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SI's Jackie MacMullan reports that the NBPA, having "expressed skepticism" over Commissioner David Stern's "assertion that almost one third" of the league is losing money, "plans to randomly audit five franchises" (SI, 1/19 issue)....The ABL is profiled in the N.Y. TIMES, halfway through its second year. As it prepares to play its second All-Star Game in Orlando, league officials say attendance is up 21% over last season (Jack Cavanaugh, N.Y. TIMES, 1/16).
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is profiled by Helene Elliott in the L.A. TIMES. The NHL "differs greatly from the enterprise Bettman inherited" in '93 and the fact that Bettman "has wrought so many changes is a tribute to his business acumen." Elliott: "But growth and change have spawned new problems for a league that still lacks the wide acceptance of baseball, basketball and football." Bettman: "We've been able to do things to, hopefully, create more interest in the game, and we're trying to eliminate distractions (such as) work stoppages, franchises in trouble." Bettman said that he "isn't concerned" with the current decline in attendance, but next season will start a week to 10 days later "to capitalize on the NHL's pattern of drawing better later in the season" (L.A. TIMES, 1/16). LEGAL THREAT? With the NHL's All-Star Weekend starting today, "it seems the league is far stronger than it was before Bettman arrived" in '93, according Iain MacIntyre of the VANCOUVER SUN. But "how Bettman and his office handle the current problems" -- "especially" fallout from former NHLPA Exec Dir Alan Eagleson's admission of guilt on fraud and theft charges and the decrease in scoring this year -- "will be crucial in determining if his next five years are as good as first five." Bettman, on the Eagleson affair: "The sooner we can get it behind us, the better. Hopefully the sentencing represents the closure of the chapter." But MacIntyre wrote that Eagleson's admission of guilt "has only strengthened the resolve of former players who feel they were cheated." One suit claims the league and union "colluded to hold down player salaries" between '75 and '93. Twenty-one clubs are named as defendants "and the suit has the potential to cost the NHL millions, if not hundreds of millions." Bettman: "From a civil standpoint, as a league we're going to have to deal with it. ... But our counsel has looked at it and advised me there should be nothing to it." Bettman added that he is not "overly concerned" about the drop in scoring, which is down 9% from '96 (SUN, 1/14). TEAMS: The league has altered its All-Star format to feature North America vs. the World teams, but in S.F., Ross McKeon wrote that five teams will have no player reps at the game, including the Sharks. McKeon: "Considering the NHL ranks last in popularity and exposure in a four-horse pro sports race, it's not a good idea to snub markets." NHL VP/ Communications Arthur Pincus: "It was apparent with the new format it would be virtually impossible to have every team represented" (Ross McKeon, S.F. EXAMINER, 1/14). WEEKEND UPDATE: This evening, Canada will play the U.S. in an exhibition women's game (Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 1/16). ...Willie O'Ree, the first black player in the NHL, will be honored during the weekend (VANCOUVER SUN, 1/16)....USA TODAY features a 12-page supplement on the All-Star Weekend. Sponsors include Philips Electronics' Norelco, Pinnacle, IBM, Chrysler's The New Dodge and Sheraton (THE DAILY).
The NFL securing a $17.6B TV rights deal without committing a team to L.A. was examined by Randy Harvey of the L.A. TIMES. Harvey wrote that the L.A. factor "wasn't one, even for the two networks that do extensive business here, Fox and Disney." Harvey: "When it comes to acquiring an NFL franchise, it's clearer than ever that it's a seller's market. If [L.A.] is interested in buying, it must do a better job of selling itself to the NFL" (L.A. TIMES, 1/15). NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol: "The league carefully and consistently avoided telling the networks whether an L.A. team would be in the AFC or NFC. There are no guarantees for an L.A. team." Fox COO Chase Carey: "From our position, it's a positive to have a team in L.A. But in this process, there are too many uncertainties and it didn't come into an account" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 1/16). MORE NFL FALLOUT: NEWSDAY's Steve Zipay quotes one network "spy" who described dealing with the NFL owners who led the NFL TV committee: "These were the hawks, not the doves. They won. It was like they were wearing masks and carrying Uzis" (NEWSDAY, 1/16)...In Toronto, Sun Media Corp. President Paul Godfrey said that despite the fact the deal will likely increase the cost for an expansion team, "I'll continue to knock on their door and ask for a membership card" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/16)....In Atlanta, Terence Moore writes with the NFL's new riches, the Smith family should "take the money and run" and sell the Falcons. Moore: "If you're the Smiths ... you sell" (ATL. CONSTITUTION, 1/16). REAX: A S.F. CHRONICLE editorial: "The NFL has become the ultimate loss-leader for the networks in their attempt to reach male viewers. These insane bidding wars were, on balance, a negative for viewers. First of all, the networks are dumping massive resources into rights to existing programming instead of developing fresh fare. ... The only clear winners in the war over NFL rights are the owners and athletes who will share the bounty" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 1/16). Under the header, "Breaking Point For Sports?," a SALT LAKE TRIBUNE editorial states, "Maybe in the next eight years, people won't watch as many NFL games, and advertisers won't pay so much to the networks, and the networks will be left drowning in red ink as a result of this week's unbelievable contracts. Maybe this is when Americans will reach their saturation point and the golden sports egg will finally crack" (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 1/16). In DC, Thomas Boswell: "The next time an NFL team raises its tickets by a penny, there'll be outrage. And there should be. ... And what will happen the next time an NFL team begs for tax money to build a luxury stadium ... The vote on that referendum ought to be 1,000,000 to 0" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/16).
Anaheim Sports President Tony Tavares, "long upset about voting rules that require three-fourths approval on many important baseball issues, blasted that situation Thursday, saying it was time to provide a new commissioner with real power," according to Ross Newhan of the L.A. TIMES. Tavares made his comments at the Sport Summit in New York: "Anyone worth his salt is going to insist on systemic change in league rules. If he doesn't, he will be a powerless commissioner. (As it is), if I find three other morons in my league, if it's a good idea for the league or if it's not, I can block something. We've reached the level of absurdity in baseball. The rules are absolutely absurd." Later, in a phone interview, Tavares said his remarks were not intended toward Acting Commissioner Bud Selig: "We have a vacuum in leadership. I'm not saying Bud couldn't be the commissioner, but I am saying that whoever the new commissioner is, there has to be changes." Selig, when told of Tavares' remarks, said, "I certainly understand Tony's frustrations on many matters" (L.A. TIMES, 1/16). PHOENIX NOTES: USA TODAY's Hal Bodley reports that MLB "has commissioned an investment banking firm to study the economic impact of a shortened regular-season schedule" (USA TODAY, 1/16)....MLB sources "expect" the Ownership Committee to recommend approval of the Dodgers sale to News Corp. and also expect full ownership support. One "high-ranking" MLB exec: "If you let Disney in and Ted Turner in and the Tribune Co. in, how do you say no to Rupert Murdoch? He's the biggest single investor in baseball [through his TV deals]" (Ross Newhan, L.A. TIMES, 1/15).