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MLB officials will be "watching closely" next week when the Padres and Mets play a three-game series in Monterrey, Mexico. During MLB's last expansion, Monterrey got serious consideration. The series is being played in Mexico because San Diego is hosting the Republican national convention (USA TODAY, 8/7)....NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, on criticism that his five-game suspension of Cowboys WR Michael Irvin was not enough: "This was his first offense, and that makes it difficult because you hope it will be his last offense" (USA TODAY, 8/7)....With the start of the NFL preseason, many in the sport are glad the tumultuous off-season has finally ended. NFLPA Exec Dir Gene Upshaw: "The players aren't excited about two-a-days, but at least we can get on with something else." Tagliabue: "You've got a handful of guys who sour the barrel for all the other guys" (USA TODAY, 8/7)....As more and more WTA Tour staff members move from the St. Petersburg offices for the Tour's CT HQs, there are rumors WTA Tour CEO Anne Person Worcester has plans to close the St. Pete office (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 8/7)....Eastern League President John Levenda was fired by the league's board. The apparent front-runner for the post is Brian Mahoney, the Trenton Thunder's Assistant GM, a key organizer of the Double-A All-Star Game (BASEBALL AMERICA, 8/19).
MLB chief labor negotiator Randy Levine and MLBPA Exec Dir Don Fehr met in New York yesterday, but according to all reports, "little progress was made." Levine: "We had a meeting Tuesday and discussed all the issues. We will meet again Friday." Meanwhile, MLB's Executive Council meets in Milwaukee today where Levine will ask for permission for a final offer to the players "as early as next week." If that does not produce an agreement, management is ready to ask U.S. District Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to lift her injunction imposed in March '95 that led to the end of the strike. The intent of Sotomayor's injunction was to force the sides to reach a deal, "but they went eight months without even negotiating." If the injunction is lifted, the owners would be free to implement their own economic system, which they believe would force the union to make a deal. The players, however, retain the threat to call another strike (Tom Haudricourt, MILWAUKEE JOURNAL-SENTINEL, 8/7). DUELING QUOTES: Fehr: "If they choose to go back to court and publicly re-air all our disputes, I have a hard time believing that's positive" (NEWSDAY, 8/7). Levine: We haven't had a new labor agreement since 1992. This is insane. ... We're not going to sit the whole season the way it is. I think the players want it over, the owners want it over. I want it over with. At least I think the players want it over. I'm trying to give them the benefit of the doubt" (Dave Van Dyck, CHICAGO SUN- TIMES, 8/7).
In the current BRANDWEEK, Terry Lefton examines the progress of Players Inc., the NFLPA's marketing arm. While NFLP may have 30 of the most recognizable names under contract, Players Inc. has the rest. Vikings WR Chris Carter: "My agent represents 20 or 30 people -- he can't be in contact with corporate America the way Players Inc. can." Lefton also notes how Players Inc. has gone after companies that were left out of NFL sponsorships. When MCI lost out to Sprint as the NFL's telecom sponsor, MCI signed with Players Inc. at a much lower cost. Now MCI has an NFL ad campaign featuring players with "hometown appeal." Players Inc. also has inked Norwegian Cruise Lines and Bally Fitness Centers. Players Inc. will launch its own sportswear line this fall, with many players expected to sport the look during interviews and TV shows (BRANDWEEK, 8/5 issue).
Val Ackerman, currently NBA VP of Business Affairs, has been named President of the new Women's NBA, which holds its inaugural season in '97, effective October 1. Ackerman will report to NBA Deputy Commissioner and COO Russ Granik (NBA). JUMP BALL: The new American Basketball League is scheduled to begin play on October 18, and ABL Co-Founder Gary Cavalli said that nine members of the U.S. Women's Olympic team -- all except Sheryl Swoopes, Rebecca Lobo and Venus Lacey -- have agreed to play. Seven of those nine have signed contracts, according to Cavalli, with "strong verbal commitments" from Lisa Leslie and Ruthie Bolton. The WNBA is seen by ABL backers as a "carpetbagger" and any hopes for a merger "seem unlikely" (Ann Killion, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 8/4). USA TODAY notes "speculation" on how firm the ABL contracts and commitments are. Ackerman: "We don't see it as a competitive situation." WNBA cities will be chosen in the next few months and "player procurement" should begin in September. Ackerman: "Our hope is that we end up with some of the Olympic players. How many, I just don't know" (Steve Wieberg, USA TODAY, 8/6). LOST TO THE RUNWAY? Lisa Leslie, described as the U.S. team's "most effervescent personality," told the L.A. TIMES she plans to model first before signing with any pro league. Leslie, who has signed with the Wilhelmina agency: "I will play the game again. I'm not sure about when and where." The L.A. TIMES' Robyn Norwood notes, "It isn't particularly fair, but the future of women's basketball in this country might depend on the decisions made by Leslie and the rest of the Olympic team" (L.A. TIMES, 8/5).