San Diego Business Journal

The boisterous cheers and singing heard in and around Mission Valley pubs last week belonged to recreational rugby players participating in a weeklong event called the Golden Oldies World Rugby Festival.

As the name implies, players are a little past their prime, and must be a minimum of 35, with the oldest said to be 81.

Sponsored and organized by Air New Zealand Holidays, the airline's travel agency, the tournament consists of 125 teams and some 3,000 players, many of whom come from out of town.

The event, held every two years, was in San Diego for the first time. It was previously held in Brisbane, Australia.

"Most of the international teams come from Australia and New Zealand, but we also have teams from Russia, Japan, Thailand, Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic and American Samoa," said Stacy Failing, a spokeswoman for the sponsor.

Rugby, a sport that preceded American football and was invented in England in the early 19th century, is very big in the Commonwealth, but also has a small, but enthusiastic following in the States.

The rugby festival , it's held every other year , ran from May 15 to 20, with all games held at the San Diego Polo Club near Del Mar.

Nobody can put their finger on how much is spent by the rugby players and their families, but they filled up 11 Mission Valley hotels. A feasibility study done for event organizers by UC San Diego.

A portion of that money is spent on liquid refreshments, she said.

"They come early and stay late. I think a big part of that total comes from their bar bills," Failing said.

More than simply competing in a sport, rugby players like to socialize after the game is over, and sometimes the party can last well beyond a symbolic drink or two.

While rugby remains well off the radar screen in this country, in places like New Zealand, it's one of the biggest professional sports, with top matches drawing capacity crowds at major stadiums.

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Riptide Still Alive: In case you missed it, arena football season is in full swing.

Along with national televised games and commercials featuring two of its most high profile owners, rocker Jon Bon Jovi and former Denver Broncos All-Pro quarterback John Elway, there are actual games happening right here in San Diego. However, the local franchise, the Riptide, plays in the less-heralded arenafootball2 league, or af2.

In its third season, the Riptide now has a new majority owner, Jon Runyan, who has some name recognition among football fans, achieving All-Pro status as an offensive lineman for the Philadelphia Eagles. Late last year, Runyan acquired a 90 percent stake in the team over several transactions, buying out former owners Gil Saidy, the owner of a local travel agency, and Arena Group 2000, the operators of the ipayOne Center, where the Riptide play home games.

Saidy still retains about a 10 percent stake in the team, spokeswoman Theresa Custodio said. Runyan's purchase involved the assumption of stock and debt, said Ernie Hahn, the general manager of the ipayOne Center.

"It was difficult for us to run more than one sports franchise. We wanted to concentrate on our ownership of the San Diego Gulls," Hahn said.

After three home games at the ipayOne Center, the Riptide has drawn an average of 3,677 fans. For all of last year, the team drew an average of 4,127 fans, Custodio said.

As anyone associated with sports knows, there's no substitute for winning, and this year's Riptide isn't looking like a contender.

The Riptide players are feeling their team's losses more than most athletes. They are paid only $200 per game and receive a $50 bonus for a victory while getting nothing extra for losing.

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Padres Ranked 13th Richest: Many people know the wealthiest franchise in Major League Baseball is the New York Yankees, but what about the Padres, who began playing in their $450 million Petco Park last season?

According to Forbes Magazine, which does an annual financial analysis of every big league team, the San Diego club is worth $329 million based on last year's numbers, ranking it 13th of 30 teams.

In a Forbes story late last month, researchers reported the Padres generated $150 million in revenues in 2004 and made $17.1 million in operating income (or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization).

The team's overall value was up 24 percent from the previous year, the story stated.

Padres President and Chief Operating Officer Dick Freeman said the Forbes revenue figure was "fairly accurate." The figure for operating profit was deemed by Freeman as "high," but he declined to provide any specifics on any numbers in the story.

In terms of the gain in revenues, Freeman said providing comparative figures wouldn't be relevant, since the team played at city-owned Qualcomm Stadium in 2003 and he'd have to reveal all the team's expenses , something he preferred not to do.

Freeman said the Padres' overall fortunes certainly improved last season, thanks to a huge uptick in attendance at its new ballpark, where they drew more than 3 million fans.

"We're now a payer in the league's revenue-sharing program," he said.

Major League Baseball has set up a subsidy program to help smaller market and money-losing franchises by gathering money from the most profitable franchises. About half the league's 30 teams are payers, and half receivers of the funds, Freeman said, declining to reveal what San Diego contributed.

In case you're wondering, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were ranked the least valuable franchise at $176 million. Yet, the D-Rays were also tied for second place as the most profitable baseball club, tied with the Cleveland Indians in making operating earnings of $27.2 million, according to Forbes.

The most profitable team was the Baltimore Orioles, with $34 million in operating income for 2004.

Oh, and the Yankees were worth $950 million, up 14 percent from 2003. The next most valuable club was the Boston Red Sox at $563 million.

The biggest change in value was by the Washington Nationals, the team formerly known as the Montreal Expos. The Nats' new value, after moving to the nation's capital, is estimated at $310 million, an increase of 114 percent over the Expos' previous value.

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Mini-Olympics To Light Torch: It's called the 2004 International Sports Invitational, and it's not anything approaching the Olympic Games, but it could be a start of something bigger.

That's the view of Joe Moeller, the president of the San Diego International Sports Council, which helped bring a three-sport international competition to four local venues from June 7 to 12.

The event, originally called the Pacific Rim Sports Summit featuring nine sports and more than 900 athletes, was supposed to happen in Seattle next month. But in March, the U.S. Olympic Committee contacted Moeller's group in hopes of relocating just the softball tournament to San Diego.

After some discussions, the Olympic Committee decided to hold a scaled-down competition in San Diego, which not only includes softball (women), but men's and women's basketball, and men's volleyball as well. The games will take place at four facilities in the area: San Diego State University's Cox Arena and Peterson Gym (basketball); University of San Diego's Jenny Craig Pavilion (men's volleyball); and the ARCO Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista (softball).

In all, the games will feature some 250 athletes from six nations besides the United States: Australia, Canada, China, New Zealand, Russia, and the Netherlands.

Moeller said he hopes the games will lead to the possible hosting of future international competitions down the road.

Tickets for most events cost $8 and will be available at the venues.

Mike Allen writes about sports business when there's compelling sports business news to report. Send possible stories to mallen@sdbj.com.