The Business & Pleasure of Sports


Category: Florida Panthers (116)

Yormark twins have Panthers, Nets on the rise


SUNRISE That wasn’t double vision fans were experiencing in Club Red during Thursday’s Florida Panthers game against Ottawa.

It was just twin sports franchise bosses Michael and Brett Yormark sharing the view of the game at the BB&T Center.

yormark-brothers.jpgAs usual, Michael was working on closing a deal. But the Panthers president and COO didn’t need to apply hard-sell tactics to convince brother Brett to buy two memberships to the new premium club overlooking center ice at the BB&T Center.

“It’s an easy sell, and he’s going to pay rack rate, no discounts,” Michael Yormark said.
Although Brett runs a team based 1,200 miles away, he figures he’ll get enough use of the memberships which go for about $16,500 a year for access to all events at the BB&T Center.
The CEO of the Brooklyn Nets has a home in Boca Raton and spends considerable time in South Florida.

“It’s affordably priced, they’ve created a nice value proposition with the all-inclusive [aspect] and all events,” said Brett, who brought about 40 of his key personnel from the Nets and their new arena, the Barclays Center, for a two-day strategic think tank in South Florida.

The Barclays Center has a super-exclusive club known as the Vault, with 11 private floor-level suites that go for $550,000 a year. Jay-Z, a Nets part-owner, had a hand in the design.

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Fewer than 1,000 tickets remain for Panthers' opener


A sellout appears likely for the return of hockey in South Florida.

As of Thursday morning, fewer than 1,000 tickets were available for the Florida Panthers-Carolina Hurricanes opener Saturday night at BB&T Center in Sunrise. Fewer than 75 tickets remained unsold in the lower bowl.

Opening night will feature the raising of the Southeast Division championship banner prior to the game. Every fan in attendance will receive a commemorative mini-banner and other fan-friendly promotions are planned.

Doors will open at 6 p.m. Saturday with the puck dropping at 7:30.

Ticket are available at Ticketmaster.com or by calling 954-835-PUCK.

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Free Florida Panthers tickets up for grabs


For those in need of a hockey fix, there are a couple of ways to get one for free to see the Florida Panthers this season.

Team President Michael Yormark has launched a contest on Twitter in which two lower bowl tickets will be awarded prior to each Panthers home game during the regular season. Just answer trivia questions and retweet @PanthersYormark using the hash tag #7thman for automatic entry. Winners will sit with Yormark for part of the game and have an opportunity to ask questions and discuss matters relating to the Panthers.

In addition, Panthers tickets are being awarded this weekend to randomly-selected fans at Duffy’s Sports Grill locations throughout South Florida.

Ratification of the new labor agreement by the players' association is expected later Saturday, and the Panthers are expected to being a 48-game regular season on Jan. 19 at the BB&T Center.

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Florida Panthers 24th in NHL at $170M; Maple Leafs top Forbes list at $1 billion


The gulf is wide between the haves and have-nots in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs topping the list as the league’s first $1 billion franchise in the Forbes rankings of the 30 teams.

The Florida Panthers, not surprisingly among the lower echelon, nonetheless moved up two spots in 2012 to 24th with a slight increase in value to $170 million. Forbes attributed that to better performance by the team that produced the first playoff appearance since 2000.

Despite a 6-percent boost in attendance, The Panthers ended $12 million in the red, according to Forbes, which said the team’s gate receipts were among the league’s lowest due to huge giveaways of tickets.

Continue reading "Florida Panthers 24th in NHL at $170M; Maple Leafs top Forbes list at $1 billion" »

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Panthers fans invited to join Yormark on charity rides


Florida Panthers COO Michael Yormark invites fans to join him in peddling for charity on his daily Red Heart Rides benefiting the American Heart Association.

Yormark began riding 40 miles each weekday on a stationary bike at the Panthers’ JetBlue Training Facility in Coral Springs – 20 miles in the morning, 20 at noon or in the afternoon – to raise $30,000 for the AHA’a Broward Heart Ball Campaign leading up to the Panthers’ scheduled regular-season opener on Oct. 13.

Supporters can donate $25 to sponsor a mile, or $100 to ride with Yormark for a session. All contributors will be acknowledged through social media and online updates, and ride participants will receive breakfast or lunch, two tickets to Panthers Opening Night and an “I Love Panthers Hockey” merchandise kit (proceeds from the kit go to the Florida Panthers Foundation).

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Florida Panthers' lockout ticket policy has rewards, drawbacks


With no end to the NHL lockout in sight, Florida Panthers season-ticket holders are facing an Oct. 1 deadline to decide whether or not to let the team hold on to their money for the duration of the labor dispute.

The three choices outlined in a letter to ticket-holders are clearly designed to discourage fans from asking for refunds.

Those who agree to keep their full account balance with the team can opt to receive a 10 percent credit or a 5 percent payment for games that are canceled and not rescheduled.

While those are among the most generous options being offered by NHL teams, the Panthers’ third choice is raising the ire of some fans. Those who want their money refunded must wait for it until the NHL finalizes the 2012-13 season.

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


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

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

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

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

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Florida Panthers will wear JetBlue patches on practice jerseys


CORAL SPRINGS Their jerseys will continue to be red. But when the Florida Panthers step on the ice for practice and pregame skating sessions next season they will sport the patch of JetBlue.

The Panthers became the ninth NHL team to add a sponsor patch to their practice jersey Monday when they announced an expansion of a three-year partnership with the airline, which has become a major player in South Florida and the Caribbean basin.

In addition, JetBlue obtained naming rights to the Panthers’ practice facility at Saveology.com Iceplex.

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Panthers-Devils Game 7 tickets a bargain by NHL standards


With an average ticket price of $100.85, the Panthers-Devils winner-take-all showdown Thursday is a steal for a Game 7 in the NHL playoffs.

The game will begin at 8:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on FSF. The Devils' 3-2 overtime victory Tuesday in New Jersey set up Thursday's finale of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.

The Panthers, trying to win their first playoff series since they defeated Pittsburgh in seven games in the 1996 conference finals, have won two of three games so far at BankAtlantic Center.

Two other Eastern Conference quarterfinals have also been pushed to the limit. According to SeatGeek.com, the average price on the resale market for Thursday’s Senators-Rangers Game 7 in New York is $353.78, while tickets to Wednesday night’s Capitals-Bruins Game 7 in Boston are averaging $263.85.

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NHL chief Bettman: Good times ahead for Panthers, South Florida hockey


SUNRISE Commissioner Gary Bettman, on hand to watch the Panthers’ first playoff game in 12 years on Friday night, said this turnaround season has shown a resiliency for the franchise and believes “there are good times ahead” for hockey in South Florida.

“The buzz is great. I get down here a lot, and the buzz down here has been great all season,” Bettman said. “I’m happy for the fans down here that have so loyally and spectacularly supported this franchise over the years. … This is a team that through some lean times has gotten really good fan support, and it is only going to increase as the team’s performance increases.

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Florida Panthers in the spotlight of TV commercial for Stanley Cup Playoffs


The Florida Panthers are being featured in a television commercial for the Stanley Cup Playoffs that is already grabbing attention on YouTube. And why not, after a 12-year absence the Panthers are the novelty act of this postseason.

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Video card: Florida Panthers take a shot at Jingle Bells


Seasons greetings as only a hockey team can deliver. All they want for Christmas are their two front teeth.

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Panthers' concessions alcohol-free on Dec. 18 to promote drunk-driving awareness


The Panthers’ game on Dec. 18 against Carolina was a sobering experience.

As a show of support for the state’s campaign against drunk driving, the evening was alcohol-free at BankAtlantic Center. Well, partially.

In recognition of the Florida Department of Transportation’s “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” initiative, all concessions on the Plaza and Upper Level were closed for alcohol sales, including Svedka Bar and Panther Bar (Suite Level).

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Florida Panthers claim their Sunrise site best in Broward for Vegas-style casino


The Florida Panthers are eager to be high rollers.

All the big casino companies are lining up for the chance to set up shop in South Florida if the Florida Legislature opens the door to Vegas-style gambling. The Panthers believe they offer the best bet for success for any that may decide to take a chance on Broward County.

Panthers President Michael Yormark said Thursday there have been talks with about a dozen casino firms that have shown an interest in building a gaming resort on the 90 acres adjacent to BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise.

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NHL realignment plan intriguing but would boost travel for Florida Panthers


If the NHL’s radical plan for realignment goes through, the Florida Panthers will be spending more time in the air, and transplants and visitors from Canada will be able to see their teams more often in South Florida.

The proposed shift to a four-division alignment is the hot topic at league meetings in Pebble Beach, Calif., and could be voted on later Monday or Tuesday.

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Florida Panthers offer 50 percent off on tickets during Thanksgiving sale


In the spirit of Black Friday, the Panthers are offering 50-percent off on single-game tickets during a 36-hour Thanksgiving Special.

The sale runs from noon Thursday to midnight Friday and applies to all remaining home games beginning with Friday night’s game against Tampa Bay. Visit Ticketmaster.com.

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Panthers get only national exposure Tuesday on Versus; complete NHL TV schedule on NBC/Versus


The Panthers will make their first appearance on national television in two seasons Tuesday night when they face the Penguins in Pittsburgh at 7:30 p.m. on Versus. It will be their only chance at national exposure during the regular season.

Shut out of the national TV schedule last season, the Panthers made one appearance on Versus in 2009-10 and one the previous season.

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Florida Panthers watch parties set for opener at two Duffy's Sports Grills


For hockey fans who want to gather for a first glance and discuss the new-look Florida Panthers, two watch parties are planned for Saturday night’s season opener at the New York Islanders.

The watch parties are at Duffy’s Sports Grills in Plantation (811 S. University Dr.) and North Miami Beach (3969 NE 163rd St.).

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Yormark gives Panthers' view on high-end Club Red seating plan


Imagine learning that your rent is going to increase nearly ten-fold.

That essentially is the shock some Florida Panthers season-ticket holders are facing with the pending plan to convert three sections in the lower bowl at BankAtlantic Center into a high-end premium seating area called Club Red. Seats would cost $20,000 or more a year, and would cover food and beverages in a plush lounge area and provide access to other events at the BAC.

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Florida Panthers' Red Zone seating only for fans cheering home team


For passionate Florida Panthers fans who don’t want to have to sit near anyone rooting for the other team, the newly designated Red Zone seating section is the place to be at BankAtlantic Center.

It’s in sections 105-114, and no opposing infidels allowed.

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Florida Panthers to convert sedats to red in lower bowl at BankAtlantic Center


panthers-locker-seats.jpg

Panthers fans will not only be seeing red on the ice this year. The team is extending the renewed emphasis on red to the décor at BankAtlantic Center.

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Panthers offer lots of fireworks - with free-agent signings and July 4 celebration


EDDIE.jpg

There were plenty of fireworks emanating from Florida Panthers headquarters Friday on the first day of the free agency period.

GM Dale Tallon addressed all three areas of the ice by signing veteran goalie Jose Theodore, forwards Scottie Upshall and Marcel Goc and bringing back former Panthers defenseman Ed Jovanovski (pictured at left).

Should add to the festive mood at Monday’s July 4 celebration in the parking lot of the BankAtlantic Center. Sunrise Sports & Entertainment is joining with the city of Sunrise in the free community event outside the arena where the Panthers hope to make more noise than they have in years.

The celebration is from 5-10 p.m., featuring live music, food vendors and family fun zone activities. The Gin Blossoms will play at 6 p.m. Fireworks show is at 9. Lawn chairs and umbrellas are permitted in the parking area.

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Red becoming on Panthers, if they can become winners again


panthers-jersey.jpg

Red is the most eye-catching color, intense and riveting.

The Florida Panthers have been making effective use of it this summer as a branding agent for rebuilding a tattered image into a fresh connection to passion and aggression with a link to the early part of their history when they were successful.

That is exemplified in the new blood-red jersey unveiled during last week’s draft and modeled by the team’s selections including Edward Wittchow, above. This version adds contemporary styling to the one worn by old favorites Mellanby, Skrudland, Lindsay and the Beezer when the Panthers were the scrappy little team that battled its way to the Stanley Cup Finals.

What’s your verdict on the new-old look?

I welcome it. Never felt any attachment to the baby blue-and-black number of the recent past that had the more realistic panther face inside a circle shield (sported below by former Panther Bryan McCabe). Looked like a scared kitty inside a life ring, which those teams were often in need of. Always thought the snarling, leaping logo with claws and fangs bared was one of the best symbols in pro sports.

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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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Dolphins Club LIV ticket deal with yarmulke


yarmulke2.jpgThe Miami Dolphins and Society of Young Jewish Professionals have partnered on a unique ticket deal that includes a yarmulke giveaway.

With SYJP, Jewish dating service JDate and Sleek Medspa presenting the 24th annual Matzo Ball gathering for Jewish singles on Friday night at Club LIV at the Fontainebleau Hotel, SYJP and the Dolphins are hoping to capitalize on partying Jews.

They’ve partnered on a ticket to Sunday’s Dolphins-Detroit Lions game that is 60 percent off entry into Sun Life Stadium’s Club LIV – the team’s new nightclub experience overlooking the game – and a snazzy Dolphins yarmulke.

The ticket still costs $110.25, but the team is promising yarmulkes to anyone purchasing the ticket. It’s part of the team’s effort to connect with its many Jewish fans and to take advantage of the timing of the game right after Matzo Ball.

During Hanukkah, the Florida Panthers gave out a Panthers yarmulke to fans who purchased a special Jewish Heritage Night ticket.

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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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History of South Florida sports focus of documentary


Rick Horrow, veteran of numerous sports financing deals, is behind a new documentary that traces the history of South Florida sports from the Miami Dolphins' 1966 inaugural season to LeBron James’ July 8 “Decision” to change the face of the Miami Heat. And pretty much everything in between, including the Florida Marlins and Florida Panthers.

The “Birth of South Florida Sports” debuts at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday on WPEC Channel 12 in West Palm Beach. It includes interviews with legendary Dolphins coach Don Shula, former Dolphin Dick Anderson, Dolphins owner Steve Ross, and golfer Jack Nicklaus, among others.

Horrow, CEO of Horrow Sports Ventures, also interviews former Senator and former Florida Gov. Bob Graham, who spearheaded the movement to create sports authorities and give them the authority to oversee the building of sports venues. Horrow, who served as founding director of the Miami Sports & Exhibition Authority, and oversaw the building of Miami Arena, said Graham understood the importance of sports teams to a community.

That’s a lot of ground to cover in half an hour, but Horrow said it’s supplemented with podcasts and the release of an updated version of his book When the Game Is On The Line.

PBS’ Nightly Business Report now includes Horrow’s "Beyond the Scoreboard” series on Monday nights. Horrow also hosts “Beyond the Game” at 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays on WPEC.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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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Duffy’s partners with Dolphins, Panthers & Marlins


Buoyed by the success of its partnership with the Miami Dolphins, Duffy’s Sports Grill has been expanding its relationships with South Florida’s sports teams.

The Palm Beach Gardens-based sports grill chain became the “Official Sports Grill of the Miami Dolphins” last August and launched the Dolphins Express – a network of bus transportation from Duffy's locations to and from Dolphins home games at Sun Life Stadium. Not only has that relationship expanded, but the sports grills are also including Dolphins tickets and special offers as part of their MVP loyalty card program, in which members get seated without waiting, discounts and other benefits.

This year, the Dolphins Express has expanded to 10 locations from Fort Lauderdale to Melbourne. The buses, which will all be express rather than making stops along the way, are leaving earlier and rather than a box lunch, the price for the trip includes a ticket and a pregame tailgate at Sun Life Stadium catered by Duffy’s. The prices are $79 for upper corner endzone seats; and $124 for lower corner endzone seats. The tailgates include hamburgers, chips, cookies and a cash bar for beer and wine.

“We’ve learned a lot from last year,” said Paul Emmett, Duffy’s president and owner. “The buses are leaving, there will be a tailgate party. All the buses will get together and we’ll be offering the grill and beer before every game.”

A schedule of the Dolphins Express stops and times is below.

The success of the Dolphins partnership has led to the sports grills – which have 22 locations and more than 300,000 loyalty card members -- partnering with the Florida Panthers and more recently with the Florida Marlins.

The Panthers partnership launched in June with Duffy’s hosting the team’s 2010 NHL Entry Draft Watch Parties at Duffy’s locations in Palm Beach Gardens and Fort Lauderdale. Duffy’s will also hold watch parties during the season and Panthers benefits are also part of the restaurant’s loyalty card program.

Meanwhile, the restaurant chain recently forged a partnership with the Florida Marlins, which is under way this season, but will be more visible in 2011. Among the plans are watch parties and promotional events aimed at driving ticket sales, said Brendan Cunningham, Marlins senior director of corporate sales.

“They’ve got a great footprint in the South Florida area, their plans for future expansion matched up well without backyard market,” Cunningham said. “It seemed like a perfect fit.”

Emmett said the relationships helps Duffy's with branding and drives more customers to the restaurants.

The Dolphins Express departure locations and times are as follows:

Melbourne: 1 p.m. games, 8 a.m.; 4 p.m. games, 11 a.m.,; 8 p.m. games, 3 p.m.
Superplay: 1 p.m. games, 8:30 a.m.; 4 p.m. games, 11:30 a.m.; 8 p.m. games, 3:30 p.m.
Jupiter East: 1 p.m. games, 8:45 a.m.; 4 p.m. games, 11:45 a.m.; 8 p.m. games, 3:45 p.m.
Villages: 1 p.m. games, 8:45 a.m.; 4 p.m. games, 11:45 a.m.; 8 p.m. games, 3:45 p.m.
Southern: 1 p.m. games, 9 a.m.; 4 p.m. games, noon; 8 p.m. games, 4 p.m.
Boynton East: 1 p.m. games, 9:15 a.m.; 4 p.m. games, 12:15 p.m.; 8 p.m. games, 4:15 p.m.
Delray: 1 p.m. games, 9:30 a.m.; 4 p.m. games, 12:30 p.m.; 8 p.m. games, 4:30 p.m.
Coconut Creek: 1 p.m. games, 9:45 a.m.; 4 p.m. games, 12:45 p.m.; 8 p.m. games, 4:45 p.m.
Plantation: 1 p.m. games, 10 a.m.; 4 p.m. games, 1 p.m.; 8 p.m. games, 5 p.m.
Fort Lauderdale: 1 p.m. games, 10 a.m. ; 4 p.m. games, 1 p.m.; 8 p.m. games, 5 p.m.

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Taxpayers on hook for sports teams’ former homes


A front page story in today’s New York Times details how New Jersey taxpayers are still on the hook for $266 million in bond payments that remain on the Meadowlands Sports Complex, despite the fact that Giants Stadium has been torn down and the New York Giants and Jets have moved into their new $1.6 billion new Meadowlands Stadium. The debt includes what’s left on the Izod Center, which is no longer home to the New Jersey Devils and Nets.

The bill comes to $35.8 million this year, and the bonds won’t be retired until 2025, the article says. The piece goes on to detail a number of locales where taxpayers are still paying off bonds on buildings that no longer exist: Seattle residents in King County still owe $83 million, scheduled to be repaid in 2016, on the Seattle Mariners’ former home, the Kingdome, which came down in 2000.

South Florida taxpayers seem only to be on the hook for sports venues in use – even though at least two – the Orange Bowl and Miami Arena – have been torn down in the past couple of years. The city of Miami made sure Miami Arena was off the city’s tax rolls in 2004 when it sold the pink oval arena – where the Miami Heat, Florida Panthers and UM men’s basketball team once played -- to Glenn Straub at auction for $28 million. And a $50 million general obligation bond approved by voters in 2004 to renovate the Orange Bowl has instead been applied to the Florida Marlins’ under-construction ballpark.

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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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Ticket site discounts teams' excess inventory, partners with Florida Panthers


Just like you might search for a hotel room or an airfare deal on a discount travel website such as Travelocity, Seth Cantor is hoping you’ll want to do the same for less than prime sports ticket inventory.

He launched FanRates.com in November and partnered with the New Jersey Nets and Los Angeles Clippers to offer up reduced price tickets to some of those NBA teams’ less popular game dates. The tickets come directly from the teams’ inventory. The company has since forged partnerships with the Golden State Warriors, Toronto Raptors and MLS teams, Chivas USA and the San Jose Earthquakes.

For teams it doesn’t partner with, FanRates.com directs visitors to secondary ticketing services, which it does not control.

Last month, the company partnered with the Panthers. For tomorrow night’s game against the Buffalo Sabres at BankAtlantic Center, for example, you’ll find $50 sideline balcony seats for $20, and a $95 premium endzone seat for $65. Check out other Panthers offers at FanRates.com.

FanRates wants to offer fans a less expensive ticket option, and teams a way to fill more seats.

“Not every team sells out nowadays and it has nothing to do really with their records,” said Cantor, CEO of Brooklyn, NY-based FanRates.com.

Well, sometimes, it does. Particularly in South Florida. But Cantor’s point is that in a difficult economy, fans have to make choices and sometimes they’re choosing not to attend games at all.

“People have to understand we’re not selling the prime inventory at the reduced price,” Cantor said.

By way of example, he said, travelers who want to fly non-stop to Las Vegas, sit in first class and arrive at a specific time, don’t find those flights on discount travel websites.

“But if you want to go to Vegas and you don’t mind if it’s a connecting flight or if you get in at 11 o’clock or if you’re sitting in the back of the plane, you go to the travel sites,” he said. “Same deal with our site.”

Cantor also stresses FanRates isn’t undercutting season ticket holders, who make their investment based on wanting to choose their location at every game, playoff ticket priority and extras, such as player autograph sessions.

“If you want to buy based on location,” Cantor says, FanRates.com isn’t for you.

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Florida Panthers and JetBlue to unveil tailfin Tuesday


jetblue2.jpgIt’s a little later than anticipated, but the JetBlue tailfin that’s part of the airline’s partnership with the Panthers and BankAtlantic Center is scheduled to be unveiled on the arena’s plaza Tuesday prior to the Cats-Washington Capitals game.

The partnership, announced in November, includes joint marketing promotions and advertising through 2011. Among the promotions are “TrueBlue Nights” at the arena, when fans have a chance to win free tickets to a Panthers game by wearing blue or signing up to become TrueBlue members during Tuesday’s game.

The 22.5-foot high, 26-foot wide tailfin will be unveiled at a ceremony at 5 p.m. on the “JetBlue Tarmac” on the arena’s front plaza. Panthers and JetBlue Airways officials expect the tailfin to serve as an iconic meeting place for hockey fans and concertgoers.

“We look forward to becoming part of the experience for fans and customers at the BankAtlantic Center, and supporting the Fort Lauderdale community, one of JetBlue’s strongest cities and growing,” Marty St. George, JetBlue’s senior vice president of marketing and commercial strategy, said in a statement.

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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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A little yoga with your Florida Panthers game?


It’s not unusual for teams to have theme nights: Boy Scouts day; Jewish or Hispanic Heritage Night; Lawyer Appreciation Day; Bring your dog to the park night.

But yoga night?

The Florida Panthers are getting in on the yoga craze helping to celebrate Yoga Day USA on Jan. 23. Panthers Yoga Day includes a 90-minute yoga instruction session before the Panthers-Toronto Maple Leafs game that night.

Tickets are $20 for the game and the yoga, which starts at 4:30 p.m. Bring your own yoga mat and change of clothes and stay for the game in an upper level seat at BankAtlantic Center. Already have a ticket to the game? It’s just $10 more for the yoga class. Of the yoga tickets, $5 from each purchase goes to the Yoga Alliance. Check out details at floridapanthers.com.


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A decade of South Florida sports business stories


The end of the decade also corresponds with my first decade as the Sun Sentinel’s sports business writer. When I first got the job in September 1999, people would congratulate me and then ask: “What are you going to do with the rest of your time?” As if this somehow wasn’t a full-time job!?

Just in case those people are still wondering what I do with my time, here’s my $2 added to the end of the decade lists with a by the numbers sampling of South Florida sports business stories. (Disclaimer -- this does not purport to be a full or complete list):

5 NEW TEAM OWNERS: Alan P. Cohen and his group bought the Panthers from H. Wayne Huizenga in 2001. Jeffrey Loria took ownership of the Marlins from John W. Henry (by way of Major League Baseball) in 2002. Steve Ross completed his purchase of the Dolphins from Huizenga in 2009. And Cohen’s partners Cliff Viner and Stu Siegel (I’m counting them as two) took over majority ownership of the Panthers this fall.

5 (at least) TEAM MOVES: The Heat moved to AmericanAirlines Arena in 2000. Hurricanes football moved to Dolphin Stadium in 2008. FAU moved from Dolphin Stadium to Lockhart Stadium. FIU football moved into a new stadium. The Baltimore Orioles ended their spring training run at Fort Lauderdale Stadium and are moving to Sarasota next year.

10 (and counting...) TEAMS LOST: Miami Fusion (Major League Soccer); Miami Sol (WNBA); Miami Tropics (Spring Football League); Miami Manatees (minor league hockey); Florida Bobcats (AFL); Florida Pitbulls (ABA); Miami Morays, Palm Beach Phantoms and Florida Frenzy (all of the National Indoor Football League); Miami Diamantes (baseball); and others too numerous to count…

2 VENUES BUILT: UM opened BankUnited Center in 2003; FIU opened its new football stadium in 2008.

2 TORN DOWN: Both the Orange Bowl and Miami Arena came down in 2008.

4 TEAMS STARTED (and still exist in some form): Miami FC (soccer), Miami Caliente (Lingerie Football League); Miami Fury and Palm Beach Punishers of the Independent Women’s Football League.

NAME CHANGES get their own section: In 2001, Sports & Sponsorships President Scott Becher was more prophetic than he might have imagined when he told me this for a story about the golf tournament at Doral changing its name to Genuity:

"You're going to start to see names change for a second and a third time," Becher said. "I think by and large, fans get it, but from the sponsor's standpoint, it's like buying a used car. The car is never going to smell like new. The value of the sponsorship is diminished when you have to untrain fans to think of it as one name and reteach them a new name."

3 (Three-way tie) – Dolphins’ home stadium: Started the decade as Pro Player, then Dolphins Stadium, followed by Dolphin (no s) Stadium, and Land Shark Stadium. It’s set to become Dolphin Stadium again in January.

-- Key Biscayne tennis tournament: Lipton became Ericsson Open then Nasdaq-100 Open. Now it’s Sony Ericsson Open.

-- Golf tournament at Doral: Doral Ryder Open became Genuity Championship, then Ford Championship, and now it’s CA Championship.

2 (two-way tie) – Panthers home arena: National Car Rental Center became Office Depot Center and is now BankAtlantic Center.
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FIU’s basketball arena: Golden Panther Arena started the decade as Golden Panther Arena, became Pharmed and is now U.S. Century Bank.

1 ZILLION Marlins ballpark plans: But the ballpark is under construction and scheduled to open in 2012.

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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 Marlins, Miami Heat and Florida Panthers holiday ticket deals


It’s not unusual for teams to offer holiday ticket package specials, but the Florida Marlins are offering a holiday deal aimed at filling the stands for lots of games.

Not a surprise, of course, but this deal includes tickets to a game at every home series in 2010 or 26 games for $150. Yes, that’s $5.77 a game. While the tickets are on Land Shark Stadium’s lower level, they’re in right field in what has been the picnic area. But still – that’s less than parking. Find out more here.

Meanwhile, the Miami Heat’s deal allows you to craft your own holiday three-game pack starting at $99. The team has divided up games ranging from $33 a game to $65 a game. Check it out here.

The Florida Panthers, too, are offering a holiday deal starting at $99 that includes two to four seats at up to seven games, and a David Booth autographed puck. The number of games and prices depends on the seat locations: The $99 pack, for example, includes two upper level seats; get four lower level seats for $499. More details here.

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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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JetBlue partners with Florida Panthers


jetblue1.jpgJetBlue Airways has been snapping up sponsorships with sports teams across the country in the past 18 months, including the Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels, Buffalo Bills, Texas Longhorns and New York Jets.

On Friday, the airline announced its first ever sponsorship with a hockey team and arena, becoming the official – and exclusive – airline partner of the Florida Panthers and BankAtlantic Center. Already, JetBlue’s signage is on the awnings over the arena’s doorways and dots the plaza in front of the building.

By January, a signature JetBlue tailfin is to be added to the plaza – the first ever installation for the airline. (See rendering above).

To honor the new multi-year partnership – and the addition of the airline’s 18th destination from Fort Lauderdale (starting Nov. 17 to San Francisco) – the airline is offering 18 percent off on bookings made today for travel Dec. 2-16 made at www.jetblue.com/bac

Officials would not disclose the financial details, but a release about the deal says it will include joint marketing and advertising through 2011. It is expected to include special travel packages for Panthers fans to attend away games and for fans in cities JetBlue serves to visit South Florida and take in a Panthers home game.

Panthers President Michael Yormark announced the partnership Friday on the arena’s front plaza, which will know be known as the JetBlue Tarmac, saying “Today, the BankAtlantic Center gets more leg room. Today the Florida Panthers become true blue.”

Marty St. George, JetBlue senior vice president of marketing and commercial strategy, said the airline considered other sponsor opportunities in South Florida, but chose to partner with Sunrise Sports & Entertainment, the Panthers’ parent company and operator of BankAtlantic Center, because of the variety of events the company oversees.

“It’s not just a team,” St. George said. “The building has 200 plus events a year. Over 2 million people have come in every single year to various events. And I think that’s something we saw as a great kicker on top of it, which is not only do we get to work with a dynamic team that I think has got a great future, we also have the opportunity to get our name in front of customers that come here for all the different events … This is a dream opportunity.”

The announcement also included a concert by Cobra Starship, and was attended by JetBlue employees, as well as Panthers coach Pete DeBoer and team limited partners Cliff Viner and Stu Siegel.

Viner and Siegel are expected to buy a portion of majority owner Alan Cohen's stake in the team and be named co-general partners. Cohen will retain a stake in the team, but will no longer make team decisions. Viner and Siegel weren't talking Friday, but the restructured ownership situation is expected to be announced next week.


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Scott Rothstein's (and RRA's) sports connection


If you’re a sports fan in South Florida, chances are you’ve seen RRA’s logo. Or heard of one of the companies Scott Rothstein’s invested in. That’s because Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler has been rapidly racking up sports sponsorships and teaming with local athletes and their charitable organizations.
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Remember those billboards featuring Rothstein with Dan Marino, promoting RRA’s partnership with the Dan Marino Foundation? RRA served as a presenting sponsor of The Summer Groove, hosted by Alonzo Mourning and Dwyane Wade, held in July at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood.

Ten days ago – not long before it became public Rothstein was under investigation -- RRA was the sponsor of the Miami Dolphins 2009 Alumni Weekend. RRA sponsors the Heat and messages promoting the firm's connections with Marino’s and Mourning’s charities have flashed from the giant MediaMesh LED marquee on the front of AmericanAirlines Arena that overlooks Biscayne Boulevard. There’s even an RRA ad in the Miami Heat’s opening night program.

RRA has a sponsorship deal at BankAtlantic Center with the Florida Panthers. Three other companies in which Rothstein has an investment -- Bova, Renato and V Georgio Vodka -- also have sponsorship agreements with the team and arena. Bova sponsors the Panthers' Ice Dancers.

The Heat, Panthers and Dan Marino Foundation all declined to comment Tuesday. But don't be surprised if RRA's logo is no longer included as part of the Panthers' game presentation.

The Florida Marlins are the only one of the four major pro sports team in South Florida that doesn’t have any sort of partnership with RRA or Rothstein-connected company.

In January, attendees at a VIP party before the BCS National Championship Game received a football-shaped luggage tag featuring the BCS and RRA logos.

On Monday, Miami Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown broadcast his weekly radio show, “The Ronnie Brown Show,’” on WQAM-560 AM from Bova Prime in Fort Lauderdale, just as he's done all season.

Last month, Rothstein announced the formation of RRA Sports & Entertainment, a division to handle marketing and endorsement deals for athletes. Its first clients are Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder and junior tennis player Sachia Vickery.

Rothstein is also a member of the corporate marketing committee of the South Florida Super Bowl Host Committee, but so far has been missing in action, host committee chairman Rodney Barreto said Tuesday.

“I did have lunch with him to discuss the Super Bowl and if he wanted to get involved with us. He’s involved with a lot of great charities. He agreed,” said Barreto, who met with Rothstein a few months ago.

“He’s attended no meetings, participated with no referrals or anything to date. As far as I’m concerned, he hasn’t done anything with our committee yet. I wish he would have,” Barreto said adding he thought someone of Rothstein’s stature and connections could help the host committee.

“He was a force, don’t kid yourself,” Barreto said. “It was brought to my attention, why don’t we consider having him help open doors for us, to help find potential sponsors. It didn’t work out.”


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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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Miami Heat’s presenting sponsor: sign of the times


When the Miami Heat introduced Assist-Card as its first-ever season presenting sponsor last week, the team became part of a trend as teams look for new ways to generate more revenue.

Assist-Card, a Geneva-based travel insurance and assistance company, forged a five-year agreement with the Heat to help the company launch its services to U.S. customers. The 39-year-old company served 7.2 million international travelers last year, but is just entering the U.S. market.

The company assists travelers with everything from lost luggage to medical care to translators to legal services. Its name will appear on tickets, banners, schedules, advertisements and arena signage. For this season, the company’s name will also appear like this: “Heat ’09-10 presented by Assist-Card.”

For the Heat, the sponsorship is a way to generate more revenue. The Heat has had playoff presenting sponsors. Other teams have had sponsors for individual games or series.

The Florida Panthers have had a presenting sponsor for the past four seasons, starting with ADT and followed the past three seasons by the Seminole Tribe, whose Seminole Casino Coconut Creek was the presenting name and the “official Florida Panthers Post Game Party Spot.” The deals have been worth mid-six figures to low seven figures.

“First and foremost the benefit from a team standpoint is revenue generated from a piece of inventory that didn’t really exist before. And for us, it has been a significant revenue source,” Panthers President Michael Yormark said.

Yormark’s twin brother, Brett, who is CEO of the New Jersey Nets introduced basketball’s first off-season sponsor, signing Wrigley to sponsor the team’s summer activities in 2007.

The Panthers are always looking at new ways to forge sponsor partnerships.

“The presenting sponsorship of a season is just the tip of the iceberg,” Yormark said. “We have a sponsor for all of our player transactions – Coral Springs Moving & Storage. These types of things are only going to expand in the future because they provide a company with a customized exposure package that is unique to their partnership and will more efficiently help them meet their goals and objectives.”

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South Florida teams, events create 10-event Super Pass


In a highly unusual collaboration, 10 South Florida sports teams and events have banded together to sell a package of tickets to 10 different sporting events that saves fans $150 to $550.

The South Florida Super Pass, being sold in limited numbers through Oct. 30, costs $330 for regular seats and $1,125 for premium seats to see the region’s four pro sports teams, NASCAR finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, horse racing at Calder and Gulfstream, soccer, and attend the Sony Ericsson Open tennis tournament and the World Golf Championship event at Doral.

Getting all the teams and events to agree wasn’t simple. But Aaron Davidson, chairman of the sports committee of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, which is selling the ticket, said everyone saw the benefit.

“The economy probably helped. Our South Florida sports market is a challenging one in general,” said Davidson, who is also president of Miami FC soccer team. “Everyone realizes we’ve got to promote our South Florida sports. I hope this joint initiative is the first of many.”

The Super Pass can be purchased at sportssuperpass.com.

Each event works differently and the revenue is shared based on the team or event’s cost, Davidson said.

The Miami Dolphins, for example, are providing a 400 level seat with a food voucher or a Hall of Champions suite seat with food and beverage to the Dec. 27 game against the Houston Texans. The Florida Panthers are offering a goal zone ticket or an ADT Club ticket with food and beverage to any home game this season. Homestead-Miami Speedway is offering a reserved grandstand or Speedway Club seat to the Nov. 22 NASCAR finale.

The idea is to give fans a discount and encourage them to attend an event they might not have considered. Other teams and events have teamed up to sell a joint ticket, but those partnerships typically involve two events or teams. For example, the World Golf Championship and Sony Ericsson Open sold a joint ticket that allowed fans to attend both events, when their schedules overlapped in 2007. This summer, the Cleveland Browns and Indians sold a suite package together that included two Indians games and one Browns game.

Bill Sutton, associate director of the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida, applauded the South Florida ticket plan, which he compared to an entertainment book of vouchers and discounts.

“It makes sense,” Sutton said. “It’s one of the hardest hit regions by the economy ... It gives people value and a sampling opportunity.”

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Minor league hockey team lets fans INSIDE the locker room


My story today about the “Panthers Locker Room” – a new season ticket option at BankAtlantic Center that includes $35 a game seats in the lower bowl along with perks like autograph sessions and skating clinics with players – struck a nerve with the Quad City Mallards.

The Panthers Locker Room includes the 1,100 seats in sections 105 to 114, rows 18 to 28, which are being divided into segments that will be named for five to seven Panthers players, who will hold autograph sessions and skating clinics for fans in their areas. Those seat holders will also get their section namesake's merchandise and birthday and holiday e-mail messages from him. The sections are being decorated to look like the inside of a team locker room.

The Mallards of the IHL, however, say they introduced their “Ice Row Cold Pass Seats” for this coming season a few weeks ago. The seats, which cost $25 a game and are in the first two rows at the i wireless Center in Moline, Ill., include access to the team’s ACTUAL locker room up to 30 minutes before game time.

Here’s how the seats are advertised on the team’s Web site: “The Mallards are the first team in the history of professional hockey to offer the fan an experience like no other. This ticket allows the fan to visit and see the inside of the private team areas prior to battle! ICE ROW Cold Pass ticket holders are allowed into the arena 30 minutes prior to walk up general public admissions, allowing plenty of time to witness the build up. Be there for the coach's comments and the behind-the-scenes experience with your QC Mallards - just don’t stay too long unless you intend to lace them up!”


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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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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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Panthers Playoff Promise nets ticket buyers


They didn’t make the playoffs, but the Panthers did sell nearly 1,400 Playoff Promise tickets, the team said.

A total of 1,377 tickets were sold under the marketing campaign that promised fans the team would make the playoffs – for the first time since 2000 – or buyers would get tickets to four games free next season. That means 1,377 tickets can be redeemed for games during the Panthers’ 2009-10 season.

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Fire Isiah Thomas (from FIU) T-shirts already for sale


Even before Isiah Thomas was introduced as Florida International University’s new basketball coach this morning, Justin Forer saw another merchandising opportunity –- and outlet for fans, who might not think too highly of the controversial Thomas.

With the ink barely dry on Thomas’ contract on Tuesday, Forer had already posted “Fire Isiah University” (FIU, get it?) T-shirts for $20 apiece on his FireThatGuy.com Web site. They’re in Golden Panthers colors, too: blue and white and blue and gold.

Forer, 31, a Miami native, who recently moved back to the Magic City after a decade in New York, including Thomas’ rocky tenure with the New York Knicks, actually launched the business in 2005 with shirts calling for the firing of former University of Miami football coach Larry Coker. The shirt was so popular that Forer’s side business was born.

“At the time there was a big move to have Larry Coker fired,” Forer said. “FireThatGuy is not necessarily to hate coaches, but to give fans a chance to voice how they really feel.”

Although not an alum, Forer knows a thing or two about Miami football, having, as he says, “grown up in the endzone of the old Orange Bowl.” And about South Florida sports: his first foray into the sports souvenir business was in 1996 during the Florida Panthers’ Stanley Cup run when he bought cases of plastic rats and he and some friends sold them out of boxes on street corners in Miami.

For his second sports business, other coaches and general managers followed Coker. There were Isiah Thomas shirts from his time with the Knicks. And hats and baby bibs, too.

“I don’t know that we sold any baby bibs, but they were out there,” Forer said. “After Larry Coker, Isiah became the No. 1 seller.”

Forer said he thought about starting a blog, but decided the merchandise was a more proactive way to get fans involved. His other victims have included former New York Mets manager Willie Randolph and former Detroit Lions President Matt Millen. Current ones include Miami football coach Randy Shannon and Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis. Forer insists that only two targeted coaches – Doc Rivers of the Boston Celtics and Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants -- “not only did not get fired … but went on to win championships.”

“I hope that Isiah is not walking around with a 'Fire Justin' T-shirt,” he said. “And to be honest, the shirts are all in good fun. Fans deserve a chance to voice their opinion, too.”

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More fun with Heat and doughnut brackets, Phanatic ice cream and Panthers' Sunrise Edition


Tidbits:

+ The Heat dancers still own the NBA’s dance bracket competition, winning the title for the fourth time in the contest’s four-year history. The teams are judged by fans who vote online. Wonder if Pat Riley has plans to trademark something with the number four...

+ In Dunkin’ Donuts bracket contest, Florida Donut Champ is … Boston Kreme. But runner-up Coconut gave the favorite a good run. And apparently there’s also precedent for Boston Kreme… in 2000, in honor of Dunkin’s 50th Anniversary, Americans voted Boston Kreme their favorite doughnut.

+ Win the World Series and your mascot gets an ice cream flavor. Or so it is for the Phillie Phanatic. The popular mascot for the 2008 World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies now has his own “Phillie Phanatic Double Play,” which is: “Bavarian cream-flavored light ice cream with caramel corn and caramel swirl” according to a release. It joins Turkey Hill Dairy’s official team flavor, Phillies Graham Slam. “Just like the Phanatic, this ice cream is a little unusual but it's something you can't help but love,” Turkey Hill President Quintin Frey said in a statement. The mascot flavor will be sold at Citizens Bank Park.

+ And from BankAtlantic Center, increasingly energetic Panthers President Michael Yormark has added blogging to his early morning duties. His “Sunrise Edition” blog is on the team’s Web site. Even after last night’s loss to the Philadelphia Flyers that hobbled the team’s playoff hopes, Yormark tries to push optimism, while he also touts a new sponsor, Fontainebleau Miami, and his personal trainer, whom he says he works out with most weekdays at 4 a.m. Sunrise edition, indeed.

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Heat, Hawks arenas go green; others to follow


arenagreen.jpgAmericanAirlines Arena is bathed in green for tonight’s Heat-New Orleans Hornets game, in honor of the venue receiving LEED (which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The coveted designation was bestowed upon the Miami venue and Philips Arena, home of the Atlanta Hawks and Thrashers, this week. Heat and Miami officials announced AmericanAirlines Arena’s “green” stamp of approval Tuesday morning. My colleague Doreen Hemlock, who covers “green” business, was there to capture the sentiment.

Among the green features at the arena are its roof paints and sealants that reflect the sun, instead of absorbing heat; drought-resistant plants and irrigation system; and its purchase of chilled water from a nearby plant for more than $100,000 a month rather than building a water plant that would have cost about $30 million and requires high energy to operate.

Eric Woolworth, Heat president of business operations, said the decision to seek LEED certification was "strategic" to differentiate the arena from others and boost business.

"This is a really challenging time to attract sponsors, and this is one way to separate ourselves from the pack," he said, noting that Waste Management already has signed up as a partner in a multi-year deal. "And hopefully, it will attract entertainers and acts that want to play green venues and visitors who want to support green venues."

Costs for certification were minimal, because nearly all paperwork was handled in-house and few improvements were needed to qualify, said Kim Stone, the arena's general manager. The nearly 10-year-old building already boasted many of the electricity- and water-saving features to earn the certification, such as underground parking that produces less heat than above-ground asphalt lots.

Green has now reached the consciousness of sports teams and leagues. BankAtlantic Center has adopted environmental measures, and has explored LEED certification, but it not pursuing it at this time. The Sunrise venue that is home to the Panthers uses green cleaning products, recycles everything from cardboard to light bulbs to cell phones and is considering adding solar panels on the venue’s roof, arena officials said.

And Silver LEED certification is a requirement of the Marlins’ planned $515 million ballpark in Little Havana. Miami-Dade County and the city of Miami have agreed to contribute up to $1.75 million each toward the certification; with Major League Baseball pledging $1 million to the cost. The team would pick up any additional costs. The ballpark would become the second silver LEED certified building in the league, after the Washington Nationals’ ballpark.

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More Panthers tickets at deep discounts


They may have just lost four games in a row, but the Panthers are still in the playoff hunt. And there are still ticket deals to be had at BankAtlantic Center.

Online travel deal Web site, Travelzoo, has more deals – including some for more than half off – for tickets ranging from $10 to $50.

The site is advertising tickets for the next four home games at prices such as $11.25 for Terrace Level seats that are regularly $23.50 up to $51.25 for premium upper level and club seats that regularly run $68.50 and $98.50. The deals are available for the following games: Thursday against the Toronto Maple Leafs; Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets; Monday against the Carolina Hurricanes and March 31 against the Ottawa Senators.

Check out the deals here. Travelzoo also reminds Panthers fans that the “2 for Tuesday” deal, which includes two tickets and a voucher to buy two hot dogs for the price of one, is available for the March 31 game. The package costs $30 for upper level goal zone seats.


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Sports fans and teams getting social with Twitter


It’s mostly sports fans who are using Twitter.com to update scores, pontificate about various players and plays and trash talk. Some are even “tweeting” live from games and placing friendly wagers. But teams and events are increasingly realizing they need to be tweeting, too.

My story today examines how teams and events are incorporating social messaging system, Twitter, which allows users to send and receive messages of up to 140 characters, into their media, marketing and promotions. Teams are posting news stories, updates, scores, ticket discounts, promotions and more.

Reach the Dolphins here; the Heat here. The Panthers are in the process of launching an account and the Marlins are in talks with Major League Baseball Advanced Media, which controls the league’s new media rights, about setting up an account.

Even Homestead-Miami Speedway just started using Twitter this month to post news, driver quotes and even responses to Speedway Motorsports CEO Bruton Smith’s diatribe against Homestead last week. Check out the speedway’s twitter page here.

Are you talking sports on Twitter? Live tweeting from games? Let me know....

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Panthers’ parent company launches new media network


When the NHL owners were on the verge of locking out players in 2004, Panthers management didn’t want to be caught without a business plan.

Panthers President Michael Yormark worked proactively to position the team and BankAtlantic Center as more than just a hockey team and an arena. In 2005, the team’s owners and arena’s operators renamed their business units “Sunrise Sports & Entertainment” to reflect better their wide ranging company that includes the Incredible Ice practice facility in Coral Springs, which is completing an expansion; and a publications business that is revamping its Panthers Insider magazine.

“We decided strategically to position the BankAtlantic Center and the Florida Panthers as a year-round sports entertainment and media company as opposed to a seasonal sports company,” Yormark said. “Furthermore, we realized the importance of creating customized and integrated, partnership opportunities across all of our business units, in order to deliver measurable results and a return on investment for our participating partners and it grew from there.”

Last week, Sunrise Sports & Entertainment unveiled its latest venture: the Sunrise Sports & Entertainment Media Network. It’s a way to integrate and incorporate all its business units and media partners to sell advertisers, sponsors and corporations on a one-stop shopping approach to all their media needs.

What it means is SSE will work with companies that sponsor the team or arena to develop advertising, sponsorship and promotional programs across 15 different platforms all brought together under the SSE Network roof. That includes: the team; arena; game program; Panthers Insider magazine; Incredible Ice; TV broadcaster Fox Sports Florida; cable partner Comcast; radio broadcaster 790 the Ticket; outdoor marquees; the team’s YouTube channel; Facebook and MySpace pages; Twitter account and more. Read more about the social networking portion here.

“Tonight everyone in this room must face the built in challenge of these tough economic times, which is why now more than ever we must provide unique marketing and advertising opportunities that drive results for our partners,” Yormark said during the network’s unveiling last week in the arena’s Chairman’s Club.

“The timing is absolutely perfect, in a fragmented marketplace where more than just traditional media outlets are needed to significantly effect your business, we give you fully integrated sports and entertainment programming,” he continued. “Tonight we touch every available media channel through one portal.”

It remains to be seen whether the network will drive more partnerships and foster more comprehensive marketing and advertising relationships, but Yormark says the company is breaking new ground. Check out the presentation here:

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Marlins, Heat, Panthers promote Tobacco Free Florida Week


TFF2.jpgThose public service announcements by local athletes in which they say they don’t chew, dip or smoke, are having an impact. So much so that Gov. Charlie Crist proclaimed this week “Tobacco Free Florida Week.”

In an unusual display of teamwork, eight pro and college teams around the state along with Fox Sports Florida and Sun Sports are continuing the anti-tobacco messages in force this week. The networks have taped more than 90 tobacco-free announcements with players and coaches. They’ll be played on scoreboards and during game telecasts.

Skeletons -- representing the nearly 29,000 Floridians who die each year from smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control – will be dressed as sports fans and placed in the stands at participating arenas and stadiums (see photo of skeletons in UF and FSU gear). Street teams will promote anti-tobacco messages; smokifier vans, in which fans can see how they would age if they smoke, will be at the events.

"By combining efforts of professional and collegiate teams, local County Health Departments and other key tobacco prevention stakeholders, we can further extend the reach of the campaign's message," Kim Berfield, Florida Department of Health deputy secretary, said in a statement.

The festivities started Friday at the Orlando Magic-Detroit Pistons game and continued today at FSU’s basketball game against Clemson. Sunday afternoon’s Marlins-St. Louis Cardinals spring training game in Jupiter will also be a Tobacco Free Florida event. The rest of the week’s schedule: Monday night’s Heat-Cleveland Cavaliers game at AmericanAirlines Arena; Tuesday’s Tampa Bay Rays-Houston Astros spring trianing game; Thursday’s Panthers-Pittsburgh Penguins game at BankAtlantic Center; Friday’s Tampa Bay Lightning-St. Louis Blues game; and Saturday’s UF-University of Kentucky basketball game.

"Tobacco Free Florida Week presents a tremendous platform for us to utilize our unique media assets, along with those of our sports team partners across the state, in a concentrated, highly-visible way and encourage Floridians to pledge to be tobacco free," Fox Sports and Sun Sports Senior Vice President and General Manager Steve Liverani said in a statement.

Tobacco Free Florida Week is one part of this year’s campaign to promote anti-tobacco messages and help smokers quit. The campaign is funded by tobacco settlement dollars made available for anti-smoking programs when Floridians approved a constitutional amendment in 2006. Last year, $17 million was spent on the media campaign; the amount is up to $19.8 million this year.

The program directs smokers to the American Cancer Society’s Quitline for counseling and nicotine replacement patches, gum and lozenges. The message has been effective. Calls to the Quitline rose from about 4,000 in 2007 to about 45,000 last year.


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Several ways to save on tickets to upcoming Panthers games


The Panthers may be the hottest team in South Florida, but good seats are still available to most games at BankAtlantic Center. And a number of them are available at a significant discount.

Online travel deal Web site, Travelzoo, has individual game tickets available at group rate prices – that’s as much as a 45 percent discount -- for five upcoming games. Discount tickets are available in four seating categories, including Upper Level Goal Zone seats for $20 (regularly $30) and Club Level seats for $50 (regularly $92).

Ticket are available to the following games: March 7 against the St. Louis Blues; March 14 against the Tampa Bay Lightning; March 17 against the Washington Capitals; March 19 against the Toronto Maple Leafs and March 21 against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Meanwhile, limited lower bowl seats are available for all remaining weekday Panthers games for $49 – a $23 savings off the individual ticket price – thanks to team sponsor Saveology.com. The online comparison shopping Web site is covering the additional cost to provide the “Save Seats” to Panthers games.

The Panthers also still offer their Total Ticket package, starting at $17 in the upper bowl, which includes the ticket, $5 gas card and combo meal (personal pizza, chicken sandwich or turkey wrap; cookie or pretzel; and soda or bottle of water). The plan is available in most seating categories.

For more information, call 954-835-PUCK or visit the team’s Web site.


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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 giving away a street hockey party, if you’re watching


There are three more chances to enter the Panthers’ “Watch It! Win It!” promotion, for a chance to win a block party, complete with a street hockey game with two Panthers players to serve as coaches.

During the next three Panthers’ game broadcasts on FSN Florida, fans will receive a special code to enter at the team’s Web site, www.floridapanthers.com. They’ll be entered for a chance to win the block party and nightly prizes that have included free tickets, a $100 shopping spree at Pantherland, and an autographed jersey.

Codes will be given out during tonight’s broadcast of the Panthers game against the Montreal Canadiens; Saturday’s game against the New York Islanders; and Tuesday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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Panthers freeze prices for existing season ticket holders


The Panthers are freezing prices for the 2009-10 season and offering more flexible payment options for existing season-ticket holders.

The team is sending out renewal packages to its roughly 9,500 season-seat holders. Fans who renew by Feb. 21 get extra benefits, including more vouchers good for concessions and the chance to attend renewal parties hosted by five players each. Those who renew by Feb. 5 can attend all four parties at BankAtlantic Center.

Fans can pay in full, in five monthly installments or in 12 monthly payments — a first for the team. The team is also offering four benefits packages to choose from, which include invitations to a cocktail reception with players, a kids' trading pin and holiday skating party, or entry into drawings for special items or experiences.

Team officials have not decided whether prices for new season-ticket holders or individual tickets will rise.

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Dolphins sale; sports business on the airwaves


The sale of the Dolphins was big news today across the country. I discussed the sale on the morning show on Sports Radio 950 KJR-AM in Seattle. Listen here.

And I was featured on the sports business segment of the Wake-Up Zone on 104.5 The Zone WGFX in Nashville this morning, where we discussed the Dolphins sale, Marlins stadium, UM, the Panthers, among other sports business topics. Listen here.


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Panthers celebrate kids


Continuing their commitment to families, the Panthers are hosting Kids Day at Saturday afternoon’s game against the Atlanta Thrashers at BankAtlantic Center.

Tickets for children 12 and younger are $10 and there will be a variety of giveaways, including movie passes and BankAtlantic No. 7 piggy banks, and concession specials, including a $15 buffet at the Chairman’s Club. Kids will also serve in a number of roles around the arena during the 1 p.m. game – singing the national anthem, accompanying Panthers players onto the ice, interviewing players on the scoreboard, performing as ice dancers, sitting in the broadcast booth and reporting from the press box. For more info, visit the team's Web site.

Title sponsor for Kids Day? Boca Raton’s Dr. Larry Kawa, the Panthers official orthodontist. Don’t steer him toward the IT’SUGAR section on the arena concourse where the candy store chain sells sweets by the pound.

Kids Day is just another way the team is reaching out to families. In addition to IT’SUGAR, the team started a Kids Korner last season with kid activities and kid-friendly concession stands, and a pin trading program – in which fans can buy and trade hockey-themed pins – was launched last month.

“We pride ourselves on being one of the most family-friendly franchises in professional sports and Kids Day is just another example of how we continue to make Florida Panthers hockey fun for the whole family,” Panthers President Michael Yormark said in a statement.

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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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Panthers want to turn Black Friday blue


As in Panthers blue. Or maybe that should be green. Not to be outdone by the day after Thanksgiving holiday shopping tradition known as “Black Friday,” the Panthers are introducing their own special shopping day:

From midnight on Thanksgiving to midnight Friday, the Panthers are holding a sale on individual game tickets to all remaining home games beginning with the Dec. 4 game against the Buffalo Sabres. Prices will be reduced 30 percent to 50 percent depending on seat location at BankAtlantic Center and the opponent. To purchase tickets, call 954-835-TEAM or visit the team’s Web site.

The team also wants to invite fans to shop at its arena store, Pantherland, which will be open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday. Some items will be discounted as much as 60 percent; holiday ornaments and Santa hats will be half price. Fans can also watch the Panthers’ and New York Rangers’ morning skates at 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. respectively, in advance of Friday night's Panthers-Rangers game.

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Panthers launch YouTube channel


The Panthers’ parent company, Sunrise Sports & Entertainment, has launched a Panthers channel on YouTube aimed at providing and receiving fan-generated videos to extend the team’s brand.

The company is considering it an extension of GrowlTV, which is the online video section of the team’s Web site. That’s where you’ll find player and broadcaster interviews, highlights and other features.

The YouTube channel already includes interviews with players, videos made by fans, and Stanley C. Panther playing prankster.

"Based on the popularity of GrowlTV on FloridaPanthers.com, now is the perfect time to establish a channel on YouTube and provide even more video content for our online community," Chad Johnson, SSE senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. "I am confident that this relationship will lead to even greater exposure for the Florida Panthers brand and a new dimension of team access for our technologically savvy fanbase."

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Test drive a Panthers game?


Never been to a Panthers game? Now’s your chance to go … for free.

The Panthers have launched a First Timer program, in which people who have never attended a Panthers game can sign up for a free pair of tickets to certain upcoming games with a Florida driver's license. (There is also a sign up option if you don’t have a license). Sign up at the Panthers Web site.

Team officials are convinced that once you attend a Panthers game, you’ll want to come back.

“We’re giving people an opportunity to test our product, to enjoy a night of hockey on us,” Panthers President Michael Yormark said. “Hopefully they have a wonderful experience, hopefully they’ll see the value of coming to a Florida Panthers game. It’s the greatest game live and if they walk away saying 'this is the greatest game live,' we think we’ve potentially hooked a new fan.”

But be prepared for a sales pitch. After all, this isn’t just about filling seats and selling hot dogs and beer. It’s also about capturing the data of potential season ticket buyers.

“Our sales people follow up with all the attendees within 24 hours,” Yormark said.

Sales representatives will ask if the first timers enjoyed the game, plan to come back and whether they want to invest in a six- or even a three-game pack that’s to be introduced in the coming weeks.

There are typically 500 tickets available per game – two per individual – but tonight’s game against the San Jose Sharks and Thursday’s against the Ottawa Senators are considered “family nights” so as many as five tickets per individual are available.

Already more than 1,000 people have signed up for a number of games this month and next and Yormark said the team saw spending per individual on concessions increase by $1.50 on Opening Night compared to the team’s 2007 opener.

“It’s about building our fan base one at a time. These people, for the most part, have never been to a Florida Panthers game before,” Yormark said. “It’s a great way to expose people, to collect data, get their feedback and hopefully turn them into fans.”

Have you taken advantage of this promotion? Do you plan to?

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It’s a cow!


So it wasn’t exactly rocket science figuring out the Panthers were introducing an inflatable cow, when they said the new mascot would be related to the cowbell movement.

“Mad Cow” was introduced between the first and second periods of Saturday night's home opener at BankAtlantic Center to the strains of the Buckwheat Boyz' Peanut Butter Jelly Time -- typically reserved for the Dancing Banana. The inflatable cow bobbed up and down on the ice and showed off his rear end, which says “More Cowbell.” Fans could oblige since the Panthers gave out 15,000 red cowbells.

The Dancing Banana indicated in a teaser video that he was too busy this season to help with "more cowbell," but the Panther insist the Banana will be back and will make appearances in the "flesh" this season.

See the cow sitting in the stands, thanks to a photo borrowed from Murphy Burch – also known as VanMurph because that’s what he wears on his jersey – who with his wife Vanessa started the cowbell movement at the Panthers last year. The Cooper City couple brought the first cowbells to the arena during a game last December and the movement was born. The Panthers have obliged selling two different sizes of cowbells at Pantherland in the arena and showing clips from the Saturday Night Live skit in which actor Christopher Walken implores Blue Oyster Cult to use “more cowbell.”


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The cowbell and sports


More cowbell? The Panthers think so.

Capitalizing on the cowbell craze that swept BankAtlantic Center last season, the Panthers will give out 15,000 red cowbells at Saturday’s 2008-09 home opener. Don’t forget to bring earplugs.

Cowbells won’t just be for supporting the team, they’ll be introducing the team’s new inflatable mascot. Fear not, the popular Dancing Banana will still be making appearances this season.

The cowbell phenomenon at the Panthers started last December when Murphy Burch, a Panthers fan from Cooper City who will be dropping a ceremonial first puck Saturday, saw fans ringing cowbells at a Chicago Wolves minor league hockey game.

Burch, known as "VanMurph" on his Panthers jersey, had grown tired of noisy fans of opposing teams outnumbering -- or at least out-cheering -- Panthers fans at BankAtlantic Center. He bought a couple of cowbells to a game, then a couple more for some friends. Cowbells became a topic on the Panthers message board. Soon a clip of the popular Saturday Night Live skit in which Christopher Walken pleads for Blue Oyster Cult to use “more cowbell,” was playing on the scoreboard and cowbells were for sale at the team’s Pantherland store.

Read Burch's explanation of the cowbell movement here.

While the SNL skit has given renewed life to cowbells in pop culture, the cowbell has been intertwined with sports for years. Popular at minor league and college hockey games, cowbells have also been heard at the Olympics in support of downhill skiers and at bicycling races, among other events.

They’ve been so popular at college football games that the SEC instituted a ban on the noisy bells, threatening a loss of yardage should they get too loud. Fans of Mississippi State still smuggle in the bells.

The Tampa Bay Rays adopted cowbells in 2007 because principal team owner Stuart Sternberg loves the SNL skit. They’ve been handed out to Rays fans – fans in opposing team jerseys are denied – and are used when opposing players have two strikes. And you wondered what the secret was to the Rays finally making it to the playoffs for the first time in team history…

Watch the teaser video for the Panthers' new inflatable mascot here:

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Indoor lacrosse coming to Sunrise


BankAtlantic Center is to host the first professional lacrosse game in Florida in January, in what officials say will serve as a test to see whether South Florida can sustain its own indoor lacrosse team.

Sunrise Sports & Entertainment, the owner of the Panthers and operator of the arena, and the National Lacrosse League announced the Jan. 3 regular season matchup between the New York Titans and Toronto Rock this afternoon. Tickets for the matchup dubbed the Florida Lacrosse Cup, which will cost $10, $15 and $25, go on sale on Friday through Ticketmaster (ticketmaster.com; 954-523-3309 in Broward; 561-966-3309 in Palm Beach).

The NLL has 13 teams across the U.S. and Canada and plays a 16-game schedule between January and April. The league is looking to expand.

“We definitely view South Florida as a place for future expansion, and we are bringing the game here on January 3 to give fans a chance to experience the excitement of the NLL in person,” NLL Commissioner Jim Jennings said in a statement.

Sunrise Sports & Entertainment President Michael Yormark said the league contacted the Panthers four or five years ago about the possibility of expanding. But the team and venue weren’t ready yet, Yormark said.

Now, Yormark said, “There’s some potential there. There are quite a few NHL teams that are now in the indoor lacrosse business.”

Yormark said four or five NLL teams are associated with the NHL teams where they play, including the Colorado Mammoth, which is owned by Stan Kroenke, who also owns the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche. Adapting the arena from hockey to lacrosse isn't difficult and some arenas host a lacrosse game in the afternoon followed by a hockey game that night, Yormark said. He said the fan bases are similar, too.

The Florida Lacrosse Cup game, Yormark said, will give SSE a sense of whether the community can sustain yet another lower-tier sport.

The region's track record with minor league sports hasn't exactly been stellar.

“We think it’s an opportunity to test the market,” Yormark said stressing that games are played in the winter. “If it’s successful, the goal would be to explore the possibility of having an expansion team.”

Yormark said organizers hope the Jan. 3 game will draw 8,000 to 10,000 people.

Is there any way that many people show up? And if they do, does South Florida get another team? Will you go?

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Giant jerseys help make a statement


heat%40macys23.jpgWhen the Orlando Magic unveiled its new jerseys this afternoon it had some big help. Really, really big help: A 15-foot tall inflatable jersey that measures 22 feet from cuff to cuff.

The giant jerseys, billed as the “world’s largest jersey,” are the work of Action Sports America, a company that started 14 years ago and has made the giant jerseys for the past decade. They’re used to promote new teams, new uniforms, big events, college football games, says company founder Doug Verb.

They’re hand-sewn, hand-painted and cost $6,500 to $7,500. They’ve even been made to fit over statues, like the Flyers jersey that covered the statue of William Penn atop Philadelphia City Hall. Verb says he’s up to 237 different jerseys. panthfront.jpg

South Florida sports fans have probably seen the company’s handiwork at the Panthers or when the Heat won the NBA Championship in 2006. Or perhaps at Zo’s Summer Groove.

This afternoon, a giant Magic jersey stood outside the Cheyenne Saloon, where the new 20th anniversary uniforms were unveiled inside.

Action Sports America is also responsible for the hot dog launcher and inflatable Big Balls that mascots can get inside for promotional events and, of course, human bowling.

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Banking on BankAtlantic Center


Lobby-Vision2.jpgWith the re-tooled Panthers now in training camp, it seems fitting to check in on upgrades at their Sunrise home.

BankAtlantic Center turns 10 next month and to keep it up-to-date, it is undergoing upgrades costing $4.5 million to $5 million.

When fans arrive for the Panthers home opener Oct. 11, they’ll be treated to a brand new sound system. Suite holders will find new flat-screen TVs and refrigerators. The suites’ carpeting was replaced last summer.

The first half of November will usher in “lobby vision” – two high resolution video boards inside the main entrance (see photo) that will show video, naturally, and have space for sponsor advertising, and public service and player messages.

“Lobby vision will probably be something most people have never seen before,” said Michael Yormark, president of the Panthers and their operator, Sunrise Sports & Entertainment.

By late December or early January, two Las Vegas-style marquees are to be installed outside the arena. One measuring 53 feet will overlook the Sawgrass Expressway; a 37-foot one will be placed at the entrance to Gate 5.

“October is the 10th anniversary of the building. We’re continuing the make improvements to maintain a state-of-the-art facility,” Yormark said.

The renovations are being made with the help of the arena’s owner, Broward County, which agreed in 2006 to loan Sunrise Sports & Entertianment $9.5 million. Yormark said SSE put off the renovations until now.

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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 raise prices for popular opponents


While most Panthers season ticket holders will pay the same as or slightly less than they did this past season for their 2008-09 season tickets, individual game ticket buyers who want to see the league’s most popular teams are being socked with an extra $25 a ticket charge.

That’s up from the $10 per ticket individual game ticket buyers spent last season for games against opponents such as the New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens and for games that fell on holidays. That’s a 150 percent increase. That means a $17 ticket in the terrace level of BankAtlantic Center will cost $42 for a premium game.

Panthers President Michael Yormark said there was no pushback to the extra $10 fans paid for the “high demand” games last year and so the team is trying to push the value of season tickets even more and “maximize supply and demand.” Interestingly, the team did not publicize the $10 premium last year or put out a ticket pricing press release.

“It’s all about supply and demand. Those are the biggest game on the calendar,” Yormark said. “We saw no price sensitivity last year. We wanted to create more value for our season seat holders. We thought it was very appropriate. Those games sold the best whether it was the Rangers or the day after Thanksgiving.”

Variable pricing – charging higher rates for desirable matchups or weekend games – goes on across sports. And the Panthers are trying to encourage fans to buy season ticket plans – full- or half-season or 13-game plans. The Marlins charge more if you buy your ticket the day of the game and especially if it’s a Saturday. But you get more on Saturdays: the potential for two giveaway items along with postgame fireworks and a concert.

Clearly the idea is to convert casual fans to season ticket buyers. The Panthers sold about 9,500 season tickets last season, Yormark said.

What do you think of the idea of charging so much more for individual game tickets? Will that convince you to buy season tickets? Or go even less?



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Panthers call season ticket holders


Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun and defenseman Mike Van Ryn are busy on the phone this week. They’re calling season ticket holders who have yet to renew for next season.

Goalie Craig Anderson and center Stephen Weiss did the honors last week, along with team executives and broadcasters.

It’s not unusual for teams to enlist players to help sell tickets. Last month, injured Heat players made calls to sell season tickets during halftime of a game. In February, University of Miami baseball players called season ticket holders to thank them for their support and also encouraged those who hadn’t yet renewed to come back.

Obviously, the teams hope a chat with a player will convince reluctant season ticket holders to renew. The Panthers provided this testimonial:

“I was very surprised when Stephen Weiss called me last week regarding my renewal,” Pompano Beach resident Dennis Purcell said in a statement released by the team. “Stephen provided me with great insight for next season and answered the questions that I had. It was very nice that he took some time out of his day to make the call and it proved to me that the organization was headed in the right direction, so I decided to renew on the spot.”

Have any of you gotten calls like this from the teams? Did you renew?

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The Dancing Banana: Mascot with a-peel


The Panthers missed the playoffs again, but they created another tradition this season: the Dancing Banana. Akin to the Rally Monkey, the inflatable mascot – on loan from the Tampa Bay Rays – performed its unusual dance routine to the Buckwheat Boyz' Peanut Butter Jelly Time at strategic times during Panthers games.

The Dancing Banana thrilled audiences – and the media – and even Panthers staffers, who made sure not to miss its performances. The team brought it out a few times a month to dance with the Sziro Ice Dancers. “We use it in critical games,” team mascot coordinator Kyle Hamsher said. “And we’d throw it into the script on a last-minute call. It was like our secret weapon.”

Anyone catch the performance with the nose mascot, the one representing Panthers' sponsor South Florida Sinus and Allergy Center? Dare I say you haven’t lived until you’ve seen an inflatable banana dance with a giant nose?

A little research shows the Dancing Banana is something of a cult phenomenon – from an online emoticon to an episode of Family Guy, in which Brian dons an inflatable banana costume and dances to Peanut Butter Jelly Time in an attempt to cheer up Peter. You can even buy T-shirts commemorating the episode.

The Rays introduced the mascot in 2006 and reaction was so strong, it now performs at Sunday home games. Kelly Frank, the Rays’ mascot coordinator, who hails from Sunrise, suggested the Panthers try it out. “My scheme to watch hockey for free,” Frank says. Check out her banana myspace page here.

For more on the Dancing Banana check out the Two-Minute Drill on Page 2 of the Sun-Sentinel’s sports section on Sunday. Watch "When Good Bananas Go Bad" - a performance piece filmed in the concourse at BankAtlantic Center. Below watch the banana dance at a Panthers game:



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Yormarks: the marketing twins on TV


yormark06a2.jpgIf you’ve been reading my stories or followed this blog, you already know that super high energy Panthers President Michael Yormark has an identical twin brother Brett, who happens to be CEO of the New Jersey Nets.

The two are so much alike they finish each other’s sentences and take credit for each other’s creative marketing ideas. In this item from December in an unusual moment, Michael actually gave Brett credit for coming up with a mini-mascot.

But it’s difficult to capture in print how fast paced the brothers are. CNBC Sports Business Reporter Darren Rovell says he’s done that in Friday’s installment of CNBC's “High Net Worth.”

“The truth is their lives have been one big competition and so we’ve told it that way,” Rovell told me. “The piece is basically one big competition from who sold the most creative sponsorship to who wakes up earlier to who works out harder to who’s the best dresser.”

In a story I wrote about them in 2006, Michael insisted he was in the office by 4 a.m.; Brett by 5:15 a.m. This is also from that story:

The pair share business strategies, and occasionally take credit for the other's idea. For example, did "Pancakes with the Panthers" come before "Pancakes and Hoops," which both involved inviting lapsed season-ticket holders to breakfast with players and team executives to encourage them to renew?

Brett, who says he's three minutes older than Michael, launched a series of "Influencer Parties," in which Nets season-ticket holders host potential ticket buyers at catered cocktail parties at their homes. Next month, the Panthers will begin "Hockey House Calls," in which season-ticket holders will host block party-style gatherings for friends, family and neighbors who might be interested in Panthers tickets.

What Rovell says his piece is able to capture is their energy. “We try to open them both up and show people these guys are impossible to walk with, the speed, the pace of their walk. I mean you need a trainer to keep up with them,” Rovell says with a chuckle. “They tell us that one day they might foresee at the end of their careers, opening up a consulting firm together. You kind of wonder what client would attend a 6 a.m. meeting.”

The show airs tonight at 8:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.

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Heat, Panthers season ticket renewals underway


It’s renewal time for Heat and Panthers season ticket holders and both teams are offering incentives to entice fans back.

The Heat is lowering or freezing some prices in the upper levels at AmericanAirlines Arena and charging 100 level ticket holders $1 to $5 more per game, although prices could be quite a bit steeper if you had a three-year contract that just expired. The team is still offering one-year and three-year renewal options, with the longer contract including larger savings.

Current season ticket holders must renew by March 21, but if they do so by March 7, they’ll get a limited edition 20th anniversary Heat wristwatch. In addition, the team is scheduling a number of activities for fans who renew, including a “Speak to the Heat: Season Ticket Holder Town Hall Meeting,” during which season ticket holders will get to ask questions of Heat owner Micky Arison, head coach Pat Riley and President of Business Operations Eric Woolworth; a chance to stand with the players on court during the National Anthem; and a series of parties with Arison and Alonzo Mourning in an arena suite.

Those who renew by March 21 will also be entered into a sweepstakes that includes prizes such as two free lifetime Heat season tickets; a 42-inch plasma TV; gift cards for gas, groceries, and Dunkin’ Donuts; a chance to be “broadcaster for a game”; your property tax or FPL bills paid; or a one-year membership to 24 Hour Fitness.

Meanwhile, the Panthers are freezing prices for season ticket holders who renew by March 14. Those fans will also get 5 percent of their investment in “Panthers bucks,” which can be used to pay for concessions at BankAtlantic Center. In addition, the Panthers want season ticket holders to be actual “seat owners” with even more of a say in the franchise.

Panthers privileges include personal nameplates on your seats; a team windbreaker; access to an exclusive “season seat owner” section on the team’s Web site; special team road trip travel packages; quarterly shareholder meetings; and priority playoff benefits.

Are you renewing for either team? Do these incentives make a difference? Are you giving up your tickets? If so, why?

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Paying for concessions gets easier at BankAtlantic Center


BankAtlantic Center is finally equipped with the ability to accept credit cards at all concession stands. Starting at Tuesday night’s Van Halen concert at the Sunrise arena and continuing with the Panthers-Montreal Canadiens game on Wednesday, the credit card systems will be ready to go.

I reported in September that the arena operator and Panthers owner Sunrise Sports & Entertainment was planning the upgrade to credit card systems, as a convenience for fans and to speed up service at concession stands. The Heat has offered fans the opportunity to use credit cards at AmericanAirlines Arena for at least the past five years. Dolphin Stadium also allows fans to use credit cards for concessions at Dolphins and Marlins games.

How do you pay for food and beverages at sporting events when you have the choice of using cash or credit cards? Are you glad BankAtlantic Center is finally allowing the use of credit cards?

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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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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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Heat will test all-you-can-eat tickets


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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