Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 26 No. 201

Franchises

Holland will have complete autonomy to make any changes he deems necessary
Photo: OILERS
Holland will have complete autonomy to make any changes he deems necessary
Photo: OILERS
Holland will have complete autonomy to make any changes he deems necessary
Photo: OILERS

The Oilers formally introduced Ken Holland as their new GM and President of Hockey Operations, signing him to a "five-year contract" worth a reported $25M, according to Derek Van Diest of the EDMONTON SUN. Oilers Owner Daryl Katz and CEO Bob Nicholson said that Holland has "complete autonomy to make any changes to the organization he deems necessary." Having final say on hockey operations was an "important component for Holland in accepting the position." In the past, the Oilers have been "criticized for allowing former players and personnel to have input on hockey decisions." Holland said, "They won’t influence me. I’m coming from the outside. I don’t have any relationships with those people. Daryl and Bob have made it very clear that I can do what I have to do" (EDMONTON SUN, 5/8).

A NEW DAY: In Edmonton, Robert Tychkowski writes Holland "isn’t going to kick open the saloon doors and [start] firing with both barrels at people he hasn’t spoken with and assessed yet." That "wouldn’t be smart." However, it sounds like a "full overview of how the Oilers do things is starting very soon, and the guy in charge cares a lot more about merit and results than sentimentality" (EDMONTON SUN, 5/8). Also in Edmonton, Terry Jones writes Holland yesterday at his introductory press conference "delivered more content" to Oilers fans in 45 minutes than former GM & President of Hockey Operations Peter Chiarelli did his "entire time in town." The "straight-ahead, honest, up-front passion and competence" of the longtime Red Wings GM "came through like a beacon of light from the darkness only three years removed from the actual Decade of Darkness." Holland "didn't identify the changes he intended to make, but said there will be change" (EDMONTON SUN, 5/8).

COULDN'T RESIST: In Detroit, Helene St. James notes Holland last month was promoted to Senior VP with the Red Wings after Steve Yzerman took over as GM, but Holland became "restless sooner than expected, and that restlessness led him" to the Oilers. Under Holland as GM the last 22 years, the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup three times. Holland yesterday admitted he "didn’t think he’d ever be sitting in front of another team’s logo." Holland: "The Ilitches offered me a very, very incredible offer to remain with the organization as senior vice president. My thinking at that point in time was that I was going to be a Red Wing for life and work with Steve and support him." He added, "I also wasn't sure if I was going to get restless. ... I got restless sooner than I thought" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 5/8). Also in Detroit, Jamie Samuelsen writes Holland created an "incredibly high standard" for the Red Wings. That should be the "main thing" fans remember about Holland. He "set the standard, and his failure to live up to that standard is what ultimately doomed him" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 5/8).

POWERING THROUGH: In Edmonton, David Staples notes Katz "made a rare public appearance" to introduce Holland despite battling an ongoing illness. He "spoke and sounded well at the press conference." Katz said, "We have not delivered on the promise we made to our fans in recent years. You know it and I know it and we all know it. And while accountability for this falls on everyone in our organization, it starts and it stops with me" (EDMONTON JOURNAL, 5/8). Sportsnet's John Shannon tweeted Katz has been "struggling with a life threatening bacteria-resistant sinus infection over the past few years." The infection has a "50-50 survival rate." Katz has had 3 surgeries "over the past 10 months with 1 more surgery to go." It is the "primary reason why he hasn't been around Edmonton and the team" (TWITTER.com, 5/7). The JOURNAL's Staples writes Katz yesterday took "solid steps in restoring credibility to the Oilers organization, first by appearing in person, even though he’s gravely ill, and second by taking responsibility for the failures of the team" (EDMONTON JOURNAL, 5/8).

Postgame celebrations and success on the ice have helped energize the Hurricanes fanbase
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Postgame celebrations and success on the ice have helped energize the Hurricanes fanbase
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Postgame celebrations and success on the ice have helped energize the Hurricanes fanbase
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The Hurricanes' "dream season" has had an impact on the team's financials, as they have already sold $3.6M in new ticket business for next season, according to TSN's Pierre LeBrun. A year ago, the Hurricanes had only sold $500,000 in "new ticket business for the following season." LeBrun: "New business. That is something" (TWITTER.com, 5/7). YAHOO SPORTS' Justin Cuthbert wrote it "probably shouldn't be a surprise that the Hurricanes are managing to fill more seats in advance." Public interest "sags when smaller-market teams fail to make the postseason for prolonged stretches -- and in the case of the Hurricanes, this was a drought that lasted an entire decade." The "only real remedy" for that is the "real tangible success the franchise is once again having" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 5/7).

SURGING POTENTIAL: Hurricanes Exec VP/Marketing & Brand Strategy Mike Forman said the team's choreographed celebrations after regular-season home wins are "helping to grow the game here in Raleigh, I know this for a fact." After receiving criticism from Sportsnet's Don Cherry for the celebrations, Forman said the Hurricanes "ran with it immediately," which "set the tone to take what could have been perceived negative and turn it into a positive right away." Forman said the celebrations were "authentic," and in terms of "showing up the opponent that's the last thing that they're trying to do." He said they are "more just a way to engage our fans." Forman: "Not a single Canes fan has had a negative thing to say about this and very few opposing fans." He added, "Don knows we thank him for this every single day and as was mentioned he doubled down this weekend so we thank him again." Forman said, "Hockey is still a very traditionalist-type sport and I don't think this will work in every market so I don't think this is something we go to our club business meetings and say every team should be doing this. But it works in our market" ("OTL," ESPN, 5/7).

SOUR CHERRY: The GUARDIAN's Colin Horgan wrote the fact that Cherry "doesn't like something new is unsurprising," but what he "often articulates, perhaps even without knowing it, isn't just cantankerousness, but rather a kind of unintentional airing of the NHL's core principles." If Cherry "does anything well, it's broadcasting values hockey still holds dear -- those of tradition and normalcy and, subsequently, opposition to (and bewilderment at) change beyond mere aesthetics." The NHL is a "league that takes itself so seriously that it frequently can't recognize, or simply dismisses, the seriousness of its own fans -- whether it's when they're actually enjoying themselves, or when they're simply asking for the league to live up to expectations." The league "hasn't stopped" the Hurricanes' celebrations, and it "likely won't, presumably as long as they don't spread" (GUARDIAN, 5/8).

Rays games have averaged just 16,240 fans per contest over the last six seasons
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Rays games have averaged just 16,240 fans per contest over the last six seasons
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Rays games have averaged just 16,240 fans per contest over the last six seasons
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The Rays are struggling to draw fans at Tropicana Field despite having the best win percentage in MLB, as yesterday's win against the D-backs drew an announced crowd of 8,059, which was "not only the smallest of the season, but the worst" since the record lows for games played in advance of Hurricane Irma in '17, according to Marc Topkin of the TAMPA BAY TIMES. Monday's crowd against the same opponent was only slightly larger at 8,124 (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 5/8). In Tampa, John Romano notes Rays crowds this season are "typically about half the median size" for MLB. Explanations from fans giving feedback on the crowd issues "hit on these four themes: stadium location, player turnover, ticket prices and team policies." There is a "serious lack of mass transportation and an assortment of bridges that must be crossed, and location seems to hurt the Rays more than most teams." The financial realities of the Rays' baseball operations "means star players are traded away as soon as their salaries exceed their production." One Tampa Bay Times reader wrote, "There will never be generational support when the team has no players that fans come to know and love for the long haul." Many fans believe the Lightning do a "much better job of making the in-game experience more enjoyable" (TAMPABAY.com, 5/8).

FISH OUT OF WATER: SI's Emma Baccellieri wrote the Rays, "more emphatically than any other team," want to "win without spending." Long "plagued by poor attendance," they have drawn just 16,240 fans per game over the last six years, finishing last in the AL in five of them. The team is "entering Year 14 under the ownership group led by Stuart Sternberg; in 11 of those seasons they've had one of the three smallest payrolls in baseball." The '19 Rays "fit right in with an MLB-low outlay" of $61.5M, which is "less than half of the league-average figure." Everything that "makes them interesting -- the opener, front-office wizardry, tantalizing prospects -- helps Tampa Bay pursue victories and keep this number absurdly small." In a moment of "broader tension between players and management," the Rays are a "tricky case." Baccellieri: "What does it mean when a team is doing everything it can to succeed on the field -- everything except spending money on players?" (SI, 5/6 issue). 

Twins games averaged just over 17,000 fans through April, despite the team's improved play
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Twins games averaged just over 17,000 fans through April, despite the team's improved play
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Twins games averaged just over 17,000 fans through April, despite the team's improved play
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The Twins announced a special ticket offer for all 12 remaining home games this month, and the division leaders are hoping the sale effort, familiar opponents and better weather will "help the Twins' attendance numbers," according to the Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE. Tickets starting at $5, with no processing fees, are "available for seats in the home run porch and grandstand seating areas." In 14 home dates through the end of April, the Twins averaged just 17,007 fans, down from the 21,072 the team averaged through April '18. The seven smallest crowds in Target Field history all came in the first 14 home games this season (STARTRIBUNE.com, 5/7).

DIRECT CORRELATION: White Sox SS Tim Anderson is leading MLB's push to add some fun and personality to the game, and THE ATHLETIC's James Fegan wrote in a league that is "seeing falling attendance, especially among rebuilding clubs like the White Sox," players see "something necessary in Anderson's decidedly more attention-grabbing style." White Sox P Lucas Giolito said, "I'm all for it. When guys play with more emotion and passion, it's going to attract more people to watch the game, which is what we want, is for more people to watch and be involved." White Sox P Ryan Burr said, "We've seen the attendance drop league-wide. People aren't coming to games like they used to. If that's going to bring people back then why punish people for showing emotion, being energetic, stuff like that?" (THEATHLETIC.com, 5/7).

DOES IT EVEN MATTER? SI.com's Jon Tayler wrote MLB's attendance drop "should be expected." The league is "plagued with tanking teams and rosters full of nobodies." Going to a game has "never been more expensive, between ticket prices, concessions, parking, and everything else." At the same time, it has "never been easier to watch a team through a variety of increasingly convenient mediums -- nor have there ever been more entertainment options as opposed to a sport that takes three-plus hours to play and features less and less on-field action." Tayler: "When it comes to fixing the attendance problem, then, is there anyone who actually considers that an issue?" There are "so many revenue streams for teams nowadays, most of them completely divorced from fan attendance or even interest." Baseball is a "booming business, and while gate receipts are down, how much does that matter when each team is drawing tens of millions from regional and national TV contracts?" (SI.com, 5/7).

Poet Christopher Owens, also known as Truth B. Told, recently "purchased the entire 7,000-seat upper level at Talking Stick Resort Arena" for the WNBA Phoenix Mercury's season opener on May 31, according to Jeff Metcalfe of the ARIZONA REPUBLIC. Now, Owens is "selling the tickets at a discount for $2-$5 though his company Culture Phx with a goal of having a sold-out arena for a nationally televised game." The Mercury have "been among the WNBA attendance leaders since their inception but only once have they completely sold out a home game," the inaugural regular season finale in '97 which drew 17,747 fans. Owens said he has "never understood the disparity (vs. men's basketball attendance), but the tide seems to be turning." He said, "I want Phoenix to give the Mercury the sellout they deserve." Owens is "seeking sponsors to buy 50-ticket packages, at a bargain of $100, so 50 girls basketball teams and their families can attend." He also is "selling single tickets for $5 and a 3-ticket package for $10." Owens said that he was "able to purchase the tickets at a discounted rate because the upper level for Mercury games is rarely used." He added that he "hopes to break even or even make a profit and perhaps repeat the promotion for the regular-season finale on Sept. 8." Owens will be "donating 15% of whatever he makes to School of HipHop PHX" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 5/8).

Samuelson hopes to get more involved in helping grow interest in the WNBA in the near future
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Samuelson hopes to get more involved in helping grow interest in the WNBA in the near future
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Samuelson hopes to get more involved in helping grow interest in the WNBA in the near future
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The WNBA Chicago Sky "haven’t had a recognizable player with all-around star value" since dealing F Elena Delle Donne to the Washington Mystics in '17, but '19 draftee Katie Lou Samuelson has the "potential to fill that void on Chicago’s crowded sports landscape," according to Madeline Kenney of the CHICAGO SUN-TIMES. Samuelson said, "I’m going to make sure that I’m doing what I need to do on the court. But if I can do anything to help off the court, absolutely, I would be willing and enjoy that.” Samuelson was embraced by the UConn fan base for her "shooting and personality." She has more than 18,000 followers on Twitter. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in '18 admitted that the WNBA has a "marketing problem." WNBA COO Christin Hedgpeth also "recognizes the league’s issues with brand awareness." She said that the league has "begun to address the issue." However, the WNBA still "lacks players with recognizable star value." Samuelson said that she is "'absolutely aware' of the state of the league and plans to get involved once she is acquainted." The WNBA and Sky's marketing endeavors are separate, but they "share a common goal: Both want to appeal to a younger, more vast audience" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 5/4).

Union attendance has averaged just over 15,000, including a record low 12,890 for a game last week
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Union attendance has averaged just over 15,000, including a record low 12,890 for a game last week
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Union attendance has averaged just over 15,000, including a record low 12,890 for a game last week
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The Union currently sit atop MLS' Eastern Conference standings, but the team's average attendance of 15,223 through six games this season is "down nearly 1,300 fans per game" from last year's average of 16,518, according to Jonathan Tannenwald of the PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER. The Union's win over FC Cincinnati last week drew an announced crowd of 12,890, the "lowest figure for a league game in team history." Some U.S. Open Cup games and international friendlies have "drawn fewer fans, but those tickets are sold outside of season-ticket packages." Tannenwald: "Why are the stands so empty? A long list of reasons adds up to the big one: The team's fan base isn't all that big." The Union's "longstanding emphasis on marketing to families with soccer-playing kids contrasts with marketing to the young urban professionals who are the core of nearly every other MLS fan base." Talen Energy Stadium's location in Chester, Pa., is also "part of that." When soccer bars across Philadelphia are packed for the UEFA Champions League semifinals and the final day of the EPL season on Sunday, it would "help the Union to show up at those establishments and ask fans why they're staying away" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 5/7).