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Backers of the United Baseball League, a new league to rival MLB, "unveiled their plans yesterday and said they were on track to start their ambitious and expensive project in 1996. But despite the optimism" of two of co-founders Dick Moss and Andrew Zimbalist, the UBL "faces major hurdles before getting to its first season, including signing quality players and finding first-rate stadiums" (Mark Hyman, Baltimore SUN, 11/2). At a news conference in New York, UBL founders stated that they would start with 10 teams in '96 -- eight from the U.S. and one each from Canada and Mexico. The long-term plans are to grow to 20 teams by '99 with franchises in Venezuela, South Korea and Japan. UBL co-founder/former U.S. Rep. Bob Mrazek said there are 20 cities "capable of supporting a team" and each is larger than Cincinnati and Milwaukee (WASHINGTON POST, 11/2). Moss: "We're not here to prod the establishment and we're not here to replace it. We're here to coexist with it" (Mult., 11/2). Former U.S. Rep./UBL co-founder Tom McMillen: "We have competition in everything in America, so why not baseball?" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 11/1). CRUNCHIN' NUMBERS: UBL founders "say partnerships among owners, players, fans and cities would avoid the labor troubles that plague the major leagues" (Simon Gonzalez, FT. WORTH STAR- TELEGRAM, 11/2). Projected starting costs for the UBL "are modest": Avg. salary: $520,000; Avg. crowd: 17,500; Avg. ticket price: $8. Franchises would be offered for $5M and player payrolls are expected not to exceed $13M per team. The players would split 35% of the equity of each teams' pretax profit. Franchise cities, in exchange for helping with facilities, would receive 15% of the pretax profit. League founders estimate that clubs could generate $31M in their first season (Thomas Stinson, ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 11/2). Jerome Holtzman notes that the UBL plans a salary cap on management salaries to "put a lid on excessive owner compensation" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 11/2). MINORITY INVOLVEMENT: Eric Vinson, VP/U.S. Trust Company and a UBL co-founder: "Minorities in the [UBL] will be able to step from the batter's box to the owner's box." Former ballplayer Curt Flood: "We need an alternative league. America deserves an alternative league. ... I need an alternative league. Baseball's owners have shut me out for 25 years" (Murray Chass, N.Y. TIMES, 11/2). POSSIBLE CITIES: In the U.S.: D.C., Phoenix, Charlotte, Long Island, Riverside/San Bernadino, Indianapolis, Orlando, Sacramento, Tampa/St. Pete, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Buffalo, Portland, Salt Lake, Northern NJ, San Antonio, Fresno, Columbus, Hartford, Raleigh/Durham and Louisville. Foreign cities: Mexico City, San Juan, Caracas, Vancouver, Monterrey, plus any cities in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, China and Cuba (Mult., 11/2). Since the UBL says it "could fetch" a $49M national broadcasting contract, it will try for franchises in L.A. and NYC (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 11/2). Moss called that "imperative" (L.A. TIMES, 11/2). WHAT ARE THEIR CHANCES? MLBPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr: "Obviously, you hope it will be a success" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 11/2). Acting MLB Commissioner Bud Selig: "We'll just wait and see what happens to it" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/2). Agent Ron Shapiro: "It's more viable than I originally thought -- because they're not trying to shoot out of the box and play this year. They're trying to do this right" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 11/2). Yankees owner George Steinbrenner: "Donald Trump tried a league that didn't work, and he's a very successful guy" (USA TODAY, 11/2). USFL Founder David Dixon, on their projected figures: "You just can't make it with that kind of arithmetic. ... I think they have a tough road." FINANCIAL WORLD's Michael Ozanian said "the key thing to this league, besides keeping the salary structure down, is to have good stadiums to play in. ... I'm talking about a lot of skyboxes and luxury suites and in-stadium advertising" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 11/1). Tom Boswell calls the UBL "all facade with nothing behind it" (WASHINGTON POST, 11/2).
Members of MLB's Expansion Committee heard presentations from two groups from Northern VA, and one each from Tampa/St. Petersburg and Phoenix, all vying for a possible expansion franchise. The Arizona group "was the first to makes its pitch. Next was Tampa-St. Pete. Coincidence or not, these are the two front-runners for expansion" (Bob Cohn, ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 11/2) PHOENIX: NBA Suns Owner Jerry Colangelo led the AZ contingent in making its first formal presentation, which included a scale model of the proposed stadium, with a working retractable roof that "reportedly wowed members of the committee." Colangelo said the committee was interested in his investment partnership, which includes Phil Knight of Nike, and some wanted assurances that it would not be fragmented and that Colangelo would "be in control of things." Colangelo: "They threw a couple of hooks out there, and I didn't bite. ... We will be one of the most successful franchises in baseball, if given an equal playing field, because we know how to market" (Bob Cohn, ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 11/2). Colangelo also said construction requirements on a $273M stadium would make '98 the earliest possible start time (Joe Henderson, TAMPA TRIBUNE, 11/01). "Colangelo's group made the most impressive presentation" (Paul Sullivan, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 11/2). TAMPA BAY: Tampa Bay Baseball introduced two new investors in their bid: Florida Progress, a diversified utility holding company, and P.J. Benton, a minority businesswoman from St. Petersburg. Tampa Bay's managing general partner, Vince Naimoli, said the group was "delighted to have her (Benton), not because she is a woman or African-American, but because of her business acumen." The group delivered a video and oral presentation on what the area had to offer, "such as market, stadium [Thunder Dome] and ownership." Naimoli: "Everything we were asked we were 100% prepared for. ... We can be ready in 100 days." AL President Gene Budig said the presentation went "very well," and NL President Len Coleman said, "Tampa was great" (Mark Topkin, ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 11/2). VIRGINIA: The "competition" between two Northern VA groups vying for an expansion franchise "took a surprising turn" when Washington attorney Bart Fisher, head of Capital Baseball, Inc., said a "syndicate of African-American investors would be the team's largest shareholder" if they were awarded a team. That group is led by venture capitalist Robert Johnson. Fisher and William Collins, head of Virginia Baseball Club, both made presentations. Sources said, of the two groups, Collins "received higher marks from the expansion committee." But Fisher's announcement "may place considerable pressure on baseball, which often has been criticized for its lack of minority interest" (Maske & Lipton, WASHINGTON POST, 11/2). Fisher: "We have laid down a challenge to major league baseball" (Thom Loverro, WASHINGTON TIMES, 11/2). Officials "familiar with the presentations questioned the strength of the Fisher group." One anonymous official on the Fisher plan: "It was heavy on demographics but short on specifics. The difference between the two groups was like night and day" (Maske & Lipton, WASHINGTON POST, 11/2). Phillies owner Bill Giles, without specifying which group he was referring to: "The most surprising thing was that Northern Virginia's proposal was better than most thought it would be" (Joe Henderson, TAMPA TRIBUNE, 11/2). In regards to a stadium, Fairfax, VA, County Chair Tom Davis said "a resident task force would be created to find a stadium site to showcase the team." The team would play at RFK Stadium on a short-term basis (Michael Scully, FAIRFAX JOURNAL, 11/2). WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? Expansion Committee Chair John Harrington hopes the committee will make a recommendation to owners by January about whether to expand and what the franchise fee should be. If expansion is approved, committee recommendations on cities could follow as soon as a month later. Harrington "hinted" franchise fees could be around $140M per team. Harrington also said a decision will be made on two-tiered expansion, with two teams starting in '96, '97 or '98, and two teams playing later (Maske & Lipton, WASHINGTON POST, 11/2).
On ESPN Radio yesterday, NHL Senior VP & Dir of Hockey Ops Brian Burke indicated that a major cancellation of games is coming. Burke was then asked if he agreed with those who say there is no sense in starting the season after Jan. 1: "That's pretty close to being accurate ... if we don't have a deal by that point in time, there is a risk ... a very real, substantial, significant risk that we won't have a hockey season." Burke said at least 50% of the 84 regular season games must be played ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 11/1). CP's Alan Adams writes, "A deal to celebrate New Year would allow the NHL to rejig its schedule to allow for a 45-game season and still finish in April." Mighty Ducks President Tony Tavares: "If you are not going to get in at least half the games, then why bother." Others are even more pessimistic. One unnamed GM: "We are about one month away from having a meltdown" (Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 11/2). SO, WHAT ARE THEY DOING ABOUT IT? One source familiar with the recent talks between NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Exec Dir Bob Goodenow characterized them as "beyond the term 'fruitless'" (Dave Fay, WASHINGTON TIMES, 11/2). The secrecy "might indicate that they are intent on hammering out a deal rather than conducting a public-relations campaign. If you can adopt that, consider yourself an optimist" (Gare Joyce, Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 11/2). But some did see cause for optimism. Boston-based agent Steve Freyer: "The guy who normally tells me what's going on said he can't tell me what's going on. ... At least they're talking, and they're serious enough to have put on a mutual gag order." Bruins President & GM Harry Sinden: "The less people who aren't actually part of the actual negotiations know, the better. ... I hope this means something" (Stephen Harris, BOSTON HERALD, 11/2). ROOKIE CAP OFF THE TABLE? Burke said owners "will never yield on the issue of a luxury payroll tax even if the players agree to a rookie salary cap and a more limited system of salary arbitration." Burke: "If you've got gangrene in your hand, cutting off two fingers doesn't solve the problem." Writes Dave Fuller in this morning's TORONTO SUN, "A handful of players, frustrated by the impasse, were expected to press Goodenow on the rookie salary-cap issue, but there's no need now" (TORONTO SUN, 11/2). SOLIDARITY WATCH: A fax from NHL Senior VP & general Counsel Jeff Pash to all 26 clubs notes the union is suggesting owners "will cave in" if the lockout goes past January 1. Jets GM John Paddock calls that thinking "a foolish mistake": "There's no chance. Not one little bit." Meanwhile, the NHLPA's solidarity "should get a booster shot" in Toronto today from a day-long "informational meeting" expected to be attended by several hundred players (Tim Campbell, WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 11/2). MIGHTY ANGRY DUCK: Tony Tavares was upset at the league's handling of the termination of the players' group health insurance coverage. Mighty Duck Tom Kurvers learned of the lapse upon taking his pregnant wife to the hospital after an auto accident. Tavares: "It was not one of the league's shining moments. I think it was mishandled and I let my feelings be known" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 11/2). REPLACEMENT PLAYERS: Whalers GM Jim Rutherford floated the idea of replacement players in '95-96 should the '94-95 season be canceled. The NHL's Burke would not say whether the league has discussed using replacement players. Burke: "I will say this, it's not something we're considering at this point in time" (Viv Bernstein, HARTFORD COURANT, 11/2).
NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said that a decision on the divisional placement of the expansion franchises in Jacksonville and Charlotte will be made today. The owners will determine which conference and division the expansion teams will play in, by either a vote of the clubs -- which now seems highly unlikely -- or by the commissioner exercising his powers if no consensus can be reached. All indications are that Tagliabue will place Carolina in the NFC West and Jacksonville in the AFC Central. But Tagliabue maintained support is gaining for realignment: "People are beginning to realize that realignment can be a very positive aspect of our league" (Thomas George, N.Y. TIMES, 11/2). NFC WEST WILL BENEFIT: If Carolina joins the NFC West, as expected, then the resulting five-team division would feature at least two of the NFL's highest-paying franchises in terms of revenues doled out to visiting clubs: Carolina, which will guarantee $1.28M per game to visitors, and San Francisco, which currently has the league's largest payout, $890,000 (Len Pasquarelli, ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 11/2). DECISION ON '99 SUPER BOWL: NFL owners will also decide today whether to award the 1999 Super Bowl to either San Francisco or Miami. Several sources suggested yesterday that the league is "poised" to choose San Francisco if concerns about Candlestick Park are satisfied. Broncos Owner Pat Bowlen: "It all depends on how the membership looks at Candlestick. We're very satisfied with the city itself. I think we'd like to go back there." But Super Bowl Policy Committee member Jim Irsay maintained that Miami is still "the town to beat" (Greg Cote, MIAMI HERALD, 11/2). OTHER ISSUES BEING DEBATED: Among other issues discussed by the owners yesterday were corporate ownership; revenue sharing; whether to reduce the two-thirds voting requirement now in place to pass or defeat major issues; and scheduling for the '95 season (N.Y. TIMES, 11/2).