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NBA: ESPN's David Aldridge reported that the NBA and the players' association "continue to get nowhere" in their CBA talks. Aldridge: "Sources indicate that the league is still seeking a hard cap without a Larry Bird exception, something that the players just won't buy. And the union appears to be skeptical about the NBA's contention that up to half of its teams may lose money this season. Word is that the union believes only four teams -- the Clippers, Hawks, Pacers and Warriors -- will finish in the red this season. And the Clippers, Indiana and Atlanta are all on line" for new arenas by 2000 ("SportsCenter," 5/21). NBC's pre-game show on Sunday will focus on the NBA's labor talks, featuring interviews with Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik and NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter, followed by a round-table discussion (MIL. JOURNAL SENTINEL, 5/22)....Lakers Exec VP Jerry West discussed a possible minimum age for the NBA on Portland's KFXX Sports Radio yesterday: "[W]e need to find a way to put an age limit on it, because these kids simply do not understand why going to college, how important it is. ... We have glamorized everything in this league and we have marketed this league to a point where I really feel like we have to start worrying about our product" (THE DAILY). OTHER NOTES: USA TODAY's Rudy Martzke reports that NBC Exec VP Ken Schanzer said a report that he'd become COO of MLB is "not true." Schanzer was President of The Baseball Network. Martzke also talks to former USA Network President Kay Koplovitz, who said "a lot of people have called and suggested" she consider becoming MLB Commissioner. Koplovitz: "Baseball needs a lot of repositioning in the TV area, which other sports have done, but they don't appear to want anybody making waves" (USA TODAY, 5/22)....NFL owners approved a trial use of instant replay during some of this year's preseason games (NFL)....NHL Fans Association co- Founder Jim Boone: "We're not a fan club. We're going to look at broader issues facing the NHL and its fans." NHL VP/Media Relations Frank Brown: "Their enterprise is laudatory. That doesn't mean the NHL endorses it. But it doesn't mean we won't be responsive to it, either" (TORONTO SUN, 5/21)....MLS Commissioner Doug Logan, on Rochester's chances of moving up from A-League to MLS: "If some magic gets made and a stadium happens, Rochester will get strong consideration for an MLS team" (DEMOCRAT & CHRONICLE, 5/20).
To "broaden" its appeal and "increase its popularity, NASCAR is targeting young customers with everything from amusement parks to NASCAR Barbie, grooming its next generation of fans even as TV ratings and race-day attendance soar," according to Liz Clarke in a front-page feature in the WASHINGTON POST. NASCAR's Dir of Communications Worldwide John Griffin: "We're going after youth as a whole. We want to continue in our direction of becoming more of a white-collar sport, where it's mom, dad and the kids sitting around the TV and rooting for their favorite driver on Sunday. We're going after urban youth as much as any other youth" (WASHINGTON POST, 5/22). YOUTH MARKET: Clarke reports that as part of the "campaign," tracks are "turning into family-friendly venues," drivers are "taking care to connect with young fans," NASCAR-themed parks, cafes and retail stores are increasing, as are NASCAR toys and games, and plans for a Saturday morning NASCAR cartoon are "in the works." But as NASCAR "shifts its marketing focus toward kids, steering around" series sponsor R.J. Reynolds and its Winston brand "calls for deft maneuvers." Clarke writes that despite RJR's $30M annual support and $5M in prize money, "when it comes to NASCAR-licensed ventures aimed at kids, Winston's logo is conspicuously absent." The NASCAR Barbie Doll is "authentic down to the associate sponsors' patches" on her suit, minus any reference to Winston. The Cartoon Network is an associate sponsor of a NASCAR team, and Cartoon Network VP Bob Bryant said the net steps "lightly when it comes to the Winston Cup. We obviously do everything we can not to directly associate the (cartoon) characters and the (cigarette) brand." But Cliff Pennell, RJR's Sports Marketing Enterprises President, said that the company has no interest in NASCAR's youth initiatives: "This isn't about getting anyone -- regardless of their age -- to smoke. It's about trying to convert and switch adult smokers to our product." Clarke: "Yet, as NASCAR seeks a younger, more affluent and urban audience, its tobacco backing doesn't strengthen its hand as effectively as a sneaker company or a soft drink bottler might" (WASHINGTON POST, 5/22).
Indy-car's biggest weekend has the 82nd running of the Indy 500 on Sunday and CART's Motorola 300 at Gateway Int'l Raceway in IL on Saturday. But analysts and media contend that the Indy-car split more than two years ago has diluted interest in Indy-car racing as a whole. A sampling follows: EVERYONE LOSES? In Dallas, Holly Cain wrote that the Indy 500 "won't be what it could be thanks" to the split with CART, and that CART's Motorola 300 "won't garner ideal attention either." Cain: "There's still no winner in the Indy standoff between CART and the IRL" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 5/21). In N.Y., Richard Sandomir reports that ABC's CART ratings of a 1.5 are down from last year's 1.7, while ABC's IRL numbers are flat at 1.8. Sandomir: "The split hasn't been healthy for either Indy-car circuit" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/22). In Chicago, Skip Myslenski writes that CART is financially more secure than the IRL due to its sponsor support from 75 Fortune 500 companies. Myslenski says that "no longer" can the CART and IRL feud "be compared with, say, the long war between the National and American football leagues. It is more like how a war would be between the NFL and Austrian Rules Football" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 5/22). CAN'T COMPARE TO NASCAR? In N.Y., Sam Walker writes that the Indy 500 is "fast becoming an also-ran to the raucous, fender-knocking racing that shows up in NASCAR." The Indy 500 is "even struggling to remain the biggest Memorial Day weekend event in auto racing," going up against NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 5/22). Barnes Dyer Marketing Chair William Dyer, who is involved in auto racing marketing, said that NASCAR's growth has helped diminish the 500 (INDIANAPOLIS STAR-NEWS, 5/22). In Dallas, Cathy Harasta writes that interest in the 500 has waned and that the "greatest spectacle in racing increasingly resembles an underdog" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 5/22). LOSS OF STEWART WON'T HELP: In Indy, Robin Miller reports that the "major selling point" since the IRL's inception in '96 "will be missing" in '99 when Tony Stewart joins the NASCAR circuit. Miller adds that the move will leave a "big void" for IRL Founder Tony George and that it's "unfathomable that George ... didn't try to keep Stewart in the league" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR-NEWS, 5/22). FROM THE BRICKYARD: In Indy, Mark Ambrogi writes on the media coverage of the 500 and adds that there are "several major newspapers that have either stopped covering or reduced their coverage of the Indy 500 since the split." The Minneapolis Star Tribune is "staying away from the race for the first time in 25-plus years." Star Tribune Sports Editor Tim Wheatly: "There is definitely a dilution interest with the IRL. Frankly, we think our readers are more interested in NASCAR." IMS VP/Corporate Communications & PR Fred Nation said that the absence "isn't a trend that concerns him" and that there has been no "significant change" in the number of requests for credentials (STAR- NEWS, 5/22). Also in Indy, Bill Koenig reported that 500- related business has been "mixed." While some hotels say business has returned to pre-split days, that's "not universal" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR-NEWS, 5/21). WHAT'S ON CART PATH? CART CEO Andrew Craig is interviewed by USA TODAY's Steve Ballard and says that CART and the IRL are "two organizations with very different philosophies. The best thing for us is to plan like there won't be a reconciliation but remain open to positive discussions" (USA TODAY, 5/22). In NATIONAL SPEED SPORT NEWS, Craig said CART is studying a Saturday night TV series, but "we have to look at it with great care because Saturday, in general, the HUT scores (Homes Using Television) is lower primarily. ... It's quite not like the panacea it would seem" (NSSN, 5/13 issue). 14 NORTHERN EXPOSURE: INDEPENDENT LEAGUES PONDER MERGER . The independent Northern League and the Northeast League announced plans for a merger beginning with the '99 season. The leagues said they intend to operate under one name, most likely that of the Northern League, with Eastern and Midwestern Divisions. Details are being finalized, with a merger expected to be completed by the fall. The two leagues currently have 16 teams, with the Northeast League awarding an expansion franchise to Quebec City, which will begin play in '99. The leagues had a combined attendance last year of just under 1.5 million fans (THE DAILY). Northern League Commissioner Miles Wolff said that if the merger is approved, the leagues could play interleague series, an all-star game and postseason playoffs. He said that all seven U.S. independent leagues are discussing an "off-the-field" alliance (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 5/22).