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MLS' second season begins this Saturday with most teams in action. In Tampa, Bill Ward examined MLS' second season, noting, "In many ways, Major League Soccer's inaugural season last year was almost too successful." Ward: "For all it accomplished, it left MLS executives with a problem: How are they going to top it this year?" Ward adds that "showing modest gains, improving the level of play and shoring up the trouble spots will be no easy task in 1997" (TAMPA TRIBUNE, 3/16). In San Diego, Mark Zeigler notes the offseason moves made by the league, the league office moving to New York, more foreign players, and "talk" of expansion. Ziegler: "Good changes. Important changes. Necessary changes. The point is, the league is not standing pat. It isn't because it can't" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 3/19). League Commissioner Doug Logan said he expects the average attendance will rise 15% in '97, from 17,416 to 20,000. The ten MLS teams have sold 34,000 season-tickets, a six percent increase over last year (AP/N.Y. POST, 3/16). STAR STRUCK: In N.Y., the DAILY NEWS' Michael Lewis noted the MetroStars are 30% ahead of season-ticket sales at this time last year at nearly 8,000; the target is 12,000. Lewis wrote an average attendance of 30,000 "isn't out of the question" due to the area's extensive fan base and that 14 of 16 home games are on weekends (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/16). NEXT STEPS: SI's "Scorecard" previews year two, and notes the newly formed MLSPA's class-action suit claiming the league is illegally holding down salaries. SI: "Though it poses a formidable challenge to MLS, the suit will take anywhere from three to 10 years to get through the courts. Both sides would be wise to avoid acrimony that could tear the league apart" (SI, 3/24 issue). THROW INS: Nearly 34,000 tickets have been sold for the USA-Mexico World Cup qualifying match at Foxboro Stadium on April 20. The match, televised by ABC, will be followed by an MLS Mutiny-Revolution contest (U.S. Soccer).
NASCAR, currently a $2B enterprise, was the subject of a three-part series by Richard Alm of the DALLAS MORNING NEWS. Calling NASCAR "America's fastest-growing spectator sport," Alm noted the 31-race Winston Cup series, the top tier of NASCAR, drew 5.58 million in attendance in '96, up from 3.3 million in '90, and will "top that with ease" this season. Felix Sabates, owner of three Winston Cup cars: "Every racetrack we go to is a sellout. No other sport can say that." TV ratings "set another record last year," with 111.89 million households tuning into racing on CBS, ABC, ESPN, TBS and The Nashville Network, "double the audience at the start of the decade" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/16). WHO'S BUYING? Alm wrote that "what the sponsors see in NASCAR is a legion of fans." Alm: "NASCAR chief Bill France rules the sport. Entrepreneurs operate tracks and run racing teams. ... But sponsors ultimately pay most of the bills -- for NASCAR, the tracks, the cars and the drivers" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/18). EXPANSION: Alm added expansion to "untapped markets outside the Southeast" depends on new tracks being built, and racing "doesn't get the public subsidies" that go to other sports' stadiums. Alm: "In fact, the most unforgiving impediment to expansion may well be the calendar. There are plenty of tracks and untapped markets that could sell 100,000 or more tickets to a Winston Cup contest, but with travel, holidays and a short off-season, it's difficult to add new races" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/16). FELIX & OSCAR? Calling them NASCAR's "version of the Odd Couple," Ben Blake profiles Speedway Motorsports CEO Bruton Smith and NASCAR President Bill France in the RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH. Blake: "The signs indicate that Smith is trying to lever[age] something from NASCAR: dates for his race tracks. He seems to believe France owes him at least one date" (RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, 3/18).
NBA Commissioner David Stern was profiled by David Moore in yesterday's DALLAS MORNING NEWS under the header, "Stern Lacks Flash, But He's Still MVP." Moore: "As the sport celebrates its stars and reminisces about the last 50 years, it's difficult to find anyone who has had a bigger impact on the league than Stern." Marketing. Revenues. Exposure. All have flourished under Stern's leadership. ... Stern has accomplished this without losing one game on the schedule to a strike or lockout. ... Cracks have developed, as they do in any successful venture. But the owners have faith that Stern will be able to shepherd them into an even more lucrative era" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/18). WHAT, NO MORE JERRY WEST? NEWSDAY's Rob Parker, on Michael Jordan's impending retirement and how the NBA should recognize him: "Although it never seemed possible, Jordan has reached [Muhammad] Ali status. If the NBA really wanted to immortalize Jordan -- arguably, if even just a little, the best ever to play hoop -- it would change its logo and replace it with Jordan's likeness" (NEWSDAY, 3/19). WORM TO TALK FOREIGN POLICY? The Bulls are scheduled to visit the White House April 3 in honor of their '95-96 Championship (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 3/19).