Crew Owner Anthony Precourt announced today that he may "move his team to Austin" in '19 if a downtown Columbus soccer stadium "cannot be finalized in the next year," according to Grant Wahl of SI.com. Columbus Partnership President & CEO Alex Fischer, who heads a group of 60 Columbus business leaders and CEOs, said that Precourt had "rejected offers" to buy 100% and 50% of the Crew from a group of local business and community leaders in Columbus. If Precourt moves the team to Austin, it is "expected it would play in a temporary facility" in '19 and ’20 before "moving into a new urban soccer stadium" in '21. Mapfre Stadium was MLS' "first soccer-specific stadium when it was built" in '99. But amenities are "far behind" those of recently-built stadiums in MLS. Precourt bought the team in '13, but the financial side "has been challenging." A source said that the Crew have been in the "bottom three teams of nearly every MLS business metric for a decade" (SI.com, 10/16). Fischer: "We learned of these conversations (with Austin) a month or so ago, when ownership approached us with ideas for a new stadium in Columbus. We made an effort, and an offer, to both buy the team outright as well as go into a 50-50 partnership." In Columbus, Michael Arace in a front-page piece cites sources as saying that Precourt is "frustrated with the Crew’s declining revenue and poor attendance." A source said that a deal to play games at the Univ. of Texas is "all but done" for '19. Arace notes the purchase agreement "contained a promise to keep the team in Columbus for at least 10 years; it also included an escape clause in the case Precourt wanted to move it to Austin" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 10/17).
EVERYTHING'S BIGGER: In Austin, Kevin Lyttle cites an MLS source as saying that while Austin is "being used for leverage," it is the Crew's "first option." UT men's AD Mike Perrin indicated that his school "would be interested" in hosting the team at Myers Stadium. The venue has a capacity of 20,000 -- in the ballpark for MLS -- and alcohol sales "are allowed." Circuit of the Americas Chair Bobby Epstein announced this summer he is "bringing USL pro soccer back to Austin" in '19 in the form of the Austin Aztex, who will "play in a new 5,000-seat stadium at the race track." Epstein is not involved with Precourt’s group and said that he will "take a wait-and-see approach about the Crew’s possible move to Austin" (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 10/17).
TWITTER REAX: SI's Wahl tweeted, "Feel awful for Columbus soccer fans." Bayern Munich Media Manager Cristian Nyari: "Can you imagine being a diehard Columbus Crew fan for 20+ years and then they just get up and leave? Wow." Deadspin: "Columbus Crew, welcome to the stadium extortion racket." Author Neil deMause: "Columbus Crew: Without public stadium funds, we’ll go demand public stadium funds in Austin." But Sporting News' Michael DeCourcy tweeted, "Not sure why Austin would be the destination, but get owners' frustration."
The Jaguars on Sunday drew their lowest attendance figure since Owner Shahid Khan bought the team in '11, and team President Mark Lamping said that the team "vehemently disagreed" with a theory that protesting players were a reason for the decline, according to Gene Frenette of the FLORIDA TIMES-UNION. The crowd of 56,232 for Rams-Jaguars sparked "immediate speculation" that the decline was due to fans staying away over protesting players in Week 3. Lamping insisted that the downsized crowd was the "result of not giving away nearly 6,000 tickets to first-responders like they did" for a Week 2 game against the Titans. Lamping: "I’m not disputing that there’s a (legitimate) story on Jaguars crowds. What I am disputing is the difference between the first and second game (attendance) being the anthem issue. The people who had tickets actually used them in greater percentage for the Rams game (than Tennessee)." But Frenette writes the truth is there is "no definitive way to know how many of them had tickets and chose to not attend the Rams game for that reason." What "appears evident is the fans’ biggest reason for smaller numbers so far this year is tied more to losing fatigue" than the issue of protests. Coming off six consecutive losing seasons, including 3-13 last year, the Jaguars "didn’t get their usual uptick from new season-ticket sales in the offseason." Lamping: "You can only sell hope for so long. I think the fans are sending a message to start proving it on the field." Frenette: "There’s only one proven method for the Jaguars to re-connect with some alienated fans and restore a true home-field advantage. Just win more games" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 10/17).
MISSING PIECES: In Baltimore, Mike Preston reports there were "about 10,000 to 15,000 fan no-shows at M&T Bank Stadium" for Bears-Ravens on Sunday. Fan enthusiasm has been "dipping for years, and it appeared to hit a low point last season" when Eagles, Redskins and Steelers fans "occupied huge chunks of seats." The recent debate over player protests "just gave fans another reason to stay home." But the "biggest problem is that most NFL games aren’t entertaining, especially in Baltimore, where the Ravens have been stuck in mediocrity for years." In the past, the Ravens had "superstar players like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Jonathan Ogden and Jamal Lewis in their prime." Now they have "virtually no one." Ravens QB Joe Flacco is "on the downside of his career," and the most popular jersey being sold right now "might belong" to K Justin Tucker. Preston: "When a kicker is maybe your most visible player, that’s trouble." The Ravens "need to get back to their old identity of playing tough, dominant defense." They also "need to win" (Baltimore SUN, 10/17).
Golden Knights Owner Bill Foley said that merchandise, sponsorship and ticket revenues are "trending above projections and he envisions a profitable first season before the deduction of interest, taxes and amortization expenses," according to Alan Snel of LVSPORTSBIZ.com. Foley said that sponsorship sales are 10-12% "above the budgeted level and the team is 'overachieving in ticket sales.'" Foley: "Game day ticket sales are higher than expected." Foley said that the Golden Knights "sell about 2,500 game-day tickets after 13,400 seats are committed for season ticket holders, 850 are for premium seats and there a few hundred for comp tickets." He added that the team can "sell another 300 standing room only tickets." Snel noted with T-Mobile Arena’s hockey capacity at about 17,300, the Golden Knights are above 100% attendance capacity after "three home games in light of the trio of sellouts." Foley said that to try and "stop too many non-Golden Knights fans from buying tickets, the team will not sell tickets to buyers who are brokers." Meanwhile, Foley said that the Golden Knights budgeted $10M in "team logo gear sales the first year," which meant the franchise would keep $4M of the $10M in overall sales. He added that the the team is "looking to open Golden Knights points of sale up and down the Strip," including in MGM Resorts Int'l properties after "opening a sales kiosk" at McCarran Int'l Airport last week (LVSPORTSBIZ.com, 10/16).
PUSHING THE LIMITS: In Las Vegas, David Schoen notes the Golden Knights "issued an apology" for their controversial tweet before Sunday's game against the Bruins and subsequently deleted it. A team statement read, "We do not condone sexism in any form and fully support the inclusive culture of hockey that makes our sport great. We accept full responsibility for our actions and apologize to those who were offended." The Golden Knights' Twitter account, overseen by VP/Communications & Content Eric Tosi, and Dir of Digital & Social Media Dan Marrazza, has "established itself as the boisterous rookie in the locker room." Before the opening faceoff of every game, @GoldenKnights "announces the opposing team’s lineup using a pop culture reference intended to be humorous" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 10/17).
The Braves offered former GM John Coppolella a "financial buyout of severance," but he turned it down last week and has "hired an attorney with lawsuits possibly coming," according to sources cited by Bill Shanks of the MACON TELEGRAPH. Several sources were "amazed that Coppolella would be offered a financial package after being forced to resign." Coppolella and Int'l Scouting Supervisor Gordon Blakeley, who was also forced to resign, "have been interviewed" in N.Y. by MLB investigators. Coppolella was interviewed in N.Y. "during the final week of the regular season." He also was "called back to Atlanta from Miami on Sept. 30 and faced more questions as investigators went to Coppolella’s house." MLB "continues to be surprised at how many potential violations are being discovered." Shanks noted the Braves for now "continue to try and conduct regular business" (MACON TELEGRAPH, 10/15). In Atlanta, David O'Brien cited sources as saying that MLB's investigation is "inching toward its end, but the sordid situation and penalties likely won’t be laid out for public consumption until after the World Series." O'Brien noted MLB "prefers not to detract from its showcase postseason series." But at least one or two other team officials were "believed to be in the crosshairs of the investigation." Coppolella hiring legal representation and being offered severance "stokes the theories" that the Braves "want this to go away as quickly as possible and that the now-disgraced GM didn’t go entirely rogue and doesn’t intend to take the fall alone" (AJC.com, 10/16).
BREAKING GROUND: In Sarasota, Zach Murdock in a front-page piece notes the Braves yesterday "formally broke ground" at the site of their planned $100M Spring Training complex in North Port, Fla. Braves Vice Chair John Schuerholz "welcomed a crowd of more than 100 fans, residents and local elected officials" to the team during a "short opening ceremony." The current plans include an "80-acre complex with an 8,000-seat stadium, practice fields, multipurpose public fields, public plaza and an eventual player development academy" (Sarasota HERALD-TRIBUNE, 10/17).
Turnkey Search has won a bid with the Marlins to conduct an executive search for the club’s President of Business Operations, beating out several competing firms including Korn Ferry. The position, first posted publicly yesterday, will lead all the team’s core business functions including sales, marketing, ballpark operations and corporate partnerships, and report to new Marlins CEO Derek Jeter. Those functions had been previously led by former club President David Samson, but he was not retained by the new Marlins ownership group led by Jeter and Chair & Principal Owner Bruce Sherman. The job posting also calls for the development of a “three-year plan to improve capabilities across the organization” and to “manage the capital expenditure budget with a focus on projects that improve the fan experience and achieve high returns on investment.” Notably, the posting additionally includes two references to comfort with data and analytics. The Marlins’ exec search marks the most significant move on the personnel front thus far by the Jeter-Sherman group, though the organization since the official franchise turnover earlier this month has let go of about a dozen employees, largely in scouting and player development. A decision on the final hire for President of Business Operations is possible by early December, and it is expected the search will extend outside of baseball. Turnkey declined to comment on the Marlins search.
NRG Esports' S.F.-based team in the upcoming Overwatch League yesterday announced it will be "named the Shock" and unveiled its branding in the form of a "seismograph/Bay Bridge logo," according to Susan Slusser of the S.F. CHRONICLE. NRG Esports is owned by Kings investor Andy Miller and has a list of stakeholders that includes 24 Hour Fitness Founder & CEO and BA Kings investor Mark Mastrov, Basketball HOFer Shaquille O'Neal, Raiders RB Marshawn Lynch and former MLBers Alex Rodriguez and Jimmy Rollins. The Shock "will feature" 17-year-old Team USA player Jay "Sinatraa" Won, who the team "outbid its rivals" for. It is "unclear where the Shock would play its home matches" after the league's inaugural season is played exclusively in Burbank, Calif., but a dedicated esports arena is "scheduled to open near Jack London Square in Oakland in the next year." Miller said that in conjunction with the new league, numerous Overwatch-related events "will be held in the Bay Area next year, including amateur tournaments." Miller expects that NRG will "establish a local training center for a number of its teams -- the company fields teams for nine games." The Shock’s territory "extends from Sacramento to San Jose and includes the East Bay, the likely home for a training base" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 10/17). Miller said, "We were up all night choosing different colors for our uniform. We went through the entire organization, and it was split 50/50 down the middle. We made a final decision, and I hope it's the right one. And the seismograph is a representation of the Bay Bridge." Miller added the team will "absolutely" be selling team branded jerseys and T-shirts. Miller: "From a merchandising perspective, this is set up exactly like the NBA. (Activision) Blizzard is going to oversee the development of all the merch, and then we'll sell it in our market and they'll sell it internationally" (SI.com, 10/16).