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The Arena Football League begins its 9th season this Friday and is touting this year's changes: A lineup of 13 teams, the most in league history; five expansion teams (Memphis, St. Louis, Iowa, San Jose and Connecticut); a new ESPN announcing crew; and, a new revenue-sharing system featuring sports' first payroll tax. ESPN's coverage will include Tom Mees, Steve Physioc, Rick "Doc" Walker and Mike Mayock. The league is on the Internet and has its own "AFL World Wide Web Page." The Las Vegas Sting became the first AFL team to have their own Web site. Address: http://infolane.com/infolane/sting/ stinghp.html (AFL). USA TODAY examines AFL's goals for the upcoming season. Among them: League-wide attendance of 1 million for the first time; eventual franchises in Mexico City, L.A., and New York; and making the game more attractive to network TV (Larry Weisman, USA TODAY, 5/10).
In an interview on this morning's "Bloomberg Business News," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was asked if the relocation of the Jets, and the possible moves of other franchises, would give the league a "gypsy image." Bettman: "I hope not -- short-term it might. But what we're in the process of doing is dealing with some of the harsh realities of small markets in Winnipeg and Quebec, markets that don't have new buildings and that need them when there is no prospect of getting them. And hopefully, in the long-term, if the franchises move, it will the league and those teams stronger." Asked about the effect of the lockout, Bettman noted the improved ratings on Fox and the 3.5% increase in attendance. Bettman: "We had a problem, and we dealt with it and we got it behind us and our fans have reacted very favorably to that." Posed with the notion that the league has never been successful packaging its stars, Bettman said, "Well, in fact, I am not sure if that was deliberate. But our goal is to let people know who our great athletes are because that will help sell the game. But it is the chicken and the egg -- not enough people know our players, not enough people know our game, and we have to teach them about both and that is what we are working on" (PBS, 5/10). EDMONTON FEELS A DRAFT: A local Edmonton TV station reported that the NHL entry draft will be held in that city. The draft was scheduled to be in Winnipeg, but those plans changed with the Jets move (CP/Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 5/10).
MLS is expected to announce details of its planned opening in '96 within a month, according to this morning's USA TODAY. The final details are expected to cover the last two teams and the investors who will get the league to the financial level required to launch -- $50M. As reported yesterday in THE DAILY, Kansas City is expected to be one of the final two MLS cities, with Dallas, Denver, and Seattle among the others being considered. MLS Chair Alan Rothenberg: "We're at the point where we have all the commitments we need for financing and operating our initial 10 teams" (Jerry Langdon, USA TODAY, 5/10).
Yankees Owner George Steinbrenner will reportedly suggest a reorganization of baseball's hierarchy during the owners meeting today in Chicago, according to USA TODAY's Hal Bodley. Under the Steinbrenner plan, acting MLB Commissioner Bud Selig would become full-time commissioner and AL President Gene Budig and NL President Len Coleman would become dual chief operating officers. Selig said that while he "appreciated George's support," he has not changed his mind on going full-time (USA TODAY, 5/10). It also appears owners are attempting to convince Rob Manfred to accept a full-time job with the Players Relation Committee and become their lead negotiator. Manfred is a partner in the Washington office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius -- the firm of record for MLB's labor relations issues and employer of former PRC head Chuck O'Connor. In addition, one MLB owner reports that MLB Properties has received "several telephone calls" from advertisers worried that the players will boycott the All-Star Game if the owners fail to guarantee a pension payment (AP/ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 5/10). GO 'SPOS: The Expos' three-game series against the Marlins outdrew the Yankees' three-game series against the Brewers, 76,003 to 60,796 (USA TODAY, 5/10). The success of small-market teams is examined by George Vescey in today's N.Y. TIMES. Vecsey writes, "I'm not so sure television money is everything. ... It's too soon to be proclaimed a trend, but it bears watching" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/10). GAMMONS' "DIAMOND NOTES": ESPN's Peter Gammons reports that the Padres' experiment with Fernando Valenzuela -- designed to bring in more fans from Tijuana generated only 50 additional ticket sales for Valenzuela's last start. "The Fernando Marketing Experience" will continue for one more start, with the team looking to bring up more pitching prospects....The Angels are holding off on trading Mark Langston because that several in the organization believe that recent interest from Disney in buying the team "will result in their pushing Peter Ueberroth out of the way and bringing in heavier entertainment investment dollars"....The Angels are inviting players Chili Davis and Tim Salmon to sit in on management meetings "to try and foster some understanding of what management tries to do." Also, Giants Owner Peter Magowan and his players split the cost of a park for inner-city youth. Gammons called those moves: "Two small steps for baseball's mankind" ("SportsCenter," 5/9).