The Dodgers on Thursday night advanced to the World Series and while the money spent on the team's payroll "surely helped," the club "truly ascended into the realm of the elite" when they hired President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and GM Farhan Zaidi, according to Jared Diamond of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. Both execs "arrived from small-market teams" in the Rays and A's, respectively, and "brought those principles to the big-budget Dodgers." The result was a team that entered '17 with "remarkable depth at virtually every position and a crop of young talent" acquired in the draft. Dodgers P Kenley Jansen said, "You’ve got to give a lot of respect to Andrew and Farhan. They put a ridiculous team together." Diamond writes the Dodgers' long journey back to the Fall Classic began when Guggenheim Baseball Management "assumed control of the team" in '12 and began spending "unprecedented amounts of money, even overtaking the Yankees in payroll" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 10/20). In L.A., Dylan Hernandez notes Friedman has "prioritized fortifying the margins of the 40-man roster and stockpiling depth, which hasn’t always resonated with the star-driven market where his team was based." But Friedman was "bold from the start, unafraid to go against what the fans wanted." He traded "popular players such as Matt Kemp and Dee Gordon." He "didn’t pursue high-end free agents." Players "privately wondered whether he was more invested in the team’s future than the present." They "grumbled over the influence of Friedman’s front office on lineup decisions." If the team’s foundation was set by previous GM Ned Colletti, Friedman and Zaidi should be credited with "sharpening the edges" (L.A. TIMES, 10/20).
IF YOU BUILD IT: In L.A., Bill Plaschke writes for the last three years, the "unabashed, sometimes critical passion" of Dodgers fans "prodded the new executives to mix their renowned brains with schoolyard assertiveness." While still "building for the future," Friedman and Zaidi and their group "chased hard after the present -- like trading for [P] Yu Darvish -- and now they are headed to the deepest part of October." Friedman said of Dodgers fans, "I don’t think until you can appreciate their passion until you are living it every day ... going to get a cup of coffee, running into somebody there, at every turn, then looking out every night at the 50,000 people who are there so consistently. It fuels us. ... When we’re on the fence of being aggressive, I think that contributes in a really positive way to doing everything we can to bring them a championship team" (L.A. TIMES, 10/20).
MONEY STILL TALKS: YAHOO SPORTS' Chris Cwik notes the Dodgers opened the season with an "absurd, league-high" $265M payroll. But to "define the team’s excellence solely on that number would be disingenuous, ignorant and misleading." The Dodgers’ success this season has been "far more about the franchise’s ability to draft and develop players." Of the 14 offensive players the team carried on the NLCS roster, six were either "drafted by the team, or were acquired before making their major-league debuts." But that "doesn’t tell the whole story." The Dodgers also "feature a number of players whose performance greatly improved upon joining the club." However, it would be "foolish to completely discount the team’s financial advantage." A big reason a lot of these players are still around is "due to the team’s ability to pay their players." This is where the "arguments about the Dodgers’ payroll gain some legitimacy." They are able to "keep their players when most other teams would lose them to free agency" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/20). SPORTSNET.ca's Ryan Dixon writes "no MLB team invested more money in its roster than the Dodgers" and Thursday night’s win was yet another example of how the team is "getting contributions from all over the diamond" (SPORTSNET.ca, 10/20). CBSSPORTS.com's Jonah Keri notes much of the Dodgers' "sky-high payroll" comes from players "making minimal contributions in the playoffs -- or less." It is a "damn fine luxury" to be able to spend $92M in "basically dead money, then roll to the best record in baseball and a spot in the Fall Classic." Keri: "But check out the origin stories of many other Dodger players, and you can see how the team's plan of attack worked so well when it came to building a winner." The Dodgers "wouldn't have made it without youth, data, and depth" (CBSSPORTS.com, 10/20).
The Pistons "reported a sellout crowd" for their regular season home opener at Little Caesars Arena, but there were "plenty of empty seats throughout the game" at the team's new downtown home, according to Bill Shea of CRAIN'S DETROIT BUSINESS. The announced attendance of the game was 20,491, but that figure has "raised questions." Media reports and fan posts on social media "showed a venue that wasn't full." Others argue that the reports are "deceiving because fans were wandering around the massive new complex, exploring a new arena and its myriad offerings for the first time" (CRAINSDETROIT.com, 10/19). In Michigan, Ansar Khan noted the Red Wings had the "same issue during their season opener on Oct. 5." There were "thousands of empty seats in the second and third periods." The club said that many fans were "experiencing the arena's numerous amenities -- clubs, restaurants, bars, interactive displays, memorabilia, etc." Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy had the "same experience when he coached" the Magic during Amway Center's opening in '10. Van Gundy: "Over time you get them back in the seats. ... They build these great restaurants and everybody goes and eats. The first half of the third quarter there's no one in the building. They make it so nice for fans that you don't get them back in the seats." Khan wrote it is "sort of a Catch-22 for the team" (MLIVE.com, 10/19).
HOLDING YOUR ASSETS: Pistons Owner Tom Gores said that he has "no plans to sell the Clarkston amphitheater," located 40 miles northwest of Detroit. In Detroit, Brian McCollum notes Gores acquired the venue when he "purchased the Pistons and Palace Sports & Entertainment" in '11. The 15,100-capacity venue, built in '72, regularly "ranks among the country's top-grossing summer amphitheaters." Rumors "swirled from the start that Gores would offload" the venue known as DTE to a "buyer such as Live Nation ... or even, more recently," to the Ilitch family, which owns the Red Wings and Tigers (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 10/20).
The Crew said that the team will "not issue a refund to season ticket holders" for '18 after Chair Anthony Precourt recently announced a possible move to Austin, according to the AP. Precourt has said that the team will "stay in Columbus" for '18, but its future beyond that is "unknown" (AP, 10/20). ESPN.com noted fans who did "not want to automatically renew their tickets had to opt out before Sept. 18" (ESPN.com, 10/19). In Columbus, Brian Hofmann notes Precourt took to Twitter to "empathize with fans in Columbus and ask them to support the team in the postseason." Precourt wrote, "I really do feel for you Crew fans. It's an uncertain time, I recognize, and I take full responsibility for the situation I have put us in." Hofmann notes Crew supporter groups have "organized a rally at City Hall at noon Sunday." The Crew will open the MLS Playoffs next week and Precourt wrote via Twitter, "The players and coaches and staff deserve your support as they make a run for an MLS Cup. They have nothing to do with ownership's decisions" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 10/20).
STATE OF THINGS: In Cincinnati, Steve Watkins wrote it is "unclear" whether the Crew's potential move to Austin helps USL club FC Cincinnati's efforts to join MLS. While a move for the Crew "frees up the Ohio market," it "hurts because it removes a potential natural rival." MLS Commissioner Don Garber "played up the rivalry aspect as a positive" when he visited Cincinnati last year. FC Cincinnati President & GM Jeff Berding "sidestepped the question." Berding said, "Our story is our story and our bid is our bid. I'm convinced if we stick to our plan and execute it, we'll be successful" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 10/19).
The Golden Knights have created an in-game experience "like no other NHL venue," but the entertainment aspect at T-Mobile Arena is "far from a finished product," according to Jesse Granger of the LAS VEGAS SUN. Golden Knights VP/Events & Entertainment Jonny Greco said, “We are making adjustments with every game. We listen to what people like and what they don’t like. We will finally get a break after (the last game in the opening home stand on Oct. 27) and we will have two weeks to really examine what we are doing." Greco said of how the team chose its mascot, "We wanted to go with something random, but not as random as the Phoenix Suns with a gorilla. In our case, the Gila monster is indigenous to our area." He added of other Knight-themed teams, "They have had knights as mascots that are a little less kid friendly, so when you do a school event or things like that, they aren’t as fun." Team officials said the mascot name Chance came about because team Owner Bill Foley “took a chance on Las Vegas.” Meanwhile, before games, a team drumline "leads the 'March to the Match,' which starts near the faux Brooklyn Bridge in front of New York-New York and ends at T-Mobile Arena." Greco said, "I’m not sure if it’s the only drumline in the NHL, but it’s the only one I know of." The most highly debated portion of Golden Knights in-game entertainment has been "without a doubt the goal song." Greco and his team "tried out different options in the preseason ... and landed on 'Vegas Lights' by Panic! at the Disco." Greco: "It fits in so many ways because it’s a local band, it has the word ‘Vegas’ in it" (LAS VEGAS SUN, 10/20).
The Yankees spread their bets in their first foray into esports, eschewing a splashy takeover of a single team in favor of becoming a limited partner in Vision Esports, an L.A.-based fund with three distinctly different plays in the growing space. Vision is the largest shareholder in the esports team Echo Fox, a gaming competition organizer called Twin Galaxies and Vision Entertainment, a studio that creates video content about esports. Vision General Partner Stratton Sclavos said the fund wants to be in a spot to benefit from esports growth while not being too reliant on any single component. He compared it to investing in an NFL team, the league itself and ESPN a generation ago. "We're here to build an industry at the same time we're here to build companies," Sclavos said. They also are not relying solely on team ownership, which is exposed to risk via the boom-and-bust nature of video game popularity. Echo Fox has reportedly been accepted into Riot Games' North American League Championship Series -- the top North American circuit for its "League of Legends" game. It is a promising sign for Echo Fox, but Twin Galaxies intends to operate competitions on behalf of other game publishers and Vision will create streaming video programming to appeal to fans across many games. Typically, the Yankees’ role as a limited partner would give them little say over a fund's day-to-day decisions. "But because of their lead position and who they are, we're also giving them a seat on the board of Vision Esports, so they'll have more influence," Sclavos said. It is not yet decided who from the Yankees will hold the board position. The Yankees did not return a call seeking comment.
TESTING THE WATERS: The Yankees' move is yet another twist on traditional sports ownership of esports businesses. Many have entered the space, but there is nothing approaching a standard template yet. For instance, Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment acquired Team Dignitas outright and has fully integrated the team into its operations, while Bucks co-Owner Wes Edens personally acquired an existing team he renamed FlyQuest, but has kept it separate from the Bucks. Meanwhile, the Warriors have applied for a spot in the NALCS circuit without a team.
MLB Rangers President of Baseball Operations & GM Jon Daniels said that he will be operating with "less money" during the '18 season." But in Ft. Worth, Jeff Wilson notes the Rangers' payroll "will still rank in the top 10 or 12 in MLB." The team opened '17 with a payroll in the $165-175M range and one report "had them finishing the season" at $185M. Daniels said that the reduction is "due to no longer having a one-time" $25M infusion that ownership "provided before last season to allow the Rangers to keep from trading away more prospects from a thin system to acquire players." Daniels also said that it is not the result of ownership "trying to account for lost revenue from an attendance decline of 200,000" or "trying to shift money from the payroll to construction costs for Globe Life Field" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 10/20).
CAPTAIN RON: In Detroit, Anthony Fenech reports the Tigers on Friday afternoon will introduce former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire as the "38th manager in franchise history." The Tigers "need Gardenhire’s experience" after Exec VP/Baseball Operations & GM Al Avila and former manager Brad Ausmus "combined for two fruitless seasons." Gardenhire "offers a certain stability the team has lacked" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 10/20). Also in Detroit, John Niyo writes, "In some corners, this will be viewed as the safe choice, and maybe that’s true." Yet it is "hard not to view it as another contradiction." Less than a month after announcing "another round of fresh hires for their fledgling analytics department," Avila hired a manager with a "decidedly old-school reputation, someone who was late to embrace data-driven decision making, if he even has at all" (DETROIT NEWS, 10/20).
FOLLOW THE LEADER: In K.C., Rustin Dodd noted the Royals' baseball operations department next week "will fly to Atlanta and spend four days in the city" and the itinerary "includes meetings on character and leadership, race relations in the United States and a close study of the life" of Martin Luther King Jr. Royals Senior VP/Baseball Operations & GM Dayton Moore said, "It makes sense to study him." The focus of the trip "will be on leadership, on philosophy, on molding the minds who will guide the franchise into the future." Dodd noted the Royals in this past season "featured minorities in three senior baseball operations positions directly under Moore" (K.C. STAR, 10/19).