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NFLPA Exec Dir Gene Upshaw "is going to become the richest union boss in all of team sports," according to CNN/SI's Peter King. Upshaw "is expected" to sign a $1.6M per-year deal through 2003 "this week," a six-year extension worth $9.6M. King: "There's going to be a lot of fallout over this, because a lot of players have been critical of Upshaw over the years. It's going to be interesting to hear the initial reaction from players in the league about Upshaw's huge new deal." CNN/SI's Bob Golic, former player, on Upshaw's deal: "This guy is supposed to be helping all players as a union leader, not just some players. ... It is absolutely a crime if they give this guy this raise, because he has not helped all players like his job description tells him he's supposed to" ("NFL Preview," CNN/SI, 9/21).
MLS' "pending" TV deal will see the ABC/ESPN "combo paying a rights fee for around 60 games, 12 of which will be on ABC next year," network sources told Terry Lefton of BRANDWEEK. The league's first TV arrangement with ABC/ESPN "were via a time-buy arrangement, produced by MLS and packaged with media buys from MLS sponsors." Lefton: "Other than the benefits to MLS of sheer on-air time, a truer media partnership gives ABC incentive to promote MLS and gives MLS more inventory to offer potential corporate sponsors." The deal is "expected to be wrapped up within a month." In other news, the league is expected to hold a "'spring training' of sorts for all teams" at Walt Disney's Sports Complex and will also implement a "fan balloting element" to the '98 All-Star game, "which will likely be sponsored by a large" mass-merchant retailer (BRANDWEEK, 9/22 issue).
NBA Commissioner David Stern, on finding ways to address conduct-related problems among NBA personnel: "There is nothing special we are going to do. We are going to continue our programs that we have in place and continue our dialogue with the [NBPA] as to what standards of conduct are reasonable." Noting the recent legal troubles of Marv Albert and Hornets Owner George Shinn, Stern added, "We're not about any kind of witch hunt. But illegal actions or criminal actions which result in convictions are things we have to be ready to deal with for all people, not just players. We're prepared to deal with all of it" (Eddie Sefko, HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 9/20). More Stern: "This involves a very, very, very small percentage of our players, and on one hand concerns us greatly. But on the other hand, causes us to make sure we don't contribute to the stereotyping that historically has gone on" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 9/21). In Boston, Peter May: "It was refreshing to hear Stern confront the issue of moral turpitude and not limit it to players." May also noted that NBA GMs "were presented with a rough draft proposal about the CBA becoming more of a development/ farm league for the NBA" (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/21). NOTES: Stern said TV revenue will be limited to network and cable deals, with no plans to offer games on pay-per- view (SACRAMENTO BEE, 9/21)....In Ft. Lauderdale, Ira Winderman wrote the league put together a presentation of "questionable music that included a tape of" the Rocky theme, "Gonna Fly Now," aired during the Heat-Knicks playoff "brawl." The Heat "was chastised for the musical selection and possible incendiary ramifications" (SUN-SENTINEL, 9/20)....The Competition Committee discussed rule changes for this season, including moving the three-point line back to 23 feet, 9 inches (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 9/22).
At the league meetings in Orlando, NBA Commissioner David Stern suggested Friday "that the owners will exercise their option to reopen and renegotiate" the CBA after this season, according to Tim Povtak of the ORLANDO SENTINEL. Such a reopening "could lead to a player lockout, another decertification effort of the player's union and the first regular-season work stoppage in league history." Stern: "I understand the possibilities, but we'll do what we have to do. We think it [the CBA] could use some improvement." Povtak: "Even with ticket prices escalating and the popularity of the game moving globally, too many teams are beginning to lose money. Many owners don't like what they see in the future." Stern estimated that "one-third or more" of the NBA teams lost money last season and that "almost" half "are expected to lose money this season." The NBA would like to close "various loopholes" that enable teams to exceed the current salary cap and owners "want a new deal before the bidding begins next summer on a new crop of free agents." NBA Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik: "We feel that the salary system may be out of whack." Stern: "We would like to come up with a notion that actually sees player salaries continue to rise at a rate that keeps pace with increases in revenue without seeing ticket prices rise at such an extraordinary rate" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 9/20). Granik, on the number of teams losing money: "That's a big difference from a few years ago, when it was only one or two teams" (Peter May, BOSTON GLOBE, 9/20). In N.Y., Mike Wise wrote that NBA labor peace "may be threatened again." The league can reopen talks at its option, without union approval, but no action can be taken until April (N.Y. TIMES, 9/20). NBPA Exec Dir Bill Hunter: "If the league is so inclined to set aside that deal, so be it. Everything will be back on the table" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 9/20). REAX: In Fort Lauderdale, Ira Winderman: "Based on the tone of the league's highest-ranking officials, as well as the stance of the union's newly elected leadership, a showdown appears inevitable for the lone major U.S. sports league never to experience a work stoppage" (SUN-SENTINEL, 9/20). In Boston, Peter May: "The possibility of another summer labor mess is real" (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/21). USA TODAY's Greg Boeck writes that "at issue" is the league's salary structure, as "owners committed more than" $1B to long-term player deals last summer. But Boeck adds that the NBPA "is armed for a confrontation" with its newly elected President, Patrick Ewing (USA TODAY, 9/22). One NBA exec, who requested anonymity: "I think there are some big questions about whether the league can continue to work this way. Something has to be done." The exec added: "If we ever come to a period of non-growth, then the league is in deep, deep, deep trouble" (DENVER POST, 9/21).