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Volume 24 No. 155

Franchises

The Lightning and Hillsborough County (Fla.) are "narrowing in on a deal" that would keep the team there until at least '37, according to a front-page piece by Steve Contorno of the TAMPA BAY TIMES. County officials said that the two sides "hope to have an agreement in place by January." Under discussion is a "proposal for the Lightning to exercise two five-year options to extend the current lease, scheduled to expire" in '27. In exchange, Hillsborough County will commit $61M "over the next two decades to maintenance and upgrades of Amalie Arena," home of the Lightning and the AFL Tampa Bay Storm and one of the area’s "top entertainment and concert venues." The money will "come from the fifth cent of the Tourist Development Tax, a fee assessed on each night’s stay at a hotel or motel." If the Lightning leave "before the lease expires, the team would have to reimburse the county half of its outstanding debt related to the arena." The Lightning also "will have to spend" $25.9M on additional renovations before June 30, 2030. The county owns Amalie Arena, but "under the existing contract Hillsborough is not under any obligation to pay for maintenance or upgrades." That onus "falls on the team, which runs the day-to-day operations." The deal would "need approval from the Tampa Sports Authority, the government agency that leases the facility to the Lightning." Team Owner Jeff Vinik’s commitment to keep the team at Amalie "coincides with the massive downtown redevelopment he is planning around the arena with Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 12/6).

FC Cincinnati execs will be in N.Y. today to "present what amounts to a closing argument" to MLS regarding the USL club's bid to "gain an expansion spot," according to Patrick Brennan of the CINCINNATI ENQUIRER. Club President & GM Jeff Berding and Owner & CEO Carl Lindner III and "possibly others will present for approximately two hours." The presentation will "likely be a carefully choreographed highlighting of the deliverable and lofty projections FC Cincinnati has compiled over its nearly three years in existence." Today's presentation will be the club's "fourth known meeting with MLS officials" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 12/6). In Cincinnati, Steve Watkins noted all four MLS expansion candidates will make presentations today to MLS Commissioner Don Garber and the league's expansion committee." Owners will meet Dec. 14 to "further discuss expansion with an announcement due before the end of the year -- likely within about a week of the owners meeting." Many experts see Sacramento as a "lock and believe the MLS wants one club for its Western Conference and one for the Eastern Conference." Nashville and Cincinnati are "widely viewed as the top contenders for the other spot." Detroit has "plans to play at Ford Field," while the other three cities have "plans for their own soccer stadiums." Berding said, "We're up against three other cities that are strong candidates. ... I do think the fact we're proven and not a projection should be a compelling case. I feel confident and proud that I can make the best case for an MLS franchise in Greater Cincinnati." Berding added that the group will "emphasize that FC Cincinnati has proven its success as a soccer club with strong local support" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 12/5).

ADDING TO ITS CASE: Watkins in a separate piece reported FC Cincinnati has broken its own USL record for season-ticket sales as the club is "now near 13,000 season tickets sold for the season." The club, which sold 11,739 season-tickets last year, "hasn't even opened up season ticket sales to the general public yet." Returning season-ticket members had "first crack at renewing their tickets and had the chance to add seats and change seat locations." Fans who "put down a deposit during the season got the next shot at buying season tickets." FC Cincinnati Dir of PR Fumi Kimura said that the club "expects to break its own full-season attendance record next year if it can hit its goal of selling 15,000 season tickets this year." FC Cincinnati "averaged 21,199 fans per regular-season USL match last season," which "broke its record of 17,296 set" in '16, its inaugural season. The club will "get an additional home game this coming season," as USL is "adding two more games per team for a 34-game schedule" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 12/4).

RAISING FUNDS: In Cincinnati, Coolidge & Coolidge reported the city hopes to obtain $10M from the state to "help cover costs related to building the FC Cincinnati stadium, should the city be awarded" an MLS expansion team. An infusion of that sum "would get the public infrastructure package within striking distance" of the $70-75M total needed to "build roads, sewers and utilities and make a site in Oakley a viable stadium option." Cincinnati and Hamilton County have "already agreed" to pony up $51M, while the team would "build the stadium itself" (CINCINNATI.com, 12/2). The CINCINNATI ENQUIRER's Brennan wondered, "Could the timing of a process that ended in public support for FC Cincinnati's stadium actually harm the team's expansion bid?" Some "seem to think so, although the criteria for expansion outlined by MLS long ago doesn't explicitly suggest a longer process like what played out" in Cincinnati would be penalized. MLS declined to "comment on whether public dialogue and the duration of municipal proceedings are of material consequence to the expansion process." But it is "likely MLS will simply weigh most heavily whether or not FC Cincinnati's bid meets the criteria long ago outlined by the league." Many observers both locally and nationally "view FC Cincinnati as having checked off those boxes" (CINCINNATI.com, 12/3).

NFL Giants ownership "didn’t just respond to their fans by firing" coach Ben McAdoo and GM Jerry Reese on Monday -- President & CEO John Mara and Chair Steve Tisch also "reached out to their fans directly," according to Pat Leonard of the N.Y. DAILY NEWS. A letter signed by Mara and Tisch was "sent to the average Joe Giants ticket-holder on Monday," to "empathize with the disgruntled Blue bloods and reassure them that better days are ahead." The letter read in part, "We know you and all of our fans have been frustrated this year, and many of you have voiced your disappointment and displeasure. Your passion for our franchise does not go unnoticed, and we appreciate your continued support as we move forward to provide you with a renewed sense of Giants Pride" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 12/6). Mara and Tisch in the letter mentioned how "disappointing the season has been and vowed to carry out a 'diligent and thorough' search for a new coach and GM" (SNY.tv, 12/6). On Long Island, Tom Rock notes Reese yesterday, his "first full day in almost 23 full years that he was not employed" by the Giants, issued a "gracious statement of appreciation for his time with the organization" (NEWSDAY, 12/6). In N.Y., Paul Schwartz notes Reese in his statement "sounded as if he is more thankful than bitter" (N.Y. POST, 12/6).

LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES: USA TODAY's Jarrett Bell writes under the header, "Ben McAdoo Fiasco Teaches Giants Owner John Mara Valuable Lesson" (USA TODAY, 12/6). In DC, Thom Loverro writes, "In New York, of all places -- the media capital of the world -- you would think that the landmark NFL franchise would have a clue about the media landscape in 2017." People lost their jobs -- "not because of the goal they had in mind, the end of the [Eli] Manning era, but how they handled it." Loverro: "Those heads might have rolled anyway when the season was over. But it didn’t have to be such a publicly embarrassing bloodletting." This could have been avoided if Mara and Giants brass had "realized this is the 21st century and it is moving quickly and you better have a plan to present publicly for your actions -- football or otherwise" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 12/6).

ON THE LOOKOUT: In N.Y., Steve Serby notes NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly and former Packers GM Ron Wolf, who headed the search committee that found Jets GM Mike Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles for Owner Woody Johnson, are convinced Mara and Tisch will have "no problem attracting the best and the brightest" GM and head coach (N.Y. POST, 12/6). THE MMQB's Peter King wrote the Giants' new GM and coach "cannot be as media-averse" as Reese and McAdoo were. In N.Y. and New Jersey, the GM of the pro football team "cannot hide for 363 of the 365 days a year." King: "Reese talked twice a year. That’s absurd. McAdoo treated press sessions like root-canal appointments without Novocain" (SI.com, 12/5).

Steelers-Bengals on Monday night featured the smallest crowd between the two teams in Cincinnati "in more than two decades," according to Steve Watkins of the CINCINNATI BUSINESS COURIER. The game "drew a crowd of 56,029," meaning "nearly 10,000 tickets went unsold at Paul Brown Stadium, which holds 65,515." The last time the Bengals "drew such a small crowd for a matchup" with the Steelers was in '95, when they "drew 54,636 fans." Last year’s crowd of 62,096 was the "smallest for a home Steelers game since Paul Brown Stadium opened" in '00 (BIZJOURNALS.com, 12/5).

HELPING THE LITTLE GUY? In Baltimore, Jeff Barker noted the Ravens were "advertising tickets" for last Sunday’s home game against the Lions. Thousands of fans were "trying to resell their tickets to the sold-out game" via Ticketmaster. The Ravens said that they "took the unusual step of advertising tickets not only to help themselves -- teams get a cut from seats resold on Ticketmaster -- but also to help get better deals for their fans who are selling." The team used the slogan “Win Together. Purchase your tickets today!" on their website and in the Baltimore Sun. Ravens Senior VP/Ticket Sales & Operations Baker Koppelman said, “It is relatively new for us to advertise or promote ticket sales when we’ve sold out every game in our history.” The Ravens also said that season ticket renewal percentage is 99%, and the waiting list for PSLs "numbers about 2,500 fans" (Baltimore SUN, 12/3).

VISITORS CENTER: THE RINGER's Kevin Clark wrote Chargers games at StubHub Center "feel less like a sporting event and more like a meetup of all the people who knew the Chargers had moved" to L.A. An NFL team "playing in a soccer stadium sounds like a gimmick, but it’s not that." This is "more of a misadventure, an earnest idea quickly gone south." StubHub Center is "actually a remarkable place to see an NFL game, in the same way it’d be cool to see the Clippers play at your local YMCA." L.A.'s sprawl is "one of the obstacles the Chargers face" in attracting fans to games. There are also "groups of people in neutral jerseys" and a "strange gloom that hangs over" StubHub Center. There is "typically a critical mass of visiting fans" (THERINGER.com, 12/5).

Broncos Exec VP/Football Operations & GM John Elway yesterday said that he will "not make any coaching changes" during the final four weeks of the season with the team's record at 3-9. Elway: "We’re going to finish the season out and, you know, obviously we know the expectations of the Denver Broncos. And this has been a tough year. It’s not what the Broncos are about. I’m embarrassed about it, the fact that this has happened, and will do my part to hopefully get this thing turned around next year" (DENVER POST, 12/6). But NBCSN's Mike Florio said, "John Elway is directly responsible for where the team currently is. ... How can we trust John Elway to hire the next coach when he hired Vance Joseph and it was still a disaster?" ("PFT," NBCSN, 12/6).

PACE MAKERS: In Indianapolis, Jim Ayello reports "lackluster attendance has become the norm" at Pacers games this season. The Pacers have drawn 162,719 fans for 11 home games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse so far, the "fifth-lowest total attendance mark in the league." The numbers "grow even uglier on a per-game basis," as only the Hawks "average fewer home fans than the Pacers (14,792)." The teams hold the "dubious distinction of being the only two in the league averaging fewer than 15,000 fans per game." For the season, the Pacers are "averaging crowds of a meager" 80-81% capacity (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 12/6).

TIME TO SPEND
: In K.C., Sam McDowell cites sources as saying that Sporting KC is "operating under a significantly larger budget than it has in the past." Ownership has "committed club-record financial backing that, along with the team’s attractive position under the salary cap, would accommodate multiple high-priced acquisitions." Sporting KC has "made it known to agents and foreign clubs that it can afford transfer fees in the neighborhood" of $2-4M. In MLS, players requiring those transfer fees are "typically paid annual salaries between" $800,000 and $2M (K.C. STAR, 12/6).