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President Clinton attended Game Two of the Sabres- Capitals Eastern Conference finals on Monday night at the MCI Center, according to Liz Clarke of the WASHINGTON POST. It marked the first time a sitting U.S. president had attended an NHL game. Clinton watched from the suite of Capitals Owner Abe Pollin and was joined by Vice President Al Gore, U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Clinton spent the first period in his seat in the open-air suite and then spent "much of the second period" inside the owner's box (WASHINGTON POST, 5/26). During the second intermission, Clinton was interviewed by ESPN's Brian Hayward. Clinton, on the game: "Well first of all, it's much more exciting in person, even, than on television -- no offense to ESPN. I watch hockey when you show it. ... I'm having the time of my life. I love this" (NHL). NUMBERS: Through the conference semifinal round, the league had averaged 18,216 fans per game, playing to 99.2% capacity, which is up slightly from last year (NHL). On "The Sports Reporters," ESPN's Bob Ryan, asked if hockey is still a major sport: "The issue here is television ratings. It's not the sport. They have 90-X percent capacity filled every year [in] their arenas ... but it doesn't translate well to TV." ESPN's Mike Lupica, asked if a sport is "dead" if it doesn't translate well to TV: "I don't think so. ... [W]hen you go to see this sport still ... it's a fabulous sport" ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN, 5/24). CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM: In N.Y., Joe Lapointe, under the header, "Winter Game, Spring Identity Crisis," writes that Bettman and company need to "realistically address a few critical problems" over the off-season. Among those listed: "Shortening the season"; "Getting serious about rule changes"; "Accepting Constructive Criticism" and "Fixing the Fox Problem." He writes that ratings may be down because of the "bizarre, low-ice camera angles" that Fox has "actually increased in recent weeks. A sport thought difficult to televise does not become more telegenic when directors make it even harder to follow" (Joe Lapointe, N.Y. TIMES, 5/27). JACOBS' LEDGER: Bruins Owner Jeremy Jacobs, on player salaries and the free agent market: "I think the market is way out of line because of some stupid things that have been done with some of these contracts. ... There are a lot of idiots out there, so you never know what is going to happen. Look at the Rangers and their payroll -- and they didn't even make the playoffs." Jacobs also cited contracts given out by the Canucks and Penguins and added, "Money is not always the answer" (Will McDonough, BOSTON GLOBE, 5/23).
The NBA's CBA negotiations were examined on "NBA Showtime" on Sunday by NBC's Peter Vecsey, who spoke with NBA Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik, agent David Falk, NBPA President Patrick Ewing and NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter. Falk: "I think if you lock the players out, you risk losing the fans for the next four or five years and creating Major League Baseball." Granik, asked why a new deal would be better from '95, since the same people are doing the negotiating: "Well, you know, hopefully we can be a little smarter this time." Ewing, on a hard cap: "We as players, we're not going to go for a hard cap because it will be too restrictive." Vecsey: "In any way, shape or form?" Ewing: "In any way, shape or form." Hunter appeared live from Oakland and said that the NBPA is currently awaiting a second counter offer from the NBA: "I think [the NBA] will admit to you that they were rather surprised at the offer that I put on the table from the get go. It was a creative offer, it was a substantive offer, and an offer that's generally not made that early in negotiations. But I came to the negotiations with the intent on trying to reach an agreement, and I put forth what I thought to be a substantive offer -- one that the owners could in fact either live with or attempt to negotiate over." After his report, Vecsey said he believed that no games will be lost to a lockout next season: "I don't think they're going to miss a beat. I really don't" ("NBA Showtime," NBC, 5/24). REAX TO NBC REPORT: USA TODAY's Rudy Martzke wrote that NBC "devoted too much attention to viewer-turnoff league labor problems" (USA TODAY, 5/26). But in Baltimore, Milton Kent wrote that NBC's report on the CBA negotiations "was a welcome change from the normal" (Baltimore SUN, 5/26). MORE CBA: In Denver, Todd Phipers on NBC's report: "Bottom-line summation: There still are major differences to be settled" between the two sides (DENVER POST, 5/26). In L.A., Mark Heisler wrote, "There is suspicion that [David] Stern won't reveal his proposal until bargaining starts in earnest, this summer, after the lockout" (L.A. TIMES, 5/24). A SOCIAL PHENOM: Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Halberstam is writing a book on Michael Jordan scheduled for a November release. Halberstam, whose other NBA book, "The Breaks Of The Game," chronicled the '79-80 Trail Blazers, said his new book will explore "what made him not just a great player but a phenomenon, a social phenomenon that transcends basketball, transcends sports and transcends national boundaries. How that happened is intriguing" (N.Y. POST, 5/25). Halberstam: "It's mostly about Michael, but also, in the background, are the changes in the league -- the world of chartered jets and bodyguards and $10 million, $20 million salaries" (ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS, 5/24).
Memorial Day weekend's racing schedule saw the 82nd running of the Indy 500 on Sunday, the CART Motorola 300 on Saturday and NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday night. In Indy, Robin Miller wrote that for the "first time in my 35 years at IMS, empty seats were noticeable on race day." While IMS, in traditional fashion, gave no attendance figure, Miller puts his "unofficial estimate" at around 290,000, down from the usual 330,000 to 350,000. Miller added that while it is "still the largest gathering in motorsports," interest in the Indy 500 "continues to decline" (STAR-NEWS, 5/25). In Cincinnati, Tom Groeschen wrote that Indy "still can claim to be the largest one-day sporting event in America" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 5/26). AT GATEWAY: In St. Louis, Christopher Carey reports that racing teams and fans who came to Saturday's Motorola 300 at Gateway Int'l Raceway spent "about" $6.7M at hotels, restaurants and other businesses in the area. The total impact of the race, including the "multiplier effect," will bring $16.9M to the local economy over three days, a 12.7% increase over last year's race. Saturday's attendance was around 60,000 (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 5/24).