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Phillies Owner Bill Giles, a member of MLB's expansion committee, said that MLB owners are expected to award two expansion franchises by February to begin play in '97 (Bill Chastain, TAMPA TRIBUNE, 12/16). But a report in the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES notes that Red Sox CEO John Harrington outlined a timetable that calls for the committee to make a recommendation and owners to vote on it in late January or early February. Then if expansion is approved, the committee will take an additional 4-6 weeks for a second round of interviews with the prospective cities. That would put an expansion announcement in March (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 12/16). The fee has not been set, but one expansion applicant estimated it would be about $125M per team. Several ownership sources say the vote "almost certainly will be to add teams." During the labor negotiations, both sides have offered proposals that involved sharing money gained from expansion (Bill Chastain, TAMPA TRIBUNE, 12/16). PADRES SALE: MLB owners "gave the go-ahead" for TV producer Tom Werner to sell the Padres to TX software millionaire John Moores. Former Orioles President Larry Lucchino, who would run the team, said the sale is expected to be completed in a few weeks (AP/BOSTON GLOBE, 12/16).
Meeting in Chicago, MLB owners agreed to extend negotiations with the players' union for seven more days rather than immediately implement their economic system. The owners voted to give MLB's Executive Council the authority to implement a cap next Thursday if an agreement between with the union is not reached. The vote was 25-3, with the Orioles, Blue Jays and Mets opposing. This "fueled speculation that the previous week of negotiations brought the two sides closer," but Red Sox CEO John Harrington said "that wasn't necessarily true" (Jeffrey Flanagan, K.C. STAR, 12/16). In L.A., Ross Newhan writes, "It is difficult to say whether [the vote] is merely the latest chapter in what some believe has been a shameful attempt by both sides to establish evidence of good-faith bargaining if that becomes an issue" before the NLRB (L.A. TIMES, 12/16). FROM THE UNION: With the 7-day reprieve, the union agreed to postpone basic agreement deadlines: arbitration offers have been delayed to December 23 and the December 20 deadline for tendering '95 contracts was put off. WHY THE DELAY? It was learned that the owners approved a delayed implementation, "despite a warning" by an attorney for Mets co-owner Fred Wilpon that the owners cannot withstand a union challenge before the NLRB (Ross Newhan, L.A. TIMES, 12/16). "Maybe the owners are getting soft. Maybe they aren't all in agreement. Whatever, it was their move, and they blinked" (Tom Knott, WASHINGTON TIMES, 12/16). Not everyone on the owners' side "was pleased with the delay." Reds Owner Marge Schott "seemed agitated as she left, amid speculation she wanted to get on with the implementation" (Mike Shalin, BOSTON HERALD, 12/16). ESPN's Peter Gammons, asked if the delay was to fix the problem in Toronto where Ontario law prevents use of replacement players: "No, that's something that they will deal with in January and February" ("SportsCenter," 12/15). The owners' negotiating committee of Harrington, Braves President Stan Kasten and Rockies Owner Jerry McMorris was credited with the idea of a delay. Negotiations are expected to resume Monday in Washington, with William Usery presiding. OTHER NEWS: Union officials protested information published by the ASSCOCIATED PRESS on Monday that put union reserve fund assets from licensing revnues well over $100M. MLBPA Licensing Chief Judy Heeter called the figures "misleading and inaccurate" and denied that the information was leaked to the AP or any other news organization by the union (Bob Brill, THE BRILL REPORT, 12/15).
With 373 games remaining in the regular season, the CBA is on track to break last year's attendance record of 1.8M. This year's numbers are 8,118 ahead of last season's average of 3,895 per game, and the final count is expected to exceed 2 million. CBA Commissioner Tom Valdiserri: "I believe that this is a credit to our clubs, and the fact that our level of quality players is at an all-time high." Much success can be attributed to the league's move into five new larger markets, with three of those new teams increasing gate totals by 10%. The Mexico Aztecas report a 71.9% jump over '93-94 when the team was in Fargo, ND (CBA).
The "secret subcommittees" in the NHL labor dispute met yesterday for the second day in a row. One union exec: "Real cloak-and-dagger stuff." The representatives met at a secret location, and while the delegations were in contact with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Exec Dir Bob Goodenow, the two principals were not involved. The NHL delegation was believed to include NHL Senior VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash and Maple Leafs President Cliff Fletcher, while the NHLPA sent attorneys John McCambridge and Bob Riley. "Some of the best- informed executives and agents were not briefed about the talks, suggesting an air of sensitivity and gravity to the issues being discussed" (Joe Lapointe, N.Y. TIMES, 12/16). There were no official plans to resume full negotiations, although the CANADIAN PRESS is reporting that talks are planned for the weekend. Fletcher: "There will be more meetings" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 12/16). SMALL GROUPS, BIG TALKS: In Toronto, Bob McKenzie writes, "If the two sides weren't making some progress on the sticky systemic issues -- everything from rookie salary caps to salary arbitration to free agency to the mother of them all, the payroll tax -- they wouldn't be getting back together. ... The lieutenants on both sides are skilled professionals and creative problem solvers. The urgency of the situation, along with the absence of two hard-line leaders, may be just what's needed to breathe some life into the talks" (TORONTO STAR, 12/16). One source told the CANADIAN PRESS: "If this thing is going to get done and the season is going to be saved, these small groups will have played a big part of the process" (VANCOUVER SUN, 12/16). DEAL IN THE WORKS? Several owners told THE SPORTING NEWS "that reintroducing the tax was a 'face-saving tactic to show small-market teams the league had not sold them out. But the charade was part of a natural process.' That's why the tax will disappear this week and the Edmontons and Winnipegs of the NHL will have to make it on their own. Seventy-five percent of the owners will not vote to cancel the season" (THE SPORTING NEWS/L.A. TIMES, 12/16). IF YOU'VE GOT THE YEN, THEY'VE GOT THE TIME: The TORONTO SUN reports that if the season is canceled, the next stop for Wayne Gretzky and his all-stars would be Japan. "The precise format has yet to be determined, but the financial backing has already been arranged -- and it is substantial," reports Al Strachan. Since the level of competition would not be the same as in Europe, the NHLPA would have to send two teams (TORONTO SUN, 12/16). THE "I" WATCHES AND WAITS: IHL Commissioner Bob Ufer said he is "unsure" whether he will extend his ban of IHL teams signing locked-out NHL players before it expires today. Ufer will make his decision after talking with Professional Hockey Players Association Exec Dir Larry Landon. Ufer: "It's a very sensitive issue because of the potential loss of jobs" (Kevin Allen, USA TODAY, 12/16).