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Volume 25 No. 212

Franchises

It is unclear if the Rays will stay at the Trop in St. Petersburg without markedly better fan support
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MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred stressed that the league is focused on a new ballpark in St. Petersburg for the Rays, but "striking a deal to build a new home there also will be a complicated and challenging process," according to Romano & Topkin of the TAMPA BAY TIMES. There are "significant issues beyond covering the hundreds of millions in costs: the stadium location, the viability of remaining in that part of the market, and whether MLB would approve staying given the team’s past struggles." Rays Owner Stuart Sternberg: "I have to start looking. At some point in the next 36 months, I have to explore seriously where the team is going.” The "three key leaders in the project, Manfred, Sternberg and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, all have different views on what has to happen to make it work." Sternberg on Friday said that he "didn't yet know" if the club would be interested in staying in St. Petersburg because "they’d have to be convinced that they would get markedly better support." Sternberg said that he would also "have to convince Manfred and the other owners that it was a wise decision." Kriseman "remained confident through the talks in Tampa that the Rays would come back to St. Petersburg." But he also said that he "won’t make the first move." The Rays "say they won’t know for a while, maybe a few months." Sternberg also said that he has "no plans to ask for another window, but suggested the Tampa leaders could if they were ready to make a better deal" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 2/9). 

HAVE TO START SOMEWHERE? In Tampa, Marc Topkin notes Sternberg at the team's Saturday Fan Fest "confirmed the Rays are finally set to sign a long-awaited new local TV deal." That "means an increase" in revenues from the $30M they got in '18. However, it is "not nearly as much as the Rays had once hoped." Sternberg estimated the new deal would "rank about 20th in the majors." Completion of the deal is "complicated by the ongoing sale" of Fox' RSNs, with MLB as "one of the potential buyers." Sternberg: "There’s a structure of a deal. But there’s still just too much (unsettled). … We don’t know who’s going to own the thing." Manfred "suggested the new TV deal could help the effort to get a new stadium built in the area." He said, “It’s an improvement in their revenue stream and that’s always a positive" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 2/10).

The gate will be in partnership with Idemia, a French company that runs TSA’s check-in technology
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Red Sox fans who are members of TSA’s Precheck program this spring "will be allowed to enter Fenway Park through a dedicated and faster gate: Gate E," according to a front-page piece by Beth Teitell of the BOSTON GLOBE. Fans will "show their 'known traveler number' on a mobile device or printout, along with the game ticket, and zip right in." The Red Sox are "partnering with Idemia," a France-based identity and security company that runs the TSA’s expedited enrollment check-in technology. For now, the Precheck credentials "provide only faster entry into the park." But Idemia is "planning to create a 'Trusted Fan Program' at Fenway and other partner venues." It will "integrate biometric and credit card and other pertinent information and create a system that enables a fan to buy a hot dog or a cap with a simple hand wave." The information is not shared with TSA, but it is shared with the partner venue, which "could send push notifications alerting you that the concession stand at Section 10 is packed but there’s no line at Section 8" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/10).

Last year, the Lions ranked in the bottom quarter of the NFL in average season-ticket price
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The Lions on Friday said that 92% of all season-ticket prices "will remain the same or see a slight decrease in price while 'highly in-demand seat locations will increase,'” according to Dave Birkett of the DETROIT FREE PRESS. Overall, the average price of a season ticket "will see a slight decrease." Last year, the Lions "ranked in the bottom quarter of the NFL in average season-ticket price." The Lions said that more than 57,000 seats in Ford Field "will cost the same price" in '19 as they did this season or "see a slight discount." Just 5,099 seats in Ford Field "will increase for 2019, and only 1,579 of those will go up by more than $5 per game." Sections seeing an increase in price are "confined to lower-level sideline areas in two price tiers that average $151 and $129 per game." The Lions also "unveiled a new program to entice season-ticket holders to retain their seats called 'Lionsurance.'" Starting in '19, season-ticket holders who attend at least eight games "will be able to apply 50 percent 'of the price for unscanned tickets for up to two games towards' 2020 season-ticket renewal" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 2/9).

ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH: In Denver, Ryan O'Halloran noted the Broncos are "increasing general season ticket prices" for the first time in three years. Ninety-five percent of the general seats "will have an increase" of only 1% and the remaining 5% of seats will have an increase of less than 10%. This does "not include club and suite ticket packages, which are separate multi-year contracts." Last year, the renewal rate for the Broncos was 98%. The team said it has “close to” 80,000 names on its waiting list for season tickets and expects a 50th consecutive year of sellouts. The Broncos’ general seating average price "will increase from $101.30 to $103.06." Last year’s average ticket price was 15th in the NFL (DENVER POST, 2/8).

The Orioles open Spring Training this week at the Ed Smith Stadium complex in Sarasota, and in Baltimore, Peter Schmuck writes workouts will begin "under a cloud of apprehension." The organization "had to push the reset button" after a '18 season in which the Orioles lost a record 115 games and "watched attendance drop to a four-decade non-strike-year low." The Orioles are "supposed to lose" again this year, which is the "reason why this season needs to be disconnected" from '18 in the minds of the fans. This year's attendance might be "even lower." But the new course that the organization is taking with Exec VP & GM Mike Elias and a "more analytics-based baseball operation should create a different kind of intrigue for dedicated Orioles fans" (BALTIMORE SUN, 2/11).

PREACHING PATIENCE: In Detroit, Anthony Fenech noted the Tigers are beginning their "second season of a full rebuild." They "hint at spending money" in '21 and competing in '22, but these talks are "based on best-case scenarios." If the "recent history of baseball's major rebuilds tells us anything, the Tigers should expect a five-year run of losing baseball." Baseball's other recent rebuilds "only reinforce the time it takes to field a winner." The Tigers are "years away from harvesting that fruit, but the foundation is coming together fine." The team's deep farm system will be "fun to think about," but the "preview of coming attractions this spring won't do anything to speed up the Tigers' rebuild, even if it ramps up anticipation" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 2/10).

NOT ALL DOOM & GLOOM: The Marlins last year saw attendance drop to a club record-low 811,104 during a 63-98 season and just traded star C J.T. Realmuto to the Phillies, but Marlins President of Baseball Operations Michael Hill said he wants fans to "just give us a chance." Hill during the team's FanFest on Saturday said, "So many people have written off the Marlins and really haven't taken an opportunity to take a deep look at what we're building." Marlins players during the FanFest at a "spruced-up" Marlins Park wore "new uniforms with the rebranded team logo" (AP, 2/9).

EMBRACING THE SILENCE? In Pittsburgh, Joe Starkey wrote not long ago, he "believed the Pirates' plummeting attendance must be causing sleepless nights" for team Chair Bob Nutting. Starkey: "I don't believe that anymore. I don't believe it was ever true." Nutting probably "isn't thrilled his team has lost more than a million fans over the past three years." But if fans are "trying to send him a message by refusing to buy tickets, it's not working" because Nutting is "not listening." The Pirates this season will "apparently field a team on a payroll just north" of $70M. Fans have been "crying out in pain and protest," and the Pirates have "responded with a payroll" that will be some $30M lower than just three years ago (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 2/9).

The Nuggets are second in the Western Conference standings, and in Denver, Mike Singer in a front-page piece wrote they are the "hottest sports ticket in town, with 18 sellouts this season, four more than all of last season." The "raucous environment" has made the Nuggets "devastating at Pepsi Center; the Nuggets’ 23-4 home record is tied for the best in the NBA. TV viewership on Altitude Sports & Entertainment is up 93%, which is the "top growth for any market." The Nuggets were a franchise "lacking an identity" when coach Michael Malone arrived in '15. However, shrewd decision-making by the front office has "created a deep roster of young talent that should allow the Nuggets to contend for years to come" (DENVER POST, 2/10).

STUCK IN THE MIDDLE: In Memphis, Mark Giannotto wrote the Grizzlies are a "rudderless organization whose dysfunction goes well beyond" GM Chris Wallace, and fans "deserve so much better" than the team's current makeup. They "deserve an owner who doesn’t use his embattled general manager as a human shield." They "deserve a general manager with a vision for how to put this franchise back together, and one who’s empowered to execute it." Right now, the "only real plan this franchise has goes like this: Don’t be one of the worst eight teams in the NBA this year." The Grizzlies "should hire someone completely unaffiliated with this current regime and clean house within their basketball operations department" (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 2/10).

WHO'S IN CHARGE? THE ATHLETIC's Bob Young noted the Suns' James Jones "still wears that cumbersome 'interim co-general manager' tag with the team," which has been "operating with a short-handed front office since Ryan McDonough was fired" nine days before the regular season. There is a "sense that co-interim Jones has a plan for the club’s basketball operation and the kind of culture he wants to build." But, so far, Suns Owner Robert Sarver "hasn’t fully committed to the relationship." Nobody "seems to know whether Jones has the autonomy and authority to fill the jobs, or if anybody is even available to fill them at this point in the season." What is clear is that Jones has begun "laying groundwork for the draft and free agency." If he "isn’t the permanent replacement, then the person who does get the job is going to have to start all over with a new plan" (THEATHLETIC.com, 2/9).