL Draft, the Winter Classic, and the World Cup of Hockey "leading up to or during the club’s 100th anniversary" in '17, according to Luke Fox of SPORTSNET. MLSE CEO Tim Leiweke said, "We owe it to our fans. And we’re telling the league that they owe it to our fans. They don’t disagree, but we’ve got to go through a process to win it. I think we’ll win it. I think we’ll get there. But we got to go bid on it." He added that hosting the '17 Winter Classic is "still dependent on the expansion of BMO Field." Leiweke: "Once we get BMO under construction and they see we can do 40,000 seats, then we’ll have a serious conversation." Fox noted the '16-17 season "doesn’t just represent the 100th anniversary of Toronto’s NHL team; it’s also the centennial of the entire league." The Canadiens in '09 celebrated their centennial by hosting both the All-Star Game and the Draft at Bell Centre. Leiweke: "Montreal got it all in a short period of time for their 100th anniversary, and that’s not lost on [NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman] and what he wants to do to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the league. That said, we still have to bid on it, and we still have to win it" (SPORTSNET.ca, 7/14).
Rockies Owner Dick Monfort responded to a letter from a "disgruntled fan" by "offering to sit with her over breakfast for a conversation," according to Nick Groke of the DENVER POST. Monfort yesterday met with Christine Voss, who said that he told her he would "prefer not to make front-office changes because he wants 'to ensure the Rockies' culture stays intact." Voss, appearing on ESPN Radio Denver, said, "He felt that bringing in an outside person would negatively impact the culture of the Rockies. He framed it as, the people who already work for the Rockies organization -- personnel, front office -- they feel like the perception to them would be negative. If an outside person came in and wanted to bring personnel with them, the current employees of the Rockies would feel threatened or uncertain." Groke notes Monfort "apologized Friday for his testy e-mail exchanges with some fans -- one that said 'maybe Denver doesn't deserve a franchise and another that said 'if it is that upsetting don't come to the games.'" Monfort in a statement said, "I have always tried to be open, friendly and understanding. Obviously, at times I have failed. ... I want our fans to know that our entire organization is committed to great baseball and a great experience. I'm sorry I created this confusion" (DENVER POST, 7/15). Voss detailed her meeting with Monfort on her Twitter feed, noting it took place at a Denver breakfast restaurant called Snooze (TWITTER.com, 7/14).
CULT OF PERSONALITY? In Denver, Benjamin Hochman writes never more than yesterday have the Rockies looked more like a "kooky cult" as Monfort took the "frazzled fan" to breakfast. But to "change the culture, the Rockies have to "change the cult" and the members. It is "hard not to respect Monfort's loyalty to his employees." Rockies Senior VP/Major League Operations & Assistant GM Bill Geivett and Exec VP, Chief Baseball Officer & GM Dan O'Dowd are "smart baseball men," but they are "not the right baseball men in Denver" (DENVER POST, 7/15). Also in Denver, Mark Kiszla wrote rather than "fixing what's wrong with the team," Monfort has "wasted too much of the past week tripping over his own tongue, firing off testy e-mails to shocked fans." His "tone-deaf message: If you don't like it, lump it" (DENVER POST, 7/13).
A ROCKY ROAD: The DENVER POST's Woody Paige wrote, "Monfort's 'If product and experience that bad don't come' could lead to a Fan Insurrection and critical changes in the Rockies' power structure." Paige: "Not since Lewis Carroll's Tweedledee and Tweedledum have there been such bizarre brothers as Dick and Charlie Monfort." It has not been "such a good year" for them, and they need to "rethink everything from their franchise philosophy to front-office leadership to their ownership" (DENVER POST, 7/13). CBSSPORTS.com's Mike Axisa wrote somehow Monfort has taken things from "bad to worse." Baseball "can and absolutely has worked in Denver, a non-traditional and isolated cold weather market." Monfort "lashing out at the fans the way he did" is one of the "worst possible things an owner can do." He needs to "look in the mirror and realize that Rockies fans have been more loyal than he has deserved as an owner" (CBSSPORTS.com, 7/11).
MLS expansion club Orlando City SC is "focused on capturing the momentum from the World Cup," and has "ramped up its marketing budget" in the past month, according to Paul Tenorio of the ORLANDO SENTINEL. The club "spent more than two-thirds" of its '13 marketing budget during the World Cup, "though club officials declined to provide an exact figure for funds spent promoting soccer." Orlando City "invested in an aggressive campaign across print, digital and radio media, as well as billboards throughout the area." The club recently "heightened those efforts, adding six additional billboards through the area -- 26 total in Orlando -- and purchasing various digital, print and radio advertisements." The club "will also launch a 'Why wait four years?' initiative to drive fan awareness" for its '15 MLS debut. Orlando City COO Brett Lashbrook said that the club "has seen significant jumps in season ticket interest during the World Cup," and that it sold "more than 5,000 season tickets" during the first week that '15 season tickets were available (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 7/14).
MIND IF WE COME ALONG? A Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL editorial states, "It would behoove area civic and sports-industry leaders to tap into soccer’s emerging popularity for our benefit." The Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne TV market “boasted the nation’s fifth-largest viewership" for Sunday’s World Cup final. Soccer fans in the area "are big city and international transplants, folks who studied abroad during college, or participants in area child, high school and college soccer leagues." They are "the sport’s foothold" in the area, and Daytona Beach "should be thinking about turning that cornerstone into commerce." A "logical first step ought to be forging a relationship" with Orlando City SC (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 7/15).
Westgate Resorts CEO David Siegel is the new owner of the AFL Orlando Predators, and he is "moving the team back to the Amway Center," according to Alicia DelGallo of the ORLANDO SENTINEL. Siegel said, "I found out the team was available and I've been a fan for 20-some-odd years. I thought it would be a good business venture as well as a fun venture and a way that I could help the community." He added that he "wouldn't have bought the team if it stayed at UCF, where it currently plays home games." DelGallo notes the Predators played home games at Amway Center from '11-13 "before defaulting on their lease due to low attendance figures, short of the 6,000 required." The Predators "moved to UCF's CFE Arena this season and attendance has hovered around 5,000 at home games." Siegel attended last night's game with his wife, Jackie, and two sons. He said that a "lot of changes will be made to the team." Promotional strategies "could include bussing guests of Westgate Resorts to games and offering free tickets to veterans, underprivileged children and students who make A's on report cards." There even will be "a section for Westgate employees, all 8,000 of them" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 7/15).