The Business & Pleasure of Sports


Category: NHL (58)

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.

Continue reading "NHL owners plot risky course in labor negotiations" »

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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.

Continue reading "NHL labor discord imperils season, Panthers" »

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NHL's impending collective bargaining showdown ominous for Florida Panthers


panthers-fans-052112.jpg

The first step toward completing the lockout trifecta was taken last week when the NHL notified the league’s players association that it wants to modify or terminate the collective bargaining agreement.

That was not unexpected, though the league and the players had the option to let the current CBA, due to expire Sept. 15, continue for another year. It sets up the prospect of the NHL becoming the third league in the past year to impose a work stoppage, following the lead of the NFL and NBA.

That would be a blow to the Florida Panthers’ hopes of building on their first trip to the playoffs in 12 years. Not only did the team make notable strides under GM Dale Tallon’s plan, the playoff series against the Devils brought a level of excitement that hadn’t been seen in the Panthers’ years at BankAlantic Center.

Consider the Tampa Bay Lightning, who won the Stanley Cup in 2004 and had to wait a year to defend it due to the lockout that wiped out the 2005-05 season. That cost them their star goalie to free agency, and it took them six years to mount another serious playoff run.

Continue reading "NHL's impending collective bargaining showdown ominous for Florida Panthers" »

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NHL Winter Classic not likely to float in Miami


SUNRISE The NFL is taking a bold risk by staging the Super Bowl outdoors in New York in February 2014.

Why not hold an NHL Winter Classic in Miami’s Marlins Park with the roof open?

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has been a staunch supporter of hockey in South Florida through the Panthers’ lean years of lousy play and shaky attendance. During Friday’s first playoff game here in 12 years, he lauded the franchise’s resiliency and fan loyalty, and said the future is bright.

But that apparently does not apply to outdoor hockey in South Florida. Bettman virtually melted hope of a Winter Classic next to the Clevelander pool -- even though the league once staged an exhibition in Las Vegas outside Caesar's Palace (video above).

Continue reading "NHL Winter Classic not likely to float in Miami" »

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Stanley C. Panther listed as day to day


stanley1.jpgAccording to a release from the Florida Panthers, the team’s mascot, Stanley C. Panther, is on injured reserve. The team wouldn’t release the details of Stanley’s “undisclosed” injury, but said he suffered it “while attempting to hurdle a folding chair” on Dec. 17, during the game in which the Panthers defeated the Buffalo Sabres 6-2.

Stanley, who is in a wheelchair, is listed as day-to-day. While he will be in attendance at tonight’s game against the Boston Bruins at BankAtlantic Center, so will his South Florida mascot brethren, including Billy the Marlin, Sebastian the Ibis, Burnie the Heat mascot, and the Dolphins’ T.D. (Having played Burnice – Burnie’s wife – in a game last season, I think it’s remiss not to have included her).burnice1.jpg

Feel like sending Stanley good wishes? You can sign a giant “Get Well” card on the JetBlue Tarmac on the arena’s front plaza on game days, bring your own cards, or starting on Jan. 3, send e-cards through FloridaPanthers.com.

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Panthers offer money back guarantee on January games


goodtime1.jpgThe Florida Panthers are so confident the game experience – not necessarily the result on the ice – at BankAtlantic Center is so enjoyable, they’re offering individual ticket-buyers a money-back guarantee on the nine home games in January.

Starting with the Jan. 2 game against the New York Rangers, Florida residents who buy individual game tickets – starting at $9 – can get a refund if their experience at the game wasn’t up to snuff. To request a refund, fans must fill out a form online explaining in detail the reason they’re requesting their money back. The form allows the Panthers to capture fans’ home and email addresses -- for future pitches -- and learn what areas of Panthers games at BankAtlantic Center need improvement.

Snicker all you want about losses, but the Panthers say they are serious about providing a great game experience and, if not, a refund of the ticket price within 48 hours.

“I’m sure they’re going to be people that come in that no matter what experience we create they’re going to ask for their money back,” Panthers President Michael Yormark said. “The program enables us to attract that fence-sitter. Now I’ve given them an incentive to buy tickets.”

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Holiday greetings: from stadium construction to swaying palms


Interactive holiday e-cards seem to get better and better each year. Here are a few I’ve received from local sports teams and entities:

Florida Marlins: No matter how you feel about public financing of the Marlins’ new ballpark, it’s being built. This card shows you construction in time-lapse – Have a Constructive New Year, indeed.

Florida Panthers: This simple interactive card covers the full gamut of business at BankAtlantic Center.

UM: This one isn’t from Hurricane Athletics, but there’s plenty of ‘Canes and The U cheer in this card from the University of Miami’s media relations department.

Orange Bowl: This one has a Corona ad feel, but is all South Florida. Enjoy this card from the Orange Bowl.

FAU Athletics: I’m not supposed to play favorites, but check out this card from the FAU Owls, complete with Athletic Director Craig Angelos showing off the under-construction football stadium and legendary football coach Howard Schnellenberger saying "Kwanzaa" is priceless.

Meanwhile, from outside Florida, this one from the Arizona Diamondbacks looks to have been shot in one take… Impressive work.

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Ticket deal: Florida Panthers and Duffys


Duffy’s Sports Grill and the Florida Panthers are offering Duffy’s MVP cardmembers a deal that includes a discount on both Panthers’ tickets and a Duffy’s meal.

Duffy’s MVP cardmembers can get $5 off tickets to upcoming Panthers games (on Friday and Dec. 27 as well as home games in January) and a $10 off coupon to Duffy’s Sports Grill locations. The ticket deal is only available to cardmembers. Find out more at duffysmvp.com/panthers.

Duffy's forged a partnership with the Panthers in June.

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Ticket specials for final two Dolphins home games; Panthers & Marlins holiday offers


Duffy’s Sports Grill and the Miami Dolphins have sweetened their ticket deal for the team’s final two homes games of the 2010 season.

The Palm Beach Gardens-based sports grill chain is offering up lower corner end zone seats for $79 each – down from $124 – that include express bus service to the game, pregame tailgate at Sun Life Stadium, a Dolphins cap and 50 Duffy’s MVP Bonus points. The buses leave from 10 locations from Fort Lauderdale to Melbourne. The deal is available for Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills and the Dec. 26 game against the Detroit Lions. Find the deal at duffysmvp.com.

Meanwhile, other South Florida pro teams are offering holiday ticket specials:

The Florida Panthers are selling tickets to the Dec. 27 game against the Boston Bruins, Dec. 31 game against the Montreal Canadiens and the Jan. 2 game against the New York Rangers starting at $10. The team is also selling Holiday Growl gift cards for $49 good for upper bowl seats and $99 for lower bowl seats at BankAtlantic Center – both for regular season games from January to April. Find the specials at floridapanthers.com.

The Florida Marlins are selling special Holiday 10-Packs of vouchers that can be used for any 2011 games and in any combination. They start at $85 -- $8.50 a ticket – for Fish Tank seats up to $350 -- $35 a ticket for infield box seats. The first 25 buyers each week of the holiday season receive a special gift. That’s a game-used bat this week; an autographed helmet from Dec. 20 to 26; an autographed baseball from Dec. 27 to Jan. 2; and an autographed Rookie Stars poster for Jan. 3 to 7.

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Fans upset when Panthers yarmulke giveaway goes awry


CatsYarmulke1.jpgLast week, the Panthers announced Tuesday night’s game against the Colorado Avalanche would be Jewish Heritage Night complete with a pregame menorah lighting ceremony, kosher food at BankAtlantic Center and a Panthers yarmulke giveaway.

The news release sent out last Tuesday said the yarmulkes would be “given to all ticket-buyers.” What the release apparently didn’t make clear was that should have said “Panthers yarmulke given to those who buy a special ticket pack.”

That’s how the Panthers amended the news item on floridapanthers.com, but only after the news release had been sent to the media. The media did not receive a corrected release.

Fans found out the hard way when they arrived at the game expecting the sweet dark blue yarmulke with the Panthers logo.

Continue reading "Fans upset when Panthers yarmulke giveaway goes awry" »

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NFL owners following NHL owners into a lockout?


Among the reasons the NFL Players Association believes NFL owners are bracing to lock them out when their contract expires in March is the league’s decision to hire labor attorney Bob Batterman to represent the owners.

Batterman represented NHL owners when they locked out players in 2004 leading to cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season.

When asked if the NFL’s decision to hire Batterman was giving the NHL credit for a lockout, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman hesitated and then chuckled.

“Oh boy. I’m not commenting on anybody else’s negotiations,” Bettman said after the conclusion of the NHL Board of Governors meeting at The Breakers in Palm Beach on Tuesday. “Bob Batterman is a terrifc labor lawyer and I hired him so I can understand why other people would too.”


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Miami Heat using digital courtside signage


ANC1.jpgWhether you’re live at AmericanAirlines Arena or watching Miami Heat games on TV, you’ve likely noticed the new courtside digital signage that changes frequently and can be altered during games.

ANC Sports Enterprises, a sports marketing company specializing in signage, produces the technology the replaces static or rotational signage under the scorer’s and broadcaster’s tables courtside. The technology gives teams and sponsors more potential advertising inventory and allows them to tailor messages specifically to game results and statistics. For example, if a player records a triple double, a pizza parlor could advertise a two-pizza deal with three toppings, an ANC spokesman said.

“We are committed to providing our partners with different courtside signage options which create marketing opportunities based on each team’s objectives,” Jerry Cifarelli, ANC Sports president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “ANC’s state-of-the-art digital signage applications and patented software solutions generate new creative opportunities courtside while transforming the event experience throughout an arena.”

Continue reading "Miami Heat using digital courtside signage" »

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Florida Panthers honor Vanbiesbrouck, offer half-priced tickets


Tonight, former Florida Panthers goalie John Vanbiesbrouck gets inducted into the Broward County Sports Hall of Fame (along with six others athletes and coaches with ties to the region).

He becomes just the second of the 99 Broward Sports Hall of Fame inductees to represent hockey – the first being the Panthers first president Bill Torrey. (Original Panthers owner H. Wayne Huizenga is also in the Hall of Fame, but was recognized for other sports accomplishments along with his Panthers ownership).

On Wednesday night, the Panthers will honor Vanbiesbrouck, who played for the team from 1993 to 1998 including during the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals, as part of their ADT Panthers Heroes Program. He’ll do the ceremonial puck drop honors before the night’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at BankAtlantic Center. He’ll conduct an autograph session in the first intermission at the South Florida Hockey Den of Honor and be interviewed on Fox Sports Florida by Craig Minervini in the Patron Club during the second intermission.

As part of the honor, the team is offering single game tickets to the game for half off. Purchase tickets by calling 954-835-PUCK or going to FloridaPanthers.com.

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Florida Panthers using KG-Villanueva flap to support team’s fight against cancer


In July, the Florida Panthers created a “Seats Fit for a King” season ticket promotion in honor of LeBron James’ old and new jersey numbers with $23 lower bowl and $6 upper level (per game) tickets.

In September, they sold a $19.72 “Perfect Season, Perfect Price” season ticket (per game) in honor of the Miami Dolphins’ 1972 perfect season.

Now the team is using the flap between Detroit Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva and Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett to urge the two players to support the team’s goal of raising $100,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light The Night Walk in Broward County on Nov. 13.

Continue reading "Florida Panthers using KG-Villanueva flap to support team’s fight against cancer" »

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Florida Panthers David Booth prepares cannoli


booth2.jpgFlorida Panthers forward David Booth tackled a new sport this week: cannoli racing.

Booth appeared at Panthers’ sponsor, Doris Italian Market, in Sunrise on Tuesday to compete with a Doris' employee and a couple of fans to see who was the fastest to fill cannolis. (See photo courtesy of the Panthers -- check out the adoring fans on the right). Booth also signed autographs. Watch the Panthers' video below:







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Pink sticks, pads, pediatrics and hashtag battles


NFL players have been sporting pink gloves, cleats, and even mouthguards this month to promote breast cancer awareness. This month is also Hockey Fights Cancer month in the NHL.

This week, the Florida Panthers Foundation announced it had donated $400,000 to the Broward Health Foundation to renovate the pediatric oncology unit at Chris Evert Children’s Hospital to make it Panthers-themed.

At Thursday night’s game against the Dallas Stars, the team welcomed a number of groups working to fight cancer including Gilda’s Club and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society; and included organizations such as Children Battling Cancer, Jessica June’s Children Cancer Foundation and Broward Health Foundation in the ceremonial puck drop. Children with cancer rode the Zambonis and participated in the puck stacking competition.

Pink-Pads1.jpgMeanwhile, the New York Islanders, who are playing the Panthers at BankAtlantic Center tonight, used sticks wrapped in pink tape and breast cancer ribbons during a game last weekend that were auctioned to raise money for charity that benefits cancer awareness.

Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro has taken the cause a step further, wearing specially-made pink pads all month and seeking to have extras made to auction for charity.

And tonight, a Twitter battle to raise money for charity is being waged while the Los Angeles Kings face the Colorado Avalanche. While the game is going on during Hockey Fights Cancer Night at the Pepsi Center in Denver, fans are being encouraged to tweet messages with the hashtags #GoKings or #GoAvs . The team with the most mentions wins the HashTag battle, but in addition, for each team-associated hashtag the Kings will donate $1 to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and the Avalanche will donate to Kroenke Sports Charities. Read more about the battle here.

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Florida Panthers surpass 10,000 season tickets


Despite a still struggling economy and a decade without a trip to the playoffs, the Florida Panthers announced today they have sold the equivalent of more than 10,000 full season tickets for the 2010-11 season. That marks the first time the team has sold more than 10,000 season tickets since the 2000-01 season.

The team also said fewer than 1,500 tickets remain for its home opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday at BankAtlantic Center.

The team has created a variety of discount season ticket offers – including a name your own price plan and a plan for $23 lower bowl seats and $6 upper level seats in honor of LeBron James’ old and new jersey numbers. The team also has reduced capacity at the arena by nearly 2,500 seats to 17,040 to create a more intimate atmosphere.

“During the offseason we set a goal of reaching the benchmark of 10,000 season ticket holders for the first time in almost a decade,” Panthers President Michael Yormark said in a statement. “Thanks to the hard work of our staff and the support of the South Florida community, we accomplished that goal.”

To purchase tickets for the home opener or upcoming games, call 954-835-PUCK or visit ticketmaster.com.

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Panthers bring back naming your own price for tickets


After its success last month with The Perfect Plan – a variation on Priceline’s "Name Your Own Price" for tickets – the Florida Panthers have brought back the program for another week.

The Perfect Plan allows fans to pick their seat location at BankAtlantic Center and name a price and learn within 24 hours if their offer has been accepted. The plan is only available for season ticket packages and only in select locations. The program runs until Sept. 29.

Retail prices range from $60 to $130 per seat per game. Potential buyers could have their offers accepted, be offered another location for that price or work out a different agreement.

When the program launched in August, the team was able to make deals with about half the fans who made offers. More than 200 season tickets were sold through the program, a team spokesman said.

To make an offer or get more information visit FloridaPanthers.com or call 954-835-PUCK.

The Panthers home opener at BankAtlantic Center is Oct. 16 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

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Party City sponsoring Florida Panthers empty seats


partycity1.jpgLeave it to the Florida Panthers to remind you that everything has a price – even empty arena seats.

The team promised it would sell a sponsorship to the coverings on upper level seats that have been added to reduce capacity and create a more intimate setting at BankAtlantic Center.

Party City, the party goods supplier and the presenting sponsor for the 2010-11 Panthers season, is adding its name to the coverings. The Panthers blue coverings reduce the number of seats by nearly 2,500 to 17,040. The covers can be removed should there be demand.

The idea is to generate revenue, but I wonder if the sponsor – especially one promoting parties – doesn’t bring more attention to the fact that no one’s sitting in those seats.

The Panthers say the reduced capacity has increased demand and the team is approaching selling more than 10,000 season tickets -- the most in three seasons. A new general manager, boosted player roster and ticket deals as low as $6 a season ticket in the upper level – in honor of new Miami Heat player LeBron James’ jersey number – probably helped, too.

“”It is an incredibly natural fit for Party City to receive exposure on the upper bowl covers that will help to make the BankAtlantic Center a more intimate and exciting setting during the 2010-11 season,” Panthers President Michael Yormark said in a statement.

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Eagles presenting Florida Panthers training camp


eagles1.jpgIn what is thought to be the first marketing partnership of its kind, the Eagles rock band is presenting this year’s Florida Panthers training camp.

With the announcement this week that the Eagles will be playing a concert at BankAtlantic Center on Oct. 8, the band is getting some extra exposure by branding Panthers Training Camp 2010. Training camp will get the special logo at left and the partnership will appear on the team’s website; at the Saveology.com Iceplex, where the team trains; and in advertisements and news releases. Training camp runs from Sept. 11 to Oct. 10.

“Panthers Training Camp 2010 presented by the Eagles is an innovative program unlike anything that has ever been done in the sports and entertainment industry,” Panthers President Michael Yormark said in a statement. “It is also proof that our organization is willing to use all the resources at our disposal to promote concerts, shows and events that visit the BankAtlantic Center.”

Rather than an actual sponsorship agreement in which money exchanges hands -- that's not happening here -- the deal is a marketing partnership that aims to help sell tickets to the Eagles concert. A Panthers spokesman said the turnaround for ticket sales is short, and the partnership provides additional promotion for the band. Spurring tickets sales in turn helps the Panthers, who operate the Broward County-owned arena.

“It’s very unusual,” said Jim Andrews, editorial director at IEG Sponsorship Report. “We’ve certainly had what we would consider two properties sponsor each other, like Six Flags sponsor a NASCAR, something like that, but in particular a music concert sponsoring a sports property, that’s very likely the first of its kind.”

However, Andrews said he doesn’t expect it to become a trend.

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Florida Panthers: Name your own price for tickets


shatner.jpgPlaying off new general manager Dale Tallon’s “plan” for his team and borrowing a page from Priceline, the Florida Panthers created “The Perfect Plan” for season ticket sales.

The ticket plan allows fans to pick seats, name a price and learn within 24 hours if their offer has been accepted. The offer, which runs through this week, is available for seats in the lower and upper bowls and club level at BankAtlantic Center. Retail prices range from $60 to $130 per seat per game. Potential buyers could have their offers accepted, be offered another location for that price or work out a different agreement.

So far, the team has sold slightly more than 50 full season ticket equivalents through the “The Perfect Plan” and turned away about 50 others, either because their offers were rejected or an agreement couldn’t be reached, a team spokesman said.

“’The Perfect Plan’ is an unprecedented ticket sales campaign in pro sports and puts the power of negotiation in the hands of our fans,” Panthers President Michael Yormark said in a statement. “Borrowing from the travel industry, for a limited time Panthers fans can name their price and seat location and try to make a deal. And with GM Dale Tallon moving quickly to turn this franchise into a contender, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for fans to get in now, before it’s too late.”

To make an offer or get more information, visit FloridaPanthers.com or call 954-835-PUCK.

The St. Louis Blues offered a limited time “Name Your Price” promotion in 2008. The deal, in which the Blues were encouraging fans to make “a reasonable offer,” was for select seating areas for full-season tickets, premium or weekend 10-ticket packages or any individual game that October. The team could accept or reject the offer with a Ticketmaster sponsorship covering the difference between the retail and requested price.

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Dolphins & Heat try to assure season ticket holders their venues' food is safe


Since ESPN's Outside the Lines’ exhaustive report on food vendor safety at North America’s 107 pro sports venues was released last weekend, the Miami Dolphins and the Miami Heat have sent letters to their season ticket holders ensuring their venues’ food is safe.

Executives from both the Miami Dolphins and AmericanAirlines Arena took pains to point out what they say are inaccuracies in the ESPN report. Despite scoring among the worst percentages of vendors with “critical violations” in the report, the executives say none of their vendors failed any of their inspection tests and none was shut down.

Our followup on the ESPN report, which you can read here, detailed the state of Florida’s strict food safety inspection standards and assured that none of the concessions stands at South Florida’s three venues – including BankAtlantic Center – had failed inspection tests.

The Dolphins called the reports “misleading and inaccurate.” Calling the report and subsequent stories “inflammatory,” Dolphins CEO Mike Dee said Sun Life Stadium has passed all of its inspections and its food is safe.

The Dolphins' note also included a link to a letter from Centerplate, the concessionaire at both Sun Life Stadium and BankAtlantic Center.

AmericanAirlines Arena pointed out – just as we did – that their violations were not related to food preparation, but had to do with equipment issues, such as wiring, and all were fixed immediately. “Fans can be assured that when they visit our venue for a sporting or entertainment event, all of the food is prepared within the cleanest, safest environment possible,” the note said.

Read the full AmericanAirlines Arena letter from arena general manager Kim Stone, here.

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ESPN report: Sun Life Stadium, AmericanAirlines Arena among worst in food safety violations (UPDATED with stadium response)


Florida's pro sports venues -- particularly those in South Florida -- scored record high numbers of food vendor safety violations, according to ESPN's Outside the Lines’ exhaustive report that examined the health inspection records of all 107 pro sports venues in North America.

Sun Life Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins, Florida Marlins and University of Miami Hurricanes; and AmericanAirlines Arena, the Miami Heat’s home, were tied for third worst with 93 percent of vendors scoring critical violations.

Only St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, and Washington D.C.’s Verizon Center, which is home to the Washington Wizards and Capitals, scored worse. Both showed 100 percent of vendors with critical violations.

An excerpt from the inspection report for Sun Life Stadium says: In June 2009, an employee complained anonymously that small insects and other debris were blended into frozen alcoholic beverages at a stand where equipment wasn't being cleaned. When inspectors checked, they issued a critical violation for a buildup of slime inside the frozen drinks machine.

Centerplate, the stadium's food concessionaire released the following statement:

"Centerplate takes the topic of food safety and the well-being of our fans seriously, and works with the local health department to actively manage safe food service operations. Employees are trained and operations are routinely inspected to ensure that they meet standards for safe operation. Any deficiencies that are identified during the course of an inspection are immediately corrected, usually in the presence of the inspector," Bob Pascal, Centerplate senior vice president of marketing, said in a statement.

"The Florida state health department system has a rigorous and stringent approach to inspections, and evaluates stadiums based on whether they have met standards for safe operation--which Sun Life Stadium has done in 100% of its inspection reports for 2009 (ESPN's sample) and to-date in 2010."

The stadium, too, addressed concerns fans might have:

"It is important to note that the stadium has passed every health and safety inspection," Todd Boyan, the stadium's senior vice president of operations, said in a statement. "In fact, because the State of Florida is more strict than most states and demands more detailed and frequent testing, the stadium and its concessionaire are required to be more publicly diligent in meeting safety requirements. Any past inspection infraction has been corrected and we expect our concessionaire to meet every health and safety recommendation made by the appropriate local and state inspectors. Nothing is more important to us than the health, safety, and entertainment experience at Sun Life Stadium."

Meanwhile, the AmericanAirlines Arena report says: Critical violations included several safety issues related to electrical wiring and such equipment as gas boilers.

Just 67 percent of the vendors at the Florida Panthers' BankAtlantic Center recorded critical violations. The report said: Inspectors issued several violations for soiled ice bins and coolers.

Read ESPN’s full venue rundown.

According to the report, Florida’s venues “scored among the worst when it came to violations cited by inspectors. Inspections are performed by a state agency, and officials say that makes their standards more uniform and stringent.”

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Florida Panthers try to capitalize on LeBron joining Heat


kingseats1.jpgEven before LeBron James officially announced he was "going to take my talents to South Beach," the Florida Panthers were trying to appeal to fans' excitement about the prospect of James joining the Heat.

The team announced a "Seats Fit For A King" ticket promotion -- a limited offer of lower bowl Panthers season tickets at BankAtlantic Center for $23 a game -- for James' original NBA jersey number -- and upper level ones for $6 a game -- for James' most recent jersey number. The promotion available by calling 954-835-PUCK runs until 5 p.m. Monday.

“Based on the hype surrounding rumors of a new King headed to South Florida, we wanted to remind our fans that we want them to feel like royalty,” Panthers President Michael Yormark said in a statement. “Certainly, it’s an exciting time to be part of the South Florida sports industry and we’d like our fans and our staff to embrace it.”

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Catching up: Panthers rename practice facility, Blackhawks ice for sale & more


Catching up after vacation:

+ Last week, Florida Panthers’ parent company Sunrise Sports & Entertainment announced Saveology had won the rights to name the team’s practice facility. SSE launched a contest last fall for businesses to get a shot at naming Incredible Ice for a season by buying four lower bowl season tickets for the 2009-10 season. Incredible Ice, which underwent a $10 million renovation that included adding a third NHL-sized sheet of ice, will now be known as the Saveology.com Iceplex. SSE values the name at more than $300,000. Saveology is a comparison shopping service and already a Panthers sponsor. The company already agreed to extend the deal through the 2011-12 season, too. Saveology will get exposure through a variety of advertising platforms and will pay for new signage at the practice venue, where employee uniforms will also bear the new name.

MM2.jpg + Plantation-based Dreams Inc.’s Mounted Memories division has created special limited edition Chicago Blackhawks collectibles to commemorate the team’s first Stanley Cup win in nearly 50 years: a shawdowbox with photos and some of the ice from the Stanley Cup finals. “This is a new product from our innovative line of memorabilia,” Mounted Memories President Mitch Adelstein said in a statement. “As an NHL licensee, we worked closely with the National Hockey League who was supportive and cooperative with our needs, and we captured portions of the ice from the arena. Our designers created an exciting way for hockey fans to recall this victory for which Chicago fans waited almost half a century.”

+ The New York Times’ piece on Dolphins limited partner Marc Anthony, although it mentions nothing about his sports investment.

+ People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) called on the Marlins to reconsider their plans to install two-custom designed saltwater aquariums on either side of home plate in the team’s new ballpark.

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Florida Panthers get break on arena debt payments


The Florida Panthers’ parent company reached out to Broward County last year, seeking some relief from its annual debt payments to cover the loan to build county-owned BankAtlantic Center. The idea, Sunrise Sports & Entertainment explained, was to reduce the team’s payments in the short term to free up much-needed cash for the struggling hockey team, and then increase the payments down the road.

SSE’s Arena Operating Co., which operates the home of the Panthers, sought to cut its annual payments by $2.5 million annually through 2016, and then raise them by about $1 million a year starting in 2017. The restructuring was expected to cost $23 million more over the life of the loan, which would also be extended a year. SSE insisted it, not the county, would cover the additional payments.

The proposal, according to Broward County Finance Director Dinah Lewis, potentially put the county at risk by boosting the costs and extending the life of the loan. If SSE were not able to make its payments, the county would have to step in and cover them.

So, today, rather than restructure the loan, county commissioners agreed in principle to provide a short-term “internal loan” of $7.5 million over the next three years ($4 million this year, $2.5 million next year and $1 million in 2012) to be repaid along with the county’s loss of interest between 2013 and 2015.

The loan would be covered by the over-collection in Tourist Development Tax (hotel bed tax) dollars that were raised 2 percent to help pay for the arena. Those dollars are typically used for beach renourishment, but the county commission determines annually what to do with the money.

“This would provide the cash flow relief sought by the [Arena Operating Co.] without the expense and risk of a full restructuring,” Lewis wrote in her memo to commissioners.

The arena was financed through the 2 percent county hotel bed tax and a state sales tax rebate, which covers $10 million of the annual $14 million debt service payment. The team picks up the rest.

As a requirement of the loan, the Panthers agreed to reduce the profit level needed for the arena profit sharing arrangement to take effect, from $14 million to $12 million. That means that any dollars in profit more than $12 million, which is kept by the team, are split with the team receiving 80 percent to the county’s 20 percent. So far, the profit sharing agreement has kicked in just once – in the first year, when the county received $364,000.

Additionally, the team will need to provide annual consolidated operating budget and financial statements for the team and Arena Operating Co.

County staff is scheduled to bring a more detailed plan back to the board at its Aug. 10 meeting.

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Florida Panthers “Came To Play”; host first 2010 Cats Cookout


The Florida Panthers have unveiled their marketing slogan for the 2010-11 season. Be ready to be underwhelmed:

“We Came To Play”

Seriously.

“We Came To Play.”

As opposed to what?

Developed by Hi-Voltage Advertising of Boca Raton, the campaign is meant to invoke the “passionate and emotional experience and party atmosphere of Panthers home games at the BankAtlantic Center,” according to a team release. Radio ads called “Playground” were to begin airing yesterday.

Here the Panthers and Hi-Voltage weigh in:

“Florida Panthers hockey at the BankAtlantic Center is unique in that it captivates fans through both the action on the ice and the excitement of the in-arena experience,” Panthers President Michael Yormark said in a statement. “There is no doubt that Cats hockey provides the best entertainment value and most fun sports atmosphere in South Florida. During the 2010-11 season, the real party is at the BankAtlantic Center.”

Hi-Voltage President Pete Gary adds: "Our goal at Hi-Voltage was to create a commercial featuring the entertainment experience for the first-timer to the diehard hockey fan. We wanted to showcase the fun, excitement and party atmosphere of being at the BankAtlantic Center for a Panthers game, whether it was with your family or with your friends for a night out.”

As you might imagine, the slogan has already generated jokes and detractors. It’s like it’s ripe for an insert joke here: “We Came To Play.” Uh, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?

Some comments about the campaign on The Litter Box Panthers fan discussion blog include: “I don’t want to root for a team that just comes to play. I want a team that wins!” And “I appreciate the effort, but it leaves room for comments to follow it. We came to play, but we weren’t ready.We came to play, but we didn’t feel like it.”

As luck would have it, the campaign includes a ticket deal: “The Panthers are encouraging fans to bring their friends to party” with a “Buy One, Get One Half Off” offer on full season ticket plans through the NHL Draft on June 25. See ad for the ticket offer with new slogan below.

Meanwhile, new GM Dale Tallon – the news of his arrival has caused some fans to party – and Coach Peter DeBoer are scheduled to attend the first Cats Cookout of 2010 next Thursday, June 10. The free barbecue that includes live music and a chance to meet Tallon, DeBoer, Panthers broadcasters and alumni. The event starts at 5:30 p.m. at BankAtlantic Center. RSVP at 954-835-PUCK.


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Florida Panthers shrinking arena seating capacity; exploring dynamic pricing for popular games


To create a more intimate setting at Florida Panthers' games next season, the team is reducing capacity by nearly 2,500 seats at BankAtlantic Center.

The change, which will be accomplished by covering 2,458 seats in the arena’s last six rows in the upper level, will drop capacity from 19,250 to 17,040 for hockey games. The coverings will be Panthers blue and sponsored by a business. But the coverings also mean capacity can be increased, if there’s demand for tickets. The Panthers ranked 25th in attendance in the NHL this past season with 15,146 a game.

Panthers President Michael Yormark said BankAltantic Center is the NHL's fourth largest arena, so reducing seating capacity will put the venue on par with other hockey arenas.

The team is also planning a new pricing scale for 2010-11 individual game tickets that will have prices rise along with demand for particular games. The idea is to reward season ticket buyers and others who buy early with lower ticket prices.

Individual game tickets will be divided into four categories: Bronze (the least expensive and a reduction from last season’s prices); silver (similar to this past season), gold and platinum (highest-priced). Each game will be assigned a category, but could move into a more expensive category the closer to the game date, if demand builds.

Individual game ticket prices are scheduled to be released in September, but an example of the dynamic price structure could work like this: A lower bowl endzone seat that cost $75 this past season would fall to $40 for a bronze game, $65 for a silver game, $70 for a gold game and $90 for a platinum game.

“Both the reduced seating capacity and the dynamic pricing structure were implemented based on the feedback from our fans and our season ticket advisory board,” Yormark said in a statement. “That said, we feel strongly that both changes will contribute to more excitement and intimacy at the BankAtlantic Center for Panthers home games, while greatly increasing the overall fan experience.”

The Panthers tried in the 2008-09 season to charge individual game ticket buyers an additional $25 a game for contests against popular opponents, such as the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens, but ended up dropping the plan midway through that season.

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Florida Panthers try to capitalize on new GM hiring


tallon1.jpgThe Florida Panthers introduced their new General Manager, Dale Tallon, this morning and promptly went about trying to attract new season ticket holders.

A special offer was emailed from BankAtlantic Center offering anyone who purchases a season ticket for the 2010-11 season TODAY, an invitation to a barbecue with Tallon later this summer. “Peter DeBoer and I look forward to seeing you!” Tallon says of the Panthers coach in the ad promoting the ticket special.

Go to floridapanthers.com for more information.

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Things I learned behind the scenes in sports


In another plug for my stories on going behind the scenes in a variety of sports jobs, here are some details that didn't make the package:

Pit crew: Hours spent at the track go by in a flash – there’s so much work to be done. Constant work on the cars, meeting race fans, signing autographs, cleaning the trailers, and, of course, keeping the frigs stocked with water and Gatorade and snack trays filled with chips, granola bars, fruit. Seconds really do make a difference - as I learned the hard way. Everyone has a job. The time between pit stops gets filled with snacking and watching the race on pit box monitors. As the “deadman” you really are thatclose to the gas – you’re standing under a 55-gallon drum suspended on a metal scissor stand. I just didn’t think about my proximity to the gas.

Grounds crew: What this very busy crew at Sun Life Stadium does can’t be overstated. These people work hard to create a pitch perfect field for both baseball and football. As one of only two professional stadiums left in the country that host both football and baseball on natural grass, these people are busy. The grass gets mowed every day. There are the summer rains. The endzone and center logo replacements between Dolphins and University of Miami games. Lowering and raising the pitcher’s mound when football and baseball overlap. And the difference between football and baseball is stark, head groundskeeper Alan Sigwardt explains: football is all about the grass and how it holds up against the different players – the 350-pound lineman versus the speedy receivers. Meanwhile, baseball is about the dirt – with only three players doing their job on the grass, the vast majority of the work is done on the infield dirt. “It’s two totally different sciences,” Sigwardt says. Watch video of my turn at the job below.

Zamboni driving: Top speed is 9 mph, but you’re typically driving slower than that. In a giant contraption with a sensitive turning radius. The red line at BankAtlantic Center is dotted with prints of Panthers paws – which you can see when you’re on the ice, but they’re difficult to make out otherwise. Driving the Zamboni satisfies both sides of head ice technician Graham Caplinger’s brain. He’s a perfectionist, fascinated by the science and math of the job. But he’s also a musician – a drummer – so he has learned to let go. He knows he creates a perfect sheet of ice only to see the players mess it up with their skates. “Everything’s as best as I know how to do it, I’ve checked and checked and rechecked and checked and checked, then it’s up to the players, the artists, if you will, to go out carve up their masterpiece,” Caplinger says. He also says the iPod is the greatest invention – it helps him pass the time spent on the slow-moving Zamboni.

Mascots: It takes a special person to be a mascot. There’s a mascot creed and rules. Never reveal your identity. No talking. Don’t seek permission – ask forgiveness later. Have fun. Grown-ups become big kids as soon as they see a mascot – they cheer, they yell, they pose for photos, they high five, they act silly. And the mascot loves it – he, too, acts silly with no – or few - consequences. “It’s like Batman Superman status. Nobody knows who you are. They think they’re laughing at me, but I’m actually laughing at them. I’m getting them out of their character,” Burnie the Heat mascot says.
 

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Florida Panthers trying to generate revenue, excitement for NHL draft


panthers4thlogo1.jpgAs full regular season team sponsorships are becoming more common, so, too, are off-season ones. Last fall, the Miami Heat unveiled its 2009-10 season was being sponsored by travel insurer Assist-Card.

This off-season, of course, the Heat is focusing on what it’s calling the “Heat Summer of 2010,” when we’re waiting for news of superstar guard Dwyane Wade’s future and the roster re-vamp.

Up the road in Sunrise, the Florida Panthers, however, are getting an assist from Lexus. The luxury auto maker is sponsoring the team’s summer under what the team is calling “Florida Panthers 4th Period Driven by Lexus.”

There’s a special 4th Period logo that’s going on all news announcements, advertisements, and promotions this summer.

“We are thrilled to announce longstanding partners Lexus as the first presenting sponsor of the Florida Panthers offseason,” Panthers President Michael Yormark said in a statement.

It’s Yormark’s twin brother, New Jersey Nets CEO Brett Yormark, who in 2007 introduced basketball’s first offseason sponsor, signing up Wrigley to help underwrite the team’s summer activities.

Among the first summer activities is the team’s “You Make the Pick” Promotion – in partnership with JetBlue -- in which fans are being invited to enter a contest to win trips to the NHL Draft in Los Angeles on June 25. The idea is to have fans choose who they think should be selected by the Panthers in the third spot in the draft.

While all fans are eligible to participate in the online contest, only fans who become season ticket holders by May 31 can win one of the grand prizes, which are the trips to the draft that include meetings with team officials and the prospect chosen in the third spot. Other prizes include trips to LA and autographed merchandise.

“We want Panthers fans and the South Florida community to feel excited and involved in the process leading up to our first pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft,” Yormark said in a statement.

To learn more and enter, visit floridapanthers.com.

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Florida Panthers fans' depreciation


My colleague Ethan Skolnick had an interesting column out of the Panthers’ 2009-10 season finale at BankAtlantic Center on Sunday. He asked fans what makes them stick with and what they would do to change the fortunes of the hapless team that has now tied for the longest playoff drought in the NHL.

Since that column ran, Skolnick’s been getting other complaints from fans about the post-game fan appreciation festivities, including this one: the T-shirts the team threw to fans after the game? They were from Opening Night 2007! Read his Season Ticket blog entry on the post-game insult here.

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It cannot be easy being Yormarks


The Yormark brothers – Florida Panthers President Michael and New Jersey Nets CEO Brett – haven’t been having an easy year.

The identical twin brothers, who share an exceedingly energetic work ethic, long hours and drive to almost “out-market” each other, have lately been overseeing struggling franchises.

(Here’s the piece I wrote about them in 2006; see photo of them as kids and more recently as executives visiting each other at BankAtlantic Center).

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There’s the losing: the Nets are a dismal 8-63. The Panthers are again fighting for a playoff spot – they haven’t made the playoffs since 2000 and if they miss the postseason again this year, they’ll tie the NHL record for longest playoff drought.

Michael navigated a change in the Panthers’ majority ownership from Alan Cohen to co-general partners Cliff Viner and Stu Siegel, which came after lengthy negotiations with a public company that considered purchasing the team. He’s led Panthers’ parent company Sunrise Sports & Entertainment’s request to Broward County to restructure the company’s debt service payments on BankAtlantic Center to get some financial relief, but has yet to get a response. The plans for an entertainment district around the arena are also on hold.

Last weekend, Michael did help unveil the team’s brand new “Den of Honor” – a museum of South Florida’s hockey history on the concourse at BankAtlantic Center. The area of display cases that celebrates youth and high school hockey all through the development and history of the Panthers drew raves, but it must be at least somewhat humbling to know your team’s biggest stars are from the 1990s and grandest moment came in making it to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals.

Brett has weathered the very public change in architects for the Nets’ planned Brooklyn arena from the world-renowned Frank Gehry to Ellerbe Beckett; difficult discussions to move the Nets on an interim basis to the Prudential Center in Newark from the Meadowlands; and continued delays on the Brooklyn project. Construction of the new arena did finally begin earlier this month.

yormarkatarena.jpgAdd in the difficulty of trying to sell a really poorly performing team, and perhaps that’s what upset the usually jovial Brett Monday night, when he snapped at a fan wearing a paper bag over his head during the Nets-Miami Heat game at the Meadowlands. Read about the incident here.

When he did finally respond, Brett downplayed the incident.

But at least he has a sense of humor.

Fans who brought brown paper bags to Wednesday's game could swap them for a Nets bag filled with team souvenirs, including a poster, trading cards and a note from Brett, reading “Thanks for letting us see your face.” Brett included his email address, too.

No word from his brother on the incident.


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Florida Panthers bidding to host NHL All-Star Game


The Florida Panthers have submitted a bid to host the 2011, 2012 or 2013 NHL All-Star Game at BankAtlantic Center.

The league did not hold an All-Star Game this year because NHL players are participating in the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Bids for the next three games were due to the league earlier this month. An NHL spokesman said the league hopes to announce sites for future All-Star Games this spring.

Several other teams, including the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Carolina Hurricanes, and Ottawa Senators, are also bidding.

The Panthers hosted the 2003 NHL All-Star Game, when a soldout crowd of 19,250 fans saw the Western Conference beat the Eastern Conference 6-5 in a shootout. For a non-traditional hockey market, South Florida embraced the game and its accompanying festivities, including the NHL All-Star Block Party, a three-day festival celebrating hockey held outside the arena. In all, NHL officials said 88,000 people attended the events surrounding the game, including the Block Party, fireworks show and Stanley Cup arrival party at Las Olas Riverfront.

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Office Depot offering "That's Me" personalized sports jersey photos


TALALAY-Football1.jpgJust in time for the holidays, Boca Raton-based Office Depot is offering up personalized photos of sports jerseys hanging in a team’s locker room. Yes, like the one at left with my name on a jersey and locker between Miami Dolphins Joey Porter’s and Ricky Williams’.

You can have your name or a friend’s or relative’s -- of course -- printed on the back of a jersey from any NFL, NHL or Major League Baseball team. About 15 college team are available, too, including Florida, LSU, Ohio State and current No. 1 Texas and No. 2 Alabama.

Called “That’s Me Sports Prints,” the photos are all 8 x 10 and available at Office Depot locations for $39.99 unframed or $49.99 with a frame.

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Florida Panthers' new jersey; Jimmie Johnson's legend grows; Ray Lewis' Hurricanes' Fatheads


3rdJERSEY2.jpg jjjd1.jpg

+ The Florida Panthers unveiled their new third jersey this week. It’s dark blue and with pale blue (which is not one of the team’s colors), a new center jersey logo, and a “FLA” and sun logo on the sleeve. Reviews are mixed; Uni Watch wasn’t kind. They'll wear it a dozen times at home games this season, including on Friday against the Maple Leafs at BankAtlantic Center.

+ NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson made the rounds of New York this week to celebrate his record-breaking fourth consecutive Sprint Cup championship, which he sewed up at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday. He and New York Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon posed (see below) on the top of the Empire State Building. Read NASCAR’s Andrew Giangola’s take on Johnson’s feat and need for a nickname. My favorite line in Giangola’s piece? “Just when a NASCAR driver absolutely deserves it, Sports Illustrated will probably give Sportsman of the Year to a horse.”

+ And Fathead has added Ray Lewis in his Hurricanes uniform to its product line of giant wall graphics. The company already had a version of the linebacker in his Baltimore Ravens uniform. Each version costs $99.99.


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Florida Panthers offering naming rights - with a twist - to Incredible Ice


Hoping to attract more season ticket buyers and provide a unique business opportunity, the Florida Panthers’ parent company, Sunrise Sports & Entertainment, is giving local companies a shot at the naming rights to Incredible Ice for one year.

For the cost of four lower bowl season tickets for the 2009-10 season, local businesses will be entered into a contest to win the chance to put their name atop the team’s practice rink in Coral Springs. The rink, which recently underwent a $10 million upgrade that included adding a third NHL-regulation sized sheet of ice, gets more than 1 million visitors a year, SSE President Michael Yormark said.

The eligible tickets start at $42 a seat per game, meaning that for about $7,000, a local business can score the naming rights that SSE values at more than $300,000.

“We thought it would raise buzz in the market,” Yormark said. “We think it’s an interesting opportunity to get in front of C level executives, perhaps small to mid-size companies that might be interested in getting their name on a building.”

In addition to attracting more season ticket buyers, Yormark said the opportunity will also give SSE a better measure of the true value of the naming rights. He said it isn’t known whether the “Incredible Ice” name will remain on the building as part of the corporate title.

The contest runs through December and the winning business will be announced in January. The winner will be responsible for paying for signage. For more information or to enter, call 954-835-PUCK or visit the team’s Web site.

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See Florida Panthers' new jersey; meet new majority owners


jerseyletter1.jpgThe Florida Panthers are trying to hold their third jersey "hostage," sending the media a note saying it won’t be revealed until Monday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at BankAtlantic Center. See the letter at left sent to media members with the teaser jersey swatch.

Players will wear the third jersey, which will have an alternate logo and colors, at 11 additional home games after Monday, including at next Friday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Fans can pre-order the jerseys and pick them up starting at 7:45 p.m. Monday. Call Pantherland at the arena 954-835-7025; Incredible Ice at 954-341-9956; or visit the Panthers’ Web site for more information.

Also, on Monday, Panthers fans can meet new majority owners, co-general partners Cliff Viner and Stu Siegel, who are scheduled to greet fans arriving at the game. The pair plan to be on the arena’s main plaza level.

Viner and Siegel, who were introduced as new majority owners this week after taking control from Alan Cohen, have been vowing greater accessibility to fans. They plan to hold regular town hall meetings and meet and greets, write blogs and make radio appearances.

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Florida Panthers ownership: Changing of the guard


FL-Panthers-ownership2.jpgBoca Raton businessmen Cliff Viner and Stu Siegel officially took over as majority owners of the Florida Panthers this afternoon. They were introduced at a news conference on BankAtlantic Center's club level attended by Panthers employees and Sunrise city officials.

They become the third majority owners in the hockey team’s history and perhaps most important to fans, wrest control of team decision-making from Alan Cohen. Viner and Siegel, who become chairman and CEO respectively, have increased their investment in the team. Here's a letter Viner and Siegel wrote to fans about the purchase.

Cohen's stake shrinks, but he still retains a sizable portion -- just not the decision making. The transaction still needs NHL approval.

Cohen led the group that bought the Panthers for $101 million in 2001. The group was introduced with much fanfare, too, in the lobby of BankAtlantic Center. Cohen and his partners spoke about how they'd decided over some neighborhood barbecues to rescue a community asset and build the Panthers into a winning team.

But during Cohen's tenure, the team missed the playoffs every year, endured coaching and general manager changes and traded some of its best players. Even the group of partners grew fractious. So by this year, Cohen was ready, some say, to move on.

His attempts to merge the Panthers with a public company this summer fell through, but he'd clearly grown tired of the losing both financially and on the ice. He told me in an email last week when Viner and Siegel proposed taking control, he happily accepted. Here's what he said in a statement today:

"I want to thank Stu and Cliff for taking up this challenge. This is a great market and they deserve a winner. The team will be very successful when that happens. I had a lot of fun and I know I leave the organization in much better shape than it was when I took it over."

In fact, everyone was as gracious as could be about Cohen's tenure, however, they didn't hesitate to talk about a new era, an historic day for the franchise, a new way of doing business, accountability, discipline, accessibility and defending your actions.

"The guy's heart was always in the right place," Siegel said of Cohen. "He put a lot of devotion into this organization and still is a major partner here. We really want to thank him. Whether you view it as a success or not, obviously it wasn't a success on the ice. But we look to move forward."

When I spoke with Viner and Siegel last week they stressed they're changing the culture of the franchise, holding the coach, general manager and all employees accountable.

"We really have not unfortunately had a winning culture here for quite a while, just evidenced by the success of the team on the ice," Siegel said. "And I think the biggest thing we're going to through that professionalism and organization is really try to build a culture of winning here that we can sustain over a long period of time. It's not going to be easy, but we need to create that here."

Siegel added, "As much as we like to think we've been the ultimate professional organization, I think that in some ways, from a leadership standpoint we may have failed in that."

And this: "I think Alan had the right intentions. He put a lot of money into this thing, a lot of heart and soul into this," Siegel said. "In the end, obviously, we didn't have a winning culture here."

Siegel said where Cohen's reticence hurt him was that fans made assumptions about him.

"He wasn't out here accessible to fans, so they made their own judgments," Siegel said. "If you can only judge a team by what it's doing on the ice, and we're not doing well on the ice, then you have to judge how the organization is."

Viner and Siegel vowed change, accessibility and accountability.

"There is one thing that will change" Viner said. "Communication. There was very little communication between hockey ops and management, the president and ownership. There was very little communication. Now the lines of communication and are wide open and going to be open."

Viner and Siegel said they will be available to talk with fans and listen to their concerns. They also vowed to explain their actions.

"If we make moves that appear irrational, at least we'll explain to them why we did it as best we can," Siegel said.

You can watch the Panthers press conference introducing the new owners here:

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Florida Panthers' new sponsors generate more than $4 million annually, total more than $20 million


By January, there should be a JetBlue Airways tailfin on the plaza in front of BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, thanks to the Florida Panthers’ new sponsorship agreement with the airline announced last Friday.

Hugo Boss is outfitting the team’s television and radio broadcasters and even Coach Pete DeBoer. The in-arena host is known as the Celsius Girl due to the team’s deal with the Delray Beach company that touts calorie-burning beverages.

Despite not making the playoffs for eight seasons – the longest playoff drought in the NHL – and currently having a 5-9-1 record, the Panthers are still able to attract sponsors.

In all, the Panthers’ parent company Sunrise Sports & Entertainment has signed up 24 new sponsors for this season – for a value of more than $4 million annually. That’s on top of the already bursting roster of sponsor deals that total more than 100 – yes, that’s why so much signage! – for a value of more than $20 million a year.

The Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler signs that adorned the dasherboards and other parts of the arena have either been removed or covered, but there’s still plenty of advertising across the arena. New deals have been forged with Guinness, Lucas Oil, Mama’s Italian Ice, Bennett Auto Supply, Gran Thornton, Boar’s Head and HotelPlanner.com, among others.

SSE and Panthers President Michael Yormark is still hoping to sell the naming rights to the ice on which the team plays and to the team’s practice facility at Incredible Ice in Coral Springs.

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Miami Heat season tickets go green


When Miami Heat season ticket holders arrive at AmericanAirlines Arena for tonight’s 2009-10 season home opener against the New York Knicks, they won’t be carrying traditional stock tickets with them.

Instead, they’ll have the print-at-home variety. The team has chosen not to print up ticket booklets to “reduce environmental contamination from harsh inks and chemicals used in the printing process,” according to a message sent to season ticket holders.

“What I hope is it’s one more step towards new technology that’s coming out hopefully in time for next year, where we can embed the bar codes into credit cards, licenses, whatever, so you don’t even need anything,” said Eric Woolworth, the Heat’s president of business operations.

Meanwhile, the Heat's also promoting recycling, by having the plastic bag that wraps the Miami Herald serve as a tool for getting ticket discounts. Bring the bag to the arena's ticket office for discounts of $10 off 300 level tickets ($30 or higher) or $15 off 100 level tickets ($85 or higher). That's the bags with the Heat ad on them that look like this:


The Phoenix Coyotes became the first NHL team to go to a paperless ticketing system and are using a swipe card for entry to games. Read about it here.

Read about the Philadelphia 76ers and Flyers experimenting with paperless ticketing here.

And here’s a story I wrote last year about sports – from golf courses to teams – making environmentally friendly changes in the name of going green.

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Minor league hockey team puts Hardee’s logo in the goal


bisquitmallards1.jpgThe Quad City Mallards of the IHL are promoting what they say is another professional hockey first: a logo in the ice in the goal. Not in front of the goal. Not near the goal. Actually in the goal.

It’s a logo for Hardee’s in honor of the quick service restaurant’s “Biscuit in the Basket” promotion, which will award select fans with free biscuits for Mallards’ goals. Fans in a randomly selected row of seats will receive a coupon good for a biscuit for each goal scored by the Mallards at home games at the i Wireless Center in Moline, Ill., this season. Fans in the entire section get free biscuits, if the Mallards score at least four goals.

Hardee’s will also sponsor giveaway items at several games. Mallards players will be visiting select Hardees beginning this morning to promote the partnership.

The Mallards, you may recall, are the team that when I wrote about the Panthers’ new “locker room” seats, which allow fans to get autograph sessions and email cards from a Panthers player, pointed out they let fans into the actual locker room up to 30 minutes before game time. The Mallards’ home opener is Oct. 24.

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NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Florida Panthers' ownership, league economics


NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman attended the Florida Panthers' home opener against the New Jersey Devils Saturday at BankAtlantic Center. He met with reporters before the game and addressed a number of issues including the team's ownership. Read more about the Panthers on Steve Gorten's blog here.

Bettman said the Panthers are not being sold to a public company -- the team had been in talks this spring with public company Sports Properties Acquisition Corp., but an agreement was never reached. However, he expects the precise makeup of majority owner Alan Cohen's ownership group to change. He said that does not mean limited partners will change or be added, but their levels of investment and roles in the group could change. Stay tuned...

Here's how Bettman addressed a number of issues:

On Panthers' ownership:

I think that the group is in discussions to see about making some adjustments among themselves, and I think those discussions are ongoing ... I think the solution here is going to come out of perhaps a rejiggering of the existing ownership group, not necessarily somebody getting in or out, but just kind of a restructuring on the day to day.

On whether he's concerned about the ownership and financial health of the team:

I think the club needs to continue to work to improve its performance ... but they should be OK. Barring something extraordinary that nobody anticipated and I’m not suggesting that’s going to happen, they should be fine.

Performance on the ice?:

Listen it’s no secret the club’s gone eight seasons, nine years with out being in the playoffs. There’s a good fan base here and I don’t think anybody doubts that. I think with improved performance ... By the way, last year was the most points they had since the last time they made the playoffs.

On whether he's confident the team will be successful:

At some point in time, every team’s competitiveness or lack thereof has an impact and teams can go through rebuilding periods, but listen they’re a good core group of players here, good young coach. If they continue to develop the right way... listen there’s a lot of fans of this club that show up, this is a big building and I think with improved performance it will be easier for them to fill it. ... I think this is a franchise that has potential, has an opportunity, I think the issues they’re dealing with can be sorted and out and dealt with going forward ... I think they’re probably closer now to a resolution of the ownership issues than they’ve been.

Since the Panthers opened in Finland, are there other European cities the league is considering for NHL games:

We’ve played in London. We’ve played in Prague. There are a variety of opportunities in Germany, Switzerland, Slovakia and maybe perhaps as we continue this, some more traditional European cities, [but] non-traditional hockey cities, such as Paris, Barcelona. We would like to continue to expand our European presence on a regular basis. By that I don’t mean franchises on the ground, I mean more and more clubs, more and more games to open the season, so maybe we’re in seven or eight cities at the same time, to open the season because if you were there you know there’s tremendous interest in our players and our game.

On other leagues watching what happened in court with ownership of the Phoenix Coyotes:

Everybody was watching what happened in the legal proceedings very closely, because the, and you’ve heard me say this before, two most important issues for any sports league, are who owns the franchises, who’s going to be a partner, and where franchises are located. And the concern those rules could be circumvented, was one all of the sports leagues took seriously, which is why early on in the proceedings the other leagues intervened.

On whether the lockout has improved the financial health of teams:

It has ... We don’t run the 30 franchises, every team has to be accountable for its own on and off ice performance. The system has made it much better. The competitive balance has never been better. There are always going to be situations. Phoenix didn’t belong in bankruptcy ... That was an attempt by two people to circumvent our rules.

On the economy impacting ticket sales:

I think it’s market by market, but our season ticket renewal in this market league-wide was about what it was last year, before the economic downturn. We’re not expecting to be down, based on the preliminary projections we have this year in revenues…We’re flat to up a little bit is my best early guess as to where we’re likely to be. I know over the last few months, there was a lot of speculation the [salary] cap’s going to go down 20 percent. That’s absurd, that’s just made up, it isn’t going to happen. Business is much stronger than that. Our attendance last year, through the recession set another record, our revenue set another record, revenues were up about 5 percent in local dollars, not accounting for the decline in the Canadian dollar ... In real dollars, we think we’ll at least be flat, if not up a little bit. In attendance, including so far this season is at least flat, if not up a drop.Our fans are very connected to the game. I’m not suggesting the recession isn’t having an impact. Like for example, I thought last year I thought we’d be up 7 percent, we were up 5 percent. Listen, I don’t foresee dramatic growth, but a lot of people say the new up is flat. There’s been some erosion ... The speculation of 10, 20 percent decline, I don’t see that at all.

On how the economics have changed since the league locked out players in 2004-05:

We’re not paying out 76 percent of our revenues, on one element of our expenses. Teams by and large, and there are going to be outliers, when you look at competitive balance, everybody can afford to be competitive [with] the combination of the [salary] cap and revenue sharing. Last year it took 1,220 out of 1,230 games to have the first playoff matchup determined, it took 184 out of 186 days of regular season to know who was going to be in the playoffs, and we didn’t know the matchups overall until after the last game was played. When you look at also the range in points between the middle of the pack making the playoffs and who didn’t make the playoffs, I think a handful of points separated whether or not you made it. Virtually, if not all, of every game in the regular season had some impact as to how this is all going to wind up in terms of making the playoffs. You hear players, you hear coaches talking about every game is like a playoff game particularly down the stretch. That’s a function of the way the game’s being played and it’s a function of the fact that teams Feel that they can compete. That there are no easy games any more. While our economic circumstance has changed by about 19 percent what the cost the actually is, which probably equates to about 25 percent, you have the fact, we have a system, where teams are better off and can compete and you’re seeing it.

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Panthers reduce season ticket prices on thousands of BankAtlantic Center seats


After studying the issue and surveying fans, the Panthers are reducing season ticket prices on thousands of seats for the 2009-10 season and offering tickets in the upper bowl for as low as $7 a game and in the lower bowl for $35 a game.

The team had promised to freeze season ticket prices, but is instead reducing prices in 11 of 14 seating categories across BankAtlantic Center, marking what Panthers President Michael Yormark calls the “most aggressive price reduction we’ve had in the history of this franchise.”

Price reductions for full season ticket plans range from $2 to $17 a game. Among the reductions: Terrace level seats are dropping from $9 to $7 a game; Goal Zone from $17 to $12; Lexus Club from $60 to $55; Lower Bowl Sidelines from $77 to $65; and Premium Plaza Middle from $82 to $72. Half-season and mini-plan prices are also being reduced.

“The goal is to get fans to come to more games,” Yormark said. “We think we’ll also be able to attract the casual fan.”

The team sold close to 9,000 season tickets last season, Yormark said, meaning there’s still plenty of inventory. He says he wants fans who attend a couple of games a season to come to five or six; those that came to a half dozen games to purchase a mini-plan, for example.

The cheapest seats in the lower bowl are the Lower Bowl End Zone, which are dropping from $50 a game to $35. The seats in the shoot once end in sections 105 to 114 Rows 18 to 28, are being redesigned and renamed the “Panthers Locker Room.” Sections of the seats will be named after individual players. In keeping with the team’s effort to provide fans more value with their tickets, fans who buy tickets in those sections automatically become members of that player’s fan club, receiving benefits such as merchandise, birthday cards from the player, pre- or post-game autograph sessions and a learn-to-skate clinic.

“It’s a way to get fans a little closer to the product,” Yormark said.

The team has also renamed the first row and Panther Club rows 2-4, the Premier Lounge and is making it a new all-inclusive club with dining and lounge location. The first row stays at $207 a game, but the Panther Club drops from $132 a game to $115.

Fans who have already purchased season tickets have been informed of the reductions and will receive either refunds or other benefits such as BankAtlantic Center bucks good for concessions, Yormark said.

As part of their plan to market the price reductions, the Panthers have enlisted the help of NFL super agent Drew Rosenhaus. Rosenhaus is appearing in TV, print, and radio ads to promote the team. The ads break today:

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Panthers fans “hire” Drew Rosenhaus to negotiate ticket prices? (UPDATED)


Got your attention, right? That’s the idea.

If he can negotiate the price of ESPN talent’s lunch in an ad for ESPN’s SportsCenter (see ad below), then why can’t super NFL agent Drew Rosenhaus help out the Panthers fan with his or her ticket prices?

OK, to be clear: he has not really been hired by fans to negotiate ticket prices – who, after all, is going to pay for that? -- but he is being used as part of the Panthers’ plans to market the team for the 2009-10 season.

He tweeted about it - in all seriousness - earlier today.

“As a longtime Panthers fan and a person who believes in giving sports fans the value and the atmosphere they deserve, I am absolutely thrilled to represent the Cats faithful at the bargaining table,” Rosenhaus says in a press release issued as part of the campaign. “That said, this a unique situation for me to represent the fans as opposed to professional athletes. But as a passionate Cats follower, I’ve got my finger on the pulse of the BankAtlantic Center faithful.”

Panthers President Michael Yormark said he's gotten just the kind of response he'd hoped: attention and national media calling to talk about the "negotiations."

"We wanted to create an out of the box, unique and different type of ticket marketing campaign," Yormark said late this afternoon. “It’s getting us top of mind, we haven’t even launched our campaign yet."

Rather than just send out a press release with new ticket pricing that might languish in emailboxes, the Panthers wanted to create a buzz. And figured, why not have Rosenhaus, a well-known South Floridian, help start it?

"What we’re trying to do is raise awareness for this announcement of our new pricing. We don’t expect Drew Rosenhaus to sell tickets for us, what we do expect is Drew Rosenhaus is going to help us introduce new pricing," Yormark said. "He opens up doors for us, we might not have been able to open ... You want people thinking about your product, thinking about the Panthers."

Rosenhaus will be appearing in TV, print and radio ads on behalf of the Panthers set to break next week. That's when we'll learn about the new ticket prices, too.

Apparently Rosenhaus is a Panthers fan, so does it make sense to have one of the region’s most recognizable figures in sports promote the Panthers? What do you think?


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Dolphins team with marketing company for travel packages


The new business developments keep coming from the Dolphins and Land Shark Stadium. OK, this one isn’t about a celebrity (Jimmy Buffett, Gloria and Emilio Estefan) or added technology (Kangaroo TV handhelds for premium seat holders).

It’s a multi-year marketing partnership with Premiere Global Sports to provide travel packages to Dolphins home and away games and special events. The company is designing packages for Dolphins away games that start at $245 and include two-night hotel stays, game tickets and a game-day souvenir. The packages for fans from out of South Florida for home games start at $345 and include two nights at the Courtyard Fort Lauderdale Beach, game tickets and a souvenir.

For more information and to book packages, visit sportstravel.com/dolphins.

The company has worked with a number of teams, including arranging trips for New York Rangers fans to Prague for the team’s opening series last year and is arranging trips for St. Louis Blues fans wanting to attend the opening series against the Detroit Red Wings in Stockholm in October.

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Talks to buy Panthers ongoing, suitor’s board could change


We don't yet know if a public company's proposal to buy the Panthers will result in a deal. But talks between Sports Properties Acquisition Corp. and the team are ongoing. And the clock is ticking.

Sports Properties is what’s known as a "special purpose acquisition company" or SPAC. It raised $215 million from investors last year and has until January to use the money to buy a sports or entertainment asset. If the money isn’t spent it must be returned to investors with interest. The SPAC signed a non-binding letter of intent last month to purchase the team for $230 million, but it still could be some time before an agreement is reached.

What makes this story interesting right now is the role of Sports Properties president and CEO Tony Tavares. Tavares is a long-time sports team executive, who has run the Anaheim Ducks, as well as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Montreal Expos and the Washington Nationals. He also headed venue operating company SMG.

Tavares is also linked to a group that is bidding to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes out of bankruptcy at auction and keep the team in Arizona. That group includes Chicago Bulls and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and is completely separate from the SPAC. Reinsdorf’s group is expected to put in a bid on Friday with the auction to be held Aug. 5, assuming the bids are qualified and accepted by the bankruptcy judge.

From what I’m told, Tavares does not plan to do both deals. If Reinsdorf is successful, it’s quite possible Tavares could be installed to run the Coyotes. In that case, he'd most likely resign from the SPAC.

If the Panthers deal occurs first, it’s unclear if Tavares would have a position with the team.

The NHL does allow minority ownership in more than one team: Panthers limited partners, Fort Lauderdale advertising executive Jordan Zimmerman and St. Louis orthopedic surgeon Rick Lehman bought into the Tampa Bay Lightning, too, last year.

It’s unknown how large Tavares’ interest would be in the Panthers or Coyotes, but it’s unlikely the league would allow an executive (and owner) of one team to invest in a second team.

So, we’ll have to keep watching and waiting to see how this all plays out.

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Lots of details to resolve in potential sale of Panthers


After looking at dozens of sports and entertainment properties to acquire, Sports Properties Acquisition Corp., has zeroed in on the Panthers and is working with Sunrise Sports & Entertainment to try to finalize a deal.

Last month, the two entities signed a non-binding letter of intent to reach agreement on the sale of the team for $230 million, but sources say it could be weeks before a deal is signed. As I explained in a story last month, Sports Properties Acquisition Corp., a public company formed to buy a sports or entertainment asset, has been searching for a property that offers an upside. The company has examined other hockey teams and made an unsuccessful bid for the Chicago Cubs.

What makes Sunrise Sports & Entertainment attractive is not just that it owns the Panthers, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2000, but that it operates publicly-financed BankAtlantic Center and has plans for City of Oz, a massive mixed-use retail and entertainment complex surrounding the Sunrise arena.

So, details are still being worked out, but the NHL is aware of the negotiations and the non-binding letter. It’s possible an agreement could be reached by late June, but unclear if it could be ready in time for the league’s Board of Governors meeting later this month. It could be months before the deal closes, sources said.

Sports Properties Acquisition is what’s known as a "special purpose acquisition company" or SPAC. The SPAC raised more than $200 million from investors last year and has until January to use the money or it must be returned to shareholders with interest. Shareholders would also get their money back if a deal is reached but rejected. Any deal must receive approval of NHL owners and the SPAC’s investors.

SPACs gained notice in the 1990s, but their modern version did not surface until 2003. They are mainly an investment vehicle for hedge funds. While SPACs are formed to purchase all sorts of companies, Sports Properties Vice Chairman Andrew Murstein said last month his SPAC was the first to delve into the sports industry.

Panthers owner Alan Cohen and his partners would receive stock in the company in the deal and the team would be public once again. The Panthers, who were an NHL expansion franchise in 1993, were publicly held from 1996-2001, but became a private entity when H. Wayne Huizenga sold the team to a group led by Cohen for $101 million.

The makeup and operation of the team under the new company, is unclear. Although he could still have a role with the team, don’t be surprised if Cohen isn’t calling the shots in the future.

Sports Properties has plenty of sports experience among its board and advisors.

The company's board of directors includes Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron and former New York governor Mario Cuomo. Ex-Buffalo Bills Quarterback Jack Kemp, who died last month, had also served on the board. Murstein had said it was Aaron who suggested the company consider buying a sports team.

Company President and CEO Tony Tavares’ resume includes stints as president of the Anaheim Ducks and the Montreal Expos and head of venue operating company SMG.

And Game Plan LLC, an investment banking firm that handles team sales and acquisitions and is advising Sports Properties, was one of a pair of companies that together made an offer to buy the entire NHL in 2005 during the lockout.

The offer from Game Plan and Bain Capital never advanced, but was for $3.5 billion (roughly $116 million a team) and was presented to the NHL. The idea was to run the industry as a single-entity league in which no team had a particular economic advantage. Traditional television contracts would have been replaced with coverage by regional sports networks.

Anyway, stay tuned…

And just a reminder that I’m now on Twitter. Follow me: @sarahtalalay

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Yankee Stadium auction; South Florida has two of SI.com’s worst sports team owners


Catching up from a couple of days away:

+ As you no doubt know, items from old Yankee Stadium are now up for auction through July 24. The auction includes 1,500 distinct pieces, ranging from stadium signs to the dugout bat holder to the actual seat Jeffrey Maier occupied during the 1996 playoffs. New pieces will be added each week. Visit auctions.steinersports.com to register and check for updates.

Other items for sale include 1 square foot pieces of live sod for $120; pairs of stadium seats from $1,499 to $1,999; and bricks from Monument Park in a glass case for $150.

+ And SI.com says South Florida is lucky enough to have two of its four pro team owners included among the worst five owners in the four major sports.

The Web site placed Panthers owner Alan Cohen as second worst among NHL team owners ahead of only MLSE (Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment) owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Web site says Cohen hasn’t connected with fans and made the “wrong hire” with Jacques Martin.

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria was ranked fourth worst among MLB owners. Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos was worst, followed by Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks, and Kansas City Royals owner David Glass. The Web site says Loria may have overseen a shocking 2003 World Series championship over the New York Yankees, but blames him for letting go of his young talent when it gets too expensive.

Do you agree with SI.com’s assessments?

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Huizenga’s legacy in South Florida sports


H. Wayne Huizenga bid farewell Tuesday to nearly two decades of sports team ownership, including 19 years with his favorite team, the Dolphins.

When he completed the sale of the Dolphins to New York real estate developer Stephen Ross last month, Huizenga’s remarkable tenure owning three professional sports franchises - including two expansion teams that took the field and ice within six months of each other - came to an end.

His biggest regret: that his Dolphins didn’t win a Super Bowl. He also said in hindsight perhaps he should have waited a year to dismantle the Marlins after they won the 1997 World Series.

He oversaw a tumultuous period, bringing South Florida into the major leagues: owning three teams and taking two of them to their sport’s championship, investing in a regional sports network, selling naming rights to a stadium, and overseeing the construction of a 20,000-seat arena. It was a period the likes of which will never been seen again. If you’re interested in reading a longer view of Huizenga’s tenure in sports, click here.


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Panthers, Nets create "Snowbird Ticket Exchange"


Twin brothers and sports team execs Michael Yormark (Panthers) and Brett Yormark (New Jersey Nets) often try to take credit for each other’s creative marketing ideas. This time, the pair is trying to offer each other’s fans a break.

Introducing the first-ever “Snowbird Ticket Exchange” program: Panthers season-ticket holders who happen to be in the New York/New Jersey area can cash in unused Panthers tickets for a seat at a Nets game. Nets season-ticket holders in South Florida can do the same to get with unused Nets tickets for a Panthers game.

You just need to prove you’re a season-ticket holder and provide five days’ notice.

“This innovative program represents yet another way for us to add value to being a Florida Panthers season-ticket holder,” Panthers President Michael Yormark said in a statement. “As I am sure many of our fans regularly visit the New York metropolitan area for business or pleasure, they will have an opportunity to add a Nets basketball game to their itinerary.”

Of course, Nets fans might be getting more value at BankAtlantic Center than Panthers fans at the IZOD Center — the Panthers are in the playoff hunt at 24-18; the Nets are lagging at 23-27.

The brothers, however, are also known for their creative sponsorship deals. Maybe they should get JetBlue to sponsor this promotion.

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Panthers pin hopes on pin promotion


Pins2.jpgTaking a page from Disney, the Panthers will launch a collectible pin-trading program at Sunday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche at BankAtlantic Center.

Ushers and other team staffers will be wearing collectible pins on lanyards that fans can trade for with their own NHL- and hockey-related pins they bring with them or that they purchase at the game. Pins will be sold for $6.95 and $12.95 at a pin stand at Section 125 of the arena.

Panthers President Michael Yormark came up with the idea this fall when he saw pin trading occurring during a visit to Disney World with his daughter, Sophia. He said he “was amazed at the reaction from children of all ages. I do believe it will work here and potentially pull more families and children to our Panthers games.”

The Panthers have been boosting family-friendly activities and areas at the arena, including the Kids Korner, which launched last season and features games, activities and kids’ menu items, including mini-pizzas and caramel apples.

Additionally, IT’SUGAR, the chain of candy stores, has partnered with the Panthers this year and opened a store on the plaza level, where fans can buy old-fashioned sweets in bags by weight.

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South Florida's teams fall in brand index rankings


What a difference a lousy year makes.

Turnkey Sports & Entertainment released the results of its second annual Team Brand Index survey last week of all 122 NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL teams. The survey, which is purchased by teams and sponsors, measures the brand strength of each team based on the perceptions of fans in those markets.

The company surveyed 12,000 sports fans in 47 U.S. and Canadian markets on their perceptions of the team’s entertainment value, players, ownership and other factors. All four of South Florida’s teams fell in fans’ estimation between the 2007 and 2008 studies, especially the Heat, which was ahead of the Dolphins in the 2007 study. Here’s where the teams rank among the 122 in this year’s survey compared to last year:

Team 2008 rank; 2007 rank
Dolphins: 55; 42
Heat: 65; 33
Marlins: 78; 70
Panthers: 103; 99

THE TOP 5
Green Bay Packers
Boston Red Sox
Pittsburgh Steelers
New England Patriots
Indianapolis Colts

THE BOTTOM 5
New York Islanders
Indiana Pacers
New Jersey Nets
New York Knicks
Seattle SuperSonics*

*The survey was conducted before the SuperSonics moved this season to Oklahoma City

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Sports leagues get boost from Black Friday


The Panthers wouldn’t say how many tickets were sold at discounts of 30 percent to 50 percent during their one-day sale from midnight Thursday to midnight Friday, other than it was one of the team’s most successful selling days in the past few years.

Around pro sports, Black Friday was a good day.

The NFL recorded an 85 percent increase in sales at NFLShop.com on Black Friday compared to 2007, making the day the league’s third highest grossing sales day. The biggest day was yesterday (Thanksgiving Sunday), followed by Thanksgiving Sunday in 2007.

The best sellers since Thanksgiving? Brett Favre’s replica men’s green jersey and youth green jersey, followed by Giants-custom hooded sweatshirts and Eli Manning’s replica men’s blue jersey.

Meanwhile, the NBA said its online store recorded its best Black Friday sales ever, more than doubling last year’s figures. Sales at NBAStore.com were up 95 percent for the full weekend. Together, sales at the online store and at the NBA Store in Manhattan rose a combined 38 percent from last year.

Chris Paul’s jersey was the top seller over the weekend, followed by NBA team logoed T-shirts.

And the league kicked off a 12 days of deals promotion at NBAStore.com today. A new discount will be announced each day.

MLB.com, which sold select jerseys at 40 percent off, said sales were up 25 percent compared with 2007.

The NHL said sales at Shop.NHL.com were up 67 percent on Black Friday compared to 2007 and that sales were up 25 percent from a year ago on Cyber Monday. For the full weekend sales rose more than 10 percent from 2007 at the NHL Store in Manhattan.

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Let's buy two!


Apparently a minority ownership stake in one NHL franchise wasn’t enough for Fort Lauderdale advertising executive Jordan Zimmerman and St. Louis orthopedic surgeon Rick Lehman.

Zimmerman and Lehman, who are both investors in the Panthers, bought into the Southeast division rival Tampa Bay Lightning last month. They are part of an eight-person ownership group led by Hollywood producer Oren Koules and former Panthers player Len Barrie. And as odd as it sounds, the league says: “multiple minority ownership interests are permitted by the NHL Constitution.”

“It hasn’t been done,” said Zimmerman, founder of Zimmerman & Partners advertising in Fort Lauderdale. “We’re the first.”

The partners say they’re just improving their odds of winning.

“If I make enough investments, I’ve got a better chance of winning a cup and a ring,” Zimmerman said. “Why be typical? I built a whole ad agency of being untypical.”

Zimmerman said he was approached by Koules and Barrie about investing in the team: “I thought this was an opportunity to get involved in another team, help them build some of their ancillary revenue streams … my skill set is truly on the business side.”

He approached Lehman about joining the group.

“The first one was such a good idea, I figured I’d invest in another one,” said Lehman, who specializes in sports medicine. “They called and were looking for people to look after their medical in Tampa. I did it for the Panthers for a while.”

What will they do when the two teams play each other a half dozen times next year?

“In my arena, whoever wins," Zimmerman said, "that’s the team I’m rooting for."

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Panthers décor


The Panthers are offering up the chance to turn a room in one fan’s house into a Panthers’ lair, known as “The Captain’s Room,” complete with signed memorabilia and other team souvenirs. Through a partnership with Sports Interiors, fans can enter to win the “Ultimate Florida Panthers Room.”

The company creates custom team- and sports-focused offices, bars, and spare rooms, turning them into a sports fan paradise with everything from photos to jerseys to team-logoed furniture.

Panthers Captain Olli Jokinen will appear for the Panthers room unveiling. “Sports Interiors promises that the winner will be the envy of Panthers fans everywhere,” a press release states. Fans must be 21 and live in Broward, Palm Beach or Miami-Dade counties to enter.

Enter at Panthers’ Web site or at sportsinteriors.net.

The winner will be announced at the Panthers final regular season home game on March 29 against the Washington Capitals.

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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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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.

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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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