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While "no one" disputes the value of international hockey, the HOCKEY NEWS' Bob McKenzie asks, "[H]ow much is too much?" McKenzie: "That is the question that will be asked in the months to come as the NHL and [NHLPA] formulate a long-term international calendar almost certain to culminate with NHL participation in the 2002 Winter Olympics." But the "difficulty is that everything the NHL and NHLPA have done internationally in the last two years has been a raging success, but may be bordering on overkill, especially as it pertains to the health and welfare of the players." The NHL's All-Star format pitting North America versus the World "was a huge success. NHL post-event consumer polling revealed a virtually unheard-of approval rate" of 78%. What that means is a "variety of formats will be considered" for future games "depending upon the time and locale of the game." With the World Cup, the '96 event earned $14.7M, shared by the NHL and NHLPA. While the next event is projected for 2000, some players "have voiced concerns over the demanding schedule" (HOCKEY NEWS, 3/6). TWO-PRONGED PLAN: McKenzie writes the "challenge" for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Exec Dir Bob Goodenow "is to find a way to address the players' concerns and keep alive both the World Cup and Olympics." The league "is considering a two-pronged" plan: "First, in World Cup or Olympic years, do away with the NHL All-Star Game. Second, move the World Cup from a four- or five-week fall event to a two-week mid-season tourney resembling the Olympic format." The "impact of a mid-season World Cup shutdown would be minimized by doing away with the All-Star Game and its four- or five-day break." While McKenzie acknowledges that All- Star weekend is "valuable" to the league, its TV partner and corporate sponsors, the league "won't lock itself into an All-Star Game at all if that's what it takes to make the international calendar go" (HOCKEY NEWS, 3/6 issue).
USA TODAY's Hal Bodley reports that early calculations and winter rosters have the Orioles with MLB's highest payroll at $71,538,134, followed by the Yankees, at $71,255,598; Braves, $60,885,000; Indians, $58,533,499 and Rangers, $54,780,095. Early projections have the Expos with the lowest payroll at $6,542,500 and the Pirates at $11,904,000. Payroll totals will change by opening day when teams get down to the 25-player limit (USA TODAY, 3/3). JACKSON'S VIBE: Bulls Coach Phil Jackson, on whether the NBA should test for marijuana: "If it's illegal, I think that you've got to deal with it. If it's a law then you have to deal with the laws. And I think that's testing for it." More Jackson: "But the key to this is: What is it going to do? Is it going to curtail personal behavior? Are you going to take people out of the workplace? Are you going to lose some of your best players? Perhaps, and that's an issue that the NBA has to decide. Are they willing to take that kind of a risk?" ("Up Close," ESPN, 3/2).
"More than any other professional sports league, MLS targets ethnic audiences, especially Hispanics, the USA's fastest-growing minority population," according to USA TODAY's Peter Brewington. Brewington: "Winning remains the top priority, but in the critical game of putting fans in seats, assigning international stars to maximize their ethnic appeal is a close second." Analysts say it's a reason MLS has had "a successful start-up." But Brewington adds that while "such a strategy ensures teams a front row of passionate fans, it also might work against the league in perpetuating the image of soccer in the USA as a 'foreign' game." Revolution GM Brian O'Donovan: "We need to concentrate our crowd-building effort on the general population." Hispanics account for 23% of MLS fans, and while league marketing officials "admit it's hard to tell if their player deployments actually are working," analysts say the ethnic marketing approach is a "sound" one. Dean Bonham of CO-based The Bonham Group: "The Hispanic market is lower- to middle-income right now, but can be described as a soccer-educated demographic with spendable income that's growing at a very rapid rate" (USA TODAY, 3/3). YOUNG GUNS: Project 40, the joint venture between MLS and the U.S. Soccer Federation, "took a major step last week toward putting" young U.S. players in a "professional environment almost year round." U.S. Soccer and MLS have "arranged for a Project 40 select team to compete" in the A- League, the "main breeding ground" for MLS teams and the for the U.S. World Cup team (Alex Yannis, N.Y. TIMES, 3/3).