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While meetings between the NHL and its players' union are expected to resume this week, "it's unclear where and when." NHL Senior VP & COO Steve Solomon was quoted in Europe over the weekend saying the deadline for a deal might be December 15. Maple Leafs President Cliff Fletcher was hopeful the next round of talks might be more productive: "There should be a little greater sense of urgency. I think we've gone through a certain stage where both sides now realize the resolve of the other side. Now it's time to make a deal" (Damien Cox, TORONTO STAR, 11/7). NHLPA-SPONSORED GAMES: According to a report in this morning's TORONTO STAR, there are plans for an expanded tournament of locked-out NHL players starting in December. The games will be held in non-NHL arenas in Quebec, Ontario and Western Canada, with U.S. arenas that were to host neutral-site NHL games also reported to be possible sites. CTV would broadcast the games in Canada, with ESPN and ESPN2 possibly carrying games -- "if and when" the tourney expands to the U.S. (Frank Orr, TORONTO STAR, 11/7). NHLPA Pres. Mike Gartner said the charity games could "eventually wind up benefitting" the NHLPA, if the lockout fund drops too low (Gary Miles, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 11/6). FROM RUSSIA WITH DISGUST: While the Russian Dream team was a major success among Russian hockey fans, several of the players "complained about the tepid participation of American corporate sponsors." Igor Larionov "said he had tried unsuccessfully to enlist Budweiser and others to sponsor the tour, estimated to cost well over $500,000." Sun Microsystems contributed $60,000, and other Russian sponsors, including the city of Moscow, "chipped in" (Alessandra Stanley, N.Y. TIMES, 11/5). THE POWER OF THE GREAT ONE: The IIHF decided to remain neutral in regards to the planned tour of Europe by Wayne Gretzky and other NHL stars. The IIHF will let the local federations decide whether to allow a stop by Gretzky's tour (TORONTO STAR, 11/7). Fasel, on Gretzky's request for support: "What can you do? Nothing. He is so famous, but it is not so easy to organize the games." Gretzky said the response has been "overwhelming," adding, "The next week should shed more light on it" (CP/EDMONTON JOURNAL, 11/5). IT'S GETTING UGLY OUT THERE: Agent Rich Winter's suggestion for a settlement: "Put Bettman and Goodenow out on Lake Superior with hockey sticks and heaters. When the ice melts, the game's over" (BOSTON GLOBE, 11/6). In Tampa, Roy Cummings floats the idea that Goodenow is waiting for MLBPA Exec Dir Don Fehr to get a deal before he gets serious in negotiations. With baseball talks resuming this week, and some predicting a deal by December 1, Cummings writes, "Watch those baseball talks closely. It would seem someone deeply involved in hockey is" (TAMPA TRIBUNE, 11/6). Blues President Jack Quinn: "This is getting serious. If we don't do something in the next two weeks, there's a chance we'll lose the season" (Dave Luecking, ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 11/6). Canadiens President Ronald Corey: "Without the punitive tax, we can't make a deal" (Jack Todd, MONTREAL GAZETTE, 11/5). NHL Dir of Hockey Ops Brian Burke: "These days, I don't have a lot of hope" (Gary Miles, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 11/6). In New York, Mark Everson writes under, "DROP THE PUCK, BETTMAN": "It is time to admit the lockout failed and play the season under the old deal while talking about a new one" (N.Y. POST, 11/7).
As the NBA season was set to start on Friday night, including a regular-season game between the Clippers and Blazers in Yokohama, Japan, CNN's "Moneyline" profiled the league, focusing on the game's popularity in Asia. NBA Properties President Rick Welts: "For the NBA, the great economic opportunity immediately is going to be Western Europe, Australia -- more mature basketball markets. But for the NBA, we're going to place such a big commitment on Asia because we believe over the next 25 years, that's where the great opportunity will be." CNN's Bill Dorman says marketing basketball in Asia poses "unique challenges" because there are not many playground courts on which to cultivate the sport. An NBA merchandise store reports sales of $100,000 per month, but notes that after the original NBA Dream Team finished playing, sales dropped by "nearly 80%." Athletic shoes makers are "also eager" to recapture some of that "marketing heat" but face "language challenges" with translating jargon into Japanese ("Moneyline," CNN, 11/4). OPENING WEEKEND REVIEWS: Columns heralding the beginning of the basketball season varied between praise for the NBA for actually playing games, and the challenges the league faces in the post-Jordan/Bird/Magic era. THE ECONOMIST: "The problem is easier to spot than to solve. Basketball is suffering a (temporary?) shortage of superstars and of the dynastic teams they produce" (ECONOMIST, 11/5 issue). In Chicago, Bob Verdi writes, "The NBA has learned an audience is best held captive when regularly scheduled programming is not interrupted" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 11/6). In Seattle, Jim Moore criticizes the younger NBA players for selfishness: "Coaches aren't cowering yet, but by the turn of the century, the league could be one big grovel pit with managers sucking down to the employees" (SEATTLE POST- INTELLIGENCER, 11/5).
Support among player agents for the United Baseball League is growing, according to Murray Chass of the N.Y. TIMES. Longtime agent Tony Attansio said that he has polled his clients about the new league and they have reacted with unanimous interest: "I was shocked at the response. One hundred percent would go to the new league. ... Guys are fed up to their eyeballs with the Bud Selig-Jerry Reinsdorf nonsense." Agent Tom Reich said that the new league will be able to lure players: "I think there would be a lot of very good players who would be willing to play in the new league" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/6). In Philadelphia, Gary Miles writes, "Even though we don't give the UBL much of a shot, if it teaches the rest of baseball anything about putting the customer first, we can all be grateful" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 11/6).
NBC's "NFL Live" featured a taped interview between NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Greg Gumbel. LEAGUE ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Tagliabue, asked to assess his five years as Commissioner: "They've been quick, and exciting and a good amount of fun. It was very busy when we started, we had a lot on our agenda. As you suggested, we needed to get a labor agreement and we needed to get peace with the Players' Association, and there were many other challenges. We hadn't expanded in a number of years. We've done a lot in five years." PROUDEST MOMENTS: Tagliabue: "I'm proudest of building a consensus within the league to accept some of these changes, and to accept innovation, and to be creative, and to look forward to new solutions. I think that's been the key. I think that's how we avoided a real disruptive strike with the players. We got both sides to accept some rather dramatic changes, to accept the transition period and to make it work." REALIGNMENT: Tagliabue said he feels "mostly hopeful" about league realignment after the meetings in Chicago last week: "We had some very good discussions this week on realignment and I think there's a recognition that it's part of a broader puzzle. That it's part of making the league ever more attractive for the fans." Gumbel asked Tagliabue if it's necessary for the league to be "geographically correct": "I don't think so. You know rivalries are made up of a strange mix of things. ... The fact that we've become too focused on geography in the NFL, I think we run the risk of becoming parochial." INSTANT REPLAY: Instant replay is a "difficult concept to execute." Tagliabue believes it is a "two dimensional tool, a picture" used to deal with "three-dimensional aspects of the game." Tagliabue also said "It has one real negative in addition to the time and the interruption. It tends to suggest the officials are the third team on the field and they're not. The games are still won or lost by the players not the officials" ("NFL Live," NBC, 11/7).