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The Indians' Albert Belle met with AL President Gene Budig yesterday for questioning on his recent incident with SI photographer Tony Tomsic. Phyllis Merhige, AL VP/Media Affairs, said they would have no comment until the situation is resolved, adding, "I can't confirm or deny that there was a meeting." But MLBPA officials confirmed the meeting. Indians Manager Mike Hargrove admitted the image of his team "seems to be taking a beating" because of Belle's problems with media and fans. Hargrove: "It's regretful if the image of the club is hurt. I'm very sorry for that, but this is not a bad team. ... If baseball's success depends on one player, the game is in more trouble than any of us realize" (Sheldon Ocker, Akron BEACON JOURNAL. 4/25). FUNNY GUY: Sheldon Ocker of the BEACON JOURNAL notes that Belle has "not lost his charm" in the wake of the latest incident. Reporter Kelly O'Neal and an ESPN crew approached Belle as he stood on the sidewalk in front of the AL office on Park Ave. O'Neal stuck out her hand to make an introduction and Belle responded, "You're not supposed to touch me, dear." Ocker: "End of introduction. End of attempted interview" (Akron BEACON JOURNAL, 4/25).
A U.S. House Subcommittee is set to discuss the issue of "franchise free agency" today and whether the NFL should be granted an antitrust exemption in order to better control the movement of its teams ("SportsView," CNBC, 4/24).... Francois Botha has lost his federal appeal of a lower court decision stripping him of his IBF Heavyweight Championship for testing positive for steroids -- which means there are "no more hurdles" blocking a Michael Moorer-Axel Schultz title fight June 22 in Germany ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 4/24).
The NBA Board of Governors approved the concept of the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) to begin play as a summer league in '97. NBA Commissioner David Stern called approval a "first step" in an ongoing process, while adding the league's "greatest chance for success" is in the summer when arena availability and TV time are most abundant. Stern also said the new league is "dependent upon cable and over-the-air network arrangements." The number of teams, cities, and TV arrangements are likely to be announced in early July (NBA). The league would have a 25-30 game schedule from mid-to-late June through August. Players would "be encouraged" to play in European or South American leagues during the regular winter season, "opening the door for marketing of WNBA merchandise abroad." A TV deal "would not be limited" to current partners NBC and TBS, and Stern said the TV response has "been gratifying." Player compensation has not been set. The league would draw on college stars and women who play overseas, who would be assigned "on the basis of geographical consideration, as well as through the draft." At the Governors meeting, "many NBA owners lobbied to have teams among the first eight" (Cawthon & Greenberg, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 4/25). ESPN noted teams are expected to be placed in cities which already have NBA franchises ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 4/24). USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand notes the NBA would own all the teams, perhaps as many as eight. NBA VP Val Ackerman, who has been overseeing the league's effort at marketing the U.S. Women's National Team, said the WNBA won't distract college programs by tempting undergrads to turn pro early. Ackerman: "There'll be restrictions" (USA TODAY, 4/25). RIVAL PIONEER: The WNBA follows a February announcement by the American Basketball League that it would begin a 40-game season in eight cities next October. ABL co-founder Gary Cavalli could not be reached for comment. It was "unclear what impact the NBA's decision would have on the ABL's plans" (Mike Reynolds, INSIDE MEDIA, 4/24). GONE GLOBAL: CNN's "Moneyline" reported the formation of the WNBA comes as the NBA is putting a "full court press" on its international audience in the hopes of "evolving as a global entertainment company, much like Disney." NBA Properties President Rick Welts: "The NBA is in a position that no other league has ever been in. If you ever look at that other world game, soccer, if you're Brazilian, you think the world's best soccer is played in Brazil. If you're English, you think it's in England. But no one disputes the fact that the 350 best basketball players in the world all play in one league." Last year, overseas sales of NBA licensed merchandise reached $400M, or 10% of the league's total consumer products sales. Meanwhile, since the '92 Olympics, the NBA has "nearly doubled" its global TV audience. Games are now broadcast in 175 countries and 40 languages. Michael Levine, Dir of Marketing at Athletes and Artists, says the NBA's global approach is much the same as a movie studio's overseas strategy. Levine: "They see their players just like movie studios see their hot ticket stars, as superstars who can be translated into hits overseas much the same way they're hits here in this country" (CNN, 4/24).