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Volume 24 No. 176

Franchises

Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson made an "absolute bombshell of an announcement" last night when he announced plans to "put the team up for sale" at the conclusion of the '17 NFL season, according to a front-page piece by Rodrigue, Person & Harrison of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. The announcement came just hours after an SI report "outlined allegations of sexual and racial misconduct by Richardson toward former Panthers employees." Richardson in a statement said, "I believe that it is time to turn the franchise over to new ownership. Therefore, I will put the team up for sale at the conclusion of this NFL season. We will not begin the sale process, nor will we entertain any inquiries, until the very last game is played. I hope everyone in this organization will be firmly focused on just one mission: To play and win the Super Bowl." Richardson’s statement "did not address the allegations of misconduct." The SI report was released prior to yesterday's Packers-Panthers game and "detailed the alleged 'significant' monetary settlements with at least four" former team employees as a result of "inappropriate workplace comments and conduct by Richardson." The conduct included "sexually suggestive language and behavior, and on at least one occasion directing a racial slur at an African-American Panthers scout." SI said that the settlements "featured non-disclosure agreements forbidding the parties from discussing the matters." It is "unclear what Richardson’s announcement will mean for the NFL’s investigation into the misconduct allegations." By making the announcement when he did, Richardson "could avoid the possibility of being forced out by the NFL depending on what its investigation uncovers." Sources said that players were "not alerted to the announcement of the sale ahead of time." Panthers interim GM Marty Hurney said that he "found out about Richardson’s intent to sell after the game" last night. He said Richardson "has my utmost respect as an owner and as a person." Hurney: "He has the respect of the employees and players in the organization" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 12/18). 

TARNISHED IMAGE
: SI.com's Wertheim & Bernstein noted at least four former Panthers employees "received significant settlements from Richardson or from the team in exchange for what amounted to a vow of silence." Richardson's "aura, mannerisms and values ring through the Panthers’ headquarters." Though the "antebellum echoes trouble some African-American employees, Richardson is referred to by all simply as 'Mister,' no surname required." Wertheim & Bernstein noted multiple former female employees recount that Richardson's behavior "began to feel like a violation when he spoke of their bodies." Sources said that Richardson gave "back rubs that lingered too long or went too low down the spine" (SI.com, 12/17). In Charlotte, Person & Rothacker write it is "not clear whether any of the limited partners were aware of the settlements" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 12/18).

Goodell may not be forced to make a league precedent after Richardson's decision
SAVING FACE? The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Andrew Beaton notes the decision to sell the team is a "fast decision" that "caps a whirlwind 72 hours" for Richardson. He is the first owner of a major American sports franchise to "face this type of scrutiny since the heightened spotlight on sexual harassment and workplace conduct in recent months." His "rapid decision to sell the team could be seen as a major relief for the NFL." By not putting NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or other owners in a position where his "hand may have been forced, Richardson may save the league from creating any precedent at all" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 12/18). In N.Y., Ken Belson writes Richardson’s decision to sell the team "represented a swift fall for a man who at times has been among the NFL’s most powerful owners." Richardson, who "spoke with Goodell" yesterday, continues to have "many allies among his fellow owners." Several of Richardson’s employees "came to his defense" yesterday. Belson: "It’s somewhat surprising that the NFL -- known for its deliberate approach to any major change -- and Richardson reacted so quickly and so dramatically to allegations of workplace misconduct" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/18). The OBSERVER's Person & Rothacker note Richardson was at the Panthers’ game yesterday against the Packers, "seated in the owner’s box with his wife, Rosalind, at his side." Following the Panthers’ victory, players "chose their words cautiously when asked about the allegations" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 12/18). In Charlotte, Erik Spanberg wrote, "A strange year for the Panthers veered into far more perilous territory" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 12/17).

WEIGHING IN
: THE MMQB's Peter King reports NFL officials will meet in N.Y. today to "plot the league’s course on Richardson," and the message "should come back thusly: We have to seek the truth on one of our own." King: "How can players trust the league to investigate players if it drops the ball on serious charges against one of its owners?" Richardson should "take the punishment an owner would have coming ... even if that punishment comes after he sells." Other owners, execs and likely even players "will have microscopes on them now." Richardson's legacy will "take time to fathom" (SI.com, 12/18). PRO FOOTBALL TALK’s Mike Florio noted with Richardson's decision to sell the team, the league will "likely be standing down" and the calls for an investigation "will not proceed" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 12/17). YAHOO SPORTS' Charles Robinson writes putting the up teal for sale is "fortunate for the NFL because the agony of dragging out a lengthy, ugly probe into an owner might have invited more than the league’s flawed investigative process could have handled." Robinson: "The last thing in the world that this billionaire fraternity wants is to have one of its own dissected." Particularly after lavishing that big fat extension on Goodell, who would have had to stand in judgement." Richardson is "likely doing a solid for not only the league office and investigative arm -- he’s also protecting other owners from a judgement on a very lucrative tool in business: Non-disclosure agreements" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 12/18). SI.com's Michael McCann wrote under the header, "Will Jerry Richardson Avoid The NFL Investigation By Selling The Panthers? Not Quite" (SI.com, 12/17). USA TODAY's Mike Jones writes Richardson's decision is "stunning news." NFL owners "don't just sell their team at the drop of a hat." However, sexual harassment "outweighs any good he's done." The NFL has an "image problem as is, and it couldn’t tolerate an owner that’s guilty of the behavior that Richardson is accused of." Jones: "You can’t help but wonder, however, who’s next" (USA TODAY, 12/18).

Greg Olsen said he has had nothing but "positive" interactions with Richardson
LOCKER ROOM REAX
: Panthers TE Greg Olsen said of Richardson, "I know about the relationship I’ve had and the interactions I’ve had personally, and all of those have been nothing but positive and nothing but professional and respectful." Panthers CB Captain Munnerlyn: "Mr. Richardson has always been a nice man to me." Panthers QB Cam Newton: "When you see so many people getting picked out because of things that they’ve done in the past. I don’t take that lightly. I was just telling you my personal experience with Mr. Richardson and how he has had such a father-like role to a lot of players in that locker room" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 12/18). Newton: "I really haven’t dug into the investigation, or the story, but personally from me, (Richardson has) given me an opportunity to make a big impact for my family" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 12/18). SI.com's Jonathan Jones wrote, "It would be unfair to fully critique these players’ comments, since the story broke minutes before kickoff and they were being asked about it shortly after the game ended." Jones: "No one in the locker room had time to read the story, and only a few whom I spoke with even had a Cliffs Notes version of it by the time they exited." Some players "removed themselves from the situation altogether" (SI.com, 12/17). ESPN.com's David Newton wrote the "future for the organization became clear" last night with Richardson's announcement. The decision "took away some of the awkwardness players might have faced over the next four to six weeks, depending how long their season lasts, in answering questions about Richardson." This is a "strange time for an organization whose owner until now was held in high regard publicly" (ESPN.com, 12/17).

HARD TO HEAR: Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones said that the situation surrounding Richardson's decision to sell the Panthers "saddened him." Jones: "I'm very sad. Jerry is one of the really, really, really outstanding men of football that I've ever met, and I really admire him. I know that he made it the old-fashioned way. He worked for it. He took what he made in a short time in pro football and turned it into a great business and then used that to get the Carolina franchise. So he's a great story." He added, "I'm really sad. I want all of those kind of men we can have in the National Football League" (AP, 12/18).

WON'T SOON FORGET
: SI.com's Jones wrote Richardson "is a man consumed by his legacy," but that legacy was "tarnished in the span of a weekend." Richardson’s statement that he will sell the team is another "attempt to memorialize the legacy the 81-year-old wishes to leave even as allegations stare him in the face publicly" (SI.com, 12/17). In Greensboro, Ed Hardin writes yesterday was a "gut-wrenching day" that will "live in infamy" in the state of North Carolina. Hardin: "The man who promised to bring a model sports franchise built on character and moral values to the Carolinas, will walk away as a man revealed to be flawed beyond comprehension" (Greensboro NEWS & RECORD, 12/18).

Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson has "one last chance to salvage a piece of his legacy" after announcing he will sell the team following allegations of workplace misconduct, and that is selling the franchise "to an ownership group that will keep it in Charlotte," according to Scott Fowler of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. If Richardson "doesn’t sell to some locals, he absolutely must go to great lengths to ensure that the Panthers stay in Charlotte." The "shock value" of the SI.com story that detailed various examples of sexual harassment will "eventually fade, but Richardson will never be perceived exactly the same way again in the Carolinas" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 12/18). ESPN's Adam Schefter notes Richardson through his estate was planning to sell the Panthers "once he passed away." By announcing his plans to sell the team now, he "can control where it goes and who buys it, the terms and conditions of the sale." The sale likely will take months to complete, and it "will be interesting to see the process involved." Most observers "believe that this franchise is going to go for a number north" of $2B. Schefter: "He is not doing it for the money, that’s not what this is about. This is about getting ahead of it, being able to dictate the sale to a person he wants on the terms he wants, and of course detaching himself from the NFL" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 12/18).

NO LARGE FEE TO RELOCATE: In Charlotte, Rodrigue, Person & Harrison note if a new owner wanted to "relocate the team, there isn’t a significant financial penalty the team would have to pay local taxpayers." The Panthers and the city of Charlotte in April '13 "signed an agreement that called for the public" to spend $87.5M on "stadium improvements and game-day expenses." Most of that money -- $75M -- was for "stadium improvements such as new escalators." In return, the city said that it had a "six-year 'hard tether' that would keep the Panthers in Charlotte." The current season is the "fifth season in the six-year tether." Next year "will be the final season in the tether, which officially expires" in June '19. The contract says that if the team "seeks to leave during that window, the city can take them to court to attempt to prevent them from leaving." But after June '19, there is "no provision that in the contract in which the team has agreed with the city that it’s supposed to stay in Charlotte." If the team leaves after June '19, the contract states the city "would have either the option of buying the stadium for a fair market value or the Panthers would pay the city the remaining debt payment" on the city’s $75M investment. If a new owner "did seek to move the team, that remaining debt would likely be an insignificant amount of money." Richardson in '09 said that his family owned 48% of the team, with the other 52% being "owned by the minority partners (which include a number of prominent members of the Charlotte business community)" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 12/18). 

POSSIBLE SUITORS: In Charlotte, Katherine Peralta reports rapper Sean "Diddy" Combs tweeted that he "would like to buy" the franchise. Soon after, Warriors G Stephen Curry, who was raised in Charlotte, "chimed in on Twitter, adding, 'I’m in!'" Combs tweeted, "There are no majority African American NFL owners. Let’s make history" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 12/18). SMI Exec Chair Bruton Smith last year said that he "would be interested in purchasing" the Panthers (ESPN.com, 12/17). In S.F., Connor Letourneau notes it is "unclear whether Curry was joking" about his interest in purchasing the team, but he "surely has enough money to make a sizable investment in the franchise" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 12/18). Forbes "estimates the Panthers worth" at $2.3B. The AP's Steve Reed notes the Bills sold in '14 for $1.4B following the death of Owner Ralph Wilson. Richardson and his ownership group paid $206M in '93 for an expansion team (AP, 12/18).

The Senators hosted the Canadiens on Saturday in the NHL 100 Classic outdoor game, but Owner Eugene Melnyk "put a damper on the festivities" when he brought up the "possibility of relocation, took a shot at fans and said a new downtown arena might never happen," according to Lisa Wallace of the CP. Speaking during the Senators' alumni game at Parliament Hill on Friday night, Melnyk "denied rumours the team was for sale, but did insinuate relocation could be considered." Melnyk: "If it doesn't look good here, it could look very, very nice somewhere else, but I'm not suggesting that right now." Melnyk said that the "constant challenge to sell tickets is frustrating." He added, "Here we're fighting every day to sell a ticket, honest to God. When you get to the third round of the playoffs and you're begging people to buy a ticket something's wrong with that picture" (CP, 12/16). ESPN.com's Greg Wyshynski noted Melnyk's remarks "came at a time" when various cities are seeking expansion teams. Melnyk: "We spend $68 million a year. Everyone says 'You are cheap.' Are you kidding me? Even at $68 million, that's way too much over a revenue base that we have" (ESPN.com, 12/16). In Ottawa, Don Brennan wrote Melnyk's "thinly veiled threat to relocate the Senators if business does not pick up" was the "loudest message he delivered." In stressing attendance problems, Melnyk "compared the Senators to a McDonald’s and a grocery store that wasn’t attracting enough customers." Melnyk said, "We've cut everything to the bone in the organization. We are probably one of the thinnest management groups in the league. The next thing you have to look at is players." Additionally, Melnyk "strongly denied rumours that some front-office personnel have not been paid recently" (OTTAWA SUN, 12/16).

SHOULD I STAY? In Ottawa, Ken Warren noted NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman "arrived to the chill of the outdoor game trying to put out the fire" set by Melnyk. Bettman: "I haven’t even spoken to (Melnyk), but he didn’t say he was moving the franchise. And (you) can’t move the franchise unless you go through the league process and get board of governor approval. So, I just think this is much ado about nothing" (OTTAWA SUN, 12/17). NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said, "It's a head-shaker that this team isn't doing better from an attendance standpoint and a fan's standpoint. The team was one goal away from going to the Stanley Cup final last year. This is a very competitive team in a hockey market" (OTTAWA SUN, 12/17). In Ottawa, Norman Provencher noted Melnyk "seems to have surprised the city's elected politicians as much as hockey fans with his controversial musings over the possibility of moving" (OTTAWA CITIZEN, 12/17). The CBC's Don Cherry said, "If people don't show up and pack the place all the time ... you can't survive with 13,000. He's gone, Ottawa's gone for sure, don't know where, but Quebec would be nice" (CP, 12/17).

OR SHOULD I GO? The GLOBE & MAIL's Roy MacGregor wrote last week was supposed to be a week of "joyous celebration." The Senators are "still likely moving, but downtown." When they "get there, and how they get there, is still to be decided" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/16). In Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch wrote Melnyk is "frustrated with the empty seats at the Canadian Tire Centre and ... he’s perplexed why the Senators can’t fill the 17,500 seats." Melnyk's timing "wasn't good," but when was a "good time to tell the fans that the possibility exists you may move the team if attendance gets to the point where the club can’t be successful in Ottawa?" The Senators will have to "find a way to get people to travel to Kanata on a regular basis." There are "complaints about the costs of going to a game, the traffic and, there’s lately been a lot of noise about the cost of parking." It "hasn’t helped that the Senators haven’t exactly been great this season" (OTTAWA SUN, 12/17). Also in Ottawa, Jonathan McLeod wrote Melnyk's comments were "absolutely ridiculous." Fans would be "wise to be wary of the Barbadian billionaire who was once seen as the saviour of a floundering franchise" (OTTAWA SUN, 12/17). 

RIGHT PLACE, WRONG MAN? In Ottawa, Rick Gibbons writes under the header, "Sens Aren't Going Anywhere, But Maybe It's Time Melnyk Did." Suffice to say there were "enough Melnyk spinoramas to leave an entire fan base flat on its backsides wondering what just hit them." This is "not a winning strategy." It might "accomplish the opposite, further diminishing both the team’s financial wherewithal and the city’s already struggling reputation as a lousy sports town with terrible fans." And that is the "real shame here: Ottawa fans are taking the brunt of criticism for the antics of an increasingly unpopular absentee owner" (OTTAWA SUN, 12/18). The CITIZEN's Provencher noted fans "piled onto social media to offer a different solution: Keep the team, lose the owner." The Twitter hashtag #MelnykOut was "trending in Ottawa" (OTTAWA SUN, 12/17). Also in Ottawa, Wayne Scanlan writes this is the "latest example" of Melnyk being "oblivious to common sense instincts." He "thinks out loud," and the results are "frightening." Ironically, the "ill-timed rant could only detract from the spectacle of the outdoor classic which Melnyk seemed so proud to host" (OTTAWA SUN, 12/18). THE ATHLETIC's James Gordon wrote it is a "wonder that Melnyk still speaks publicly as much as he does." His "off-the-cuff" comments are "often a source of embarrassment" to fans. The owner's appearance "ticked all the boxes of things you shouldn't say when your product isn't selling well and you're trying to generate interest and revenue" (THEATHLETIC.com, 12/16).

The Golden Knights have launched a program that allows fans to "experience five film sessions" with Senior VP Murray Craven and Dir of Hockey Operations Misha Donskov, along with a "pre-game skate on the ice at T-Mobile Arena," according to Jesse Granger of the LAS VEGAS SUN. Fans can purchase the VGK University package for $495, which comes with a "ticket to five games" as well as an "hour-long class and a skating session prior to each game." In the first session, Craven and Donskov "set the groundwork with an introduction to hockey, and on the second session they went into an in depth analysis of how NHL teams create offense." Fans are "given a notepad with hockey rink diagrams so they can take notes along the way." Craven: “We want people to be able to leave here and have a much better appreciation for the game and be able to appreciate what’s happening out there on the ice." Granger noted the 50 spots for VGK University "sold out quickly, but the team said it plans to hold another enrollment if they continue to get good results during the current one" (LAS VEGAS SUN, 12/16).

The Dodgers' multiplayer trade with the Braves on Saturday was an "unforeseen move that resets the organization's luxury-tax payroll," according to Andy McCullough of the L.A. TIMES. The Dodgers "reacquired" OF Matt Kemp in exchange for 1B Adrian Gonzalez, Ps Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir and SS Charlie Culberson. Penalized for the past five seasons for luxury-tax violations, the Dodgers "sought financial relief and flexibility" for after the '18 season, when P Clayton Kershaw could "join a star-studded class of free agents" that includes Nationals RF Bryce Harper, Orioles 3B Manny Machado, Indians P Andrew Miller and Red Sox P Craig Kimbrel. As five-time offenders, the Dodgers were "penalized 50% for every dollar spent above the threshold" in '17. By getting under $197M for '18, the Dodgers would "reset the penalty, and only be penalized 20% on every dollar above the threshold" in '19. Before the trade, the Dodgers' luxury-tax payroll was "projected" at $205.5M (L.A. TIMES, 12/17). Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman said, "It's a necessary, strategic part of moves yet to come." The deal "made sense for the Braves, too, since the players they acquired all have expiring contracts." Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos said, "It puts us in an even greater financial position going forward" (ESPN.com, 12/16).

EYE TOWARD THE FUTURE: In L.A., Bill Shaikin cited a source as saying that the team was assessed a $36.2M tax this year, based on a season-ending payroll of $253.6M. Along with a reported $50M payout for each MLB team from the sale of BAMTech to Disney, the Dodgers "could have" close to $100M for a shopping spree next winter (L.A. TIMES, 12/17). In N.Y., Joel Sherman noted the Yankees re-signed P CC Sabathia to a one-year, $10M deal on the same day as the Dodgers-Braves trade, and the signing makes the team "better positioned" for getting under the luxury-tax threshold for '18 (N.Y. POST 12/17). On Long Island, David Lennon wrote Yankees Senior VP & GM Brian Cashman's "mission to improve on last season's remarkable run" -- while getting under the luxury-tax threshold -- "could not be going any better" (NEWSDAY, 12/17). In L.A., Bill Plaschke wrote the Dodgers are "so deep they can dump a fan favorite, two serviceable starting pitchers and an important utility guy in order to start clearing the decks." The Dodgers "didn't immediately improve themselves" for '18 in this trade, but they have "plenty of time and few holes to fill in bridging that nine-inning gap between them and a championship" (L.A. TIMES, 12/17).

RICH GETTING RICHER: USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale wrote the Dodgers-Braves trade "sets the stage" for what "promises to be the greatest free-agent frenzy" in MLB history next winter. It will be the "financial kingpins" -- the Cubs, Yankees and Dodgers -- who will "have pockets full of money and no luxury tax to burden them" (USATODAY.com, 12/16). ESPN.com's Keith Law wrote under the header, "Money Matters Most In The Dodgers-Braves Kemp Trade" (ESPN.com, 12/16). SI.com's Jon Tayler wrote the money saved is a "terrifying prospect for the league, with the great majority of teams already completely unable to match the Dodgers and Yankees." All of that is "bad news for the players, especially mid-tier free agents." The overall MLB product is "weakened when teams refuse to spend or make moves solely to avoid financial penalties or turn a bigger profit" (SI.com, 12/16). CBSSPORTS.com's Mike Axisa wrote any time clubs are not spending, alarm bells "should be going off" at MLBPA HQ. MLB is "flush with cash, and that cash is not yet going to the players" (CBSSPORTS.com, 12/16). THE RINGER's Ben Lindbergh wrote under the header, "The Dodgers Are Bringing NBA-Style Trades To MLB." It is "tempting to say that the trade was barely about baseball," but it "tells us more about baseball's current competitive ecology than other moves with more immediate on-field implications" (THERINGER.com, 12/17).

The Marlins traded three former All-Stars over a seven-day talent purge designed to "rebuild an anemic farm system" and reduce a payroll that would have ranked around 15th in MLB for '18, according to Clark Spencer of the MIAMI HERALD. Had new ownership "chosen to keep last year’s roster intact," payroll would have increased to about $140M. With the trades of Giancarlo Stanton, Dee Gordon and Marcell Ozuna, the club is moving closer toward a $90M payroll. Former Nationals GM Jim Bowden said, "The alternative was to keep the outfield intact, play .500 ball, finish in third place and draft in the middle." Former Mets GM Steve Phillips added, "I feel for Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman because the response from the fans was predictable. If you’re going to trade Stanton and Gordon and Ozuna, yeah, they’re not going to be happy. They knew that. Yet they still did it because they knew they had to do it." Former MLBer Mike Lowell said that the team’s near-.500 finishes "might have creased a misguided sense that the Marlins were on the cusp of success." Lowell: "That’s almost worse than being terrible. And I think that delays your philosophy because you think one more piece and you’re there, where really you’re four or five pieces away. Some change had to be made." The consensus within the previous Marlins’ front office was to "begin a teardown and rebuild a year ago, mirroring the process" used by the Cubs and Astros. Bowden: "How did Houston get there? How did the Cubs get there? They knocked it down and started from the bottom. This is what they’re doing. They’re doing the right thing. They had no choice" (MIAMI HERALD, 12/16).

SWING AND A MISS: ESPN's Bob Ley said Jeter's moves with the Marlins have "produced literal boos directed at a man universally admired as a player" ("E:60," ESPN2, 12/17). In N.Y., John Harper wrote Jeter "needs a PR man." Who ever thought Jeter, "so beloved and admired as a Hall of Fame player, would be off to a Carl Pavano-like start in his new role as Marlins’ owner?" He "really needs someone giving him PR advice" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 12/17). In Miami, Greg Cote wrote, "Remember 10 weeks ago when we all loved Jeter?" (MIAMI HERALD, 12/17). In N.Y., Bob Raissman dubbed Jeter his "Dweeb Of The Week." Raissman: "Jeter needs to turn this around and fast. A good start would be choosing to make yourself accessible. You know your stuff. Explain it to your fan base -- frequently. Don’t hide behind that big desk" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 12/17).

Though there is no guarantee the WNBA Las Vegas Aces "will be a profitable venture" for new owner MGM Resorts, the company is "committed to making the team work," according to Mike Grimala of the LAS VEGAS SUN. The WNBA has "historically not been a moneymaker," but MGM will spend $10M toward upgrading Mandalay Bay Events Center to "prepare for the Aces' arrival." Coach Bill Laimbeer has been "smitten with MGM's willingness to fund the team." Laimbeer said, "I came here thinking I had to do everything myself. And I realized, 'Holy cow, look at this. Oh, you've got that? And you've got that too?'" He added, "We were talking practice site. What do we do about a practice site? You know, in Year 1, I'm figuring (we'll practice) anywhere we can go. And they're like, 'Why don't we go build this?' And I'm like, 'Well, that'll take a while.' And they're like 'No, we've got our own construction company, we've got our own designers, we can build it quick.'" Grimala wrote if the Aces "prove successful, it could pave way for an NBA team to eventually land in Las Vegas." MGM Resorts Int'l President Bill Hornbuckle said, "We have an intimate relationship (with the NBA). The NBA owns the WNBA, and so [NBA Commissioner Adam Silver] knows exactly what has happened here. ... The NBA, over time, hopefully becomes a part of this community in a bigger way. But one day at a time. It's a long way away" (LAS VEGAS SUN, 12/17).

THE PLACE TO BE: Grimala in a separate piece noted Laimbeer "believes attracting talent -- whether it's players or coaches or front office personnel -- is one area in which Las Vegas won't have to worry." Laimbeer: "It's going to be a huge bonus for us because people want to be here. And the first-class operation that MGM is setting up, the amount of commitment and resources they're putting forth for this team, players notice that. Word-of-mouth will get around fast" (LAS VEGAS SUN, 12/17).

KNOW WHEN TO HOLD 'EM: In Las Vegas, Todd Dewey reported MGM Resorts "won't accept any wagers" on Aces games next season, which starts in May. MGM Resorts VP/Race & Sports Jay Rood said that it "hasn't been decided whether wagers will be taken on other WNBA games." He added that the betting handle on the league from the public is "pretty light." Rood: "When I say pretty light, I mean almost nonexistent. The WNBA is the playground for the wiseguys and the sharps. We might just absolutely eliminate it from our offering at this point. In the big scope of things, it's really very, very small from a handle and win-loss perspective. The handle for the entire year in the WNBA is probably less than we do on a really good NFL game" (REVIEWJOURNAL.com, 12/16).

German pro poker player Fedor Holz has "invested" in Envy Gaming, the "parent company of Team Envy" and Overwatch League team Dallas Fuel, according to Jacob Wolf of ESPN.com. Holz, who has earned nearly $27M in live poker tournaments, will "serve as a minority owner" after his investment in Q2. Holz said, "I like Envy, I like to watch, I like the way they build their infrastructure and team, take care of their players. And it was just a corporation I wanted to be a part of in some way." Team Envy earlier this year "acquired the Overwatch League slot" for Dallas and later launched the Fuel to "participate in that league" (ESPN.com, 12/16).

For more coverage of the business of esports, visit our partners, esportsobserver.com.

In California, Jeff Miller writes it is "nearly impossible" to find "anything for which to blatantly criticize" Angels GM Billy Eppler for. This offseason, he "went 4 for 4 with the game-winning, bottom-of-the-ninth extra-base hit." The Angels retained LF Justin Upton, traded for 2B Ian Kinsler, signed SS Zack Cozart and landed coveted free agent Shohei Ohtani. It would be "difficult to improve upon what Eppler has done, particularly since the Angels still aren’t exactly bloated with the assets usually needed to bolster a big-league roster." Miller: "Eppler is deserving of the backslaps and high-fives that no doubt have been greeting him in the hallways of the Angels’ front office" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 12/18).

SIGN ME UP: In Philadelphia, Matt Gelb noted the Phillies spent $92.25M last week, "capped by" the $60M deal they signed 1B Carlos Santana to. The Santana deal is an "example of an unproven team signing a veteran player to a sizable contract to provide credibility with other free agents, leadership in a young clubhouse, and a middle-of-the-order presence." The Phillies have "planned a great deal around the free-agent class that hits the market" after the '18 season (PHILLY.com, 12/16).

TALK IT OUT: On Long Island, Marc Carig wrote the Wilpons for years have "shown little willingness to level" with Mets fans. With the club "on the brink of squandering a window to compete for championships," the Wilpons "seem content to continue their blackout." An organization’s culture "flows from the top." But rather than "reach for transparency, the Wilpons seem content to hide." They "never talk about money." Carig: "Whether it’s arrogance or simply negligence, they have no problem asking fans to pony up the cash and never show the willingness to reciprocate" (NEWSDAY, 12/17).