SBD/Issue 122/Leagues & Governing Bodies

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  • MLB Seeks Foothold In China As Dodgers, Padres Face Off

    Padres Gearing For Weekend Exhibition
    Games Against Dodgers In Beijing
    The Dodgers and Padres will play exhibition games Saturday and Sunday at Beijing’s Wukesong Stadium, the newly constructed venue that will host baseball at this summer’s Olympic Games, according to Mark Magnier of the L.A. TIMES. Magnier notes despite its “success in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, baseball faces an uphill battle” in China. Soccer and basketball have a “big head start, and football, wrestling, tennis, cricket and rugby are all bucking for a foothold. NASCAR is sniffing around. And hockey hasn’t ruled out a play down the road.” The market “could produce a windfall for those who get it right.” Dodgers CMO Charles Steinberg: “You want to hope you light a fire that starts a burning passion for baseball. If that happens, those that count the money will have their day.” Shanghai-based Zou Marketing GM Terry Rhoads, whose company is running MLB’s Play Ball youth program in China, said that “though some estimates place the Chinese sports market at about $10[B] a year, a fraction of America’s $300[B], that’s tripled over the last decade and is expected to continue growing rapidly.” As part of its Play Ball initiative, MLB is “training coaches, working with sports and education authorities and has donated thousands of bats, balls and gloves to participating schools.” But baseball faces “huge challenges,” as there are “almost no baseball diamonds” and Wukesong reportedly is set to be razed following the Olympics. MLB “isn’t disclosing what its China budget is or how long it’s willing to wait for a return on its investment, but it’s almost certainly outgunned by the NBA, which has a $250[M] war chest, four offices in China with 100 employees and capital in reserve” (L.A. TIMES, 3/14).

    COVERING ALL THE BASES: The games are expected to be covered by more than 400 members of the media. Dodgers RF Matt Kemp: “I don’t think I’ve seen this much media at a baseball game other than maybe New York” (L.A. TIMES, 3/14). The games will be broadcast on Chinese TV and MLB officials have said that this “means the sport will be exposed to 700 million people” (, 3/13). In L.A., KCAL-Ind will air Friday's contest, while FSN Prime Ticket will air Saturday's game. Channel 4 San Diego will air both games (THE DAILY).

    MAKING AN INVESTMENT: In Denver, Jack Etkin wrote MLB last summer opened an office in Beijing and in August “conducted its first academy in China, a three-week session for 60 of the top-rated 12- to 15-year olds.” But what will “accelerate the growth is if MLB can duplicate the NBA’s good fortune and have a standout Chinese player come to the United States and succeed” (ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS, 3/12). In San Diego, Mark Zeigler wrote MLB “wants what the [NBA] has” in China. Padres CEO Sandy Alderson: “The baseball analogy for [Rockets C] Yao Ming does not exist. He has to be created. That’s going to be up to [MLB] or Japanese baseball or some other baseball entity to develop.” The Olympics will give baseball a “further boost” in China, but government funding for the country’s national team is “expected to be slashed significantly, if not completely” with the sport being voted out of the 2012 London Olympics. However, Alderson said China remains a “tremendous commercial opportunity.” Alderson: “If you project out 50 years to the middle of the century and you talk about a global village, where does that leave sports? It’s very possible that sports will be popular in individual countries as viable businesses. But 50 years from now, I think it’s going to be all about international business” (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 3/9).

    Dodgers Looking To Establish
    Brand Identity In China
    DODGERS GOING GLOBAL: Dodgers GM Ned Colletti said the team is “trying to establish a brand internationally. Our brand’s solid in Japan, (South) Korea and Taiwan. We want to continue to expand it” (ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS, 3/12). Dodgers Owner Frank McCourt: “We’re building bridges around the world. It’s not about two games. It’s about exposing the game to youngsters and exposing the job of the game. I’m very impressed by the speed with which things happen in China. I think it will happen more quickly than we anticipate.” He added, “It’s our hope the Dodgers are the first in India and other parts of the world” (, 3/14).

    CHALLENGES AHEAD: USA TODAY’s Calum MacLeod notes there are “no professional baseball players in China.” China Baseball Association Secretary-General Shen Wei said that the six-team China Baseball League, starting its sixth season next month, is “propped up by the government.” Shen: “The government must support the sport’s growth. The equipment is too expensive for many Chinese, and the game cannot be played in densely populated areas. So it is difficult to popularize baseball” (USA TODAY, 3/14). YAHOO SPORTS’ Steve Henson wrote despite MLB’s efforts, China is “clearly straddling the foul line in its commitment to baseball.” Baseball games in China “aren’t well attended, and the few folks who do buy tickets out of curiosity clap at odd times and cheer loud fouls” (, 3/12).

    WARNING SIGNS: Because of the air quality issues in Beijing, Padres strength & conditioning coach Jim Malone said the team “actually talked about, should we get (surgical) masks for guys?” (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 3/10). Padres P Heath Bell said of Beijing, “It’s either very cloudy or very smoggy.” Alderson added, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen blue sky here.” However, Alderson said, “I don’t think it concerns us a great deal. It’s a short period of time. We’re only playing two games” (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 3/13). Meanwhile, YAHOO SPORTS’ Henson wrote in a separate piece the Padres have “done [their] best to nip any shenanigans in the bud, primarily by trying to frighten the players into submission.” The team has posted warnings about indoor and outdoor pollution, water pollution and the rise of sexually transmitted diseases in the country. MLB also “issued an advisory that described Beijing scams designed to part Western visitors from their money” (, 3/12).

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  • Holding Court: Stern Discusses Sonics, NBA Image In Q&A

    Stern Discusses Sonics Situation,
    Image Of NBA In Fan Q&A
    NBA Commissioner David Stern in a Q&A with fans responded to criticism of the NBA's insistence on public financial support for new arenas, saying the ideal is "a private/public corporate partnership, and in Seattle, basically, the City Council said, 'No,'" according to Sean Gregory of TIME. Stern: "In fact, it engineered legislation that would make it difficult if not impossible for them to give any aid to the building of a new arena. And the state legislature said, 'No.' So we never got to the debate as to what the fair shouldering of responsibility should be, because we never were engaged in it.'' ... When asked if the NBA has lost popularity compared to other sports because it "has become too synonymous with hip-hop ostentation," Stern responded, "I don't think so. I think one watches the Grammys, one watches the fashion shows, and the reality is that sports, music, fashion -- they're global trends. ... We don't court it, we don't overly promote it. Charles Barkley took me to task for having Big & Rich at the Denver All-Star Game (in 2005) because they weren't hip-hop. I'm waiting to be criticized for having Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr. as half-time entertainment (at the 2008 All-Star game) in New Orleans because it wasn't hip enough.'' When asked about his decision in '05 to implement a dress code for the players, Stern said, "It's not the draconian dress code that people came to believe it was. You would have thought I'd said you had to wear a tuxedo or tails to a game."

    MORE STERN: When asked about the steps the NBA has taken to "minimize incidents or allegations of game fixing by the referees," Stern said the league is "putting in new and more sophisticated computer programming and screens, to see what irregularities pop out. We're doing new background checks, in a deeper way, on a more continual basis. We're cutting off pre-game information for the referees, once they go into the locker room. We're in the process of setting up hotlines to receive particular types of information. And we're looking into a greater group of activities, some of which I would rather not publicize, but really go to insuring our game against betting irregularities." Stern confirmed that the NBA will attempt to increase the league's minimum age to 20, and added, "We think (raising the entry age to 19) has been very constructive" (, 3/12).

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  • AAFL Officially Cancels '08 Season; Still Hoping For '09

    The All American Football League (AAFL) Thursday officially announced the postponement of its inaugural season until '09. The league's corporate partnerships with New Balance, Baden Sports and Rogers Athletic will remain intact, as will a national radio deal with Touchdown Radio & SportsDay Productions and an Internet broadcast partnership with Turner's PlayOn Sports. Fans who have purchased tickets for games in '08 will receive a full refund (AAFL).

    FALSE START: AAFL CEO Marcus Katz: "Our sole source of capital was my sale of my interest in the student-loan company, Goal Financial, and when the bond market froze up it dried up all of the liquidity. ... I invested [$29M] in cash to roll out the operations of the league, but the student loan company owed me a lot more money. When I told the board I would subsidize the league, that was before the bond market collapsed" (, 3/13). Team Tennessee President Larry Seivers: "I'd be real surprised if very many people were surprised by this. It has been coming for a few weeks. ... As we go forward, there has to be absolutely no doubt and no question about what's going on next time" (KNOXVILLE NEWS-SENTINEL, 3/14). Team Florida President Wayne McDaniel: "We hope there will be an opportunity for the league and the players to showcase themselves next year if we can get adequate financial backing. We still believe in the concept" (GAINESVILLE SUN, 3/14).

    DELAY OF GAME: In Birmingham, Doug Segrest notes the AAFL this week reported that it had "finalized a national television deal with an unspecified network." But "while the AAFL said the deal was crucial, it was only one step in securing additional financing." AAFL BOD member Doug Dickey: "I'm personally disappointed that we couldn't pull it together. But I think we're a victim of the financial markets, which caused a significant change in the circumstances of cash flow in our league." Meanwhile, Segrest notes "just a few months ago, the AAFL was one of two new professional football leagues eyeing Birmingham," as the United Football League (UFL) is considering the city for one of its inaugural eight franchises when it kicks off in August. But, "like the AAFL, the UFL is expected to delay its first season by a calendar year" (BIRMINGHAM NEWS, 3/14).

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  • Merits Of Possible Rookie Wage Scale In NFL Spark Debate

    Polian Feels NFL Needs
    Definitive Rookie Salary Cap
    NFL owners may try to "get players to agree to help them distribute money in a more equitable manner," which would mean "less for unproven rookies and more for proven veterans," according to Dan Pompei of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. As the system stands now, players chosen in the top 15 of the NFL Draft "often make more than some of the most accomplished players in the NFL at their positions." Colts President Bill Polian: "The union has to give us a firm, definitive, rookie salary cap. We're perfectly willing to have the money that does not go to the rookies go to the veterans. ... But we're sick and tired of giving exorbitant, incredible sums to players who haven't proven they can do anything but play against Eastern Michigan." While a rookie salary cap already exists, it is "ineffective because teams have found ways to get around it." The NFLPA might "never agree to a deal that limits what any player can be paid," and NFLPA Exec Dir Gene Upshaw said that he "will not agree to a rookie wage scale, even though the NBA is using a similar system." Upshaw: "If a rookie enters the NFL in a wage scale system similar to the NBA's and you predetermine his salary for three years, his career is halfway over by the time he gets to negotiate." Upshaw believes that there is an "advantage in allowing owners to spend big on high draft choices." Upshaw: "Those rookie contracts play a role in what a veteran gets. Because if the top guy in the draft just got paid $35[M] in guarantees and he hasn't even proven himself, and if your contract is up as a veteran, I think it has an effect on what you're going to get" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/14). NFL Network's Marshall Faulk, on rookie contracts:  "If you want the number to come down, what you do is guarantee the life term of the contract." NFL Network's Rod Woodson: "In the past, having a top 10 pick used to be a plus for a team. Now having the number one pick in the (NFL) is a curse." NFL Network's Adam Schefter: "All the NFL owners are aware of this issue and it's something that's basically at the forefront of their thinking." Schefter added player agents "don't like this, obviously, because if they get slotted in, it would take away some of the guaranteed money upfront and I think it would diminish some of the need of recruiting (by agents for clients)" ("NFL Total Access," NFL Network, 3/12).

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  • NFL Conduct Policy Seen As Success With 20% Fewer Incidents

    NFL Feels Goodell's New
    Conduct Policy A Success
    One year after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell championed a strengthened personal conduct policy for players, the NFL said that the crackdown has had the "desired effect of serving as a deterrent, plus there's been a trickledown to college football," according to Paul Kuharsky of the Nashville TENNESSEAN. NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello: "Based on what we hear from the players and our clubs, we believe the policy has had a positive impact. Everyone clearly understands what is expected and that we are held to very high standards." Aiello said that the number of incidents dropped 20% "based on the league's comparison of comparable time periods'' -- April 10-December 31 in '06 and '07. In '07, six players were suspended and three were fined under the personal conduct policy. Former Cowboys VP/Player Personnel Gil Brandt said that Goodell's "conduct push is one of the things that will help ensure the NFL doesn't fall out of fashion." While character questions about prospects were "among the most popular'' at the '07 NFL Scouting Combine, behavior was "hardly the primary topic'' at the '08 combine in Indianapolis. NFL Draft prospect Calais Campbell: "You need high-character people you know are going to work hard and show up every day" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 3/13).

    TAMPERING:  In DC, Mark Maske reports Goodell, in a proposal "to crack down on cheating,'' wants the NFL's Competition Committee to look "not only at the large infractions but the comparatively minor violations as well." Goodell, in a two-page memo sent last week to the committee, instructed committee members to "review all of the league's competitive rules, including those that prohibit contact between teams and players under contract to other clubs," a rule that is "generally viewed, it appears, as a no-harm, no-foul arrangement" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/14).

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  • League Notes

    Writer Calls Selig Best
    Commissioner In MLB History
    SPORTING NEWS' Richard Justice wrote MLB Commissioner Bud Selig is the "best commissioner baseball has ever had. It's not even close. To think otherwise is silly." Selig "brilliantly steered the sport from the dark days of the 1994 World Series cancellation to record-setting growth. He is the biggest reason baseball has labor peace, parity and attendance that has increased for four years in a row." Justice, on Selig's approach to steroids: "He pushed for the best testing agreement in the sport's history and had the guts to order [former U.S. Sen.] George Mitchell to tell as much of the story as he could. ... Baseball wasn't hurt in any financial sense by steroids, but baseball was embarrassed. It took far too long to recognize the problem." More Justice: "Selig is as decent and as honorable as anyone you'll ever meet. ... Virtually all the good things that have happened to baseball since 1995 are because of Selig" (, 3/13).

    CHINA OR BUST: Sources said that the LPGA is "bound for China, likely at Sun Valley on Hainan Island, and it could happen late this season." GOLFWEEK's Forecaddie reports the China event would be played in October following the inaugural Kapalua LPGA Classic. LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens said that the Tour "would not add the event to this year's slate unless a deal is sealed before May." Bivens said the event would happen "if the staff is close enough to something and can sew it up before then." Bivens: "Otherwise we're looking for '09 or '10" (GOLFWEEK, 3/15 issue).

    CACTUS LEAGUE: At the midpoint of the Cactus League's season, Cactus League Association (CLA) President J.P. de la Montaigne said that "about 550,000 fans have attended 92 games, up nearly 2[%] from the same time last year." CLA VP Robert Brinton said that league visitors are "on track to eclipse the more than 1.27 million record fans" in '05 (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 3/14).

    FLYING THE COOP?'s Mike Celizic wrote of Galaxy MF David Beckham's potential return to England: "The [MLS] signed this huge international star, and everybody was talking about it. And now, a year later, he wants to leave? What does that say about the MLS?" Celizic: "Celebrity is a wonderful thing for sports, but not if nobody except the game's true believers know what an athlete is famous for. And because Beckham's genius is in his ability to set up goals that are scored by others, it's hard for a non-fan to tune into a game and appreciate what he does" (, 3/13).

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