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Austin Would Become First U.S. City To
Host F1 Race Since Indianapolis In '07
F1 Management Chair Bernie Ecclestone yesterday announced that Austin, Texas, will "host F1 races from 2012 through 2021 and become the first U.S. city to stage such races since Indianapolis in 2007," according to John Maher of the AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN. Ecclestone said that the Austin Grand Prix race, "for the first time in U.S. history, would have a track specifically built for Grand Prix racing." Racing experts said that "such a track could cost as much as" $250M. The announcement of the race "stunned many in the Texas auto racing community and surprised and delighted some political leaders, but it left others wondering about significant details -- including where a track would be built, who would build it, how much it would cost, who would pay for it and why would an Austin project succeed where others haven't?" Austin-based Full Throttle Productions Managing Partner Tavo Hellmund, whose company will partner with F1 for the race, said that the bidding process alone cost more than $1M, and that "land has not yet been purchased, but that three sites are being considered." Hellmund added that the track "would be at least three miles long," and Driveway Austin President Bill Dollahite estimated that it "would take 600-1,000 acres for the track and grandstands." Dollahite, "who built a track for his driving club," estimated the driving surface alone for a Grand Prix track would cost $100M and would be a "huge undertaking." Maher notes a "state tax-incentive program -- known as the Texas Major Events Trust Fund -- is intended to reimburse cities for the costs they bear by hosting profitable events, such as a Formula One race or the Super Bowl." Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell: "This will solidify our standing as an international city. ... Hundreds of millions of people also see the broadcast, and those who don't know about Austin will" (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 5/26).
F1 ITCHING TO GET BACK TO U.S.: The AP's Jim Vertuno noted F1 "has been hot and cold on the desire to even hold a race" in the U.S. The U.S. Grand Prix was "dropped after an eight-year run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 2000-07 with mixed results," and "before its run in Indianapolis, Formula One had been hosted by Long Beach, Las Vegas, Detroit, Dallas and Phoenix on city street circuits." The IMS race was "run on a road course built inside the oval track." Ecclestone in March said that he "wanted a race" in N.Y., but Hellmund said that F1 officials "who visited Austin were impressed with the city and the plan to build a Grand Prix-specific course." Hellmund noted the Austin track and grandstand would be built "within 10 miles" of the Austin airport. F1 officials "have not yet set a date for the 2012 race" (AP, 5/25). In London, Tom Cary notes F1 manufacturers "have been vocal about the need to return" to the U.S. market. Hellmund said that the deal "had been years in the making." Hellmund: "This is a case of the right timing in the right place. As many Americans know, Austin has earned a reputation as one of the 'it' cities in the United States" (London TELEGRAPH, 5/26). In N.Y., Brad Spurgeon wrote, "What is more interesting is that Bernie Ecclestone is also announcing that there will be a 'world-class facility purpose-built' to host the event. With all the futuristic Hermann Tilke monolithic tracks cropping up around the world ... this must mean something special." Meanwhile, the project "clearly has the backing of the state government" (NYTIMES.com, 5/25).
BELIEVE IT WHEN WE SEE IT: ESPN.com's Terry Blount wrote a "lot of questions need to be answered before I believe the Texas capital is getting an F1 race in 2012." No one "seems to know if Tavo Hellmund ... has any money," and "we're talking real money here, hundreds of millions of dollars to make this happen." Ecclestone "acts like the Austin race is a done deal for 10 years," and "even Texas governor Rick Perry praised the plan as if everything was in place." But "no one has said where the financing is coming from and who is putting up the funding." Blount: "Who are the investors? It won't be the state of Texas, which like many other states these days is billions of dollars in debt" (ESPN.com, 5/25).
Goodell Expects Expanded Season Proposal
To Play Major Role In Upcoming Labor Talks
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell yesterday said that the "expansion of the regular season to 18 games was discussed extensively" at the owners meetings in Dallas, according to Albert Breer of the BOSTON GLOBE. Goodell "framed the idea as the 'enhanced season,' which came with the implication that the league is simply taking a 20-game season and turning two preseason contests into regular-season contests." Goodell expects the proposal to "play a major role in the upcoming labor talks -- the next formal negotiation is set for June -- with the collective bargaining agreement expiring after the 2010 season." Goodell reported that there was "no progress made at these meetings to resolve the issue, but is hopeful that finding new sources of revenue will alleviate some of the existing problems." He added that "finding ways to enhance the 'in-stadium' experience is a priority" (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/26).
SENDING A MIXED MESSAGE? The AP's Schuyler Dixon noted yesterday's meetings "served as the launch of several programs with Mothers Against Drunk Driving to promote responsible drinking." MADD officials "will speak at the league's rookie symposium, and will run pilot programs on game days in Buffalo and Oakland," and there will be "other promotions in stadiums and involvement in community events benefiting MADD." Dixon noted the NFL recently agreed to a deal worth more than $1B with A-B InBev to replace MillerCoors as the league's beer sponsor, but the league and incoming MADD CEO Kimberly Earle said that there is "no mixed message" (AP, 5/25). USA TODAY's Sean Leahy noted drunk driving arrests among players "have been an issue the NFL has fought for several years." Five players during a six-week span in February and March "were arrested for driving while intoxicated" (USATODAY.com, 5/25).
OTHER LEAGUE ISSUES: In DC, Mark Maske reported Goodell yesterday said that the league "will 'aggressively' look into the possibility that players could be disciplined for their dealings" with Dr. Anthony Galea, who has been "charged by authorities in the U.S. with unlawful distribution" of HGH. Goodell: "We are very anxious to understand all the details and pursue it aggressively, and we will. ... We will pursue it in accordance with our policies." Goodell added he is "hopeful" the NFLPA will agree to blood testing in the new CBA (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 5/25). Meanwhile, in New Orleans, Nakia Hogan reports it "doesn't appear that the Saints are facing any disciplinary action from the league ... amid allegations brought up in a lawsuit that team personnel stole the prescription painkiller Vicodin and attempted to cover up the alleged state and federal offense." Goodell yesterday said that he "hasn't been brought up to speed with the case." Goodell: "I haven't gotten an update on that recently to be able to give you anything on it" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 5/26).
LET THE RHETORIC CONTINUE: Patriots Owner Robert Kraft said Monday the NFL has generated $3.6B since the last CBA was agreed to in '06, and $2.6B "went to the players, plus another $200 million." Kraft: "Ownership collectively had $200 million greater expenses on this last revenue drawn. We can't continue that and continue to invest in the business." NFLPA outside counsel James Quinn in a statement said of Kraft's comments, "We saw his comments and checked with our joint auditors. That could only be true if they don't count the approximately $1 billion the NFL gets off the top." In Boston, Albert Breer noted the union's claim is that the "revenue number should be" $4.8B, not $3.6B. Breer: "Of course, there's posturing on both sides going on right now ... But those are the stances here that each side has taken" (BOSTON.com, 5/25).
Retired Players Disagree With Smith
That Rift With NFLPA Is Over
Former NFLer Billy Joe Dupree "headed a group of retired players at a news conference Tuesday who questioned the NFL Players Association's leadership and let it be known that their dispute over benefits is far from over," according to Clarence Hill Jr. of the FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM. Former players in attendance included Jeff Nixon, Joe DeLamielleure, Elvin Bethea, Fred Dean and Abner Haynes, all of whom "took aim at NFLPA [Exec Dir] DeMaurice Smith for his recent comments that the rift with the retired players was over." The ex-players want $100M "added to the pension fund to help NFL alums, particularly those with debilitating injuries," and they want the NFLPA to "open their books and explain why executives are earning seven figure salaries rather than the money going back to the players and former players." The former players also "want explanations from the marketing arm on how it decides which players get called on for appearances" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 5/26). ESPN DALLAS' Calvin Watkins reported the NFLPA since '07 has contributed $216.3M to the players' retired income plans, "much higher" than what the MLBPA ($117.5M), NBPA ($34.3M) and NHLPA ($29M) have contributed to their various retired players. The former NFL players said that they "would like to meet with Smith and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell but nothing has been set up" (ESPNDALLAS.com, 5/25).
Watch The UFC's Press Conference
Introducing Tom Wright, UFC Canada
The UFC is "opening its Canadian office in Toronto, in spite of the fact that the Province of Ontario refuses to sanction professional mixed martial arts events," according to James Christie of the GLOBE & MAIL. Former CFL Commissioner Tom Wright "will run the UFC's Canadian office and use his low-key approach with Ontario officials to gain a sanction for the fights." UFC President Dana White said that Wright's "marketing and business expertise make him a perfect fit for the Canadian part of UFC's global expansion." Wright said the UFC is "going out proactively to get regulated." He noted that he "expects to be putting on three UFC spectacles a year via the Canadian office." Wright said that his "No. 1 priority is get the sport regulated in every province and territory in Canada, but the UFC's other businesses will include new media, video games, merchandising and UFC gyms." UFC Chair & CEO Lorenzo Fertitta said that Canadian sales are "worth millions of dollars a year in a 'very profitable Canadian market' which accounts for about 15 per cent of the UFC's revenue" (GLOBE & MAIL, 5/26). In Toronto, Morgan Campbell notes hiring Wright "signifies that the UFC plans to crank up the pressure on provincial officials in charge of regulating combat sports." White said yesterday, "We're going to have the full-court press now. It shows how serious we are (about legalizing mixed martial arts in Ontario) and that we're taking real initiative" (TORONTO STAR, 5/26).
A LOSING FIGHT? The GLOBE & MAIL's Stephen Brunt notes "despite the promises of tax and spinoff riches from a major MMA card at a venue like Rogers Centre, there seems to be precious little appetite" from Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty's administration for "altering that status quo." The "risk of blessing an activity that some voters view as a half step better than barbarism has so far outweighed the allure of any potential reward." That is despite the fact the UFC has "waged a sophisticated and successful campaign to win the blessing of other reluctant jurisdictions in North America, and in many other places around the world" (GLOBE & MAIL, 5/26). McGuinty spokesperson Douglas Tindal in an e-mail said, "The MMA is not a priority." In Toronto, Dave Fuller writes, "In other words, expect MMA to remain on the province's back-burner" (TORONTO SUN, 5/26).
VIDEO GAME ACTION: In Miami, Jim Varsallone notes THQ yesterday released "UFC Undisputed 2010," the only MMA video game that is licensed by UFC. White said, "We picked THQ because these guys literally are so passionate about the brand, about the sport. The guys who actually designed the game went out and started taking Muay Thai and jiu-jitsu to really learn about it. We want to keep this game as real as possible -- make the game as fun and exciting as we can but keep it as real as possible." THQ has "stepped up its game for the UFC 2010 project." White noted he is "in the video game." He said, "I'm so ugly. It's unbelievable. Everybody looks like themselves, except me. I hope that doesn't look like me. I hope I'm not that ugly" (MIAMI HERALD, 5/26).
Obama Discusses NBA, Ticket Prices, LeBron
And Arizona's Immigration Law During Interview
President Barack Obama in an interview with TNT's Marv Albert said the NBA is "in a good place right now." During the taped interview, which aired last night, Obama said, "The way they’re calling the game right now returns basketball to where it’s supposed to be, more of a finesse game." He added, "The biggest change I’d probably propose right now is the commissioner needs to figure out how to price tickets so that ordinary people can go to the games. I mean, I think that ticket prices have gotten so high, and I understand that salaries are high, ticket prices are going to be high, but you know, you hate to think that the only person that can go to a game is somebody who’s got a corporate account. And that’s something that I’d love all professional sports, that’s not just NBA, but all professional sports to be thinking about that a little more." Obama weighed in on the Suns' decision to speak out against Arizona's new immigration law, and he said, "I think it's terrific that the Suns, who obviously feel very strongly about their community, recognize that a big part of their community felt threatened by this new law. You know, when I was growing up, you had figures like Arthur Ashe and Bill Russell who routinely would talk about the world around them. You wouldn’t always agree with them, but that sense that people are engaged in the big issues of the day, I think, is a positive thing. I don’t think that either players or franchises need to always steer away from controversy." When the Chicago native was asked about LeBron James signing with the Bulls this offseason, he said, "I don't want to meddle. I will say this, (Derrick) Rose, (Joakim) Noah … it’s a pretty good core. You know, you could see LeBron fitting in pretty well" ("NBA Tipoff," TNT, 5/25).
In London, Neil Harman reports a tennis World Cup "could become a permanent fixture in the calendar within five years if the impetus behind the plans continues with the force it has generated" at the French Open. James Hird, whose Australia-based sports marketing company Gemba "conceived the idea," has had "meetings in Paris with representatives of the ATP World Tour" and the Int'l Tennis Federation. It is "understood that Juan Margets, the Spaniard who is favoured to replace Francesco Ricci Bitti as ITF president in 2012, spoke one-to-one with Hird and gave his plans a fair hearing." The "same is true" of ATP World Tour Exec Chair & President Adam Helfant. It is "understood that the World Cup has enough backers, in terms of television and sponsorship money, to launch as soon as it receives the green light from the administrators" (LONDON TIMES, 5/26).
RELATIONSHIP BUILDING: In Hamilton, Emma Reilly reports Mayor Fred Eisenberger "flew to New York City for a private 'relationship-building meeting' with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman late last year." Eisenberger said that the meeting was "intended to soothe any tension left over from" RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie's "failed bid to relocate the Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton and to talk about 'future opportunities.'" The meeting was held two months after Phoenix bankruptcy Judge Redfield Baum "rejected the Balsillie bid, bringing an end" to Hamilton's latest chance at an NHL team (Hamilton SPECTATOR, 5/26).
IN A BAD SPOT: The NATIONAL FOOTBALL POST's Andrew Brandt wrote amid the ongoing StarCaps situation, the NFL is in the "embarrassing situation of having players with documented use of banned substances continuing to play without consequence." A collectively-bargained policy with "consequences that cannot be delayed and prolonged now becomes a higher priority among many priorities on the bargaining agenda for the league and the union to resolve" (NATIONALFOOTBALLPOST.com, 5/25).
SWING & A MISS: GOLF.com's Alan Shipnuck listed former LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens on his list of people who are not hot this week. This is the week when the LPGA Corning Classic "was always played," but the event is not being held this year due to lack of sponsorship and the "dark week on the LPGA schedule is testament to the former commissioner's enduring legacy" (GOLF.com, 5/25).