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Volume 25 No. 27

Franchises

MLB on Tuesday "dealt unprecedented punishment on the Braves, including a lifetime ban" on former GM John Coppolella, in a "lengthy list of sanctions handed down" for rules violations in the international free-agent market, according to O'Brien & Burns of the ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION. The Braves have been the "subject of an extensive investigation since it was announced" that Coppolella and former Int'l Scouting Supervisor Gordon Blakeley "resigned last month amidst the scandal." Blakeley received a one-year ban from baseball. Additional penalties handed down by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred including the Braves losing 13 prospects, a "third-round draft pick and have heavy spending limitations in future international spending periods." Among the "primary areas of investigation were the past two international signing periods." O'Brien & Burns write the "severity of the penalties sent a message to the other 29 franchises as MLB attempts to better monitor activity on the international market." Former Braves Senior Advisor John Hart, who stepped down last week, was also "investigated by MLB to determine his role or knowledge of various infractions." A source said that Blakeley during a Nov. 9 meeting with Manfred in N.Y. "discussed how much that high-ranking Braves officials, including Hart, knew about the alleged infractions before and after they were committed." Some believe that meeting "influenced the departure of Hart despite the fact he was under contract through the end of the year" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 11/22). USA TODAY's Spain & Lacques report MLB also "forbid the Braves from signing any international player for more than $10,000" during the '19-20 signing period, and "reduced by 50% their international signing bonus pool" for '20-21. The 13 prospects the Braves have lost were also "declared free agents." It is "clear that with those penalties and the actions against the Braves that Manfred will have little tolerance for those aiming to circumvent MLB's repressive international signing structure" (USA TODAY, 11/22).

BASEBALL STRIKES DOWN: SI.com's Jon Tayler wrote the punishment and Coppolella’s lifetime ban show Manfred and the league "will no longer tolerate the flouting of international rules." This "isn’t exactly a death penalty" for the Braves, even with SS Kevin Maitan, the No. 1 ranked prospect in the '16 international class, among the prospects granted free agency. The Braves' farm system is "still one of baseball’s best, and the punishment won’t affect the team’s international crop for a couple of years anyway -- but it’s as harsh a warning as can be given." Meanwhile, Coppolella’s ban "gives Manfred a head on a stick he can use to put other GMs on notice" (SI.com, 11/21). THE RINGER's Zach Kram wrote the announcement "isn’t a death blow for the Braves’ ongoing rebuild." It "hurts, to be sure, and Atlanta won’t recover" the $20M-plus it spent to "acquire Maitan et al., but the franchise still boasts a bevy of top prospects." It is instead a "warning that, at least in one instance, the days of lax treatment of prohibited international behavior are over" (THERINGER.com, 11/21). YAHOO SPORTS' Jeff Passan wrote the "loss of the draft pick, the international sanctions and the free agency of the dozen players" will erode the organizational depth the Braves had "fostered during its rebuild." The Braves’ farm system "remains one of the game’s best nonetheless," led by 19-year-old CF Ronald Acuna. While the Braves’ future under new GM Alex Anthopoulos "remains bright because of their cache of prospects, the stain of improprieties on an organization that long prided itself on running its operations the right way is indelible" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 11/21).

WORSE THAN THEY THOUGHT
: In Atlanta, Mark Bradley writes the punishment was a "punch in the nose." Bradley: "I thought it would be bad. It was worse." The Braves' future in the international market has been "restricted if not choked off." Even those "who’d braced themselves for the worst were knocked backward by this," as MLB "hammered the Braves to the extent that the consensus No. 1 farm system won’t be the consensus No. 1 anymore, and maybe not in the top three." The Braves will be "severely restricted in the international market" from '19-21. That is a "huge blow" to Anthopoulos, whose Blue Jays were "among the most ardent suitors of international talent." Bradley: "If you want to call Tuesday the darkest day in franchise history, I won’t rise to object" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 11/22).

FALLOUT MIGHT NOT BE OVER: In Atlanta, Jeff Schultz writes Braves Chair & CEO Terry McGuirk "amazingly ... escaped punishment," but this "might not be over yet." Liberty Media officials are "steaming about this saga." McGuirk is "culpable for the team/corporation wasting" $15-17M in signing bonuses to players that "can’t be recouped." Schultz: "What’s the argument for McGuirk surviving all that? He’s the link between the Braves and their corporate owners and the one who signs off on the budgets" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 11/22). THE ATHLETIC's Ken Rosenthal wondered how Hart could "escape punishment." But the frustration over the non-punishment is "not universal." Still, the "entire affair is a black mark" for the Braves, "especially Hart, McGuirk" and Braves Vice Chair John Schuerholz. That trio of execs "empowered Coppolella, then failed to provide oversight, creating an environment that enabled the inexperienced GM to run wild" (THEATHLETIC.com, 11/21).

The Crew on Tuesday night tied Toronto FC 0-0 before 21,289 "vocal and banner-waving fans in the first leg of the Eastern Conference final" at Mapfre Stadium amid the team's threat to move to Austin, according to a front-page piece by Rob Oller of the COLUMBUS DISPATCH. The second and deciding leg "will be played" Nov. 29 at Toronto's BMO Field (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 11/22). In Columbus, Michael Arace notes Crew Chair Anthony Precourt "may or may not have been on the premises." But in any case, he was "not detectable, which was the best thing to happen to Crew fans in more than a month." Tuesday was "not about Precourt and the MLS mob that is backing him, it was about sport itself." TFC by playing to a draw "did the near-impossible in sapping the energy from what was, potentially, one of the most vociferous crowds in fairgrounds history." Tuesday night may have been the "last meaningful night in the old stadium’s history -- unless, of course, the Crew wins in Toronto." In that case, they will "host the MLS Cup final" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 11/22).

PLAYOFF PAYOFF: In Houston, Corey Roepken notes the Dynamo lost to the Sounders 2-0 in their conference finals opener, a "nightmarish performance in front of a record crowd of 22,661 at BBVA Compass Stadium." The "return leg is at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field on Nov. 30" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 11/22). Also in Houston, Maggie Gordon in a front-page piece notes the Dynamo have had "poor fan showings all season -- even as the team reached greater heights in playoffs than they have in several years." At the club's last home game, during the "final stretch of the Astros miracle season, one in three seats remained empty." But with the World Series over and the Dynamo in the playoffs, the club "easily filled BBVA Compass Stadium Tuesday night" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 11/22).

CALENDAR WOES: In DC, Steven Goff wrote, "Thought the 2017 season was already over? You’re not alone." TV scheduling demands, a stadium conflict in Seattle with CenturyLink Field and a FIFA fixture window "reduced the playoff storm to intermittent showers." Now in a league that "plays most regular season matches on weekends, only four of the 16 playoff games over 37 days leading to MLS Cup will fall on the weekends." MLS was "dark on the weekend of Nov. 10-12 because of the FIFA window, dark this past weekend and dark again this coming weekend." Weeknight matches after a long break "won’t dull the enthusiasm in the participating cities," but MLS is "aching to appeal to a broader audience, and sports fans look for, and stumble upon, televised sports on weekends, not weekdays." In soccer, a team "aims to establish rhythm," and MLS’s schedule-makers and TV partners "should want to do the same with these playoffs." Goff: "Right now, there is none" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 11/21).

Union Chief Business Officer Tim McDermott said that the MLS club this season saw its "highest ticket-sales revenue since 2013, and the first year-over-year increase since 2011" despite finishing 19th in average attendance, according to Jonathan Tannenwald of PHILLY.com. McDermott added that there was around a 20% "difference between tickets sold and tickets actually torn at the gate." He noted the figure was "not too different than what it's ever been." McDermott "wants to grow" the season-ticket base to 12,000 next year from its base of around 9,500 in '17. Tannenwald noted the Union's average home attendance of 16,812 at Talen Energy Stadium "was the worst" in the venue's seven-year history. The club has made the playoffs just twice in its eight years, and crowds would grow "if the team starts winning, or if it signs better and more recognizable players." However, McDermott's job is to "sell the experience of a soccer game ... no matter who's on the field." That is part of the reason the team's ticket staff "has doubled since he took the job" in January '16. Meanwhile, other team goals this offseason "include negotiating a new TV deal with NBC Sports Philadelphia, as the current deal expires this year." McDermott also wants to "add radio broadcasts for Union games, though they might be online instead of over the air." Another desire is "Spanish-language simulcasts of TV games, and perhaps a radio deal" (PHILLY.com, 11/21).

The average list prices of Pistons and Red Wings tickets on the resale market have "increased by double-digits since the teams moved into the new Little Caesars Arena this season" despite "unfilled seats" during some games, according to Bill Shea of CRAIN'S DETROIT BUSINESS. Data from N.Y.-based TicketIQ shows the average ticket price for a Red Wings home game on the secondary market in '17 has been $166, "good for 10th-priciest" among the 31 NHL teams and up from $145 last season at Joe Louis Arena. Meanwhile, the Pistons rank 27th out of 30 NBA teams with a $101 average secondary market ticket price. However, that is up 19% "over last year's $85 resale average" when the team played at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Overall, both teams are "doing as expected for fan-to-fan ticket sales." The Pistons' average resale ticket price has increased 63% since '13, while the Red Wings have increased 102% "in that same time." The Pistons after eight home games this season are "averaging 16,276 fans at Little Caesars," which ranks 25th in the NBA, up a "bit from last year's 15,979 per-game average." The Red Wings "rank third in NHL attendance this season" with an average of 19,515 fans per game (CRAIN'S DETROIT BUSINESS, 11/20 issue).

The Stars recently have given specific injury updates for D Marc Methot and C Martin Hanzal instead of the typical "upper body" or "lower body" descriptions, and coach Ken Hitchcock "wants to be somewhat transparent with fans," according to Mike Heika of the DALLAS MORNING NEWS. Hitchcock said of the back and forth with reporters, "We say upper body, then you go on the phone, and then you look up things or you go to the doctors, find out what part of the upper body. ... We try to make your work easier, quite frankly." Hitchcock said that by doing that, the Stars are "getting information to fans and helping sell the game in a nontraditional marketplace" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 11/22). Hitchcock said, "Players don't go out and say, 'He has a broken left pinkie and we're going to go after that pinkie.' Nobody thinks like that." The AP's John Wawrow notes this is the "exception to the approach by most teams." The Sabres referred to RW Alexander Nylander "as being day-to-day after sustaining a lower-body injury on Sept. 9." Nylander ended up missing close to two months (AP, 11/22).

In Atlanta, Doug Roberson notes Atlanta United season-ticket sales have surpassed 36,000, and the club "hasn’t decided if it will cap that number" for the '18 season and how it "may affect how many games Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be open to handle full capacity." A spokesperson said that the team is "working with its existing season ticket holders on relocation and additional seating." It will then "begin reaching out to those on the wait list to determine actual demand." Atlanta United "averaged 48,200 in their inaugural season, a new mark for MLS" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 11/22).

CONSTRUCTION CALENDAR: In St. Paul, Andy Greder notes about 40% of the concrete for Minnesota United's new stadium "has been set, and the steel structure will begin to sprout from the ground in the coming weeks." The first steel piece, "signed by some of the people who made the stadium’s private-public construction possible," was moved Tuesday "via crane from the field level and put into place on the the southeast corner of the concourse during a ceremony." Minnesota United Owner Bill McGuire said, "I hope people can see that this really is happening." The $200M stadium is about 25% complete and "back on target" for a February '19 completion date (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 11/22).

GONE WITH THE WIND: In K.C., Maria Torres reported NWSL club FC K.C. formally has "ceased operations." The league confirmed Monday that it had "reacquired" FC K.C.’s membership interest from Owner Elam Baer, "effectively folding the club." The announcement comes "days after a new franchise in Salt Lake City was introduced." At the time, NWSL Managing Dir of Operations Amanda Duffy said that the league "would not expand its current 10-team format," leaving FC K.C. as the "odd club out" (K.C. STAR, 11/21).