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While "many consider a work stoppage inevitable" after the '03-04 season, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that he "would like to begin talks with [NHLPA Exec Dir] Bob Goodenow soon," according to Ted Kulfan of the DETROIT NEWS. Bettman: "My preference would be to sit down and reason with the players association sooner rather than later, to talk about the issues and solve the problems in a way that works for everybody. Nobody's looking for a war. What we're looking for is a framework that lets hockey at the NHL level thrive." Bettman said that his relationship with Goodenow "is actually good," but he did "acknowledge fundamental ideological differences about what the game might need and wouldn't commit to opening negotiations before 2004," when the CBA expires. Bettman: "If we're going to do something early, both parties have to be involved. The union's got to want to do it. They're within their legal rights to let the [CBA] run out" (DETROIT NEWS, 12/2). In N.Y., Larry Brooks reported the NHL BOG will meet today in N.Y., and the NHLPA will "convene a meeting of high-profile agents" tomorrow in Toronto. Brooks: "The two sides may meet together three months into the 2004-2005 lockout everyone in hockey anticipates and seems willing to do little to avoid" (N.Y. POST, 12/2).
ON TOUR IN CANADA: In Edmonton, Robin Brownlee reported Bettman, on a tour of the league's Canadian cities last week, "delivered nothing in the way of news about additional financial help for small-market teams" before '04. Brownlee: "Specifically, there won't be any adjustment in the NHL's currency equalization program to reflect a Canadian dollar that's sagged considerably since the program began six years ago." Bettman told the ownership group to "hang on until 2004," when the "real financial adjustment comes" (EDMONTON SUN, 12/2). Also in Edmonton, Mark Spector wrote Bettman is "still a relentless doctor of positive NHL spin who will see your negative and raise you two positives, and in the end never quite get around to showing you all five of his cards. ... You can believe Gary Bettman if you want, or you can call him a New York lawyer. But judge him by his actions, and if you are an Oilers fan, he's done right by you so far" (EDMONTON JOURNAL, 12/2). In Toronto, Mark Zwolinski writes while Bettman has "lobbied for Canadian teams to partake in a share of betting revenues from Sports Select since the teams help generate that money," there is "talk around the league that the NHL has every right to pursue legal action for that money." Bettman would "only say that any action by the NHL would require the [NHLPA] to be on board." Bettman: "I'd rather do it on an amicable basis. We're not looking to pick a fight ... unless we have to" (TORONTO STAR, 12/3).
CART was awarded $48M in compensatory and consequential damages at a hearing in Oakland County (MI) Circuit Court for its breach-of-contract lawsuit against ISL Marketing. The suit was filed in February (CART). CART originally sought $100M. When ISL earlier this year terminated its nine-year deal with CART signed in '98, ISL said that CART "broke an exclusivity clause" (DETROIT NEWS, 12/2).
TAKING SIDES: ESPN.com's Robin Miller, on the CART BOD meeting tomorrow in Phoenix: "At stake is controlChris Pook
The Expos Friday signed a new lease to play in Olympic Stadium for the '02 season, according to Sean Gordon of the NATIONAL POST. But Expos Exec VP David Samson said that, despite the new lease, the team's future "remains uncertain." Samson: "This is not meant to be an indication that the Expos will be back next season or that we won't. We just want to make sure that if there's a season next year for the Expos, we have a place to play it. The situation right now is that we still can't make any announcements regarding our schedule or ticket sales for 2002." Gordon notes the lease "has an escape clause so that both parties can back out with minimal penalties" (NATIONAL POST, 12/1). Samson: "It's the same termination clause, or similar to every one that has existed before" (AP, 11/30). More Samson: "I have no reason to believe we will not be here in 2002, just like I have no reason to believe we will be here" (Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 12/1). In Montreal, Jack Todd reported that "the latest scenario" on the Expos' ownership situation has MLB asking Montreal business exec Stephen Bronfman "to step in and run the Expos" after current Managing General Partner Jeffrey Loria is bought out by the league. But there is "no reason to believe [Bronfman] is ready or willing to try to sort out this mess" (Montreal GAZETTE, 12/1). ESPN's Michael Wilbon, on whether the Expos will need the lease for next year: "Not if we're lucky. Get them out of here" ("PTI," ESPN, 11/30).
Contraction "is on the table for MLS, and it may happen in time for next season," according to Jamie Trecker of SPORTSTICKER. MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement, "We need to closely analyze what is best for the league to continue its track toward success. If a team is not adding to the overall value of the league, then we need to make a decision that results in the best interests of the long-term future of MLS. That said, no decisions regarding contraction have been made." Trecker noted that the league "is actively discussing" contraction and added that the Tampa Bay Mutiny "seems to be a logical choice. ... The other choice could be either San Jose or Dallas" (SPORTSTICKER, 11/30). Wizards and Crew Investor/Operator Lamar Hunt said of contraction, "I think there's a possibility that it might happen. There's a lot of restructuring talk going on. If it's done under the right circumstances, it could be favorable." MLS Founder and BOD member Alan Rothenberg said that the league has "considered contraction for the last few years." The SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Sweet & Mullen note the decision to contract "would be made by MLS' 10-member [BOD]. None of the members is affiliated with Tampa Bay, Dallas or San Jose." Since MLS will introduce its '02 schedule in January, "a decision is expected before the end of the year" (SBJ, 12/3 issue).
U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) Friday wrote a letter to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, asking that Selig provide the U.S. House Judiciary Committee with "more information than he had already said he would for his appearance next Thursday," according to Murray Chass of the N.Y. TIMES. Selig has "promised to disclose previously confidential financial information for the clubs" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/1). The letter requests audited financial records for the Twins, Expos, Marlins, D'Rays, A's and Royals for the most recent three year period. Conyers also asked for minutes, notes or other records of the November 6 meeting when MLB owners voted to approve contraction, "along with any memorandum or other supporting materials provided to the owners in connection with" that meeting. The letter states, "Please provide a copy of the contraction resolution, and a list of which owners noted for and against it." Conyers also requested "any information concerning territorial rights of major franchisees, including but not limited to, potential relocations" to the DC, San Jose or NJ areas (THE DAILY). To read the full letter, click here.
MR. SELIG GOES TO WASHINGTON: In Chicago, Paul Sullivan noted that Selig "is an old pro" at congressional testimony and last appeared on Capitol Hill before a Senate panel about a year ago (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 12/2). Also in Chicago, Elliott Harris writes, "There is no one more suited to speak at an antitrust hearing that baseball commissioner Bud Selig. He is the personification of being someone not to trust" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 12/3). In AZ, Dan Bickley: "That [Selig] will be able to keep a straight face [when he discusses teams' financial losses] is a testament to his ability as a puppet. As the threat of contraction evaporates into a mist of nothingness, this is baseball's latest attempt to court public opinion and yet another mistake in judgment" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 12/2). In Philadelphia, Jim Salisbury wrote that at the Congressional hearing, Selig "should stand up early this week and tell the baseball world that contraction is not going to happen in time for the 2002 season. ... Isn't it high time Selig stopped holding the Twins and the Expos, and even the Marlins hostage?" (PHILA. INQUIRER, 12/2). A WASHINGTON POST editorial stated legislators "may finally be serious about doing something" about MLB's antitrust exemption. Congress "ought to stay on the case. Most baseball franchises benefit from considerable public investment, which has greatly increased the value of a number of franchises. There ought to be a corresponding public involvement. The owners should not be left free to carry on the kind of anti-competitive machinations they've engaged in this fall and over the years" (WASHINGTON POST, 12/2).
NOTES: On Long Island, Steve Zipay reported that in the previous two years, MLB owners, execs and corporate partners have contributed more than $12M to the "campaign coffers of both Democrats and Republicans" in DC, including over $3.9M in individual contributions. The largest individual donors include Reds Owner Carl Lindner at $1.2M; the family of Bill DeWitt, which controls the Cardinals, at over $325,000; Orioles Owner Peter Angelos and Marlins Owner John Henry at $307,000 each; Padres Owner John Moores at $147,476; and the Pohlad family, which owns the Twins, at $87,000 (NEWSDAY, 12/2). ESPN.com's Rob Neyer wrote, "The owners' greediness is never going to change, but as long as they continue to lie to the players and the public, they're not going to make any real progress, because there are too many powerful people who know the owners are lying, and that number grows every time Bud Selig opens his mouth" (ESPN.com, 11/30). In Milwaukee, Tom Haudricourt wrote MLB owners "have drawn a noticeable line in the sand since the end of the World Series. In their quest to regain control of soaring player costs, they have decided now is the time to fight." But the "union will fight to the death anything that places a drag on salaries" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 12/2).
In "another legal setback" to MLB's contraction plans, the MN Supreme Court Friday rejected MLB's request for an accelerated appeal of a district court ruling that requires the Twins to play the final year of their lease at the Metrodome in '02, according to Ross Newhan of the L.A. TIMES. The MN Supreme Court sent the case back to the Court of Appeals for expedited review, but the Court of Appeals announced it will not hear oral arguments until December 27, "meaning a decision, which the losing side is almost certain to appeal again to the Supreme Court, is unlikely to be made until January, at the earliest." Bill Lester, Exec Dir of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which is suing to keep the Twins in the Metrodome in '02, said, "I don't think it's the definitive bullet in the temple of contraction for 2002, but every day is a bonus." MLB Exec VP Sandy Alderson said, "(Now that) we have something more definite (regarding an appeal date), we'll step back and take another look at it next week." MLB Exec VP & CLO Robert DuPuy added, "The deeper we get into December, the more problematic (contraction) becomes. It's disappointing we didn't get an expedited hearing because we're still convinced we'll prevail on the merits" (L.A. TIMES, 12/1).
HOW BIG A SETBACK? In DC, Mark Asher wrote that "most industry observers believe" the deadline for contraction is December 20, the final day for teams to offer 2002 contracts to their own free agents. Former Padres President Larry Lucchino, on the refusal of the MN Supreme Court to expedite the appeal: "It sounds like they didn't hit a home run in terms of timing, but perhaps a double. This is a pretty fast schedule in my light as a former litigator" (WASHINGTON POST, 12/1). MLBPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr, on the decision's impact on contraction: "It just gets more and more troublesome with each passing day. You don't have schedules, you can't sell tickets, there's uncertainty in the market" (AP, 12/1). Former U.S. Attorney David Lillehaug: "The odds have gone up greatly that this will be resolved before the first pitch of spring training" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 12/1). In N.Y., Murray Chass called the decision a "severe setback" for MLB's contraction plans (N.Y. TIMES, 12/1). In MN, Patrick Sweeney wrote that the decision "was a significant victory for Twins fans" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 12/1). CNNSI.com's Lester Munson wrote that it is "unlikely" contraction will ever happen. Munson: "If [MLB] and its lawyers take the case to the Supreme Court of [MN], they will find themselves arguing before Justice Alan Page, the Hall of Fame defensive tackle and a stalwart of the NFL Players Association. Will Page be sympathetic to owners or to players? Will other justices defer to Page on a sports issue?" (CNNSI.com, 11/30). Twins BOD member and son of Twins Owner Carl Pohlad, Jim Pohlad, on the chances the Twins will play in '02: "I really don't know. Honestly, the commissioner has been pretty tight-lipped about it" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 12/2). Baseball agent Greg Clifton said, "I will tell my players on the Twins that there will not realistically be contraction that would happen for the 2002 season" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 12/1).
TWIN NOTES: In MN, Terry Collins reported that more than 151,000 people have signed petitions urging [MLB] to not disband the Twins." The number exceeded the 100,000 signatures by Saturday goal of the Keep the Twins at Home campaign (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 12/2)....On his radio program Friday, MN Gov. Jesse Ventura said that news media "should be taxed for a stadium because they profit from professional sports." Ventura: "Let's put a nickel or a dime on every newspaper, and that will raise revenue for a stadium" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 12/1).