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August 27, 2012

NHL owners plot risky course in labor negotiations

If last week’s brief labor negotiations accomplished anything it was to make perfectly clear why the league appears headed for a lockout that will delay training camp quite possibly impact the regular season.

That was transparent in two statements by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

The first made it clear that the issue is all about driving down players’ salaries: “We believe that we’re paying out more than we should be, and it’s as simple as that,” Bettman said after the latest bargaining session Thursday.

The first response that comes to mind is was anyone holding the Minnesota Wild at gunpoint when they agree Zach Parise and Ryan Suter this summer for $98 million over 13 years – that’s apiece, not combined.

Notice that Bettman said nothing about a need to suppress salaries. The league’s annual revenue has grown from $2.1 billion to $3.3 billion since the last owners lockout wiped out the 2004-05 season.

Players’ average salaries have gone from $1.45-million to $2.45-million during that time. Players now get 57 percent of the revenue pie. Owners have proposed cutting that to 43 percent, while the union has offered 54 percent.

Logic would say, make it 50-50 and let’s drop the puck before the dispute turns contentious. But Bettman’s remarks make it clear that owners are not afraid to drop the gloves and see how far they can take the fight.

The reason is the league essentially regards fans as stooges who will come back as they did after the lost season.

“We recovered well last time because we have the world’s greatest fans,” Bettman also said Thursday.

Fans tend to side with management in these sports labor disputes, and they always end up being stooges in the process. NHL owners are counting on that with a position that speaks not only of greed but arrogance.

They may get away with it in the league’s prime markets. But in regions where hockey is a tough sell, and the over-expanded NHL has a number of them including South Florida, it is a risky stance that calls into question the league’s commitment to success in non-traditional markets.

POSTED IN: NHL (58)

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August 25, 2012

Good deal: Crowd Seats takes Groupon concept to sports tickets

Cheap seats don’t mean always having to sit in the nose-bleed sections, and it isn’t necessary to pay top dollar for a choice view of the game.

Crowd-Seats2.jpgThat is the operating premise of Crowd Seats (crowdseats.com), a flash deal site that in the past week began offering discounts of 50 to 60 percent off on tickets to selected sporting events in South Florida.

The site, launched about a year ago with deals to games in Los Angeles and New York, is the Groupon of sports ticketing.

A key feature of Crowd Seats is there is no added service charge, convenience fee or delivery charge. The price of the deal is the entire cost of the transaction.

In the first foray in the South Florida market, Crowd Seats was offering $26 tickets to upcoming Marlins games for $13.

“I’m very excited about South Florida. I think the biggest thing for us is there is an unbelievable amount of inventory out there, so I think we’re going to be able to offer some really nice deals,” said Justin Cener, founder of Crowd Seats.

Cener-Justin1.jpgCener said he has offered deals on Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels tickets for up to 70 percent off in recent weeks.

Baseball, with the high volume of games, is fertile territory for Crowd Seats, which deals with brokers and in some cases directly with teams looking to unload excess inventory. The Dolphins, with all those empty orange seats in recent years, would seem to be prime picking, as well the sinking Marlins.

StubHub has plenty of Marlins tickets listed for $3 and $4. But when you add their service fee and delivery charge, the bargain isn’t as appealing as it first appears.

“With Stubhub the ticket price will be cheaper, but the total price will most likely be cheaper on Crowd Seats,” said Cener, adding, “We don’t want to be known just as a cheap-ticket site. We want to be known as a place to find discounts on tickets.

“We also try to stay away from [offering] seats in the upper rows and to give the value we can.”
Beginning Monday, Crowd Seats will be offering deals on field level seats for the upcoming Marlins-Brewers series: 51 percent off on Labor Day (Sept. 3) and 57 percent off Sept. 4 and 5, Cener said.

For fans, it’s another option to avoid paying box-office prices. For brokers and teams, it’s an opportunity to unload inventory that likely would go unused.

ScoreBig.com is a similar site that I have used to buy Marlins tickets on two occasions. Like Crowd Seats, it charges no added fees. But comparing deals, it appears Crowd Seats offers more savings.

An interesting aspect of Crowd Seats is it has until recently been a one-make operation by Cener, 25, who got his degree in sports marketing and informational technology from Rutgers in 2009. He got the idea for the start-up after moving to Los Angeles and noticing a deal on Groupon for a pair of Clippers tickets and a jersey.

“It sold close to 2,000 tickets. I kind of realized the perfect synergy between the daily deal model and sports tickets,” Cener said. “My research found no one else focusing on it. I had the skills to build the site myself without any upfront cost other than my time.”

Cener still hasn’t received any financial assistance, he said, though he took on a partner a few months ago. He operates the site and deals directly with brokers and teams to secure the tickets he offers.

He declined to disclose how many members he has signed up nationwide, but said Crowd Seats has been most successful in New York and Los Angeles and is catching on in Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia.

“I would describe it as a rollercoaster so far. It’s really great sometimes and really painful some other times,” he said. “It’s just been the entrepreneurial spirit of getting off the ground from nothing last year, and now we’re in 10 markets. We hope to be in 25 within the next 12 months.

“Our biggest challenge [in dealing with teams] is we don’t have the scale right now that they’re looking for. They’d rather use Groupon of Living Social that have a million-plus members. On the broker side we’re perfect for them right now. Their needs are to salvage their inventory for non-premium games.”

Brokers buy up multiple season-ticket packages. They make their money on the demand for the most desirable games.

“For brokers, we’re really a medium where they’re able to salvage some of that extra inventory,” Cener said. “In some cases they’ll even take a small loss. When you buy season-tickets, the price you get is way under the face value anyway. That’s how we’re able to offer these deals.”

Photo: Justin Cener, 25, has Crowd Seats offering sports ticket deals in 10 markets including South Florida.

POSTED IN: Tickets (127)

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August 23, 2012

Marlins Park will be ready if TS Isaac visits

The trek of Tropical Storm Isaac through the Caribbean had officials at Marlins Park in hurricane preparation mode for the first time Thursday.

A change in the direction and intensity of the storm that elevates the threat to South Florida could have work underway to clamp down the retractable roof as soon as Saturday night, said Claude Delorme, Marlins chief of ballpark operations.

It takes about 16 hours to secure the roof, which is rated to withstand winds up to 146 mph.

“There is sensitivity as to when we do it because we don’t want to do it too early if the winds are not elevated, because we have to protect the field as well. If you close the field for three days the grass is going to be damaged as a result,” Delorme said. “Our objective would be to do it as late as possible. That would be Sunday at the latest, if the storm picks up in intensity.”

Timing of the decision is critical as the roof can’t be moved in winds exceeding 40 mph.

Ensuring the roof can withstand the extremes of a prime hurricane region was the toughest challenge in the design of Marlins Park. The result is the most durable retractable roof yet constructed on a stadium. Houston’s Minute Maid Park was built to resist winds of 110 mph.
In hurricane configuration, the roof’s three giant panels are situated slightly apart, with two 10-foot gaps and one of 16 feet. That is intended to avoid an inequity of pressure inside and outside that could literally pop the top off the ballpark, as often happens to houses in hurricanes.

“You get some rain inside the facility, but it takes away a lot of pressure that is pushing against the roof,” Delorme said. “That’s based on the assessment from Day 1when we put our drawings together; one of the major focuses was how does the roof react to major wind loads.”

The roof mechanism contains 96 sets of tie-downs to secure the roof. About 70 percent are automatically deployed. The others have to be manually clamped into place with turnbuckles. That is handled by several two-man teams.

The six panels in the operable window at the east end of the ballpark also have to be tied down in the event of a hurricane. That process takes about four hours.

Bracing the roof and windows is only part of a complex task in preparing the ballpark for a major storm. Everything from the aquariums and the screen behind home plate to movable objects outside and in the concourses must be dealt with.

Adding to the concerns at Marlins Park during the next few days is that the Marlins begin a homestand Tuesday night against the Nationals. Time is needed to put the ballpark back in operational mode.

The Marlins got a break from nature with no hurricane threats throughout the 2 ½ years of construction, which helped keep the project on schedule for opening this season.

Workers did put the roof and outfield windows in hurricane configuration as part of the commissioning process prior to Opening Day. The Marlins are hopeful they won’t have to do so again this weekend.

“It looks like right now it is moving west. With this one we feel pretty good about it, but things can change quickly,” Delorme said, adding, “We’re ready to pounce and carry this out. We want to make sure we leave enough time and not be surprised at the end of the day.”

POSTED IN: Miami Marlins (37)

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Panthers offer 'good-time' refund on all single-game tickets

The Florida Panthers are expanding their Good Time Guarantee policy to all single-game tickets purchased by Sept. 20 for the 2012-13 season.

Single-game tickets for the preseason and regular season go on sale online at 10 a.m. Saturday.

The Panthers extended a money-back offer for nine games in January 2011 to fans “who do not enjoy an incredible live hockey experience.” Receiving the refund requires filling out a survey on FloridaPanthers.com. The Good Time Guarantee is limited to Florida residents.

Panthers spokesman Matt Sacco said three fans acted on the offer. Only one of them took the refund while the other two ended up purchasing mini- or half-season ticket plans for future games, he said.

The Panthers are offering the incentive in the hope of spurring early sales of individual-game tickets, which can significantly boost attendance.

Unfortunately, they are launching the sales push in the face of uncertainty about the upcoming season with NHL owners threatening a lockout if a new collective bargaining agreement isn’t finalized by the time the current one expires Sept. 15. This week the team announced cancelation of the four-team rookie camp and tournament that was to begin that day.

The Panthers, looking for a boost in ticket sales following their first playoff appearance in more than a decade, are scheduled to open the season Oct. 13 at home against Tampa Bay.

The likelihood of a lockout gained impetus last week with owners and players deeply divided on economic issues and how to approach them. Negotiators met briefly Wednesday in Toronto and were to resume labor talks Thursday.

In games are lost to a lockout, fans will have the option of a full refund or applying money to purchase future games, Sacco said.

Meanwhile, the Panthers begin the push of individual game sales against the distraction of Tropical Storm Isaac expected to threaten South Florida this weekend.

Tickets will be available at Ticketmaster outlets, FloridaPanthers.com and by calling 954-835-PUCK.

Season seat owners can receive 20 percent off the single-game ticket price in an ongoing pre-sale by contacting their account representatives at 954-835-PUCK.

Additionally, an online sales link will be posted to the Panthers’ Facebook and Twitter pages Friday at 10 a.m, as fans of the pages will be able to purchase a select number of single-game tickets ahead of the general public, at a rate discounted 10 percent.

Here are the Panthers’ single-game ticket prices*:

Section Price Range
Glass (row 1) $150-400
Panthers Club (rows 2-4) $75-250
Premium Center Ice (rows 5-17) $70-200
Premium Lower Bowl Sideline (rows 5-17) $50-145
Premium Lower Bowl End Zone (rows 5-17, 5-15) $40-100
Center Ice (rows 18-28) $50-140
Lower Bowl Sideline (rows 18-28) $35-95
Lower Bowl End Zone $30-80
Red Zone (rows 18-28) $30-85
Club Level End Zone (rows 2-8) $30-75
Premium Club Level (sidelines and row 1) $40-120
Duffy’s Sky Club $55-100
Mezzanine (row 1) $15-59
Sideline Balcony (rows 2-10) $11-47
Goal Zone (rows 2-7) $10-39
Terrace (rows 8-10) $9-28

*All Panthers single-game tickets are dynamically priced and could increase, based on demand, as the season begins. Buying early ensures first choice of seat locations and lower prices.

POSTED IN: Florida Panthers (112)

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August 21, 2012

LeBron's $315 sneaker draws flak

Would you pay $315 to find out how high you soared on the court?

The best answer may be that Nike didn’t become a sporting goods dynasty by making a lot of sneakers that don’t sell.

The LeBron X Nike Plus will likely be no exception. Even with a pricetag expected to push through the $300 barrier for the first time in sneaker history. Even with a flood of indignation and outrage on the Internet and social media before the first pair hits the display rack.

That was ignited Tuesday by a Wall Street Journal story about the rising cost of sneakers that said the premium version of the latest LeBron James basketball shoe is expected to retail for $315.

Nike, in a statement, said it has not set a price, though it has showcased the shoe on its website with a teaser about the high-tech features built into the sole.

The Nike+ Basketball technology uses motion sensors that will track and measure performance, such as how fast the wearer moves, distance traveled and height of jumps, which can be accessed by an app on a smartphone.

Already the National Urban League has weighed in with a protest, calling for parents to resist spending on such an “empty status symbol.”

Marc Morial, president of the civil rights organization, said in a statement: “To release such an outrageously overpriced product while the nation is struggling to overcome an unemployment crisis is insensitive at best.”

Meanwhile, the pricy shoe provides fodder for LeBron haters who have otherwise been silenced by his MVP performance in the Heat’s championship run and the gold-medal effort with Team USA in London.

James debuted the LeBron X Nike in the Olympic final victory over Spain. It should be noted that the standard model he wore, sans technology, will be the initial release of the shoe this fall, retailing for $180, Nike said.

That is $10 more than his LeBron 9 signature shoe that came out last year. The premium version, the LeBron 9 PS Elite, goes for $250, including gold swoosh.

Nike also offers the LeBron Zoom Soldier basketball shoe for $120 and the Nike Zoom Hyperfuse for $110.

Nike is raising prices on all of its apparel 5 to 10 percent, citing the rising cost of materials and labor costs in China. Other manufacturers, including Adidas, are doing likewise.

Despite the spike in prices over the past year, sales of basketball shoes costing more than $100 were up 50 percent, according to SportsOneSource.

But will a $300 sneaker fly in a troubled economy?

The LeBron X Nike Plus will be a limited edition of about 50,000 pairs. There is a niche market out there unfazed by the price, as indicated by a comment on the forum of SoleCollector.com:

“A shoe like that is not meant for everybody. It IS a luxury to have. For myself, I'd rather enjoy the luxuries of having a dope, basketball shoe over owning any type of Gucci, LV or even Yeezy shoe 100% of the time.”

A different view from the marketplace was among the comments at LebronJames.com:

“How about u call nike and tell the to lower the ridiculous and crazy price on your new shoes coming out...We ain't rich like u.”

Ultimately, the market will provide the answer as to what features are vital in a sneaker. The old-school method for finding out how high one jumped was a mark on the wall and a tape measure.

As for concern about parents being pressured into shelling out for a supposed must-have luxury item, there was an old-school answer to that as well. Simply stated: “No.”

Photo: The LeBron X Nike Plus has motion sensors that will report performance data to an app. (LebronJames.com)

nike-lebron-x-01.jpg

POSTED IN: Apparel (56)

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August 20, 2012

NBA to create ticketing supersite with Ticketmaster

The rise of secondary ticket sellers such as StubHub has become a thorn to sports franchises in recent years.

The NBA has taken action to regain control of the marketplace by joining with Ticketmaster to create a super site for teams to sell tickets and their fans to resell them.

The league announced the partnership Monday as a one-stop shopping source for fans seeking various ticket options. The new site will be launched in October.

The Miami Heat has already been utilizing Ticketmaster as their primary ticket seller as well as for the Heat TicketExchange that enables season-ticket holders to peddle their tickets.

One reason the NBA chose Ticketmaster was that 24 teams were already using the ticketing giant.

“The NBA is determined to provide their fans a safe, convenient place to buy and sell game tickets, and we are delighted to be delivering this revolutionary solution,” said Nathan Hubbard, CEO of Ticketmaster.

It remains to be seen what fees fans will pay on the new site, but the NBA/Ticketmaster pairing should be able to compete favorably with StubHub.

"We are committed to ensuring that our fans receive the best in service and selection when it comes to purchasing individual game tickets, and Ticketmaster's proven ticketing solutions for both the primary and resale markets were the right fit for us," said NBA Executive Vice President of Team Marketing & Business Operations Chris Granger.

Heat officials have often made the point that their TicketExchange is the only reseller that can guarantee admission to the game.

“There are other sites, big and small, that will tell consumers that they will get a refund if the tickets they buy turn out to be fraudulent; which is all well and good, except that in our experience what ticket buyers want is not a refund but entrance to the event they believe they have purchased tickets to attend,” Eric S. Woolworth, the Heat’s president of business operations said earlier this year.

Clearly the NBA is hoping to avert fans from taking their business to those other sellers such as StubHub, TicketNetwork and eBay by offering the super site.

ESPN’s Darren Rovell cited a survey by the league that showed 70 percent of fans who had purchased tickets from a secondary site went to the team site first and didn't find what they were looking for, as well as another that fans preferred to shop in a single location.

The NFL has a ticket resale site that is run by Ticketmaster, the NFL Ticket Exchange.

POSTED IN: NBA (144)

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August 16, 2012

NHL labor discord imperils season, Panthers

The Florida Panthers are due to begin training camp four weeks from Thursday, on Sept. 13, and open the regular season one month later at home against the Lightning.

That timetable is on thin ice due to the tenor of labor talks that can only be described as predictable.

A lockout would be extra harmful for the resurgent Panthers, coming off their most successful season in years, as noted this week in Forbes. The possibility is all too real with the gap wide between owners and players.

Negotiations to replace the current collective bargaining agreement that expires Sept. 15 have quickly taken on the echo of discord reverberating from last year’s NFL and NBA labor bloodlettings.

This week the players submitted a proposal in which they would receive a reduction in hockey-related revenue from 57 to 54 percent. NHL Commission Gary Bettman indignantly harrumphed that the players’ concessions didn’t go nearly far enough.

The owners want the players to reduce their share to 43 percent.

Bettman said he’s seeking a deal modeled after those reached by the NFL and NBA, and is already brandishing the lockout threat.

The difference is that NHL players already took a 24 percent rollback in salaries in 2005. The league wants them to swallow the same bitter pill again.

NHL players union boss Donald Fehr wondered why Bettman made no mention of the labor deal Major League Baseball reached last year with no saber rattling or threat of work stoppage.

Fehr, long-time boss of the baseball players’ union, is not advocating doing away with hockey’s hard salary cap.

The union did offer an expanded revenue-sharing plan to provide up to $250 million a year to teams in financial difficulty. That would be partially facilitated by the players lowering their share of league revenue. That is a concept the rich teams have not embraced.

Meanwhile, the league collectively is looking to stick it to the players. Other provisions in the latest owners’ proposal include increasing the number of seasons needed to become unrestricted free agents from seven to 10 years, and eliminating salary arbitration.

All of which adds up to a wide gulf with a month to go before training camp. Talks aren’t even set to resume until next Wednesday.

POSTED IN: NHL (58)

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August 9, 2012

Dolphins to announce blackout policy Friday

The Dolphins’ exhibition opener Friday night against the Buccaneers will be televised on channels 4 and 34.

Whether or not the streak of regular-season games on local television, dating to 1998, will endure through 2012 will be a week-to-week question, as it was last year. The NFL’s new blackout policy does give teams more options in ensuring their home games are televised in their markets.

The Dolphins said they will announce Friday morning whether they will take advantage of the policy change that allows games to be broadcast locally if 85percent of the non-premium tickets are sold. Thursday was the deadline for teams to report their decision to the league.

Previously a sellout was required 72 hours before kickoff to lift the blackout. The cost of adopting the policy change is having to share a great portion of ticket revenue beyond the 85 percent level with the league.

That has prompted some teams to defer, including the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Colts, Chargers and Bills are others that have elected to adhere to the long-standing 72-hour sellout rule. Tampa Bay has announced a switch to the new policy.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins announced Thursday an enhanced television partnership with several media outlets to provide more than 18 hours of monthly Dolphins programming during the offseason and upwards of 20 1/2 hours during the season.

The multi-year partnership will feature content on CBS4 (WFOR) and My TV33 (WBFS) in Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Fox Sports Florida and the NFL Network on XFINITY TV in South Florida.

All four preseason games will air live, the first three on WFOR, the finale on WBFS.
Those two stations will for the first time introduce an SAP (Secondary Audio Programming) feed for each of the preseason games featuring Spanish Language Play-by-Play by Jorge Sedano and Mike Marchant.

FOX Sports Florida will re-air each of the four preseason games on the following Sunday at 8p.m.

Other highlights of the new deal:

Weekly television coverage of the Dolphins will increase dramatically with “Finsiders Final Drive”, a weekly recap of the Finsiders radio and web-video show (heard locally on WINZ 940AM and seen on Dolphins.com) and “Inside the Fins”, a video magazine. The show will air 52 weeks of the year on Fox Sports Florida and the NFL Network on XFINITY TV in South Florida (Comcast customers from Vero Beach to Key West).

Dolphins will include the “Coach Philbin Show”, “Dolphins Weekly Live” and the return of the “5th Quarter” postgame show on WFOR and “Inside the Fins” on WBFS.

Each month, the team will an all-access look inside the Dolphins organization on CBS4 (WFOR), My TV33 (WBFS), and FOX Sports Florida.

POSTED IN: Miami Dolphins (189)

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August 1, 2012

Behind the scenes look at Hanley Ramirez trade on 'The Franchise'

Preview of Wednesday's episode of The Franchise as the Marlins part with their cornerstone player.

Cameras were with the front office throughout the night as the trade was completed, then in the clubhouse the following morning to document player reactions and Ramirez’s final minutes with the Marlins before heading to Los Angeles.

POSTED IN: Miami Marlins (37)

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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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