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Volume 25 No. 25

Franchises

The Crew announced yesterday that they are "'exploring strategic options' to ensure" their long-term viability in MLS, a strategy that will "move forward with one of two options: remaining in Columbus at a new, Downtown stadium or relocating the franchise to Austin," according to a front-page piece by Andrew Erickson of the COLUMBUS DISPATCH. Crew Chair Anthony Precourt said that he and the team's ownership group -- Precourt Sports Ventures -- are "not seeking public tax dollars to build a stadium in Columbus or Austin." He also "downplayed the nature of investment deals presented to Precourt Sports Ventures." Precourt: "No investor in Columbus presented a serious offer to invest in the club while the team plays at Mapfre Stadium." Erickson notes the Crew will play at Mapfre Stadium in '18, but the "key to keeping the franchise in Columbus beyond that is construction of a Downtown, soccer-specific stadium." Austin’s viability as a market also would "require a league-approved stadium site." Austin Mayor Steve Adler in a statement said that an MLS team would "find support in Austin but that there would not be support for a publicly funded stadium." Columbus Partnership President & CEO Alex Fischer, who heads a group of 60 Columbus business leaders and CEOs, said that the group had "approached Precourt" with offers to buy the club outright or "go into a 50-50 partnership, both of which were rejected by Precourt." Asked why city officials seemed to have been left in the dark regarding yesterday's announcement, Precourt "called that a misrepresentation." He said, "I have been very clear since the start of 2016. I raised my hand and expressed our concerns around the health of our business with both public and private leaders in the Columbus community" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 10/18).

COURT SHIP: Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said that the city has "not considered using public money to pay for a new soccer stadium." Franklin County Commissioner John O’Grady added that it is unlikely the three-member Board of Commissioners would "use the county sales tax" on a new stadium (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 10/18). In Columbus, Michael Arace writes it was "no secret" that the the club was "going to need a new stadium to shore up the operation -- but the impetus to actually do something was lacking on the municipal side." The powers in Columbus "didn’t think the Crew might leave, and there was a lease in place, so they figured they would deal with the stadium issue somewhere down the road." But Precourt "wants action." Arace: "What we have here is a double-hostage situation" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 10/18). A COLUMBUS DISPATCH editorial cartoon shows Precourt holding papers for "stadium extortion" and "relocation plans" while a Crew fan grimaces on the ground (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 10/18).

WHAT ARE THE CHANCES? In Austin, Kevin Lyttle notes Precourt "quickly sought to alleviate concerns" about who would pay for a stadium. Precourt: "I am not asking for tax dollars. I want to make that clear. This will be privately financed. We will seek local investors." He added, "Operating in the urban core is important. We’ve got to try to find that, and it will take time." Meanwhile, MLS Commissioner Don Garber "supports" the Crew's possible move to Austin (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 10/18). Also in Austin, Kirk Bohls writes the likelihood of the Crew moving to Austin has "no better than a 50-50 shot." Circuit of the Americas Chair Bobby Epstein, who is bringing the USL Austin Aztex to COTA, said that Columbus has "offered the team guaranteed sponsorship money to stay put" (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 10/18). SI.com's Grant Wahl cited a source as saying that if the Crew move, and thus "opens up some real estate in the Midwest, it will dramatically increase the chances that Cincinnati and even Detroit get expansion teams and essentially kill the chances of San Antonio." The source said that Precourt would only move the club to Austin and is "not considering a move to Detroit, Cincinnati or anywhere else" (SI.com, 10/17).

Jaguars President Mark Lamping last week apologized to local military officials for "not fully understanding the potential impact of several players' decision to kneel during the national anthem" before their Sept. 24 game against the Ravens in London, according to Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com. In an Oct. 6 letter to Jacksonville Dir of Military Affairs and Veterans Department Bill Spann, Lamping said that the organization "did not fully consider the furor that would result from those actions, especially given that the entire team stood for 'God Save the Queen.'" Jaguars Owner Shahid Khan, Exec VP/Football Operations Tom Coughlin and Lamping "hosted Spann and several local military representatives at a meeting at EverBank Field on Oct. 5." They discussed "what happened in London, and Lamping wrote the letter the next day and sent it to Spann and the military reps that attended the meeting." Lamping wrote, "We were remiss in not fully comprehending the effect of the national anthem demonstration occurring on foreign soil has had on the men and women who have or continue to serve our country. ... The notion never entered the minds of our players or anyone affiliated with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but today we can understand how the events in London on September 24 could have been viewed or misinterpreted. We owe you an apology and hope you will accept it." DiRocco noted Jacksonville has a "heavy military presence," including Naval Air Station Mayport and Naval Air Station Jacksonville. Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay is "located roughly 40 miles north of Jacksonville on the outskirts of St. Marys, Georgia" (ESPN.com, 10/17).

TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE? In Jacksonville, Dan Scanlan in a front-page piece notes Lamping in the letter also "thanked the local military leaders for being its partner now and in the future, saying his words were echoed by Khan and Coughlin." But Bob Adelhelm, who heads the Northeast Florida Vets4Vets, said that the protest in London was a "'disgraceful act' and the majority of the veterans community he deals with are upset. Adelhelm also said the Jaguars' apology was "just a way to stop the bleeding and it’s all about the money" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 10/18).

MGM Resorts officially "has purchased" the WNBA Stars and "will move the franchise to Las Vegas" beginning with the '18 season, according to a front-page piece by Adam Hill of the LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL. The move from San Antonio, which has "been in the works for several months, already has been approved" by the WNBA and NBA BOG. The Stars will play home games at Mandalay Bay Events Center. MGM Resorts Chief Experience & Marketing Officer Lilian Tomovich said that the venue was a "better fit than MGM’s other options in the same vicinity, the Grand Garden Arena and T-Mobile Arena." Tomovich: "Mandalay Bay is a smaller, more intimate arena with about 12,000 seats. We feel it’s the absolute right size arena for the fans to have that intimate experience to come watch basketball.” Tomovich added, "We’ve had a very long, successful relationship with the NBA, starting with the summer league and of course, preseason exhibition games. Bringing a WNBA team here to Las Vegas just seemed like a natural evolution for us." Hill notes the WNBA’s entrance in the market is the "latest in a wave of professional sports announcements in Las Vegas" following the arrival of the Golden Knights (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 10/18). WNBA President Lisa Borders said, "Having the opportunity for a franchise to play in such an outstanding market as Las Vegas and partner with an owner and operator like MGM Resorts International is amazing for us" (USA TODAY, 10/18).

QUESTIONS LEFT TO BE ANSWERED: ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel noted it is unknown if the "team's nickname will stay the same" or what the club's "colors or uniforms will look like" in Las Vegas. However, the move will put "another team back in the Pacific time zone, so now there are four." It remains to be seen "how much and how quickly the WNBA will be embraced" in Vegas." There will be "no NBA 'big brother' for the Las Vegas WNBA team as there was in San Antonio, but that may be more a positive than a negative." The Spurs "seemed to drown out the Stars more than help illuminate them." The Stars' sale and move means there are just "five WNBA teams left that are owned and operated in conjunction with NBA franchises" -- the Fever, Liberty, Lynx, Mercury and Mystics (ESPN.com, 10/17).

In Denver, Patrick Saunders writes Rockies Owner Dick Monfort was "clearly enthused by his club’s first trip to the playoffs" since '09 when he "delivered his annual letter to season-ticket holders this week." The Rockies will be “instituting a modest" ticket price increase for '18. The club is also set to unveil a "new scoreboard above the left-field stands at Coors Field" for the '18 season, as well as "new 'ribbon scoreboards' throughout the ballpark." Monfort's letter also promised a "better sound system at Coors Field" (DENVER POST, 10/18).

WAITING GAME: Braves Chair & CEO Terry McGuirk said MLB's investigation into the team, which led to the resignation of GM John Coppolella, has been "wrapped up for a while." He said the Braves "respect all of baseball’s timelines on making announcements during the playoffs." McGuirk: "Things are going along great at the Braves. We had our organizational meetings. We’re moving full speed ahead. So we’ll hold off on any comments" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 10/18).

MAKING CHANGES: In Miami, Jackson & Spencer reported the Marlins' new ownership "quietly has dropped a handful of employees in scouting and player development." It is "unclear if they will replace any of those employees, whose contracts are expiring." That means Marlins CEO Derek Jeter has "dropped nearly 15 employees since taking over, which isn’t particularly unusual in an ownership change" (MIAMI HERALD, 10/17).