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SBD/Issue 122/SportsBusiness Daily Exclusives
SBJ/SBD on the ground in Maui
Published March 13, 2009
SportsBusiness Journal staff writer Liz Mullen is in Maui to cover the election of the NFL Players Association’s new executive director.
Check back here for updates throughout the weekend.
(Note: Maui is six hours behind Eastern time.)
Smith makes contact with Goodell
DeMaurice Smith called NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell today, the first official contact between the two since Smith was elected to lead the union into the coming labor negotiations.
"They spoke briefly," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an e-mail. "The commissioner congratulated him and said he looked forward to working with him."
Smith completed his first day on the job here in Maui, and the corporate lawyer with no ties to the sports world seems to be adapting to the industry. Instead of the suit he wore Sunday for his job interview, he was dressed in sweat pants and a polo shirt that said "Property of NFL Players."
— Liz Mullen, 9:55 p.m. ET 3/16
Armstrong congratulates Smith
Candidate Trace Armstrong offered his congratulations to the new executive director in a statement today.
“I'm grateful for having had the opportunity to work with and on behalf of so many players over the past 20 years," said Armstrong, a former player president. "The most important thing right now is that the NFLPA is strong and united during such a critical time and I want to congratulate DeMaurice Smith and offer him my best wishes for success as he leads the union into the future.”
— Liz Mullen, 9:10 p.m. ET 3/16
Smith plans transition team
DeMaurice Smith is planning to assemble a team of experts in several business areas, including marketing and finance, to help him make the transition into the executive director's job, a source said.
"He will work on putting together a transition team of people who are not necessarily going to be future NFLPA staff, but will be people who will help formulate his agenda to meet the best interests of the union," said this source, who did not want to be publicly identified discussing union business.
Some members of the team could come from the group of about 15 advisers that helped Smith develop a detailed business plan to move the NFLPA forward. That group included a Wall Street financier, an economist, and sports and entertainment and marketing executives.
That plan and Smith's presentation to player reps Saturday were a big reason he won the race to run the union. "No one was even close," a source close to players said of Smith's one-hour pitch.
In contrast to talk of a unanimous vote Sunday night, one source close to players told SportsBusiness Journal earlier today that Smith was first but that Troy Vincent was second in the voting. Web site ProFootballTalk.com, citing an industry source, said that Smith received 20 of the 32 votes and Vincent six, with the remaining six votes split between David Cornwell and Trace Armstrong. A source close to Vincent, meanwhile, said Vincent received 10 votes and Smith 20.
There is speculation that once it was clear Smith would win, player reps took a second vote to make it unanimous and present a united front to the league's owners.
Players are meeting in Maui today to discuss budgets and general union business, standard pieces of business at the annual meeting. The weather has warmed up a bit in Maui, mostly sunshine with some low clouds.
— Liz Mullen, 7:45 p.m. ET 3/16
More from Smith; executive committee members discuss election
DeMaurice Smith says he wants to start talking about a new labor deal with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell as soon as possible.
“I have not spoken to Mr. Goodell. I hope to speak to him today,” the new NFLPA executive director said in a conference call with reporters earlier today. “It’s my hope that the first conversation about our collective-bargaining agreement, as well as other issues, starts today. ”
The CBA expires in 2011, and while Smith said he agreed with Upshaw’s oft-stated position on the potential uncapped year in 2010 (see previous post), he also said he recognizes the economic challenges facing the league and the country as a whole.
Smith used the word “lockout” more than once and said an owner lockout would hurt not just the players but also the people and businesses that depend on the NFL for a living, from stadium parking lot attendants to concessionaires.
“To talk about a lockout, it hurts these men,” Smith said on the conference call, for which the 11-player executive committee was also present. “But it hurts a larger group of people.”
”I don’t want a lockout for our men, but I don’t want a lockout for the people who need those paychecks,” Smith said. “My sincere hope is that we can come to an agreement extremely quickly, so that everybody knows that this game will continue in a great way.”
Smith said he reached out with phone calls to Upshaw’s widow, Terri, as well as to the other three candidates immediately after he won the election, but he sidestepped questions on whether any of the three would be offered positions at the union.
Going into the election, sources had told SportsBusiness Journal that each candidate had a number of player reps locked up. The supporters of Troy Vincent were particularly passionate about their choice going into Maui.
Executive committee member Brian Dawkins, a Denver Broncos safety, played alongside Vincent in Philadelphia and remains a good friend. Asked how he felt about Smith's election, Dawkins said, “We are very, very pleased to move forward. DeMaurice is a leader who can lead us in the right direction right now.”
Vincent supporters had wanted the vote to be conducted by open roll call, but it was not known Sunday whether that had occurred. Committee member Keenan McCardell solved the mystery today, saying, “We had an accounting firm come in from Honolulu to count the votes, so there wasn’t a roll call vote. We did our homework and wanted to have the fairest process possible, and we felt like that was the fairest process.”
Another executive committee member, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, said that when it came down to it, choosing from among the four candidates was not that difficult.
“All candidates brought an extremely qualified skill set to the table, but in the end it was a very … easy decision for all of us,” Brees said. "And that is why it was a unanimous decision and why we rallied behind DeMaurice Smith as our next executive director. That is why we are so proud to be able to sit in this room right now as one and really look forward to the future.”
— Liz Mullen, 4:35 p.m. ET 3/16
Smith in line with Upshaw’s stance on salary cap
In his first meeting with the press as the new executive director, DeMaurice Smith echoed the late Gene Upshaw regarding the salary cap.
Asked during a conference call with reporters from across the U.S. whether he agreed with Upshaw's position that there is no going back to a salary cap if NFL owners allow it to expire, Smith said, "I do."
"I agree with Mr. Upshaw. If we move to an upcapped [year] we will not go back," Smith said.
Smith fielded a wide range of questions about the election as well as how the union planned to move forward.
The day after: How Smith won the room
Although several players emerging from the room after yesterday's election said the vote for DeMaurice Smith was unanimous, there is talk that that may not have been the case. One source close to players said Troy Vincent finished second.
Attempts to confirm that have so far been unsuccessful, but going into the vote, sources said, the contest was between Vincent and Smith. They cited Vincent’s recent tenure as player president and deep friendships among the reps as factors underlying his support.
What is clear is that once players saw that Smith would win, they quickly resolved to unite behind him.
Smith won after an incredibly impressive presentation to player reps on Saturday, sources said. “What happend was on Saturday, when the guys did the presentation, Smith stood out significantly,” said a source close to players. “He had a very detailed plan, a vision of what to do, that seemed to be state of the art, the players said. It wasn't stale.”
Vincent offers support to Smith
Candidate Troy Vincent released a short statement in the wake of the election.
“The process of the selection of our new executive director is completed," he said. "We will join together as one body in full support of our new union leader, DeMaurice Smith.”
Smith: Players made a decision to stand together
At the end of a tumultuous race between two well-known former player presidents, an attorney from outside the sports industry emerged to claim perhaps the most important position in sports labor, that of NFLPA executive director.
DeMaurice Smith, in a brief interview with two reporters about an hour after he had won what players said was a unanimous vote to replace the late Gene Upshaw, said: “The players here today made a decision to be unified, to take a strong step forward to build upon the leadership of Mr. Upshaw and to stand together as a family.”
Player President Kevin Mawae, asked about the past few months' controversies leading up to the vote, said, “It doesn’t matter. It is in the past.”
Mawae said, “The men here represented the [union] and represented the players in the National Football League the way they were supposed to. They came here. They had a hard task put before them,” but made the decision they thought was best to move the organization forward.
Both Mawae and Smith carefully chose their words. The NFLPA and now Smith, as its new leader, are facing what is shaping up to be a difficult labor battle with NFL owners.
Word leaked out while players were still in the meeting where the voting was taking place that Smith had emerged as the winner. Players leaving the meeting minutes later confirmed that Smith had been elected. Numerous players, asked what the vote was, said, “It was unanimous.” Nothing was said about whether the vote was by secret ballot or open roll call, a point of contention leading up to the election.
Many in the industry may find it hard to fathom that Smith, who has no deep relationships in the relationship-driven business of sports, could win the job against such well-known contenders as Armstrong, Cornwell and Vincent, long seen as the front-runner for the job.
But early on in the final interview process, which started Saturday morning, word began leaking out from sources close to the players that Smith had taken the lead. One source close to the players said hours before the election results were known that Smith “blew them away.”
— Liz Mullen, 1:05 a.m. ET 3/16
Cornwell praises players, voices support for Smith
David Cornwell, prominent attorney to NFL players as well as other athletes, who got a chance to present in Maui when three player reps wrote letters of recommendation for him, was the first of the other candidates to issue a statement on Smith's victory.
In a statement e-mailed to SportsBusiness Journal, Cornwell said: "I am proud of the player representatives and the executive committee. They handled a very difficult process with class, determination, and a view towards the best interests of all NFL players. Congratulations to DeMaurice Smith. He deserves all of our support. He will certainly have mine."
And the winner is DeMaurice Smith, players say
Players are confirming that DeMaurice Smith is the new NFLPA executive director. An announcement is said to be coming soon.
— Liz Mullen, 11:25 ET 3/15
There's buzz that there's a winner in the election, but nothing has been confirmed yet.
— Liz Mullen, 11:20 ET 3/15
Representatives head in to vote
The 32 player reps as well as 38 alternates have just gone into the big meeting room to begin voting for the next executive director. Only one representative from each team will cast a vote.
There is no timetable on how long it may take for a victor to emerge from the four candidates. “It could take 10 minutes,” said one player rep who asked not to be identified. “It could take four hours.”
Players noted that they have not been through such an election before, because the late Gene Upshaw ruled the union for 25 years.
The votes will be counted by KMH LLP, a public accounting firm out of Honolulu.
Sources have given SportsBusiness Journal conflicting information about whether NFLPA staff will be allowed in the room during the vote. Ten minutes after the meeting started, however, interim Executive Director Richard Berthelsen as well as staff lawyers and outside counsel are not in the meeting room where the vote is taking place.
A number of staff members are sitting at tables in the cordoned-off corridors outside the meeting rooms.
Candidates making their final arguments for job
The four candidates began their final pitches at a bit before 9 p.m. ET.
NFLPA player reps are expected to begin voting as soon as candidates Troy Vincent, Trace Armstrong, DeMaurice Smith and David Cornwell get a chance to speak one last time to the electorate, for 15 minutes each.
It is not clear in what order the four candidates will present, but one source said it will be the same order as their initial presentations Saturday: Cornwell, Armstrong, Vincent, Smith.
Player reps have kept their feelings close to the vest. Still, rumors are flying about who is the presumed front-runner at this point, and which candidates may be in the final two once others are eliminated.
It is still not officially clear what shape the vote may take or how many votes it will take to get a winner. Also not clear is where the candidates will wait to find out their fates. One source said he thought the hotel “had some sort of green room set up,” but he was not sure of this.
Meanwhile, the sun has come out in Maui.
Source: Outside auditing firm hired to monitor election
An outside auditing firm has been hired to monitor the election of the executive director, and two union staff members are expected to be present for the vote, a source said.
The fourth question-and-answer session with candidates and small groups of players began about 6:15 ET.
After the Q&A session, players are expected to break for lunch — although a number of linemen were hitting the buffet and bringing their lunches into the last session.
The rain continues in Maui, and people at the meeting in shorts were complaining about the unseasonably chilly weather.
— Liz Mullen, 6:45 p.m. ET 3/15
Meetings running long as players question candidates
The third question-and-answer session started about 4:30 p.m. ET. Because the meetings are taking longer than scheduled, players are said to be expecting a long day before the next executive director is elected.
One reason sessions are taking longer is that players have a lot of questions to ask the candidates, and, from all appearances, players seem to be taking their task very seriously. Also, two sources say, players have questions regarding issues raised in the background-check briefing Saturday and also want to get a chance to know sports industry outsider DeMaurice Smith better.
NFLPA staff is not part of the Q&A sessions with candidates and players, and sources said staff members are not expected to be in the room for the actual election. It is still not clear whether the vote will be conducted by roll call or secret ballot, and there is talk about whether an open roll call would be legal.
Meanwhile, there is chatter, first reported on industry blog profootballtalk.com, of two or more candidates forming an alliance to try to unify the membership behind one candidate. That talk has circulated in the powerful NFL agent community, but it is not clear whether it is just wishful thinking.
A lot of agents on the mainland are trying to get information about what is going on, as it is in their best business interests to get a candidate who will run a strong, united union going into what is shaping up to be a major labor battle with the NFL owners.
Down to business, expecting ‘a long, brutal day’
As NFLPA player leaders get their last chance to meet and ask questions of the candidates, a storm has hit Maui with stiff winds and sheets of rain.
Less-than-ideal weather in paradise matters little inside the Fairmont Kea Lani hotel, however, where players seem to have their minds on business before the important vote later today.
The first question-and-answer session between players and the candidates ended about 2:30 p.m. ET, and the second session started about 2:45.
The mood is more informal today, unlike Saturday’s session, when all four candidates were ushered into the assembly hall through secret entrances, like foreign dignitaries.
Today, from this reporter’s vantage point, candidates David Cornwell and Trace Armstrong could be seen emerging with players from smaller conference rooms. The 70 player reps and alternates have been separated into three groups by region for the question-and-answer sessions.
There has been concern as this contentious race comes to a conclusion that the union would emerge fractured, but players appear to be united in at least one regard: their intention to keep union business private. Last night, after the final session ended, the majority of players left the meeting in a solid line up a staircase leading into the hotel lobby.
Sources close to players said they have been sworn to secrecy about the meetings, especially a top-secret background check session they attended last night.
One source said players have a lot of questions to ask the candidates before the vote. “It is getting very serious,” said this source, who did not want to be identified discussing union business. “And they expect a long, brutal day.”
Election day schedule leads up to voting at 7:30 p.m. ET
After months of twists and turns and controversies, the day that the NFLPA is scheduled to elect a new executive director has finally arrived. The voting is set to take place at 7:30 p.m. ET.
NFLPA player reps are to meet with the four candidates in one-hour breakout sessions from 1:30 to 6:15, with 15 minute breaks between each session.
In each session, three of the candidates will meet with small groups of players while the other candidate sits out. In the first session, Trace Armstrong, David Cornwell and Troy Vincent will meet with players while DeMaurice Smith sits out. Vincent will sit out of the second session, Armstrong the third and Cornwell the fourth.
Then starting about 6:30, each candidate will get a chance to make a final 15-minute pitch to the player reps.
The meeting ran a bit late Saturday, so there’s no guarantee that events will hold to the schedule.
It’s also still not clear whether the vote will be conducted through open roll call, as Vincent supporters favor, or by secret ballot, the preferred method of the other three candidates.
— Liz Mullen, 12:25 p.m. ET 3/15
Player reps hear report on candidate background checks
The longest session on the first day of the NFLPA’s annual meeting concluded a bit after 11 p.m. ET, after player reps heard a presentation from an investigative firm hired to perform background checks on all four candidates for the executive director’s job.
All NFLPA staff members, including interim Executive Director Richard Berthelsen, were excluded from the meeting, which began about 9:15 and ended at 11:05. Most of the player reps emerging from the meeting avoided a reporter, and the few that didn’t declined to be interviewed.
The NFLPA hired Chicago-based Hillard Heintze Strategic Security Advisors to perform background checks on candidates Trace Armstrong, David Cornwell, DeMaurice Smith and Troy Vincent.
Unlike the four candidates, who were escorted into the union meeting hall through a secret entrance, the firm’s principals, former Chicago police superintendent Terry Hillard and Arnette Heintze, a former U.S. Secret Service officer, could be seen strolling around the cordoned-off area in front of the meeting rooms before the meeting.
Hillard and Heintze left the meeting after an hour and a half. The player reps stayed an additional 20 minutes.
It is not unusual for candidates for a top executive or government position to submit to extensive backgound checks. The NFLPA’s executive director position is considered one of the most powerful jobs in sports and Upshaw was making about $6 million a year before he died. (Upshaw's successor is expected to get a smaller though still substantial annual salary.)
Vincent’s background in particular has become an issue in the election. Those who oppose him have raised questions, particularly about his business activities, while those who support him say he is the victim of a character assassination campaign.
Joseph “Chip” Yablonski, hired by the union to investigate allegations that Vincent leaked confidential agent information to a business partner while he was NFLPA president, was not with Hillard and Heintze and has not been seen at the site of the meetings.
It is not known whether he has finished his investigation or whether he will present his findings before the election. As has been the case through much of the executive director search process, union officials are not commenting.
The four candidates will meet with player reps in smaller groups for a question-and-answer session Sunday. The voting is expected to occur Sunday afternoon local time. It remains unknown whether the votes will be cast by secret ballot or an open roll call.
Player reps put in a nine-hour day on union business, starting with a general assembly at 8 a.m. local time, followed by the four candidate presentations and the Hillard Heintze presentation.
— Liz Mullen, 12:15 a.m. ET 3/15
Smith giving final candidate presentation
Attorney DeMaurice "De" Smith, the one sports industry outsider who made the trip to Maui to vie for the executive director’s position, began his presentation to the board of player reps about 7:30 p.m. ET.
Candidates are being brought into the hotel through a service entry, not through the lobby of the hotel, directly into the NFLPA assembly hall. None of the candidates has been able to chat up player reps in the hotel lobby after giving his presentation.
The area directly outside the meeting area is cordoned off to the public and the press. But the player reps can be seen during the 15- to 20-minute breaks, and the mood appears to be relaxed, with a lot of friends greeting friends.
— Liz Mullen, 8 p.m. ET 3/14
Vincent presents; candidates ‘coming with their A-plus game’ so far, one rep says
Troy Vincent began his presentation a little after 6 p.m. ET, 15 minutes or so after Trace Armstrong finished his speech.
During the break before Vincent's one-hour pitch, one player rep who asked not to be identified said he was impressed with what the first two candidates had to say, although he wouldn't divulge details.
"They are definitely coming with their A-plus game," said the player. "There is a lot of good information. But I am waiting to see the other two."
It looks like the player reps may break for lunch before hearing from DeMaurice Smith, the final candidate to speak.
— Liz Mullen, 6:35 p.m. ET 3/14
Now up: Trace Armstrong
Trace Armstrong began his presentation about 4:45 p.m. ET. David Cornwell spoke for about an hour before the NFLPA player reps.
Meanwhile the storm clouds have cleared from the Wailea area, but it is still unseasonably cool, with temperatures in the low 70s, and quite breezy.
— Liz Mullen, 5:15 p.m. ET 3/14
NFLPA staff in room as Cornwell kicks off presentations
The candidate presentations have begun at the Fairmont Kea Lani, and it appears the staff of the NFLPA is in the room.
Player attorney David Cornwell was scheduled to speak first. It appears that his presentation began about 3:40 p.m. ET.
The large hallway of conference and meeting rooms has been cordoned off from the press and public, and candidates are being taken directly into the room through a secret entrance. Each candidate has one hour to make his case.
There was some speculation that the NFLPA staff would be excluded from the meeting, but it appeared that interim Executive Director Richard Berthelsen and outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler entered the assembly hall just as Cornwell was set to speak.
— Liz Mullen, 4:10 p.m. ET 3/14
Omen of stormy things to come, or just a weather front?
As the most important NFLPA meetings in years are beginning, a storm seems to be on the horizon, literally. It is chilly in Maui, the clouds are gathering and the wind is blowing.
Players listening to presentations
The NFLPA annual meeting has started, and at least some of the players coming in say they will listen to the presentations of the four executive director candidates before making up their minds.
Asked whether he had made up his mind about the candidates, Minnesota Vikings player rep Darren Sharper said, "No, I have not."
The Dallas Cowboys’ DeMarcus Ware said, “I think most guys coming in have an open mind." Asked whether some players had already made up their minds, he said, "I think some guys have."
Ware and Jason Witten are both alternate player reps for the Cowboys. Ware said that after the presentations he and Witten will get together and decide how to cast their one vote. Greg Ellis, the Cowboys’ player rep, could not make the meeting.
The general session began at 2 p.m. ET. The four candidates are set to begin presenting sometime after 3 p.m.
Next question: Will staff be in room for presentations?
As the four candidates prepare to give their presentations to the full board of player reps, there is a new question of whether the union's staff will be allowed in the meeting room during the candidates' pitches for the position.
There is tension between some of the players who support candidate Troy Vincent and NFLPA staff members, sources say. One supporter of Vincent told SportsBusiness Journal that the staff will be kept out of the meeting hall during at least one, if not all, of the presentations.
No matter who wins the job, there could be changes to the staff, which was put in place by the late Gene Upshaw, who died of cancer last August. But the most sweeping changes could come under Vincent.
—Daniel Kaplan and Liz Mullen, noon ET 3/14
Order for Saturday candidate presentations
The four executive director candidates are scheduled to begin making presentations at 3 p.m. ET Saturday, with David Cornwell going first, Trace Armstrong second, Troy Vincent third and DeMaurice Smith last, sources said.
Each is scheduled to give one-hour speeches to the 32 NFLPA player reps.
Later Saturday, Chicago-based Hillard Heintze Strategic Security Advisors is expected to give a presentation of background checks on the candidates.
It is not clear whether Joseph “Chip” Yablonski, the outside attorney hired by the union to investigate allegations of a confidential release of agent information linked to candidate Vincent, will present his findings to the player reps.
The candidates are expected to meet with player reps again Sunday for smaller group question-and-answer sessions, followed by the voting.
Executive committee mum after meeting
The NFLPA executive committee met for nearly three hours on the eve of the meeting where player reps will select the union's next executive director, but members were tight-lipped about what was discussed.
"It was a good meeting," committee member and Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday said after leaving the meeting, which began just after 9 p.m. ET Friday and ended about 11:55. But, Saturday said, "I am not going to discuss what happened in the meeting."
Other committee members, including Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Mike Vrabel, would not comment.
That left unclear whether players discussed the option of holding the executive director vote by open roll call rather than secret ballot, something that supporters of Troy Vincent are pushing for. The other three candidates, fellow former player President Trace Armstrong and attorneys DeMaurice Smith and David Cornwell, are said to oppose such a move.
Supporters of the roll call said one reason for it is that they do not trust the NFLPA staff. Those who oppose it say that voters could be pressured to vote a certain way and that secret ballot is a more democratic process.
Union staff members, including interim Executive Director Richard Berthelsen, outside attorneys Jim Quinn and Jeffrey Kessler, and Pat Ritcher, an outside consultant hired by the NFLPA to help oversee the search, were present during part of the meeting. Berthelsen and the outside attorneys left the meeting about 11:15.
The NFLPA was apparently trying to keep a tight lid on what happened at the meeting. Committee members were cordial to a SportsBusiness Journal reporter in the hallway before the meeting, but as the meeting was taking place, several NFLPA officials asked the reporter to leave the hallway.
— Liz Mullen, 12:45 a.m. ET 3/14
Executive committee to meet later today
The NFLPA’s executive committee is expected to meet at 9 p.m. ET today at the Fairmont Kea Lani hotel in Maui, before Saturday's scheduled interviews of the four candidates for the union's executive director position
The 11-member executive committee typically holds a meeting before the opening of the annual board of player reps meeting to discuss the agenda. But this year, sources say, it may consider a resolution to change the union's voting procedures from secret ballot to open roll call, a move being pushed by supporters of executive director candidate Troy Vincent. The other three candidates — fellow former NFLPA player President Trace Armstrong and attorneys DeMaurice Smith and David Cornwell — favor a secret ballot vote, sources say.
Even if the executive committee does consider the change to voting procedures and passes a resolution, it would have to be approved by two-thirds of the board of the 32 player reps, sources said. Sources requested anonymity because they did not want to publicly discuss union business.
Many NFL players and their families are enjoying Maui today at the Fairmont, which is in the Wailea area of Maui on the south end of the island. All four candidates for the executive director's position are staying at the Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa, about a half-mile away from the Fairmont.
— Liz Mullen, 6 p.m. ET 3/13