SBD/Issue 19/Leagues & Governing Bodies

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  • Sprint Cup Schedule To Feature Standard Starting Times In '10

    NASCAR, TV Partners Trying To Halt Ratings
    Decline With More Uniform Start Times In '10
    NASCAR Sprint Cup races next year will start at either 1:00pm, 3:00pm or 7:30pm ET, depending on the location of the race, as the sanctioning body and its TV partners try to halt the ratings decline with more uniform start times. Races in the eastern or central time zones will start at 1:00pm, while races on the West Coast will start at 3:00pm. All night races will start at 7:30pm. The only exception will be the lengthy Coca-Cola 600 in May, which will drop the green flag at 5:45pm. NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France said the changes will result in 28 races moving to an earlier start time. In all, 21 of the 36 Cup events will start at 1:00pm, including the Daytona 500. So far this season, Cup races are averaging a 4.2 U.S. rating and 6.739 million viewers for weekend events. Three weather-delayed races were run on Mondays. The ratings are down 4.5% and the total viewership is down 6.4% from '08. "I don't think any of us really know," ESPN Exec VP/Content John Skipper said when asked how much the uneven start times have contributed to the ratings decline. "This (uniform start times) is one thing we know fans like. ... It's all a gut call. We listen to the fans, we talk about what's best, and ultimately it's NASCAR's call and we hope it makes the ratings go up" (Michael Smith, SportsBusiness Journal). USA TODAY's Nate Ryan notes Ipsos research of NASCAR fans indicated that "more than two-thirds preferred early afternoon Sunday times with 1 p.m. being the most appealing" (USA TODAY, 10/8). France said, "Our research has shown us that our core fans want to begin watching NASCAR a little bit earlier in the afternoon. Sometimes that's counterintuitive for traditional programming for sports. But nonetheless, in looking at the last couple years, we've been going later in the broadcast window and we haven't been as consistent as we can and it will certainly help us in the future" ("NASCAR Now," ESPN2, 10/7). 

    HOPING FOR A RATINGS REBOUND: The AP's Jenna Fryer noted Fox "was the biggest proponent of later race starts," and Fox Sports Chair & CEO David Hill "particularly liked starting the Daytona 500 late enough in the afternoon that it ended in the prime-time television viewing block" (AP, 10/8). However, Hill yesterday said, "I think we started to tamper with something we shouldn't have, and I'll put my hand up and say 'guilty.'" Turner President of Sales, Distribution & Sports David Levy added, "If you ignore the fan and you don't do what is very old-fashioned customer service, you do that at your peril. And we just think we're making life simpler for the ardent fan. It's as simple as that" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 10/8). Hill said that he "expects ratings that have decreased the past few years to drop again next year as fans adjust to the more consistent times," but ESPN.com's David Newton noted Hill and other network execs "believe the long-term benefit will be worth the change that France said was quite challenging with three networks involved." Skipper noted TNT this season "had a couple of races in the middle of the schedule" where ratings were up, while ESPN "had four races up." Skipper: "We do see some signs of growth we'd all like to build on." Meanwhile, France said that "another benefit of earlier start times is more flexibility for rain delays" (ESPN.com, 10/7). In Virginia, Dustin Long notes earlier start times also “should provide a little time for the networks to do some sort of post-race show” (Norfolk VIRGINIAN-PIOLT, 10/8). 

    FOR CONSISTENCY'S SAKE: YAHOO SPORTS' Jay Busbee wrote if one does not think the start times were "something that needed changing, take a look at this year's schedule," which featured "forty-plus races with something like 25 different starting times." Busbee: "That's a mess. So I'm very pleased with this new uniformity" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/7). ESPN's Ryan McGee said, "The single biggest complaint that I received … from race fans, it's not Car of Tomorrow. It's not Kyle Busch. It's not anything, other than start times" ("NASCAR Now," ESPN2, 10/7). CBSSPORTS.com's Pete Pistone wrote the new standard start times "should make a considerable difference in the sagging ratings problem NASCAR has faced the last couple of seasons," and it also will "go a long way in demonstrating to fans NASCAR's willingness to listen and adapt to what the paying customers are asking for" (CBSSPORTS.com, 10/7). FOXSPORTS.com's Larry McReynolds wrote under the header, "It's About Time NASCAR Got Consistent." McReynolds: "We have totally confused the race fans over the past several years. ... I applaud NASCAR for recognizing this problem and addressing it" (FOXSPORTS.com, 10/7). In Greensboro, Dustin Long writes NASCAR "showed that it doesn't ignore fans" (Greensboro NEWS & RECORD, 10/8).

    Gossage Says Consistent Start Times
    Will Be Good For TV Audience
    REACTION FROM THE TRACK: In Daytona Beach, Godwin Kelly reports Daytona Int'l Speedway President Robin Braig "embraced the news" and "predicted a spike in Daytona 500 ticket sales from Wednesday's announcement." Braig: "The start time has been our No. 2 complaint" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 10/8). However, Texas Motor Speedway (TMS) President Eddie Gossage said the "jury is out." Gossage: "I'm curious what the fans think about it. I do think consistent start times for the sake of the TV audience is good so the fans know when to turn on the television and where to go and what time to look for it." ESPNDallas.com's Richard Durrett noted the change impacts the Sprint Cup Series Samsung 500 in April and Dickies 500 in November at TMS, both of which will start at 12:00pm CT next season. Gossage: "I'd like to have the Dickies 500 end in the dark in the fall. There are other ways to consider how to accomplish that. Maybe we talk about a night race in the future" (ESPNDALLAS.com, 10/7).

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  • NHLPA Looks To MLBPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr For Consultation

    Fehr Has Been Consulting With NHLPA
    Since Kelly's Firing In August
    MLBPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr “agreed to take part in a portion” of the NHLPA’s six-hour conference call on Sunday, during which he was “asked about constitutional issues as the executive board decided to form a committee to review its organizational structure and bylaws,” according to Allan Maki of the GLOBE & MAIL. Fehr “has often spoken” with NHLPA interim Exec Dir Ian Penny and has advised the 30-member Exec Board since the firing of Exec Dir Paul Kelly on August 31. Because of his involvement with the NHLPA, there has been “growing speculation” that Fehr “may be asked to take over as the players prepare” for CBA talks. Sources “doubted that would happen but acknowledged Fehr will continue to be used in an advisory capacity” (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/8).

    FILLING THE LEADERSHIP VOID: In Toronto, Damien Cox noted NHLPA Ombudsman Buzz Hargrove has “risen to the top and become the voice of the union.” Cox: “He says whether it was right or wrong to fire Paul Kelly. He calls Kelly a liar on the airwaves. … This is an ombudsman we’re talking about!!! Where in the world is Ian Penny, the orchestrator of all this chaos?” (THESTAR.com, 10/7). Meanwhile, Bruins Ds Mark Stuart and Dennis Wideman yesterday confirmed that they will be the club’s “new leadership duo in all things related” to the NHLPA after D Andrew Ference notified teammates earlier this week that he has “lost his desire to continue as the player representative” (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/8). Maple Leafs C and player rep Matt Stajan said that “players on the Maple Leafs are solidly behind the NHL Players’ Association and its firing” of Kelly. Stajan: “All of us want what’s best for the players. We’re all on the same page, we want to move forward” (TORONTO STAR, 10/8).

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  • UFC In No Hurry To Enter Into Mainstream, Secure Network Deal

    White Thinks UFC Can Do Big Things
    On Network TV With Right Deal
    UFC President Dana White yesterday appeared in studio on ESPN's "Jim Rome Is Burning," and he said of the promotion's expansion into the mainstream, "We're taking our time." White: "We're not going to make any stupid moves. We haven't in the last nine years. We're not going to start making them now. I think we can do some big things on network TV with the right deal." White noted the UFC has been "close to a network deal for years now," but the "problem is that it's not the right deal." White: "There's been lots of guys who came out trying to compete with me and ran right after network deals because they had to do it. I don't have to get a network deal. I think a network deal would help us. It would take us to another level. But I'm in no hurry." White added the UFC "could be on a major, over-air network right now," but he does not "like any of the deals." Meanwhile, he said the current season of Spike's "The Ultimate Fighter" is "probably one of the best seasons we've ever done," but the first three fights, including the highly-watched bout between Kimbo Slice and Roy Nelson, "were terrible." White: "It gets better from here on out. The fights get a lot better. I think people are going to absolutely love the season" ("Jim Rome Is Burning," ESPN, 10/7).

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  • UFL Kicks Off Inaugural Season Seeking To Feed Need For Football

     
    The UFL kicks off its inaugural season tonight with the California Redwoods facing the Las Vegas Locomotives, and the league is looking to "feed a need for football that the new league's founders hope is insatiable," according to Greg Garber of ESPN.com. The UFL is "playing small ball at the outset, hoping that quality supersedes quantity." The idea from the beginning was to "grow the league into whatever the forces of the economy allow it to be," and in the early going, those in the league "invariably describe themselves as pleasantly surprised." UFL Commissioner Michael Huyghue: "We have a strong product from a football standpoint." Huyghue added that he "isn't sure if the UFL ultimately will prove to be a stand-alone league, a complementary league or a developmental league for the NFL" (ESPN.com, 10/6). USA TODAY's Sean Leahy notes Huyghue's model for the league is to "keep the costs low, bring the game to cities that don't have great access to the NFL, and play in the fall -- to capitalize on what he said is a fan base that craves football every day of the week." Huyghue: "If you do those things and provide affordable prices to fans, we believe that's the right model to be successful." Leahy notes the average price of tickets is $20, while players' salaries range from $35,000-60,000, "well below the NFL minimum" of $310,000. N.Y. Sentinels DE Simeon Rice: "It lends itself to a college atmosphere because you have a lot of guys that are playing with such motivation" (USATODAY.com, 10/8).

    TRYING TO FIT IN: The GLOBE & MAIL's David Naylor notes the UFL "believes it can find its niche in the crowded fall football schedule." UFL COO Frank Vuono: "We think you have to play when people expect to see football and have an appetite for football on TV. We don't want to go head-to-head so we're going to play on weeknights." Vuono added, "We've put everything we can into place and now it's time to open the doors, debut the product and let people in" (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/8). UFL VP & GM Rick Mueller noted "not many leagues have survived" that have attempted to offer an alternative to the NFL. But he added, "I really believe in the system we've got in place from a cost standpoint, but I also believe there are people out there and the reception has been great" (LAS VEGAS SUN, 10/8).

    Huyghue's Model Is
    To Keep Costs Low
    THE TIME IS NOW: Huyghue said of launching the league amid the economic downturn, "There's never a good time to launch a league. The reality is, in some respects, entertainment value for people still continues to thrive in tough times. People don't tune out entertainment, even though it's time for prioritizing." Meanwhile, Huyghue said marketing the league's players will be "dictated by performance." Huyghue: "The mistake would be to do what the USFL tried and think the only way to succeed is to sell names. Roll out a good product, the players are good enough to sell themselves." He added the "grade book" for the league is to "start with attendance, because people think, overwhelmingly, that if fans come to watch then you're successful" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 10/4).

    MARKETING PROBLEM: In Las Vegas, Steve Carp notes the Redwoods and Locomotives both are based in Phoenix, while the Sentinels and Florida Tuskers are based in Orlando. Huyghue said that the league is "trying to limit costs, and having the teams live and train in two central locations saves money, even though it has made it difficult for the teams to establish roots in their communities." Huyghue: "It's hurt us in our marketing, no question. But we felt for the first year this was the best way to go. The priority is putting the teams together and put the best possible product on the field. It's a sacrifice we had to make" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 10/8). In Orlando, George Diaz writes of the UFL, "Where is the buzz? Where's the excitement? Most importantly, where's the marketing plan?" It is "hard to sell [the Tuskers] to the community when you haven't even established a ticket office," as "all of that is being handled through a league office in Jacksonville." Tuskers coach Jim Haslett: "I'm not in the marketing department, but to be honest with you I thought the marketing was poor and the worst thing about the league. The talent, the facilities, everything else has been done first class but the marketing department has fallen behind" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 10/8).

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  • League Notes

    Writer Feels Bettman Should
    Be Thanked By Canadians
    The NATIONAL POST's Joe O'Connor wrote it is NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman -- the "cartoon villain in the Arizona bankruptcy court -- who deserves to be thanked by the Canadian public." Red Wings Senior VP & Alternate Governor Jimmy Devellano: "All this B.S. about Jim Balsillie, the pied piper of RIM, stirring up all of Ontario and making the NHL out to be against teams in Canada, all of it was B.S. This fight was never about a team in Hamilton." O'Connor noted if the Coyotes "had been deemed portable" by U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Redfield Baum, "every NHL franchise would have become portable and prone to an enterprising billionaire looking to buy and relocate a club" (NATIONAL POST, 10/7).

    PRICE CHECK: In N.Y., Ken Belson noted NHL teams "have raised prices by an average of just" $0.05 this season. Team Marketing Report's Fan Cost Index indicated that ticket prices "inched up by" 0.1% compared with last season to $51.41 per game. Eleven of the league's 30 teams "raised prices," while 13 teams "kept prices steady." Six team "cut prices." The average price of a non-premium ticket for the Maple Leafs is "by far the most expensive in the league" at $117.49. The Stars have the least expensive ticket at $35.66. Rangers premium tickets are the "most expensive at an average of $249.88," while the Red Wings have the "least expensive average for such tickets" at $60.89 (NYTIMES.com, 10/6).

    OWNERS ONLY: PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio cited an NFL source as saying that next week's ownership meeting in Boston "will include a session limited to the principal owner of each team." It is believed that the meeting "will focus on the labor agreement, and possibly revenue sharing." Other business "will be conducted at sessions that aren't limited to the principal team owners" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 10/7).

    ON TRACK: USF1 Technical Dir Ken Anderson said that the team "will be ready to test in January ahead of their debut season next year." Anderson is "confident the team will be on the grid come March." Anderson: "Our timing is according to plan, with an early November 'roller' and a finished car in time for January 2010 testing" (London INDEPENDENT, 10/8).

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