Saturday, June 5, 2010

Local Media Coverage Of "Mohegan Vs. Foxwoods" Basketball Game

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The following articles in The Day and The Hartford Courant on last night's WNBA game between the Connecticut Sun and the New York Liberty detail some thoughts and the costs of the Foxwoods sponsorship of the New York team. Mohegan Sun CEO Mitchell Etess seems to show some envy, or is it peevishness (I can't tell), at Foxwoods' sponsorship deal that gives Foxwoods casino significant exposure on the team's jerseys and at Madison Square Garden at a much cheaper cost than the cost of the Connecticut Sun to the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority.

Foxwoods Challenges Mohegan With WNBA Gambit
By Unidentified
Hartford Courant
June 4, 2010

UNCASVILLE — — So here they were behind enemy baccarat tables Friday night and, oh, they looked fine in their all- new, all-blue road uniforms.

"They're nice, aren't they?" Kalana Greene said at the arena slot machines built. Greene, Cappie Pondexter, Sidney Spencer, Nicole Powell … UConn girls, Rutgers girls, Tennessee girls, Stanford girls, we've seen them so many times before, but now look at them.

All wearing poker faces. All with "Foxwoods" emblazoned across their chests.

Yes, we have seen the wonder of it all. And it's that hairdo of former Sun All-Star Taj McWilliams.

In case you missed it, the New York Liberty earlier this week struck a partnership deal with Foxwoods Resort Casino, this one worth more than $1 million, to put the name of Mohegan Sun's rival across the jersey of another WNBA team.

Phoenix, Los Angeles and Seattle already have done this with LifeLock, Farmers Insurance and But, bada bing, these are dueling casinos.

The WNBA may be the fruit of Title IX movement.

But this rivalry … oh, this is the fruit of Title 21. Blackjack!

"We were wondering who our least favorite team was going to be now that Detroit is gone," said Mitchell Etess, CEO of both the Mohegan Sun and Connecticut Sun. "I think we know who that is now.

"Obviously, it could be something people have fun with. It's kind of Mohegan Sun vs. Foxwoods. That part is something we live with all the time. It's a unique situation."

And, hey, it could always be worse, right?

"Yeah, if Bill Laimbeer came in as coach tonight instead of Anne Donovan," Etess said.

The casinos are adversaries at the gaming tables, in the concert halls, exactly where it's most cutthroat. Business isn't all hugs and kisses.

"As CEO of the Mohegan Sun, is it annoying in some ways that the logo of our biggest rivals is going to be prancing around here tonight and a few times a year?" Etess said. "Yeah, of course it is. As a governor of the WNBA, I think it is good for the league. Is it going to be a big rivalry, any more than it was because Foxwoods is going to be on their jerseys? Probably just for the executive teams. I'm not sure the public is going to get behind it."

Rob Victoria, chief marketing officer of Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprises, trumpeted the on-court rivalry a little more intensely the other day. In an interview with the New York Post, he said, "It'll almost be like a Red Sox-Yankee rivalry." And for The Courant, he said, "We'll unveil our shirts, play a great basketball game and my prediction is the Liberty will win by 12 points."

He was only off by 20 - the Sun won by eight.

Connecticut, of course, is home to the Munson-Nixon Line. Somewhere around Middletown there's a line of demarcation between Red Sox and Yankee Nations. Well, we went out in search of the Jekabsone-Zogota-McWilliams-One-Armed Bandit Line and best we come up with it's the Poquetanuck Fire House on Route 2A. And, hey, if matters between the casinos flame up too much, there's somebody to hose it down.

Of course, it's not really a rivalry until they start despising each other during a playoff series. So until Asjha Jones stares down Janel McCarville and calls her "Snake Eyes" in the postseason, we'll hold off calling it on par with the Red Sox-Yankees. On the other hand, although none of the Sun staff wanted to talk about it, there is some disappointment running through Mohegan halls the WNBA didn't tell them about Foxwoods until the last minute.

The Sun, a cornerstone of the WNBA, one of the reasons the league is still going, deserved better. That doesn't mean the Sun thinks the deal is bad for the WNBA. They don't.

"I think it says an awful lot for the league," Etess said. "[Foxwoods has] well-documented financial problems [Rivalry jab alert!] Their dollars must be fairly precious. Foxwoods decided this is a vehicle in which to market the New York area. We've known that. The WNBA is a really good marketing vehicle. People who talk about the league having major problems, here are four teams that have these big deals, money people are spending in this economy.

"But people shouldn't confuse what Foxwoods has done with the Liberty with the Connecticut Sun, in regard to owning the team, branding it, having it part of the community. Foxwoods' relationship with the Liberty is a great one, but it's very much like ours with the Yankees. We don't feel like we own the Yankees. We're a marketing part."

In other words, the Sun bought a team. Foxwoods bought a patch … and signage and promotions at MSG.

Look, I'm not going to play favorites here. I am an equal-opportunity loser. I pulled the slots at Foxwoods Friday and lost $20 in 15 minutes. I pulled the slots at Mohegan and lost $10 in 10 minutes. I couldn't stay for 15. I had to write this column.

Greene, meanwhile, tweeted Thursday night, she had "just won big at Mohegan and lost minor at Foxwoods." Since there is no direct ownership, Liberty players, unlike the Sun, can test their luck at the casinos.

"Actually I didn't win that much," Greene said. "I lost like $100."

But, hey, the Liberty's trip to Foxwoods was worth it. The hotel was nice. The tribe greeted and treated them well, prepped them for this Casino War, this Great Bingo and Indian Conflict that is sure to grow.

We're going to need a movie by Scorsese, one with De Niro and Pesci. One where Sharon Stone goes, "Give me Liberty or give me chips." One, where Mike DiMauro of the New London Day suggested Keno Davis is one of the coaches. Hey, maybe against Bingo Smith.

Or maybe we need Pat Summitt to open up a restaurant at Foxwoods the way Geno Auriemma did at Mohegan.

For ownership, it's Sun 1, Foxwoods 0
By Mike DiMauro
The Day
June 5, 2010

It really doesn't make much sense to think that some game in June, with so many others remaining, could mean this much. But when your business rival does for a million dollars what cost you $10 million, and when the players wearing your business rival's logo are erasing a 16-point lead, you do not pass the time at the gym whistling showtunes.

And so while the Connecticut Sun will have many, many bigger games remaining this season, none might mean as much to their ownership. This was about one game, one night, one exasperating week and ultimately one victory they will not forget.

"A great win. A great, great win," team president, chief executive officer and No. 1 fan Mitchell Etess said Friday night, with Mohegan Sun Arena still in full throat, following the Sun's 75-68 over the Foxwoods-sponsored New York Liberty.

When it was over, Etess, sitting with his family, threw his arms in the air and celebrated with the 6,493 others, perhaps making the week's events a duller ache.

By now, news of Foxwoods' corporate sponsorship - and logo on the Liberty uniforms - has completed the news cycle. Rinse, repeat, spin dry. But the residual effects were still palpable Friday morning when Sun coach Mike Thibault read a snippet to his team from the Hartford Courant, which quoted Robert Victoria, Foxwoods' senior vice president of consumer marketing.

Victoria predicted that the Liberty would win by 12 points.

"Rob is new to women's basketball marketing," Etess said. "Maybe he will learn a little more about the game as time goes on."

Thibault was more direct. Like a good fastball at the chin.

"I told the players about it because sometimes, players need to understand when they're being disrespected," Thibault said, "and because I was annoyed that some guy who has no idea about the sweat and blood that's involved with owning a team in this league has a corporate sponsorship and thinks he can pop off."

Earlier in the week, Victoria said that the unveiling of the Foxwoods logo on the uniforms was purely coincidental, a few days before a game at Mohegan Sun.

Righto, Rob.

And there just happened to be an ax next to Mrs. Borden one day when Lizzie happened by and thought whimsically, "well, while I'm here … "

Please. No one's denying that Foxwoods pulled off a beauty here. A $1 million buy in has most people thinking that Foxwoods is Mohegan Sun's equal, in spite of the notable difference between the ideas of "sponsor" and "owner." Then comes the line about pure coincidence.

This is called fertilizing someone's shoes and then telling them it's only mud.

That's why so many people inside the Sun wanted this game badly.

"We're proud of our ownership group and their commitment to the WNBA," Sun guard Kara Lawson said. "Nothing they do over there can come close to what our ownership has done for the game."

Forward Asjha Jones said "We knew what this game meant for our owners. The (New York) team and their players had nothing to do with it. But for us, we knew that we had to put on a good show for the fans and owners."

It wasn't the most artful game ever played since Dr. Naismith had his idea. In the middle of the game, Thibault came over to the press table and said, "I want to see what you guys are going to write about this (expletive)."

But when it was over, Thibault was lauding his players' grit, even if their execution came and went like the mailman.

The whole Foxwoods/Liberty thing will be worthy of more chuckles than anything else as the season moves on. Like the tweet from former UConn great and Liberty guard Kalana Greene from early Friday: "Just won big at Mohegan and lost minor at Foxwoods. Now its time for slumber."

We've heard of sleeping with the enemy. But who knew you could gamble with the enemy, too?

The next time Kalana can gamble with the enemy will be in mid July when the Foxwoods logo returns. Stay tuned to the papers for more predictions from the wonder of it all.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro