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Volume 25 No. 29

Franchises

Mark Lerner's role change was formally approved this morning at the MLB owners meetings in N.Y
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Mark Lerner has been named the Nationals’ new managing principal owner, taking over in the role for his father, Ted, who led the Lerner family’s purchase of the club in ’06. The change, designating Mark Lerner as the Nationals’ new control executive, was formally approved this morning at the MLB owners meetings in N.Y. The club’s entire principal ownership group including Annette and Judy Lenkin Lerner, Robert and Marla Lerner Tanenbaum, and Edward and Debra Lerner Cohen, were present at the meetings for the transition. The switch helps ensure an orderly succession for the club from Ted Lerner, the family’s 92-year-old patriarch (Eric Fisher, Staff Writer).

MY GENERATION: In DC, Barry Svrluga notes the transfer is the "first indication of how the team will be governed by the next generation of the Lerner family, which does not intend to sell the team." Since the Lerners bought the Nationals from MLB for $450M in '06, there had been "no clear path of succession" should Ted Lerner step aside. Though Mark Lerner said that his father "would still have input, the family is preparing for a full transition." The change in control "leaves obvious questions: Will the Nationals run by Mark Lerner behave differently than the Nationals that were run by Ted Lerner?" Mark Lerner said, "I don’t think you’ll see much difference in the way Dad and the family running it vs. myself and the family. Maybe as time moves along, I’ll do things a little bit differently. But at the end of the day, every major decision we make together. And that’s always worked well for us." The family plans to "hold onto its hometown team for the foreseeable future." Lerner added, "We will never sell the Nationals. That’s what we’ve worked to get all those years. We think we do a pretty good job of it. There’s no intention of this family -- certainly while I’m alive and my sisters and brothers-in-law are alive -- nobody’s going to sell this team" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 6/14).

California-native Burkle is one of several interested potential investors in Republic FC
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Penguins co-Owner Ron Burkle toured Sacramento's soccer stadium site and has had "detailed discussions with Republic FC and Mayor Darrell Steinberg about becoming the lead investor" in an MLS expansion franchise, according to a front-page piece by Ryan Lillis of SACRAMENTO BEE. City and team officials also have "met with a group" led by former NBAer Omri Casspi and two East Coast real estate magnates, one of whom owns a stake in the T'Wolves. Public records show that a "third ownership scenario for an MLS team in Sacramento may also be in play." A city records request filed by an Austin law firm in April "sought correspondence" between city officials and Crew Owner Anthony Precourt. Precourt "plans to move the Crew to Austin before next season," but the records request has "fueled speculation that Sacramento may be Precourt’s second option if he’s unable to secure a stadium deal in Austin." In addition to the Burkle and Casspi groups, "several other potential investors have expressed interest in leading or becoming involved in Sacramento’s bid, including a financier from Miami and an individual from Chicago." Sacramento was "passed over for a spot in the latest round of MLS expansion because the league wants Republic FC to find a wealthy investor" who can help cover the $400M upfront cost of a franchise and "keep the team financially viable in the long term." Republic FC Chair & CEO Kevin Nagle has said that he is "willing to bring in a new investor to help lead the bid." MLS Exec VP/Communications Dan Courtemanche said that the league’s BOG will "discuss the next round of expansion during its meeting at the All-Star Game on Aug. 1 in Atlanta" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 6/14).

THE DOCTOR IS IN: In Sacramento, Ben van der Meer noted Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Garth Fisher has "joined" the Republic FC investor team. Nagle "did not state to what extent or in what capacity." Republic FC officials said that Fisher is "one of a handful of minority investors who've come on board as the team has tried to find a 'whale' investor to bolster its MLS chances." Fisher is best known as the "driving force" behind the "Extreme Makeover" reality TV show (BIZJOURNALS.com, 6/12).

The waiting list had long been a point of contention both among fans and media members
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The Redskins announced that there is "no longer a season ticket waiting list" as part of the team's efforts to "appeal to fans, including new benefits for season ticket holders," according to Kareem Copeland of the WASHINGTON POST. Even as the team "removed seats from FedEx Field at least three times" between '10 and '15 while "ramping up solicitations to former season ticket holders, officials insisted the waiting list remained packed with fans who wanted a way in." The waiting list has "long been a point of contention among fans and media members, particularly as interest in the team appeared to wane in recent years amid on-field struggles and off-field headaches." An email the team sent out “attempted to stress the advantages fans still could gain from purchasing season tickets." Season-ticket holders will now “receive reduced prices for concessions, complimentary NFL RedZone and Game Pass access and invitations to offseason events.” FedExField will "feature a new fan pavilion in the west end zone with a revamped bar area and multiple screens showing games from around the league." There will also be "digital ticketing upgrades allowing entrance into the stadium and options to sell or give away tickets to others." Redskins President of Business Operations & COO Brian Lafemina said, "We're going to evaluate every last thing that we do in the stadium and with our fan base. ... The path we're on is to get to the Amazon, Netflix model where they know what it is that you're most likely to want before you even tell us" (WASHINGTON POST, 6/14). In DC, Matthew Paras notes in the past, the decades-old model of season ticket waiting lists "drew criticism from others as more of a marketing gimmick than an actual wait list" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 6/14).

The Vikings are also making the ticketing move with an eye toward security to avoid counterfeits
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The Vikings are "doing away with paper tickets" for the '18 season and "will accept only electronic tickets," according to Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE. Vikings Exec Communications Dir Jeff Anderson said that the team is "making the switch for several reasons, chief among them the ability to improve communications with fans before and during games." Anderson said that nearly 50% of Vikings tickets are "transferred from their original owner to another fan before games," so electronic tickets "will allow the team to know exactly who’s coming to games." The Vikings are also "making the move with an eye toward security, since electronic tickets are harder to counterfeit than paper printouts" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 6/14). 

New Senators COO Nicolas Ruszkowski begins his tenure today and is "stepping into one of the biggest challenges of his professional career," as the team has "reached a stratosphere of negativity that only a handful of organizations in North America have managed to achieve in the past decade," according to Ian Mendes of TSN.ca. There is a "massive, dark cloud hanging over the franchise and it doesn’t feel like there is any sunshine in the forecast for the foreseeable future." The organization's troubles "started with an off-the-record comment" from former Senators RW Daniel Alfredsson, who "allegedly said that he would like to see an ownership change" from Eugene Melnyk. Then, Senators Assistant GM Randy Lee earlier this month "pleaded not guilty to a harassment charge against a 19-year-old shuttle bus driver in Buffalo." Also, the wife of Senators D Erik Karlsson has "filed for an order of protection against the girlfriend" of Senators LW Mike Hoffman. The "saddest part of all of this is that nobody can definitively say that the organization has reached rock bottom" (TSN.ca, 6/13).

NOTHING TO CHEER ABOUT: In Ottawa, Wayne Scanlan writes the Senators are a team "worthy of relegation to a lower league." While their "on-ice performance alone warrants this," their "off-ice antics have left fans bitter and angry." TSN's Ray Ferraro said, “You have got an organization, top to bottom, that is in absolute shambles. They’re the laughing stock of the league. There’s nobody more comical, in a sad way, than Ottawa is now.” Throughout the "lost season" of '17-18, and "more pointedly into the off-season, the Senators have chosen to react to crises, many of them self-inflicted, rather than get out in front of them" (OTTAWACITIZEN.com, 6/14). Also in Ottawa, Ken Warren in a front-page piece writes the Senators' "biggest need is a fire department, a damage control team to restore some trust with its dwindling season ticket base." At what point is the NHL "forced to step in to address the black eye, pushing" Melnyk to "sell the franchise -- or at the very least to bring in a deeper-pocketed partner -- to help with the chaos?" (OTTAWA CITIZEN, 6/14).

Masahiro Tanaka, one of the Yankees' regular starters, is currently on the disabled list
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Yankees Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner "expressed pleasure with his team's stellar start" to the '18 season, but he knows "more arms will be needed to lift the Yankees to where they want to go," according to Ken Davidoff of the N.Y. POST. Steinbrenner said, "We've got some flexibility payroll-wise." Steinbrenner's "long-desired goal of getting under the luxury tax, which the Yankees have never accomplished since the penalty went into effect" in '97, is "extremely attainable." Steinbrenner said, "We purposely left a decent amount of money for just this. ... If we decide to go get a pitcher and if a pitcher's available, I think we definitely have the flexibility to allow me to (stay under the luxury-tax threshold)." The Yankees have about $12M to spend "without surpassing" the $197M threshold (N.Y. POST, 6/14).

WANNA GET AWAY? On Long Island, David Lennon notes after the team's recent string of plane problems, Steinbrenner got "assurances from Delta, the club's airline, that the issues would be ironed out." Steinbrenner is "satisfied with that." The Yankees were "forced to spend the night" at Dulles Int'l Airport in Virginia, with some players "sleeping on the plane and other in the terminal because of a bad-luck combination of engine trouble, weather problems and crew schedules." That was followed by "more mechanical issues" in Dallas -- where the plane was "forced to return to the airport and wait for a part, delaying the team's takeoff until the early morning." A week later, the Yankees "got stuck in Baltimore because of radar problems in Detroit, causing substantial delays." Steinbrenner was asked if he could "solve the Yankee's flying issues by simply buying the team its own plane," but he indicated it "wasn't feasible from a maintenance perspective" (NEWSDAY, 6/14).