SBD/Issue 132/Leagues & Governing Bodies

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  • WPS Launches In Effort To Carve Niche In Sporting Landscape

     
    The inaugural season of the WPS kicks off Sunday and success for the league will be "simply existing," as the league's "dedication to realistic goals and commitment to the long term will be tested ... as companies cut back on sponsorships and families' disposable incomes shrink," according to Rachel Cohen of the AP. WPS Chicago Red Stars President & CEO Peter Wilt: "My fellow owners and I recognize that, operationally, we will take some hits. We're not expecting to be profitable in the short term. ... Our definition of success is not 10,000 fans a game, or being on 'SportsCenter' every night, or even on the front pages of newspapers." Cohen noted WPS execs "have seen what happens when lofty expectations outpace the ability to survive day to day" with the defunct WUSA. But St. Louis Athletica Owner Jeff Cooper said WUSA "gets a bit of a bad rap because it didn't survive." Cooper: "I would say from the things I've been able to work out that they got nine out of 10 things correct. Just the one thing they got wrong was the financing of the league." WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci has said that teams "can be successful if they average 4,000-5,000 fans over the 10 home games on their schedules." And when Antonucci "talks about the business side of the WPS, there's no embarrassment to acknowledge that the business model in many ways is more minor league baseball than MLB." Antonucci "wonders if the economy will even help draw some fans, who may go to a soccer match instead of that [MLB] game to save money" (AP, 3/26).

    LONG TIME COMING: Antonucci said the idea of postponing the inaugural season due to the economic downturn was "not even on the table." Antonucci: "Is this the right model? Yes. Are the conditions ideal? No." But she added that WPS organizers and investors "have been building the league for 3 1/2 years, so the money is already in hand," and the league is "hoping to capitalize on whatever momentum remains" from the U.S. women's national team's gold medal at the Beijing Olympics in August. Meanwhile, in S.F., Tom FitzGerald notes WPS "will add Philadelphia and probably Atlanta next year," and Antonucci said that there are "discussions with groups in Vancouver, Denver and Dallas." But she insisted that the league "won't copy the WUSA's ruinous policy of expanding too fast and spending too much" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 3/27).

    TOUGH ODDS TO OVERCOME: YAHOO SPORTS' Martin Rogers wrote it is a "case of now or never" for WPS and the "odds appear to be stacked against it." The league "will need smarts, innovation and a healthy slice of luck to smooth its early passage." WPS needs to "establish itself as clearly the best women's league in the world with all of the game's leading international stars, and the on-field product must be good enough to keep the television stations, sponsors and crowds interested." WPS also "must not allow itself to be swept away by the tough U.S. sports market." With sponsorship funds and public disposable income "drying up rapidly, there has arguably never been a more difficult financial environment in which to start a fresh sports league." If WPS can "go where WUSA couldn't and get past Year 3, then it has a legitimate chance of surviving, if not thriving." If the league "maintains a sensible and careful approach, there is no reason why it cannot carve out its own niche" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/26).

    GETTING CONNECTED: USA TODAY's Beau Dure noted WPS is "reaching fans with technology that didn't exist when the WUSA closed down." Antonucci is "happy to see her league's Facebook page near its pre-launch goal of 10,000 fans, and selected players will be using Twitter during the inaugural game." Antonucci said the league is "considering endorsing" Twitter use "for the entire season based on feedback from the inaugural match" (USA TODAY, 3/26).

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  • NFL Schedule Change Could Pressure NASCAR To Move Daytona

    If NFL Season Lengthened, Daytona 500 Date
    Would Likely Be Changed
    NASCAR and Fox Sports officials are in a "wait-and-see mode before commenting on what NASCAR would do" if the NFL lengthens its regular season, but it "seems likely that the date for the Daytona 500 would have to change," according to Bob Pockrass of NASCAR SCENE. Under proposed NFL schedule changes, the Super Bowl could move to the Sunday prior to the third Monday in February, the same day as the Daytona 500. ISC Senior VP/Marketing & Business Operations Roger VanDerSnick: "I don't think I can make a definitive answer to (changing the date), but I would have a hard time today seeing how that would work for everybody -- working for the media partners, working for the sponsors that we share and quite frankly, working for the fan and the consumer base." Pockrass noted if there are "any thoughts of trying to run the Daytona 500 on the same day as the Super Bowl, NASCAR and ISC likely wouldn't have a willing customer in one of their most important customers -- Sprint," which also sponsors the NFL. Sprint Dir of Sports & Entertainment Marketing Steve Gaffney: "If we end up in a position where the two marquee events for both sports are the same day, then we're going to have to start asking questions about are we able to extract the best possible value from both sponsorships." Gaffney added he would have a "hard time believing that would be beneficial to a partner in both sports" (SCENEDAILY.com, 3/26).

    PACK IT UP: CBSSPORTS.com's Pete Pistone wrote NASCAR will have "no choice but to rearrange its schedule if the NFL does make these changes, and it actually might not be a bad thing." The scheduling conflict would pit the Super Bowl against the "Super Bowl of stock car racing, and despite NASCAR's popularity, I think we all know how that one would play out." But moving the Daytona 500 schedule "back seven days or so really isn't that big of a deal." If the NFL takes a week off "between the end of the playoffs and the Super Bowl as it has done in the past, sliding Daytona into that vacant hole could put NASCAR in even a bigger spotlight" (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/25). ESPN's David Newton writes NASCAR could shorten the season if the Super Bowl goes into mid-February. Newton: "Cut it back to 34 or even 32 races. Cut Speedweeks at Daytona from two weeks to one. Run the Budweiser Shootout on Wednesday, the qualifying races on Thursday and the big show on Sunday. Take advantage of this situation and do what fans and even some drivers have been asking for" (ESPN.com, 3/27).

    A LOT TO THINK ABOUT: In West Palm Beach, Brian Biggane noted more NFL regular-season games "means more revenue means higher salaries, which is good for the players, but also means more injuries, which is not so good." While an 18-game regular season "results in a balanced schedule, 17 games would necessitate each team playing a so-called neutral-site game," which could mean "more games in Europe and Mexico and perhaps even a handful in big college stadiums" (PALMBEACHPOST.com, 3/26). ESPN’s Trey Wingo said the NFL likely feels February “is an attackable month.” Wingo: “The Super Bowl never used to be played in February. … The NFL feels like, ‘Hey we can attack this month, we can own this month like we own (August-January), and probably a good part of July and April with the Draft.’” Wingo added that an 18-game schedule “is more of an opportunity for us to cover it even further, if that’s possible at ESPN.” He said as a fan, the idea of "two more chances to see your team play is freaking awesome” (ONTHEDLPODCAST.com, 3/26).

    NOT THE BEST IDEA: CBSSPORTS.com's Gwen Knapp wrote there is "no acceptable tradeoff" for adding regular-season games, not even eliminating preseason games. Knapp: "No matter the concessions, most of the players lose." The players "believe that their bodies can't take much more abuse than they're absorbing now," and if the schedule increases from 16 to 18 games, an "eight-year veteran in that system will have absorbed about as many NFL hits as a nine-year veteran of today." Knapp: "It's wonderful that the NFL passed four new rules to protect player safety this week. But any owners who favor two more full-on games are cavalierly dismissing the dangers of routine hits" (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/26). ESPN’s Jim Rome noted NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell "said that adding a game or two provides them an opportunity to ‘grow the game.’" Rome: "I think you’re confusing ‘grow the game’ with ‘make more jack’” (“Jim Rome Is Burning,” ESPN, 3/26).

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  • NFLPA Amends "Junior Rule," Allows Earlier Talks With Prospects

    The NFLPA has sent a notification to all contract agents informing them that the “Junior Rule” had been amended so that they now can speak to underclassmen after December 1, their last regular-season game, or conference championship game, whichever is later. Sources had previously told SportsBusiness Journal that agents could talk to players three NFL seasons removed from high school after December 1, their last regular-season game or their bowl game. But the memo the union sent to agents Wednesday said they could speak with true juniors after any conference championship game excluding any postseason bowl. Conference championship games are generally played in early December whereas bowl games are generally played in late December or early January. The memo states the change “now allows contract advisors to communicate with certain underclassmen as much as (6) six weeks earlier than they would have otherwise been permitted to do so under the previous ‘Junior Rule'" (Liz Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal).

    LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: YAHOO SPORTS' Jason Cole wrote as the NFL CBA negotiations draw near, two of the league's "greatest proponents of peace" -- Steelers Chair Dan Rooney and Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson -- "may no longer be part of the process." Rooney was nominated by President Obama to serve as Ambassador to Ireland, and he is expected to hand control of the Steelers to President Art Rooney II. Meanwhile, Richardson was unable to attend this week's NFL owners meetings while recovering from heart transplant surgery. For the NFL, "finding people to replace the leadership of Rooney and Richardson is critical," as the two were "able to pull together differing factions" among ownership. Rooney has the "confidence of the old-guard owners, who have often reacted poorly to the aggressive style of new-guard owners." On the other side, Richardson has the "faith of the new-guard owners while at the same time having the respect of the old guard because he played" in the NFL in the '50s. Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones: "There's no question that both of them put the league ahead of their own interests of their franchises." Cole noted not having Rooney and Richardson as "consensus builders could make upcoming negotiations difficult" for the league (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/26).

    DE-DAY: ESPN's Stephen A. Smith writes the NFLPA's election of DeMaurice Smith as its new Exec Dir means that "maybe, just maybe, the guys who go out on the field ... will finally have their say instead of being relegated to marching in lockstep with the league, performing the same moves as management, except backward and in cleats." Former NFLPA President Troy Vincent, a finalist in the NFLPA election, noted that during the voting there were player reps "from every team in the room, listening to all the presentations, doing all their homework." He added that he is "pretty sure they chose the guy who is the best man for the job." Vincent said, "I have absolutely no problem with Smith as the choice. And I wanted the job" (ESPN THE MAGAZINE, 4/6 issue).

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  • Larry Scott Reflects On WTA Tenure, Notes Similarities To Pac-10

    Scott Sees Many Similarities Between
    His Roles With WTA, Pac-10
    Outgoing Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Chair & CEO Larry Scott said he is "learning how many similarities there are" between the WTA and the Pac-10 Conference, which he will join as Commissioner in July, according to Bonnie Ford of ESPN.com. Scott: "There's governance, upholding the integrity and rules of the sport. There's supporting the members, whether they're players or member institutions. You have to work well with others. In tennis, it's the ITF and ATP -- with the Pac-10, it'll be the bowl partners, the other conference commissioners and the NCAA on national issues." Scott noted the WTA in recent years has "marketed, repositioned and branded itself to unlock commercial value, and the Pac-10 wants to do the same thing -- reposition itself strategically in a very dynamic and challenging economic environment." But he added, "I have a lot to learn about the member institutions." Scott said of leaving the WTA, "I feel great about where the game is at. There's never a perfect time, but this is as good a time as any. When it became clear in the last several months of 2008 that there wasn't the possibility of a merger between the ATP and WTA -- and I was very public and open that that was the next step tennis needed to take -- it's fair to say I was disappointed. It was a bit of a turning point. I had done most of what could be done in terms of my skills to reposition and rebuild the WTA in its own right. When it became clear a merger wasn't going to happen, it was a chance for me to reflect on which direction I should go."

    MOVING ON: Scott said of making the decision to leave, "I was home a lot in December and January and after some soul-searching with my wife, I decided that I only had 10 more years before my children (ages 8, 7 and 5) were going to begin leaving home." When asked if he was ever officially a candidate to replace former ATP World Tour Exec Chair & President Etienne de Villiers, Scott said, "They approached me at the U.S. Open (last year) and asked if I would be willing to leave the WTA, and I said no. However, I told them I thought it would be the perfect time for the tours to come together and merge." Scott said it is "just a coincidence" that three of the top jobs in tennis -- the ATP, the WTA and the USTA -- will have turned over in the past few months. Scott: "I don't see any connection. I hope it's an opportunity for the sport to have new leadership and fresh perspective" (ESPN.com, 3/26).

    CASH, NOT CREDIBILITY: TENNIS.com's James Martin wrote, "What I find ... surprising is how everyone, it seems, is praising Scott as the greatest leader of women's tennis ever. He probably is. But is that saying much, given his more recent predecessors?" Scott deserves "massive credit for filling the tour's coffers," and if we are to "measure Scott's success by the size of the WTA's war chest, which by all accounts is overflowing, he is indeed worthy of all the praise coming his way." But Martin added, "When I look back at his six-year tenure, I don't see the record of a visionary whose decisions were governed by passion for the sport or its fans. Instead, I see an exceptional businessman who too often put cash ahead of credibility." Martin: "For all the money the WTA tour has made, can you think of one successful women's-only event on TV in the U.S. that isn't on some low-rent cable channel at a ridiculously inconvenient time?" (TENNIS.com, 3/25).

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