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Fox "is looking at matching" Disney's offer to more than double TV rights fees for the NHL, according to sources of Stephen Battaglio of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. Fox has until August 14 to retain the broadcast rights, and Battaglio writes that if Fox "does decide to go after the cable component," it could put national games on FX or FSN and "shut ESPN and ESPN2 out of a major source of product in the first half of the year" (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, 8/7). The N.Y. TIMES' Richard Sandomir put the broadcast portion of Disney's total offer at "about" $250M -- the number Fox has to match by August 14 (N.Y. TIMES, 8/6). In Toronto, Rob Longley writes, "Don't expect Fox to abandon the NHL immediately," because even though its RSNs have regional TV rights to 19 NHL teams, "it would like to maintain a national presence" (TORONTO SUN, 8/7). NO INCREASE: ESPN spokesperson Mike Soltys said if the network's bid is successful, ESPN "will not impose an NHL surcharge" on cable operators: "There was one report saying we have a clause in our affiliate contracts that permits us to increase fees when we pay higher rights fees for sports programming. There's no such clause" (NEWSDAY, 8/7). WHY SO MUCH? In N.Y., Richard Sandomir writes, "You must wonder what Disney's strategy is beyond guaranteeing that hockey will stay on ESPN and ESPN2 for five more years. Clearly, this is heavily a cable play. ... But adding ABC to the mix is dumbfounding. Does ABC, a struggling network, need more low-rated programming? Wouldn't its affiliates prefer an eighth-run flick to a Saturday or Sunday night game that gets a 1.4 rating?" Sandomir writes that ABC "is stepping into a quagmire. ... Yet, Disney sees benefits to making a blockbuster bid. The Mouse Kingdom's target for such spending is questionable enough, but why do it at a time when big losses are expected from the stupendous N.F.L. deals?" Sandomir: "Perhaps it will come down to corporate egos ... Maybe Disney opted to overpay to make sure it swept Fox from hockey" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/7). USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand defends the bid, noting that it "would likely include international NHL TV distribution as well as footage from old games for ESPN's Classic Sports Network" (USA TODAY, 8/7). NEWSDAY's Steve Zipay: "On the surface, paying up to $120 million a season for the NHL ... seems wildly out of line. ... Will the deal be a money-loser? Probably. But ABC could use some winter sports programming." He also adds that Disney needs to secure future programming for ESPN2, which will soon be in 60 million homes (NEWSDAY, 8/7).
Negotiations between the NBA and its players broke off yesterday when the owners' group "abruptly ended the session, dismissing a union proposal as economically perilous," according to Murray Chass of the N.Y. TIMES. Chass: "Both sides accused the other of deliberately torpedoing the meeting and the immediate chance for progress in the off-season lockout." No further bargaining sessions are scheduled, though lawyers for the league and the players will meet today with arbitrator John Feerick "to schedule a hearing on the union's grievance over the teams' failure to pay guaranteed salaries" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/7). DETAILS: USA TODAY's Roscoe Nance reports that talks took a "giant step backward" after a "cordial" and "seemingly productive morning" where the sides reached a consensus to add marijuana to the league's banned substance list and the owners offered a proposal for a hard cap to be phased in, which would add $50M a year to player salaries and increase the average salary from $2.6M to "at least" $3.1M in year four. But those "good feelings disappeared" in the afternoon when union counsel Jeffrey Kessler presented a proposal from players which included: player salary increases tied to league growth, with 63% of BRI going to salaries; a three-year rookie wage scale with teams holding the right of first refusal in year four; a $500,000 minimum salary for players with 1-5 years experience, and $750,000 for those with 5-7 years, with an extra $100,000 per year of service; an average salary exception that would provide a $3M pool for teams over the cap to sign one player a year for the average salary; and a lottery exception that would allow teams over the salary cap that don't make the playoffs to sign any player they want to. NBA Commissioner David Stern and the owners then walked out when Kessler, Stern said, began "lecturing owners on the risks they were taking by not accepting the proposal." Stern: "The words they were using were an insult" (USA TODAY, 8/7). In N.Y., Lenn Robbins writes the meeting had a "sudden, childish conclusion" (N.Y. POST, 8/7). NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter, on the walkout: "I think it's more feigned. It's part of a charade. It was funny" (WASHINGTON POST, 8/7). LEGAL-ESE: Both Stern and Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik "attributed the afternoon breakdown to union management thwarting talks with 'a lecture' on the legal shaky ground the owners inhabited in two pending litigation cases" -- one where Feerick will rule if owners must pay players during the lockout, the other a complaint before the NLRB stating the owners have unfairly imposed the lockout before an impasse had been reached. Granik: "The best we can surmise is their counsel told them, 'You don't want to do anything constructive here. You want to play out the legal string'" (Ric Bucher, WASHINGTON POST, 8/7). ESPN's David Aldridge reported that both sides will now wait on an anticipated hearing next week on whether the league has to pay its players' guaranteed salaries during the lockout. If Feerick "rules for the union, and that ruling is upheld, there would be little financial incentive for the league to continue the lockout" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 8/6). MORNING SICKNESS? Hunter said "at least part" of the morning session was "acrimonious," including an early exchange between Karl Malone and Jerry Colangelo. Kessler: "Colangelo said we had to address the drug agreement, rookie issues and a hard salary cap. They want to slow the growth of salaries" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/7). Granik said later that the "major change the union made that was positive" was their position on the rookie contract, which would run three years, with players subject to a first refusal system "akin to what we used to have" (MIAMI HERALD, 8/7). WHO ATTENDED: Stern and Granik said the morning session included talks between players and owner reps, which included the Rockets' Les Alexander; the Knicks' Dave Checketts; the Jazz's Larry Miller; the Heat's Mickey Arison and the Suns' Jerry Colangelo (WASHINGTON POST, 8/7). Thirteen players attended the talks (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/7). THE PLAYERS REACT: Karl Malone: "I was totally amazed at all the games they (owners) were trying to play, instead of dealing with issues. When they walked out, I couldn't believe it. ... To me, the message was sent. They treated me with disrespect by walking out of the meeting and not negotiating" ("The Last Word," FSN, 8/6). Magic rep Danny Schayes: "It got a little ugly at the end, but that's typical at this state of negotiations" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 8/7). The Wizards' Mitch Richmond: "When we first stepped into the room we said our stance hadn't changed and we weren't willing to go with a hard cap and I think right there they were willing to walk out" (WASHINGTON POST, 8/7). NBPA President Patrick Ewing: "It's just too bad that instead of dealing with it, the owners had to show us disrespect by getting up and walking out" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/7). CNN/SI's Mark Morgan reported that on August 10, Hunter and Ewing "will begin a series of meetings around the country to build union support" ("Sports Tonight," 8/6). FROM MANAGEMENT: Stern: "I think they intended for their proposal to be insulting. And then to have their attorney lecture the owners on what a grave risk they are taking if they don't accept the latest proposal. That's not negotiating" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 8/7). Granik, on the union: "The strategy here is to litigate, arbitrate and make no concessions" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/7). More Granik: "At this point, it's hard to be optimistic" (USA TODAY, 8/7). DID KESSLER LECTURE? Kessler said he didn't lecture owners: "When they were about to storm out of the meeting, I suggested that they recognize there are going to be some very important legal decisions to be made rather quickly and it might be in their interest to negotiate seriously before those decisions come down" (Murray Chass, N.Y. TIMES, 8/7). OTHER REAX: On CBS SportsLine, Mike Kahn writes the last CBA was negated after players received up to 57% of BRI as opposed to 48% and "now they wanted more?" Kahn: "We now have intermediaries involved who could destroy the 1998-99 basketball season. ... With Kessler ranting legalese at Stern, Granik, [NBA Senior VP/Chief Legal Counsel] Jeff Mishkin and [NBA General Counsel] Joel Litvin -- all with law degrees -- it made little sense to expect a respectful audience" (CBS SportsLine, 8/7). In DC, Michael Wilbon writes that despite yesterday's breakdown, he feels the "majority of NBA players aren't committed to missing a season. Or a portion of a season. A great number of the NBA's high-profile players are committed to one thing and one thing only: getting paid" (WASHINGTON POST, 8/7).
Bud Selig's official appointment as MLB's full-time commissioner is "an opportunity to start the long-awaited revamping of the commissioner's office," according to David Rawnsley of BASEBALL AMERICA, who writes that "several" MLB officials said that COO Paul Beeston "submitted a revised organizational chart" for approval at last March's owners' meetings. A "key element" of the plan is the creation of a new Senior Exec VP position, and Beeston's "first choice" for the new spot "was said to be" Braves GM John Schuerholz. However, Beeston was unable to persuade Schuerholz to take a sabbatical from the Braves to take the post, and Rawnsley writes that "most speculation now seems to point" to former Yankees/Astros GM Bob Watson for the position (BA, 8/17). Twins DH Paul Molitor "insists there's nothing to speculation he'll take a position in the commissioner's office if he retires after this season" (USA TODAY, 8/7). BASEBALL BITS: Selig is the subject of an extensive Q&A with BASEBALL AMERICA's Alan Schwarz. Selig, asked whether some MLB teams may have to relocate in the near future: "I won't give odds, because obviously in my position I don't do that, but I would say the next two or three years. And maybe sooner than later" (BASEBALL AMERICA, 8/17 issue).
Counting on soccer's "rising popularity" in NC, the Downtown Winston-Salem Development Corp. "is looking into what it would take to lure" an MLS franchise to the area, according to Martin Kady of the Winston-Salem JOURNAL. The idea is still in the "early discussions phases," but business execs and city leaders will meet with MLS officials "some time during the week of" August 17. In two weeks, MLS Exec VP/Business Affairs John Ertmann will visit Winston- Salem "to survey the city, talk to local leaders and look at possible stadium sites" (Winston-Salem JOURNAL, 8/6). RFK-LITE? With one year remaining on DC United's lease at RFK Stadium, team and local officials said "they are considering building" a $20M soccer-only facility next to RFK "to ensure that the team will stay in Washington," according to Amy Shipley of the WASHINGTON POST. DC Sports Commission Exec Dir Jim Dalrymple: "It's something that needs to be studied" (WASHINGTON POST, 8/7).