Fanatics Founder & Exec Chair Michael Rubin is "putting together an audacious bid" to buy the NFL Panthers, and has "landed an incredibly powerful ally" -- Alibaba Exec Vice Chair Joe Tsai, according to sources cited by Modal Trigger of the N.Y. POST. Tsai is on board to "join an impressive ownership consortium, which they hope could yet include sports figures" such as Warriors G Stephen Curry and Diddy. Tsai is already a 49% owner of the Nets. Sources said that "initial bids for the team" were due yesterday (NYPOST.com, 3/12). In Jacksonville, Phillip Heilman notes Rubin, 45, would "become the second-youngest NFL owner" behind 49ers CEO Jed York, who is 37 (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 3/13).
PICKING PARTNERS: In Charlotte, Erik Spanberg noted prospective Panthers bidder Felix Sabates hopes his partnership can either buy the team or "become minority investors if another buyer negotiates a purchase agreement first." Sabates yesterday said that the latter option "would be viable with two of the prospective buyers" -- Steelers investor David Tepper and Sherman Financial Group Founder & CEO Ben Navarro -- "but not with" Rubin. Sabates: "(Navarro) and Tepper could stroke a check for the whole thing. Rubin is a different story. I don’t know him. I would not partner with him." Sabates said that he is "confident that if Navarro or Tepper buy the Panthers, they will stay in Charlotte." A source said that the sale "could be finished as soon as this month," but also said that there is "no guarantee that will happen" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 3/12).
The Orioles this season will "offer free admission to Orioles Park at Camden Yards to any child" age 9 and younger, according to Eric Fisher of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. The move is "believed to be unprecedented in major sports," and is "part of a larger youth outreach program the club is developing." The Orioles, who have "seen home attendance slide each of the last three years, have developed a dramatic plan of their own to engage kids, even if it ends up costing them revenue." The “Kids Cheer Free” promotion offers "two free upper-deck tickets for children nine and under with the purchase of every full-price adult ticket." The offer can be "multiplied, allowing a family with four kids age nine and younger to attend for free with two regular adult tickets." The free tickets will be "subject to availability on a month-by-month basis." The offer "represents one of the most aggressive marketing and sales efforts of any type in the industry to attract younger fans." The promotion is "part of an enhanced series of youth-driven efforts the Orioles are pursuing including a remodeling and expansion of its kids’ play area, adding more fireworks nights to its promotional calendar, and working with concessionaire Delaware North to offer more variety in the sizes of food and beverage items." A second play area at the ballpark is being planned for a '19 opening, with the Orioles "in discussions with Populous on the project" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 3/12 issue). ESPN's Buster Olney tweeted, "Nice promotion from the Orioles." Baltimore-based WNST-AM: "Nice for kids & parents. We'll see how many utilize it." Baltimore-based WJZ-FM's Jerry Coleman: "Cool deal. Unprecedented." The Big Leagues Daily's Dan Clark: "The #Orioles 'Kids Cheer Free' initiative is brilliant. ... This is what baseball is all about, opening it up to the next generation. This will really help families doing it a little tough. Awesome!"
TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME: In Baltimore, Eduardo Encina noted despite "drawing more than two million fans last season, the Orioles’ average home attendance of 25,042 a game was the team’s lowest" since '11. The "Junior Orioles Dugout Club" promotion is "still considered a better bargain than the new initiative," as it "features benefits for fans 14 and under, including a free ticket to six selected Orioles games." The Orioles' "Kids Run The Bases" effort invites fans ages 4-14 to "round the bases after each Sunday home game" (BALTIMORESUN.com, 3/12).
CHANGING COURSE? In Boston, Nick Cafardo noted Orioles manager Buck Showalter and Exec VP/Baseball Operations Dan Duquette are in the final years of their contracts, while there also has been a "shift in ownership responsibilities," where Exec VP John Angelos is "said to have taken over for his father, Peter." It "doesn’t appear the Angelos family will sell" the team, though the Orioles still "could face a total rebuild" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/11).
The Phillies yesterday officially signed P Jake Arrieta to a 3-year, $75M contract, and it "makes sense to frontload" the dealt -- as well as those of other free agent signees this winter -- because the team has "so few dollars committed" to its '19 payroll, according to Corey Seidman of NBCSPORTSPHILADELPHIA.com. Even after signing Arrieta for $25M per year, 1B Carlos Santana for $20M per year and giving Ps Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter a combined $35M over the next two seasons, the Phillies "still have less" than $70M in "guaranteed commitments" for their '19 payroll. That "doesn't include the raises" for players the Phillies intend to re-sign, but those players' "relative cheapness is what prompted a team that wasn't totally sure what it was going to do this offseason to sign one of the two best starting pitchers on the market." Aside from what Arrieta is "able to contribute on the field this season, his presence on the Phillies will make" someone like Orioles SS Manny Machado "take the Phils more seriously next winter" (NBCSPORTSPHILADELPHIA.com, 3/12). In Philadelphia, Marcus Hayes writes the vibe around the Phillies "feels like it felt 15 years ago," when the team signed 1B Jim Thome. Thanks to Arrieta and Santana, the Phillies have "shown their fans the money." Phillies P Jerad Eickhoff said, “It shows that the turning of the tide is a lot sooner than I think we all thought.” Arrieta is also "good enough to sell tickets, just like Thome did," as the Phillies "haven’t finished higher than seventh-worst in MLB attendance" since '14 (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/13).
READING THE MARKET: USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale writes the Phillies had the "best winter" of any MLB team, as the team spent $169M on the free-agent market after "five consecutive losing seasons and the notion of the Eagles' grip on the market only growing firmer." The Phillies also "did it without the risk of being stuck with a long, unwieldy contract." The contracts for both Arrieta and Santana "will expire in what would be just the second year of a megadeal for one (or more) of the many superstar players hitting the market next winter" (USA TODAY, 3/13). MLBNetwork's Kevin Millar said, “Going into this market, you never thought you were going to be able to get Jake Arrieta on a three-year deal, period. I don’t care who you are, you were looking at six, seven, eight. Everybody was talking about huge dollars. ... It changed, and I think that the Phillies got a lucky break with this market and were able to lock down this deal” (“Intentional Talk,” ESPN2, 3/12).
The Dolphins in the past week have traded WR Jarvis Landry and reportedly will release DT Ndamukong Suh, and in Miami, Greg Cote writes the decision to "get better by systemically getting rid of" all their best players is a "curious business model." Cote: "Alas, until and unless it does prove to be a genius move, the Dolphins volunteer themselves as a laughingstock." The Dolphins also traded starting RB Jay Ajayi to the Eagles last season. The team is "losing much of what little starpower it had" and is becoming one of the "most uninteresting, low-watt teams in football" (MIAMI HERALD, 3/13). In Ft. Lauderdale, Dave Hyde writes the Dolphins "want to spin this as some 'winning culture' motif." Hyde: "Will it take more losing to build a winning culture?" (South Florida SUN SENTINEL, 3/13).
TAKING BABY STEPS: In DC, Mark Maske wrote no one "should expect too much, too soon," from the Browns after trading for Landry and QB Tyrod Taylor, as the team remains "quite a distance from respectability" after going 1-31 the last two seasons. However, the "first steps are unusually promising, and there should be plenty more to come" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/10). ESPN's LZ Granderson said, "They have a new GM, a GM that actually knows football. ... He knows players. So, he’s going to go out and make sure he signs players who are capable to execute the things that Hue Jackson wants to do” (“SportsNation,” ESPN, 3/12).
FINDING THE RIGHT PACE: PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Michael David Smith writes Bears GM Ryan Pace has again "tried to bolster" the team's offense, reportedly agreeing to a three-year, $42M contract with free agent WR Allen Robinson. If this move "doesn’t work out, it may be Pace’s last chance to right the ship in free agency." Although Pace "signed a contract extension this offseason, the Bears have finished in last place in the NFC North four consecutive years." Even with a new contract, Pace is "on the hot seat" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 3/13).