Thunder sells out ’12-13 season tickets, starts wait list

Thunder sells out ’12-13 season tickets, starts wait list

By John Lombardo, Staff Writer

                    Just six weeks into its 2012-13 season-ticket renewal campaign, the Oklahoma City Thunder already has sold out its full-season-ticket allotment for next year, the earliest the small-market franchise has sold out of its inventory.
“We are at our self-imposed limit at 14,000 season tickets and we just wrapped it up with renewing at 98 percent,” said Brian Byrnes, senior vice president of ticket sales and marketing for the Thunder. “Virtually every season-ticket holder has an active deposit for next season and it is the fastest we have sold out of our season tickets.”


While the Thunder’s Western Conference leading 40-13 record has helped fuel ticket sales for next year, the team did not raise season-ticket prices despite its success and is now one of the few NBA teams boasting a season-ticket waiting list along with big market brethren the Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and New York Knicks.
To date, the Thunder has 1,700 people who paid $50 to join the waiting list called “Team Blue.”
The team will reserve the remaining 4,000 seats in its newly refurbished 18,203-seat Chesapeake Energy Arena for group and individual ticket sales.
“Next year will be year No. 5 in Oklahoma City and we still feel we are building a brand,” Byrnes said. “We were very aggressive [in ticket pricing] early and we didn’t feel an increase was warranted.”
While the Thunder ranks among the top five NBA teams in season-ticket sales, it ranks in the upper third of the 30-team league in ticket revenue, Byrnes said, though he did not give specific revenue figures.
“We are not New York or Los Angeles, and we try to make [revenue] up in volume,” Byrnes said.
Through April 3, the Thunder was averaging 18,203 fans per game, up slightly from the 18,144 fans per game to date from last season. The team has sold out every home game this season and has a consecutive sellout streak of 40 home games dating to last season.
The team ranked 13th in average attendance among the NBA’s teams through April 3. The league’s average attendance this year through April 3 stood at 17,273 fans per game.
“It’s rare that a team sells [season tickets] so fast,” said Bernie Mullin, chief executive officer of the sports marketing consultant Aspire Group. “It’s a great product on the court, but they have been in the market now for a while and this is a time when you could have some dissolution of interest. But [holding season-ticket prices] is a smart strategy and will hold them in great stead should the team see its on-court performance decline.”

MLBPA’s asset base hit record $200.7M ahead of CBA in 2011


By Eric Fisher & Liz Mullen, Staff Writers

                    The MLB Players Association in 2011 built its asset base to a record level of $200.7 million, up 20 percent from the prior year, as it maintained its practice of accumulating funds in the latter stages of a collective-bargaining agreement.
The figure was listed as part of the union’s annual LM-2 filing with the U.S. Department of Labor, required by law and made public last week, for calendar year 2011.
In advance of a CBA negotiation, sports unions, including the MLBPA, typically withhold money that normally would be distributed to players. Those funds can be used for litigation and other costs arising from a work stoppage, and the money is returned if a stoppage is avoided.
The union and MLB last November completed with a minimum of rancor a new five-year labor deal for the 2012-16 seasons.
On a player-by-player basis, MLBPA distributions from licensing royalties also fell sharply last year, as expected, with maximum payouts to players dropping by more than half to $6,534 in 2011, compared with $14,080 in 2010. With the new labor deal now in hand, industry sources said, licensing money withheld in recent years was refunded to players during spring training. Those payouts will show up in the LM-2 filing for calendar year 2012, due next March.
A similar situation occurred in early 2007 with the distribution of more than $67 million in “special dues refunds” that had been withheld before the last labor deal in 2006.
MLBPA Executive Director Michael Weiner, in the union’s top leadership role since 2009, again earned $1 million in salary last year, continuing a practice held for years by his predecessor, Donald Fehr. The next-highest-paid union employees were senior adviser Rick Shapiro at $610,000 and a trio of attorneys: chief labor counsel David Prouty, who earned $530,000; senior labor counsel Ian Penny at $475,000; and assistant general counsel Doyle Pryor at $420,000. Former Chief Operating Officer Gene Orza, who retired from the union in March 2011, received $250,000 in gross salary.
The union’s revenue from “other receipts,” where licensing income is listed and itemized, was reported at $50.45 million, up 8.6 percent from the prior year. Payments are credited in the years they are received and not earned, and the LM-2 report is based on cash and not accrual accounting, so views into the financial state of the organization can be deceiving.
But the union for 2011 reported increases from many of its major licensees, particularly Topps, which boosted its payments to the union from $5.77 million in 2010 to $10.68 million last year. Other major licensing fees came from Take-Two Interactive, parent of 2K Sports and baseball’s exclusive third-party console video game producer, with payments of $15.4 million, up by nearly $1 million from 2010; VF apparel brand Majestic, with payments of $7.6 million; and Sony Interactive Entertainment, maker of the video game “MLB: The Show,” with payments of $3.52 million.
Take-Two for years has been the union’s single largest licensee, but the company’s contracts with MLB and the union expire after this season. The company’s “MLB 2K” video games have been noted money losers and erratic performers critically, meaning significant decisions await the union as well as MLB regarding their plans in the gaming space.
Union officials declined to comment.

Family Businesses Learn to Adapt to Keep Thriving

Family Businesses Learn to Adapt to Keep Thriving

Niko Kallianiotis for The New York Times

Andrew Cornell, the chief executive of Cornell Iron Works in Mountaintop, Pa., believes that no job awaits anyone by virtue of family membership.

Published: April 4, 2012   

For family-owned businesses, the statistics are daunting. According to the Family Business Institute, only about 30 percent survive beyond the founder’s generation, and just 12 percent make it to a third.       

Quick Tips:

Hold family-member employees to the same standards as other employees.

Seek the help of outside advisers.

Suggested Resources:

The Family Business Institute.

A center dedicated to family businesses at the University of Cincinnati.

A family-business program at Babson.

A Forbes magazine list of the best family businesses..

You’re the Boss

Are the Owner’s Children Entitled to the Business?


In succession planning, there are many issues to consider: Is most of the owner’s estate tied up in the business? Is there a spouse to support after the owner’s death? Are there family members who have the desire or ability to run the business?


For this small-business guide, we talked to the owners of several businesses that have beaten the odds. From those conversations, we identified a few traits that the survivors seem to share: a willingness to reinvent, a belief that family members are not entitled to employment, a focus on succession and an openness to seeking outside help.       

A WILLINGNESS TO REINVENT To endure, a family business must remain relevant. This can happen by chance if a company is fortunate enough to make a product that does not become obsolete. It can also happen by design, through continued reinvention. “If you do the same thing for more than five years in a row, you’re going to fall behind,” said Tom Flottman, chief executive of Flottman Company, a third-generation printing business that was founded in 1921 and has continued to expand into new markets.       

The company, which is based in Crestview Hills, Ky., and has about 50 employees, began as a commercial job shop. By 1968, in response to market demand, it had evolved into a full-color lithographer. In the 1970s, when the Food and Drug Administration started requiring pharmaceutical manufacturers to include additional printed leaflets with each unit package shipped to health care practitioners, the company developed a niche in the area, acquiring special equipment to handle the work.       

Today, this work makes up more than half of Flottman’s business. In the last 20 years, despite a shrinking market for printed products, the company’s annual sales have grown to $6 million. “To survive,” Mr. Flottman said, “we must be more than a company that puts ink on paper.”       

NO GUARANTEED EMPLOYMENT Cornell Iron Works, which is based in Mountaintop, Pa., and employs 600 workers, has been reinventing itself since it began as a blacksmithing business in 1828. Today, it makes specialty metal overhead doors for industrial, institutional and retail customers. Its chief executive, Andrew Cornell, joined the business in 1992. Since then, sales have increased about tenfold, to $130 million in 2011.       

Mr. Cornell attributes the company’s success, in part, to its approach to hiring and promoting family members. For 45 years, the company has followed a strict written policy: no job awaits anyone by virtue of family membership. Mr. Cornell, the only family member working in the business, said even one unqualified family member can wreak havoc. “A family business can’t be a home for wayward family members,” he said. “We’re building a business for the good of employees and shareholders.”       

Maintaining rigorous standards for family involvement is also important at W.S. Darley & Company. Based in Itasca, Ill., and founded in 1908, Darley began as a maker of municipal firefighting equipment, including fire trucks. The company has about 215 employees, including 10 third- and fourth-generation family members.       

Operations are overseen by an executive committee made up of Paul Darley, chief executive; his brother, Peter, and their cousin, Jeff Darley, both executive vice presidents and co-chief operating officers; and another cousin, James Long, an executive vice president.       

The company’s family-participation plan provides that, while family members are encouraged to consider working in the business, the position must be mutually beneficial. It states that the business owes no obligation to any family member and no family member is obligated to work in the business.       

Those who do are paid the market rate for their jobs and are subject to the same hiring, performance and termination rules that apply to other employees. Ideally, family members are supervised by nonfamily members. And, as at Flottman and Cornell, family members are encouraged to work outside the company first.       

All of this, Paul Darley said, has helped the company thrive. As fires have become less common, the company has evolved into a provider of equipment for first responders, including paramedics and the military. Despite a tough market, annual sales, which were $52 million in 2005, have increased to $112 million in 2011.       

SUCCESSION PLANNING When family is involved, crucial decisions regarding succession can become especially charged. Some family businesses strive to alleviate the potential for hard feelings by placing the responsibility for choosing new leadership in the hands of qualified members of the next generation. The fathers of both Tom Flottman and Paul Darley took this approach as they prepared to step down.       

Luxury Stores Pull Out Mandarin Phrase Books to Make the Sale

By Image

Published: April 14, 2012   

Over five days in January, a group of visitors to New York was treated to a private concert with the pianist Lang Lang at the Montblanc store, cocktails and a fashion show attended by the designers Oscar de la Renta and Diane Von Furstenberg, and a tour of Estée Lauder’s original office.       

Kris Krüg

Chinese visitors during an after-hours tour of Bergdorf Goodman, which has hired Mandarin-speaking assistants.                           

Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

The pianist Lang Lang in a Mont Blanc catalog, which is available in Mandarin and Cantonese.                           

They were not celebrities. They were not government officials. They were Chinese tourists with a lot of money.       

Though luxury brands started opening stores in Beijing and Shanghai years ago, Chinese shoppers still spend more on luxury products abroad than they do at home, according to the consulting firm Frost & Sullivan. Price is the major reason: Because of China’s taxes, luxury products are about a third cheaper in the United States and elsewhere.       

European luxury stores have been catering to Chinese tourists for years. Now high-end retailers in the United States are pulling out their Mandarin phrase books and trying to convince Chinese visitors that Americans can do luxury, too.       

“What started as a trickle has now become a flow,” said the vice president of the antiques store Macklowe Gallery, Ben Macklowe, who recently sold a Tiffany lamp that cost in the low six figures to a Shanghai visitor. “There’s been prosperity across so much of Asia that you’re starting to see it much more in the profile of the tourist on Madison Avenue.”       

A record number of Chinese visited the United States last year — nearly 1.1 million — and the country accounts for one of the top-growing tourist groups here, according to the Commerce Department. The number of visitors is expected to almost double by 2014, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Chinese visitors spend about $6,000 each on every visit here, versus the $4,000 that visitors from other countries spend on average, the association says, and their top activity is shopping.       

Although some tourists spend money on Disney trinkets and at the outlet malls they have traditionally frequented, luxury brand purchases are surging in part because American stores carry a broader range of products than their counterparts in China, said Julia Zhu, consulting director for Frost & Sullivan.       

Tiffany, which made almost a quarter of its United States revenue last year from foreign tourists, has added Mandarin-speaking sales staff to its major stores, as has Burberry, where more than half of sales at its flagship stores are to tourists. Representatives from Tourneau’s Manhattan office recently accompanied New York City officials on a visit to China to encourage more tourism in the city.       

At its United States stores, Montblanc sells Year of the Dragon pens and has staff members who speak Mandarin and Cantonese. It is also printing Chinese-language brochures about its products and selling wallets sized for Chinese currency.       

Despite having more than 100 stores in China, Montblanc is going after Chinese shoppers on vacation abroad. “Yes, we are in the major cities, but when you travel, you’re in the mood to enjoy and experience the moment,” said Jan-Patrick Schmitz, chief executive of Montblanc North America. “We certainly will do more and more marketing toward them.”       

Retailers in the United States lag behind other countries. Part of that is because of visa issues; it is easier for Chinese residents to get visas to Europe. High-end American retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s are urging the government to speed up the process here. President Obama said in January that he planned to increase visa-processing capacity from emerging markets like China and Brazil by 40 percent this year.       

The American stores also have to overcome an idea that luxury can come only from the old world.       

“The European brands, they see prestige, history, heritage,” said Sunny Wong, group managing director of Trinity, a company that owns and operates high-end European retail brands in China. American brands, by contrast, are seen as “contemporary, lifestyle” rather than pure luxury, he said.       

American retailers are racing to prove Mr. Wong wrong.       

Bergdorf Goodman in January held a private runway show at its Fifth Avenue store for a group of Chinese tourists, followed by a meet-and-mingle with designers like Mr. De la Renta, Peter Som and Zac Posen. Then, with Bergdorf’s fashion director looking on, Mandarin-speaking assistants helped the Chinese customers shop throughout the store.       

“There are lots of brands that are already very well-known in China, but Bergdorf’s strongest footprint is in New York, so getting them to know that brand when they come here is a very important goal for us,” said Chris Noble, president of Affinity China, a luxury travel operator that organized the event.       

Affinity China also arranged a meeting with Aerin Lauder, a granddaughter of Estée, and a tour of J. Mendel, the fur brand, with a designer and one of the Mendels. “They took them backstage, and showed how materials are selected and how the pieces come together, and showed them the craft,” Mr. Noble said. “We’ve got a lot of interest in the craftsmanship behind the luxury pieces. People like to be able to say, ‘I saw how this was made, I met the designer.’ ”       

Mr. Macklowe, the gallery executive, recently held a seminar with Champagne and chocolate for Chinese tour operators.       

“You have to tailor your message for the crowd, and for this crowd it was, ‘These are very exclusive things, these are very authentic things, these are very high-end things that you can recommend to your clients without reservation,’ ” he said. “We tried to give them a sense that what we do only exists in one place on earth.”