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December 26, 2007

NHL PA Chief wants a broad national TV contract for hockey

Newly installed NHL Players Association Executive Director Paul Kelly says for hockey to be successful in the United States, NHL games must be on ESPN. He said he and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman plan to begin meeting after the holidays with Versus and ESPN about altering the sport's current contract with Versus. He says with a national TV contract, the sport, which is seeing increased revenues, could solve a lot of its exposure, marketing and attendance problems. Kelly has been visiting all 30 NHL teams. Last week, he met with the Carolina Hurricanes when they were in South Florida to play the Panthers. He’ll visit with the Panthers on the road in January. Here are his answers to a few questions:

Q. You think the NHL needs to be back on ESPN?
A. "I’m not going to second guess what’s gone here, but in retrospect not having this sport continue on ESPN was a big mistake. I understand the reasons for it, and it was a very difficult business climate at the time, Gary [Bettman] did what he thought was best for the NHL … Now times have changed. In my view ESPN needs us. I think they’ve saturated their airwaves with stuff frankly people have become tired of. You can only watch so many college basketball games, before it becomes a blur. You can put so many card games on poker games. I think our sport translates, particularly in high definition, very well on television. The sport is being played better than it’s ever been played in the past. When we were on ESPN, we not only had great games, including the Stanley Cup playoffs. We had the regular hockey tonight program on ESPN2. We had much greater presence on SportsCenter broadcasts and on the advertisements done by ESPN. We’re missing that."

Q. So how do you do you change the existing contract?
A. "You have to have delicate discussions with all the parties and frankly right after the holidays we will have those discussions … And hope to receive some kind of accord with all within the next couple of months."

Q. Will there just always be some non-traditional hockey markets where only a small, passionate fan base will follow the team?
A. "In Florida, obviously, you need to win to keep people coming and when you start to struggle and even play .500 hockey, you’re going to lose some element of your crowd. That having been said, I think it’s important for the game, if we’re going to regain the prominence on the national sports scene in the states, if we’re going to regain our national TV contract in the states, we absolutely have to be in certain markets. We’ve got to be in Florida, we’ve got to be in Atlanta, we’ve got to be in southern California, we’ve got to be in Texas. So there are non-traditional hockey markets, we have to work at. It’s tough on the owners, they’ve got to be more creative, they’re got to charge less for tickets, it’s tougher on the players, although the players they get called upon to do more. And as I understand it, the Panthers they do more than any other single team in terms of activities and interaction with the fans. They don’t seem to mind that, they understand it comes with the territory, it comes with the geography that they’re in."

Q. Doesn’t the contract require a partnership under which the players must help with marketing the game?
A. "That’s the spirit of the contract, the partnership. The reality is it’ll never be a true partnership. These guys own teams and we’re employees, but the way that everybody succeeds in this business now, in a cap system, that is revenue based and with a revenue sharing component to it, is to work together. If we drive the revenues collectively, the owners will do well, the players will do well, they get a bigger piece of the pie. If we drive the revenues over $2.5 billion, we get 57 percent of those revenues in salaries. If the revenues are under $2.5 billion, we only get 55 percent. So it’s in the interest of players to work with together with ownership to get more fans in the seats, to sell more luxury boxes, to get better TV contracts."

Q. But this is a team that hasn’t even made the playoffs since 2000.
A. "A general manager once told me a team really needs to be going either up or down, and a team that’s kind of going in a straight line has a real problem, because they get stuck in that straight line and they can go year after year after year without making the playoffs … It appears Florida has fallen into that rut. What do they need to get out of it? I don’t know. Maybe a blockbuster trade, bringing in a big scorer or another star to help rally the troops. There’s no easy fixes in this game, unfortunately."

Q. Are you satisfied with where the game is?
A. "I think we can do better. I think we can generate more fans, I think we can generate more revenues, I think we can put more people in the seats, not just in Florida. Other than the Canadian cities that are selling out every game already, I think in some of the traditional markets, Philadelphia, Denver, Dallas, Boston, Chicago, I think we can do better. But I think a lot of it does start with television. I think if we can reestablish a national TV presence in the states, a lot of these other components will increase as well. The revenues of the sport are up. This year’s revenues are projected to be up $200 million over last year. They’ve gone from just over $2.3 billion last year, this year they’re projected to be over $2.5 billion. So we’re doing something right, I think within a couple of years, we will be on the doorstep of $3 billion in annual revenues, and that will be very good for owners, for players and for fans. One thing is the international game. We have 30 percent of our players that are from Europe. We have a natural connection to that market place. We support international events, we support participation in the Olympics. We support the creation of a kind of recurring World Cup of hockey in the off two years of the Olympics. We support opening the season in Europeans cities, next year in Stockholm and Prague. The following year the plan is to open in six different cities with 12 teams in six cities including Munich and Helsinki, I think there’s an untapped market over there. The day will come in the next five or six years, you may well see NHL teams based in Europe. It wouldn’t surprise me to see an entire division of five or six cities host NHL franchises. Five years may be ambitious, but 10 years for sure. I think it’s a natural. If you have to fly from Miami to Vancouver, you can fly from Miami to Frankfurt."

Q. But what if you have to go from Vancouver to Frankfurt?
A. "You’ve got to spend a couple extra days."


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December 24, 2007

Mini Stanley; Thanks, Bro

ministanley2.jpgIt's not often that Panthers President Michael Yormark and his twin brother New Jersey Nets CEO Brett Yormark will give each other credit for developing a creative marketing or sales technique.

The twin brothers -- thought to be the only twin brothers in executive positions at sports teams -- are very close, but enormously competitive. They both work hard to be innovative in their approaches to gaining new season ticket holders and sponsors.

They borrow each others' ideas routinely, but it's hard to know which brother is responsible for the original idea. For example, which came first: "Pancakes with the Panthers" or "Pancakes and Hoops?" Both were breakfast meetings between players and lapsed season ticket holders in the hopes of bringing the former ticket buyers back into the fold. Both have launched "influencer" parties aimed at getting season ticket holders to encourage their friends to buy tickets.

But this season, Michael Yormark called new mascot "Mini Stanley," the "best idea I ever stole from my brother." Mini Stanley, which is about half the size of the Stanley C. Panther mascot, skates with its counterpart to the delight of kids who find the new mascot closer to their size. Michael Yormark said his brother Brett created a mini Sly to accompany the full-size Sly the Silver Fox at Nets games.

POSTED IN: Florida Panthers (108), NHL (56)

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December 20, 2007

Orange Bowl Hall of Honor inducts a corporation

FedEx-Logo2.jpgThe Orange Bowl Committee will install to its Hall of Honor this year, Oklahoma quarterback Steve Davis, Alabama tackle John Hannah and … the FedEx Corp.


The corporate-sponsored Regions Bank Orange Bowl Hall of Honor is honoring FedEx, the express delivery company that title sponsors the Orange Bowl game. The corporation – and Davis and Hannah -- will be honored at the AvMed Coaches Luncheon on Jan. 2. And my favorite part of the press release announcing the inductees: “The trio will then be inducted into the Hall of Honor during the 74th Annual FedEx Orange Bowl on January 3, 2008.”

The trio.

The Hall has a lofty roster that includes Joe Namath, Paul “Bear” Bryant, Joe Paterno, Tom Landry and Howard Schnellenberger and includes journalists and NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol, who are in the “contributor” category.

But FedEx’s induction marks a first for a corporation. The company is the longest continuous bowl sponsor, Orange Bowl Committee spokesman Larry Wahl said.

“They’ve been as loyal to us as we’ve been to them,” Wahl said, even as a he chuckled a bit. “I don’t believe there’s another [corporation],” he said as he scanned the list of 72 inductees.

“It’s kind of cool, isn’t it?” Wahl said. “It’s unique.”

Jim Andrews, editorial director of the IEG Sponsorship Report, doesn’t know of any others, but he bets there are some.

What’s next? AvMed, the luncheon sponsor, in the Hall? Regions Bank in the Regions Bank Hall of Honor?

POSTED IN: Orange Bowl (45)

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Marlins Stadium Update No. 13,502

Although Marlins President David Samson and others had hoped for a vote today by the Miami-Dade County Commission on a “Baseball Stadium Agreement,” County Commission Chairman Bruno Barreiro has decided to delay the item until the commission’s Jan. 10 meeting.

Don’t read anything into the delay: it just means county, city of Miami and Marlins officials are continuing to negotiate the finer points of the agreement commonly referred to as a “BSA.” Those involved are more optimistic than ever that this will finally be the deal that makes a stadium happen. It’s hard for me to believe I just wrote that – after all, I’ve been covering this issue – and countless versions of ballpark plans – for more than eight years.

The basic framework on which the sides are negotiating is a $525 million, 37,000-seat retractable-roof ballpark at the site of the Orange Bowl stadium. The city and county would contribute $370 million from tourist and sports facilities taxes and a general obligation bond county voters approved in 2004 to renovate the Orange Bowl but which commissioners agreed Tuesday to put toward the ballpark project. The Marlins say they will contribute $155 million, which they will privately finance.

The deal will be for 30 years and will require the Marlins to cover cost overruns, except in the event that the city or county are responsible for delays. The team will not be able to move until the end of the agreement or whenever the bonds are paid off, whichever is later. If the team is sold during the life of the agreement, the city and county would receive a percentage of the increase in value of the team since the date of the agreement.

Yes, the plan is to build at the Orange Bowl because that's the only option available to the team right now. As for whether the team has the money to contribute to the plan, Samson says: “When we negotiate something we have to be able to stand by what we will negotiate. Obviously you can’t offer something that you don’t think you can do.”

If the BSA is approved by both the county and city commissions, then the next few months will be spent creating the final documents that spell out the financing, construction and other elements of the deal. That’s what Samson calls “turning a 50-page document into a 400-page document.”

The plan calls for construction to begin by November 2008 and the ballpark to open by April 2011. The team would be renamed the Miami Marlins by the 2011 season.

I know lots of people are upset by a possible name change. Why are you so concerned about it?

POSTED IN: Florida Marlins (193), MLB (110), Marlins Stadium Updates (112)

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December 13, 2007

Marlins Stadium Update No. 26,534 (and soccer, too)

While still far from a done deal, a ballpark for the Marlins could be a lot closer now that the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County have come up with a way to pay for it that doesn’t involve state funding.

It’s a complex plan that involves expanding the boundaries and extending the life of Miami’s Community Redevelopment Agencies to generate millions of dollars for city projects including paying down debt on the performing arts center and developing the museum park and a traffic tunnel to the Port of Miami. Using those dollars for the performing arts center frees up millions in hotel bed taxes that can be used to help pay for a ballpark at the Orange Bowl and, Miami Mayor Manny Diaz hopes, a soccer stadium, too.

Miami City Commissioners signed off on the CRA deal Thursday. There’s still a lot more work to be done to make a ballpark deal a reality – and the next test comes Tuesday when Miami-Dade County Commissioners get a crack at the CRA deal and a county proposal to finance a $525 million stadium that has yet to receive the blessing of the city or the team.

But more about soccer: Diaz envisions a sports complex at the site of the Orange Bowl stadium that includes not just a 37,000-seat retractable roof Marlins ballpark, but also a 25,000-seat soccer stadium.

Diaz has wanted to bring a Major League Soccer franchise back to South Florida almost since the league folded the Fusion in January 2002 and has been in contact with the league for years.

“I believe Miami should have a soccer franchise. I think soccer is obviously the world’s most popular sport. It’s a growing sport,” Diaz said. “I think it’s a natural for us to be able to do something. I’m excited at prospects of having a franchise here.”

Diaz says the CRA deal can generate $50 million for a soccer stadium. A soccer stadium would likely cost $100 million and it's unclear where the rest would come from, but according to an MLS spokesman it's not unusual for a team owner to contribute the rest.

There’s no guarantee the city will be able to secure an MLS team, but MLS spokesman Daniel Courtemanche said talks with the city are ongoing.

“Those discussions are still very preliminary, but we are closely monitoring the Miami market,” Courtemanche said.

The league has set its roster of teams through 2009 and Philadelphia and St. Louis have been identified as frontrunner cities for expansion beyond that, although situations could change.

Nevertheless, Diaz said the soccer stadium, which he would want to be called the Orange Bowl, helps the baseball stadium deal. A ballpark proposal requires the city to fund a 6,000-space parking garage, which Diaz estimates at $85 million to $95 million. He said with both teams enough revenue should be generated to service the debt on the garage.

“You need a certain number of events to generate the amount of income you need so it at least breaks even,” Diaz said.

Diaz hopes one day the neighborhood around the Orange Bowl will become a vital area with baseball and soccer games, bars, and restaurants.

“When you see a building that sits idle 359 days of the year, what does that do for the neighborhood? Absolutely nothing,” Diaz said referring to the Orange Bowl hosting six University of Miami football games annually.

“I saw the possibility of creating something that could now be a destination, beyond just an 81 game event days, to hopefully add soccer and then hopefully bring with it retail and mixed use components,” Diaz said. “So it’s not place you just go to watch a sporting event. It’s a place you can go to year round, 365 days a year, not just see a baseball game. Maybe you’ll go to a restaurant or have a beer with friends or shop. It’s got that potential. I think from a neighborhood revitalization perspective, it’s pretty exciting.”

POSTED IN: Florida Marlins (193), MLB (110), Marlins Stadium Updates (112), Soccer (15)

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December 12, 2007

Marlins Stadium Update: New ballpark plan unveiled

Miami-Dade County unveiled a new proposal late Tuesday for a $525 million ballpark for the Marlins at the Orange Bowl.

Still in draft form – and I’m told still in need of significant work – the proposal relies on more money from the public sector than previous proposals and, in turn, less from the Marlins, although the team would put its money up front, rather than in the form of rent payments.

According to a county memo, the plan calls for Miami-Dade County to contribute a total $249 million to the project: $199 million in hotel bed and sports facilities taxes and $50 million from the general obligation bond county voters approved in 2004 for renovation of the Orange Bowl stadium.

The last plan made public called for the county to contribute $145 million in tourist taxes and issue the bonds for the stadium the team would repay in rent.

The plan anticipates that the city of Miami would put up $121 million in tourist taxes. That’s up from $108 million in earlier versions of the deal. The city would also need to build a 6,000-space parking garage.

The team’s contribution would be $155 million up front, rather than $207 million, which would have come as $45 million up front and $162 million in future rent payments.

Miami-Dade County Commissioners are scheduled to consider the plan at their meeting next Tuesday and if they are in agreement, they would direct county staff to work out the full details of the plan. The Miami City Commission, meanwhile meets this Thursday, and is expected at least to discuss the Marlins stadium issue.

The county’s plan envisions a 37,000-seat retractable roof stadium at the site of the Orange Bowl to open by April 1, 2011.

The $525 million projected cost – up from $490 million earlier this year – has increased because it includes $10 million in Orange Bowl demolition and other infrastructure costs and requires a speedy 29-month schedule for construction, which would begin in November.

The plan requires the team to sign a non-relocation agreement prohibiting a move until the expiration of the management agreement or the bonds are retired, whichever is later. It also requires the team to change its name to Miami Marlins by the 2011 season.

The Marlins have been seeking a new home for years, since they pay rent at Dolphin Stadium and only receive percentages of parking, concessions and advertising signage. The team has lease options at the stadium through the 2010 season. The team and Major League Baseball have said the Marlins cannot survive in South Florida without a new ballpark where they could control their own revenue.

The team traded third baseman Miguel Cabrera and pitcher Dontrelle Willis, the last two remaining players from the 2003 World Series championship team, last week to the Detroit Tigers for six players in a move that shaved some $20 million from the payroll.

POSTED IN: Florida Marlins (193), MLB (110), Marlins Stadium Updates (112)

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December 11, 2007

Former Marlin Matt Clement’s underpants: $430

File under ewwww: according to the Boston Herald, a company called SportsWorld is auctioning on eBay game-used underpants worn by members of the 2007 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox.

And for some reason, former Marlins pitcher Matt Clement’s game-worn spandex shorts sold for a whopping $430. Huh?

The bidding for Manny Ramirez’ shorts is only up to $42 as for this writing with two days left on the auction. Even a game-used Manny do rag is up to $76.


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December 10, 2007

Southwest Airlines and college football

Southwest Airlines may no longer be a sponsor of the NFL, but it isn’t out of the football business. The low-cost airline, known for its humorous NFL ads, has signed up to be the official airline of the BCS.

The airline’s new ad campaign is to begin airing in January during the BCS bowl games, starting with the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day and including the FedEx Orange Bowl on Jan. 3. The airline is also sponsoring the Orange Bowl’s halftime show, which is featuring ZZ Top.


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December 6, 2007

Heat will test all-you-can-eat tickets

Following a trend in the sports industry, the Heat will test a limited number of “all-you-can-eat” seats at three games this month.

The seats, which cost $45 piece, are on the 400 level at AmericanAirlines Arena and come with a chance to pick up four items from a very narrow list of options – regular hot dog, regular nachos and cheese, small popcorn, peanuts, small soft drink and bottled water - on an unlimited number of trips to the concession stand. Fans are required to buy at least two tickets to qualify for the promotion.

Fans with season tickets in the designated area can get the food for an extra $10 per seat per game. The games are Dec. 13 versus the Washington Wizards, Dec. 17 versus the Minnesota Timberwolves and Dec. 20 against the New Jersey Nets.

The Heat is trying out the promotion earlier than anticipated. Team officials told me earlier this fall they were developing a food included ticket option for the 2008-09 season.

The Los Angeles Dodgers helped spawn the growth of tickets with food when they designated 3,000 bleacher seats as the All-You-Can-Eat Right Field Pavilion last season. The food included Dodger dogs, peanuts, popcorn and soft drinks and ran $20 for group tickets to $40. They sold 70 percent of capacity for the season and a half dozen other MLB teams have since added all-you-can-eat sections.

Meanwhile, the Panthers and Dolphins have created higher-end seating options that come with upscale food. The ADT Club at BankAtlantic Center offers fans who spend $7,500 to $9,000 a year, depending on the length of the contract, to get a seat and fancy food for every hockey game and every concert in the building for a minimum of 75 events. The idea is to create the exclusiviity of a suite, but at a more affordable price. A hockey-only option on the 400 level with sports bar style food averages $2,000 a season.

The Dolphins offer a couple of higher-end options with food, including 10-person suites in the east endzone of Dolphin Stadium that include food in a common area shared by three others suites, and run $80,000 a season.

POSTED IN: Florida Panthers (108), MLB (110), Miami Dolphins (186), Miami Heat (174), NBA (139)

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December 5, 2007

Orioles’ plan to overhaul Fort Lauderdale Stadium still not finalized

Next spring will mark the Baltimore Orioles’ 13th year consecutive year holding spring training at Fort Lauderdale Stadium. The Fort Lauderdale City Commission on Tuesday agreed to grant the team another year at the aging stadium, and a second year option for 2009 that’s up to the team.

But even with state dollars and an agreement forged earlier this year among the team, city and Broward County to finance a $40 million overhaul of the stadium and addition of soccer and baseball fields for public use, it’s still not clear the Orioles plan to continue making Fort Lauderdale their spring home.

Publicly, the team has repeatedly said it wants to remain in Fort Lauderdale, but the stadium upgrade is not underway because the city has yet to receive approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for the project, which is needed since the stadium is next to Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport.

And speculation continues that the Orioles are the “mystery” team negotiating with Indian River County to move to Dodgertown in Vero Beach. The Los Angeles Dodgers are expected to move out of Vero to Glendale, Ariz., where they will share a new complex with the Chicago White Sox. That move could take place as soon as 2009. The Cincinnati Reds are also rumored to be in talks with the Indian River County, in part because Sarasota voters last month rejected a $16 million bond referendum to help fund a $45 million upgrade of Ed Smith Stadium.

Indian River County Administrator Joe Baird says he has been in talks with a Major League Baseball team since July, but has refused to name the team. Baird got approval Tuesday – coincidentally the same day the Orioles got their lease extension in Fort Lauderdale – to negotiate “behind closed doors” a deal with a team to replace the Dodgers.

Alan Koslow, a Hollywood attorney representing the Orioles, is insistent the team wants to stay in Fort Lauderdale, but wants to be able to begin the overhaul project. He said he has sought the help of U.S. Rep. Ron Klein to try to arrange a meeting with the FAA in an effort to speed a resolution and he hopes make way for the construction.

“The Orioles are committed to Fort Lauderdale, provided we can get FAA approval,” Koslow said.


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December 4, 2007

At the Panthers, kids eat free in December

The Panthers have dubbed December "Kids Month" and among the offerings is free food for fans 12 and under.

Here's how it works: with the purchase of every adult ticket to a Panthers home game this month, fans can also buy up to four kids tickets that include a voucher for a free hot dog, pretzel, drink, and a bag of chips. Vouchers can be cashed in at the Publix Kids Korner, the kid-friendly area on the main concourse between sections 124 and 128 that was launched this season to offer special kid menu items, interactive games and entertainment to keep youngsters occupied during games.

In addition, after Friday's game against the New York Islanders; the Dec. 22 game against the Toronto Maple Leafs; the Dec. 28 game against the Montreal Candiens; and the Dec. 30 game against the Philadelphia Flyers, kids 12 and under will have a chance to meet and get autographs from Panthers players on the plaza level at BankAtlantic Center.

The Kansas City Royals have a promotion called "Kids Eat Free on Sundays," where kids under 15 get a coupon for a hot dog and small soda at Sunday home games.


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December 3, 2007

Orange Changeup

The matchup for the 2008 FedEx Orange Bowl has tourism officials envisioning wintry weather in Kansas and Virginia and counting the years since the University of Kansas and Virginia Tech last played in the Orange Bowl.

Those are the factors that will help determine if the teams "travel well" -- that's the term that describes teams that have strong fan bases that make the trip to watch their teams in games on the road. It's unclear exactly how well the teams will travel, but tourism and Orange Bowl officials and others think this could be another good year. The 2007 matchup of Louisville and Wake Forest, two teams that had never been to a BCS Bowl or the Orange Bowl, meant plenty of visitors who stayed in hotels, and ate in local restaurants.

Both Kansas and Virginia Tech are large schools with more than 25,000 students each. Kansas will make its first appearance in the BCS and hasn't played in the Orange Bowl since 1969, when it lost to Penn State. Virginia Tech played in the Orange Bowl in 1996, losing to Nebraska in the first Orange Bowl game to be held in what is now called Dolphin Stadium, after the game was moved from its namesake Orange Bowl Stadium.

"I think that it's a changeup," said Kathleen Davis, executive director of Sport Management Research Institute, which has an office in West Palm Beach and has previously studied the economic impact of the Orange Bowl game and its accompanying events. "It's over 10 years for the one team and [almost 40] for the other."

"Historically Virginia Tech's got a great reputation for traveling to the bowl," Orange Bowl Committee spokesman Larry Wahl said. "They were very strong in Jacksonville this past weekend for the ACC championship."

Wahl said at least 15,000 Hokies fans attended the game against Boston College.

Both Orange Bowl Committee and Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau representatives are visiting Lawrence, Kan., and Blacksburg, Va., to pitch the game and the region, in the hope that will spur more visitors as well.


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About the author
CRAIG DAVIS In more than 33 years at the Sun Sentinel, Craig Davis has written about a wide variety of sports topics from baseball to yachting, fishing to triathlons, and also worked as a copy editor and page designer. Recently he reported on local sports, including running, swimming, cycling, equestrian and beach volleyball. He enjoys sports as a participant as well as a spectator, is active in the South Florida running scene plays in the curling club at Saveology Iceplex. This blog offers a glimpse at the business side of sports in the interest of enhancing enjoyment of the games and sporting options as a spectator as well as a participant.
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