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NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol denied reports that NBA execs have told TV partners to expect a work stoppage during CBA negotiations, according to Howard Manly of the BOSTON GLOBE. Ebersol: "It's not true. In fact, I have been told not to anticipate a work stoppage" (BOSTON GLOBE, 6/2). On ESPN SportsZone, Jeffrey Denberg reports that NBPA VP Dikembe Mutombo has told team reps not to attend Monday's scheduled meeting with league negotiators. Mutombo: "What's the point? Why should they go for nothing? They want to do away with the Bird exception. They want a hard (salary) cap. They want to tax teams who spend more. We can't live with that. ... They want to cut us back to 48 percent (of gross revenues). We can't accept this, so there is no point in talking." More Mutombo: "At first, I thought they wanted a new drug policy and to modify some things. But now I think they want everything and it can't happen" (ESPN, 6/2). PLAYERS ASK, "WHAT YOU TALKING ABOUT WILLIS?" In N.Y., George Willis calls on the NBA to instill a hard salary cap in the next CBA, similar to one in the NFL. Willis writes that the NFL's system "forces players into truthful analysis of their worth," while right now, "there is little sense of stability in the NBA. ... [W]hen you hear of third-year players ... signing $100 million contracts, you wonder how long the Minnesotas can survive." Willis concludes that "all deals should be tied to performance, production and maintenance of civil behavior. If the NBA union and owners can ever agree on that, maybe they can rescue a game they're about to screw up" (George Willis, N.Y. POST, 6/1). MATHIS SENTENCED: Former NBA ref Mike Mathis was sentenced Friday to three years probation after pleading guilty to tax fraud. He was fined $2,000, sentenced to 120 days of home confinement and asked to perform more than 200 hours of community service. Mathis was also "ordered" to continue and cooperate with the U.S. government's investigation of league's referees (ESPN SportsZone, 5/30). RI-UNITE ON ICE: Michael Ri, a 7' 8" North Korean basketball player, is awaiting State Department "approval" for clearance to play in the NBA. Washington, DC, lobbyist Eric White has asked CA's Democratic U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein to assist in getting Ri's exemption. The Treasury Department has already approved Ri's request and Nike has also come aboard and "added its clout to the project" (Peter May, BOSTON GLOBE, 5/31).
MLB: Interleague play returns this week and Acting Commissioner Bud Selig feels the second year will be "just as successful" as the first. Selig: "There's no doubt in my mind that it's going to do remarkably well again." Last year's interleague average attendance was 33,409, up from the regular-season average of 27,732 (Mark Maske, WASHINGTON POST, 5/31)....ESPN2's Mike Lupica, on MLB's resurgence in N.Y.: "What we're really being reminded of here is how baseball at its best still turns the biggest places into small towns. Baseball in New York feels like the main event again" ("The Mike Lupica Show," ESPN2, 6/1). OTHER NOTES: In K.C., Joe Posnanski, on the men's and women's pro tennis tours: "Women's tennis rules. It's hip. It's happening. It's now. ... Women's tennis has never been better. ... [M]en's tennis has no heart" (K.C. STAR, 5/30). ...On ESPN SportsZone, Greg Garber wrote that women's tennis "recently has been blessed with some terrific teenage athletes." Noting the recent profiles of Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova, Garber added, "It is not terribly surprising that the sport consciously has been playing the racy card" (ESPN SportsZone, 5/28)....In Philadelphia, Timothy Dwyer wrote, "The NHL is having a bad year. ... This is the time of year when the game should be showcased the most. The NHL seems so intent on marketing the sport internationally that it is willing to sacrifice its own postseason party on bad experiments such as the Olympics. ... And it is no coincidence that the NHL teams with the most Olympic players made the quickest exit from the playoffs. It is a fitting end to a bad season. And it has to make you think that the NHL shouldn't be wondering why more people don't watch their games but -- instead -- why anyone bothers to watch them at all" (PHILA. INQUIRER, 6/1).
The NBA "is guiding some of its owners toward possible investment" in NBC/Turner's proposed new pro football league, according to Richard Sandomir of the N.Y. TIMES. It is "more an advisory role than an official one, and NBC and Turner are looking beyond the N.B.A. for people who want" to invest in the league. While NBA officials "declined to discuss their role," a spokesperson said, "We're always encouraging our owners to extend the sports expertise they have through basketball to ownership and operations of other sports franchises." NFL Senior VP/Communications Joe Browne said that he "was unaware" of any role the NBA may have in finding investors for the league. Sandomir describes the contact as "selective," and writes that "many teams" said they had not been contacted. Magic Assistant Dir of Sports Communications Joel Glass described contact on the new league as being "in the early stages" (N.Y. TIMES, 6/2). SPIRIT OF COMPETITION: Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones said the NFL "shouldn't be spending time worrying about whatever competition there might be and what anybody else is doing" (S.A. EXPRESS-NEWS, 6/2). CFL COO Jeff Giles said a new league "could pose some problems for us so we're definitely taking it seriously. ... [T]here could be a competitive environment for players" (Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 6/2). DOES IT AD UP? BROADCASTING & CABLE's Joe Schlosser reports that ad agency execs "were generally unimpressed" by the NBC/Turner proposal, as the "bottom line" is that "there's a glut of sports inventory on the market -- much of it football." Peter Chrisanthopoulos, President/Broadcast & Programming, USA, for Ogilvy & Mather: "We have more than enough inventory to buy units of NFL football on broadcast or cable. The advertising community doesn't need more football inventory." One NFL-partnered network exec, on the new league: "We have the main property people want to see and that's that" (BROADCASTING & CABLE, 6/1 issue). NATIONAL REAX: On L.I., Steve Zipay writes that by owning the league, the broadcast possibilities of a new league "are tantalizing," and "mikes in huddles and cameras in locker rooms might be a reality" (NEWSDAY, 6/2). In Raleigh, Caulton Tudor writes that the plan "could be an elaborate bluff" by NBC/Turner. Tudor: "By threatening to form a new league ... [NBC/Turner] could force the NFL to rethink the way it doles out game assignments" (NEWS & OBSERVER, 6/2). In Ft. Worth, Mike Fisher quotes a sports broadcasting source as saying ticket sales "aren't even a consideration" to NBC/Turner, because if the networks get a 1 share in ratings, "the thing is profitable" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 6/2). On ESPN SportsZone, Mark Kreidler: "[W]ho wouldn't secretly love to see the NFL's cage rattled a little more often? ... Now, does [the new league] have a chance? As programming, sure" (ESPN SportsZone, 6/1). But in Boston, Michael Gee: "Keep giving your money to the United Nations, Ted. It's more humanitarian, and it's a sounder business proposition, too" (BOSTON HERALD, 6/1).
NTRA efforts to increase interest in horse racing are examined by Andrew Beyer of the WASHINGTON POST. Beyer writes that "it is hard to imagine that racing will revive itself by imitating other sports" by promoting its horses as "stars" and arranging its races into a championship series. Instead, the NTRA should follow state lotteries and the casino industry, as racing's "greatest potential strength is that it is the most engrossing of all gambling games, and this is a gambling mad country." Beyer: "A realistic vision for racing's future is to bring the product into potential customers' living rooms through telephone wagering, on-line wagering and interactive betting on TV. ... [I]f viewers could click a remote-control device and make a bet on the Belmont Stakes they would get involved very quickly. The industry ought to think about enticing customers this way, and then be prepared to deliver the proper customer service when some of these people show up at a racetrack. The NTRA's leaders are dreaming if they think they can make their sport more like pro golf and pro basketball. They would find a more promising formula if they could force themselves to say: We need to be more like Powerball and Caesars Palace" (WASHINGTON POST, 6/2).