The season hasn't started and the Los Angeles Dodgers already have won some and lost some.

As the baseball team gears up for its April 13 home opener, the team announced the signing of a sponsorship deal with Kaiser Permanente Southern California, which will become the Dodgers' official health insurance partner.

The agreement includes traditional marketing opportunities, as well as support for the Dodgers Dream Foundation charity fund. Kaiser also will provide scholarships for 40 kids to attend Dodgers Youth Baseball Camps.

However, Centinela Freeman Hospital Medical Center, which houses the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic, one of the region's leading sports medicine practices, did not renew its sponsorship for this season. The hospital, which had been struggling financially, was bought in November 2007 by Prime Healthcare Services Inc., a Victorville company known for its financially disciplined approach to operating hospitals. Centinela Freeman still has contracts with other local sports franchises.

The team is in negotiations to secure a new hospital partner, said Dodgers spokeswoman Yvonne Corrasco.

The team also lost its deal with California Pizza Kitchen, which served its signature barbecue chicken pizzas at Dodgers Stadium. The pizza chain, which is having a tough time amid a sharp downturn in consumer spending, decided not to renew its sponsorship. The stadium will still offer pizzas under a generic "Brooklyn pizza" name.

The Dodgers have made a big push to add local food vendors. Aside from Century City-based CPK, it brought in Canter's Deli and Mrs. Beasley's cupcakes. This year, it hasn't added more area food businesses, but there will be some new offerings, including a Philly cheese steak stand on the field level.

On a lighter note, the popular Camacho's Cantina stands on the field level will be adding fish tacos this year and seem likely to stay on the menu given their appeal to one big fan.

"The fish tacos are great," said Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, who said the tacos were among his favorite new offerings.

Lobster Row

When the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach comes to town April 16 it will be running for the first time since the two open-wheeled racing circuits in the U.S. fully unified.

Already the results of that unification are starting to show results for the Indy Racing League, which will be showcasing headliners such as Danica Patrick and Dario Franchitti.

This year's weekend race activities will have a record 10 and a half hours of television coverage, with ABC covering the main race April 19. The Speed Channel and a second cable network will cover time trials and other racing.

In fact, renewed interest in the race has prompted the organizers to upgrade the corporate suites and charge a premium, despite the awful economy. This year, pit-row suites are going for $42,500 and come with 30 passes, up from $25,750 and 20 passes in 2008. The suites, which have been upgraded to have a more permanent feel with such touches as wood French doors, serve gourmet food options including lobster. The suites are expected to generate $1 million in revenue.

"It's a major evolution for us as a venue. We are trying to build on a temporary basis what other permanent venues offer," said Jim Michaelian, chief executive of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, which owns the race.

Open-wheel racing was devastated by a decades-long split that splintered fan attention at the same time NASCAR stock car racing captured the public attention. But since last year's merger of the IRL and the Champ Car World Series, the sport has attracted more interest.

The Toyota Grand Prix's three days of racing regularly attracts roughly 150,000 spectators and it's hoped that attendance will at least match last year despite the economy.

Beach Scene

Manhattan Beach residents have long cherished their summer professional beach volleyball tournament, but could the Manhattan Beach Open be on its way out?

AVP Inc., the struggling operator of the tournament and pro volleyball tour, is demanding a change in an agreement that allows it to charge only for 24 percent of the open's seats.

Sounds odd, but the tournament is subject to a maze of Byzantine rules because the beach is owned by the county and is regulated by the California Coastal Commission, which set the ticket revenue limitation.

So even though volleyball and the tournament got a huge boost from the Olympics, where both U.S. men and women won gold medals, AVP expects to lose money on the tournament.

"The event is going ahead for this year, but we can't make money commensurate with the level of the event," said Alison Shapiro, AVP spokeswoman. "We want to keep it in Manhattan Beach, but the business model is structured in a way that makes it difficult."

Currently, the tour is attempting to negotiate new rules for future tournaments, and is threatening to leave, perhaps for Hermosa Beach, unless there are changes.

Staff reporter David Nusbaum can be reached at dnusbaum@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 236.

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