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The NFLPA has "begun handing out voting cards that would allow players to authorize the decertification of the union, a move that could prevent the NFL from locking players out when the collective-bargaining agreement expires in March," according to Liz Mullen of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. Sources said that the NFLPA plans to ask the players on all 32 teams "to vote to authorize decertification when NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith visits each club on his annual fall tour of locker rooms." A letter sent to players states, “The cards will allow us to maximize the protection of your interests and rights when the CBA expires." Mullen reports if the NFLPA did decertify, it would in essence "operate as a trade organization but cease to be a union." Should the NFL try to lock out players, the NFLPA "could sue the NFL under U.S. antitrust laws and contend the league was conducting a group boycott, which is illegal." It could not sue the NFL if it remained a union with collective-bargaining authority. The letter states that if the NFLPA "were to wait until after the CBA expires to decertify, it could not sue the NFL for six months." If the union were to try to decertify, the league "would likely sue the NFLPA, challenging the decertification as a 'sham' and saying the NFLPA was still acting as a union but only filing to gain access to the antitrust laws." A source has previously said that the NFL "would have a strong case," because the NFLPA decertified in '89, only to become a union again in '93. Decertification would also allow the union to legally challenge any NFL plan to unilaterally implement a new labor system (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 9/13 issue). NATIONAL FOOTBALL POST's Andrew Brandt wrote decertification is a "bullet in the gun in the arsenal that the union has available, although a bullet that the union really does not want to use" (NATIONALFOOTBALLPOST.com, 9/12).
SAINTS PLAYERS AGREE UNANIMOUSLY: ESPN.com's Chris Mortensen cited sources as saying that Saints players "voted 59-0" to authorize the NFLPA to "decertify as a union if collective bargaining talks should eventually reach an impasse." Smith "asked the Saints to vote on the strategic procedure when he met with the team in New Orleans," and the team "voted on the issue" last Monday. The union "will send a memo to its approximately 1,900 members Monday to inform them of the strategy that is being described as a housekeeping step." Smith said Saturday, "To be dead honest, it's purely procedural and I believe it's a non-story until March. It preserves the best options to protect players in the event there's no deal in place when the CBA expires next March. Instead of scrambling at the 11th hour to get all our players' signatures (for decertification), we'll have everything in order. Our hope is that it's not necessary." A union source said that NFLPA officials are "scheduled to meet with three or four teams this week," including the Cowboys, Eagles and Redskins. The union "expects to complete the process with all 32 teams by Thanksgiving" (ESPN.com, 9/11). YAHOO SPORTS' Doug Farrar wrote it "has been clear for a while now" that while the NFLPA under late Exec Dir Gene Upshaw "preferred to hash things out at the negotiating table, the Smith-led NFLPA would be just as happy to take these matters to court, where it has defeated the league soundly in several recent cases." But there are "disadvantages to decertification." There would be "no collective bargaining for the players, essentially making this a last-ditch move to keep football going as the union kills itself to live." There also would be "no grievances to be filed on behalf of the players" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/11).
PLAYERS WANT ANSWERS: Browns LB and player rep Scott Fujita said of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's recent visit to the team's training camp, "I don't know what I expected ... but I expected a lot more than he gave us. ... Guys are concerned. They want to know. And as the commissioner and kind of the mouthpiece for the owners, you would think he could provide at least some of those answers instead of almost being like an empty suit." Fujita "had dinner with the commissioner that night for nearly an hour, and he peppered him with questions about how roadblocks in negotiations might be overcome." Fujita: "We talk all the time about (the league) opening up (its) books, and I said, 'Hey, if it gets a deal done, what's the harm? That would tell us whether profits are up or down or even flat.' He really couldn't provide an answer other than, 'You know, that's just how it is'" (USA TODAY, 9/13).
MAN IN THE MIDDLE: In Charlotte, Peter St. Onge in a front-page piece reported Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson "again finds himself a public, if quiet, face of the league's labor negotiations." Private Sports Consulting Principal Max Muhleman, a friend of Richardson's, said of the labor situation, "I don't think there's anything he's more consumed with" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 9/12).
Players at "half of the 12 NFL afternoon games Sunday ... showed their solidarity in support of the union in collective bargaining negotiations," according to Barry Wilner of the AP. Players "held up their index fingers before kickoff" ahead of yesterday's Colts-Texans, Broncos-Jaguars, Browns-Buccaneers, 49ers-Seahawks, Cardinals-Rams and Dolphins-Bills games, "replicating the gestures made by the Saints and Vikings before Thursday night's season opener." Texans OT Eric Winston: "It's about the $140 million that every city loses if we don't have football next year. That's really what it's about. It's not just about us. We want football, because they deserve it, too." But "no such gestures were done" ahead of Panthers-Giants, Bengals-Patriots, Lions-Bears, Falcons-Steelers, Raiders-Titans or Packers-Eagles. Giants C and player rep Shaun O'Hara: "Players right now, our responsibility is our jobs and focusing on games. We have people to negotiate for us. We are not negotiating ourselves so it's not anything we are concerned about now" (AP, 9/12). Jaguars G Uche Nwaneri: "Everybody just wanted a sign of unity. We're all in this together. With the CBA issue hovering around, we want everybody to know that the players want to play football" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 9/13).
NOT JUST MESSAGE FOR PLAYERS: NFLPA Exec Dir for External Affairs George Atallah said that the hope behind the message is that "those watching understand the message wasn't just for other players." Atallah: "The one thing we've tried to convey to fans of the game is the dynamic of this season -- hopefully, not the last as we know it -- doesn't just impact the stars or the rank-and-file or the practice squad guys. It's going to impact all the people that are associated with the game in any way." Atallah said that the gesture before Thursday's opening game "wasn't union-driven, but hatched by the Vikings and Saints themselves." NFLPA President Kevin Mawae "heard about it from" Vikings QB Brett Favre "about an hour before the game, and word trickled down to Atallah" (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/12).
PLAYERS REAX: Jets FB Tony Richardson said, "Obviously, the owners are showing a sign of solidarity, because they have to stay together through this whole issue just like we do. It's not trying to make a 'We mean war' type of thing. It's more so, 'Hey, through all of this, we stand together, and we want to support all of our players, past, present and future.' I thought that was a good way to show that Thursday night" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 9/11). Patriots LB Tully Banta-Cain: "As long as everyone understands we're all fighting this thing together, we've got each other's back, that'll help us if things don't go the way we want." Patriots TE Alge Crumpler: "I thought it was good for our players to show that sense of solidarity early on in the opening game" (BOSTON HERALD, 9/12). Saints QB and NFLPA Exec Committee member Drew Brees and OT and player rep Jon Stinchcomb said that they "think the majority of fans understand what is at stake." Stinchcomb: "It's not players who want to stop. We want to work. I want to play football. Everybody in this locker room wants to play football. If anything, we're in the same boat as the fans" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 9/11). Giants DE Osi Umenyiora: "From the outside looking in, it can probably look like two groups of people who are making a bunch of money who are squabbling over semantics or whatever" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/11).
SHOULD PLAYERS DROP GESTURE? ESPN.com's Gene Wojciechowski wrote under the header, "NFL Players Should Bag Silly Gesture." Wojciechowski: "The last thing I want on my football Sunday, Monday or Thursday is a reminder of labor unrest. I want the NFL, not the NFLPA. ... Nobody who pays thousands of hard-earned dollars for those rip-off personal seat licenses comes to games for labor demonstrations. ... That's all this was -- a well-intentioned but silly public gesture that will have zero impact on future negotiations" (ESPN.com, 9/11). SI.com's Don Banks noted when the Colts and Texans "did their little pre-game show of NFLPA solidarity on Sunday ... the fans on hand in Houston reportedly booed." Banks: "No surprise there. If the players believe the fans will side with either party in the league's looming labor standoff, they're not too swift on the uptake. The fans just want their football without interruption, and I think any reminders of the potential trouble to come is going to elicit a building sense of wrath" (SI.com, 9/12). L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke said, "They shouldn't do this again. The fans don't want to see this. ... This whole sign of unity meant nothing except to remind the fans that these guys are all about the money and all about the mercenary thing, which a lot of them are, and a lot of these guys don't even understand the issues" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 9/10). ESPN's Jim Rome: "It's a good idea but it probably backfired. You see, you can be right but in the fans eyes you're almost wrong. They don't want to know the issues. They don't care about the issues. In fact, there's nothing they hate more than millionaires v. billionaires" ("Jim Rome Is Burning," ESPN, 9/10). In Ft. Worth, Gary West writes, "Don't bring your raised fingers onto the field on the first days or on any day of this NFL season. Don't taint the game; don't try to draw the fans into your negotiations. Have some respect. ... We don't care about your solidarity. That's why we booed in Houston, where your fingers went up just as the national anthem concluded" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 9/13).
WPS this morning announced that Tonya Antonucci is stepping down from her role as Commissioner following the '10 season. WPS General Counsel Anne-Marie Eileraas will take the title of CEO, and under a league restructuring will head up the business and organizational aspects of the league office. The WPS BOD will guide the strategic direction of the league. Antonucci's final event as Commissioner will be the WPS Championship on Sept. 26, after which Eileraas will begin her new role (WPS). SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Fred Dreier reports Antonucci will "retain a nonvoting chair on the seven-seat WPS board." She said that the "decision to leave the league is her own." Antonucci: "After six years of carrying it, I'm ready for something new." WPS Chair and Atlanta Beat Owner T. Fitz Johnson said that the league has "no plans to hire a new commissioner." The owners will "take charge of trimming costs while marketing their clubs locally." Dreier notes Antonucci during her tenure "wooed team ownership groups in nine cities, secured a sponsorship deal with Puma and negotiated a national television deal with Fox Soccer Channel as well as a regional deal with Comcast." But Antonucci "faced a series of challenges in her two-year stint as commissioner." The league "hoped to attract six primary league sponsors for 2009 but ran into recession-stripped marketing budgets and found only three." In addition, the L.A. Sol "folded in January, and the St. Louis Athletica abruptly shut its doors midway through the 2010 season." Johnson: "The first-year losses far exceeded what folks thought they'd be. We've done more work this year and we're still not there. I don't think you can lay the blame squarely on (Antonucci's) shoulders" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 9/13 issue).
CHANGES FOR THE LEAGUE: Johnson said that WPS has "been in talks with investors interested in starting teams in Buffalo, Dallas, Seattle and Orange County, Calif." In N.Y., Ken Belson reports in "another sign that the league is maturing, the Women’s Professional Soccer Players Union was certified last week to represent the players in collective bargaining talks" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/13). In DC, Steve Goff reported the WPS board has "approved a western New York franchise to begin play" next season. WPS Dir of Communications Rob Penner said that the league is "optimistic that the western New York franchise, which would play in Buffalo and Rochester, will join the league next year." Goff noted the new franchise "has existed as the Buffalo Flash in the second-tier W-League." Also, WPS is "planning to break from Soccer United Marketing, an arm of Major League Soccer, and pursue an independent marketing deal" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 9/11).
The Izod IndyCar Series' schedule announcement for the '11 season was "as much about the past as it was about the future," as IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard "used the occasion to officially confirm that the name 'Indy Racing League' is being put to rest," according to John Oreovicz of ESPN.com. Bernard said the phrase IRL "has a negative connotation since the (CART-IRL) divorce, whereas 'IndyCar' is known around the world." Bernard: "We want to create perception and we want to welcome back those 15-20 million fans that we lost in the mid-'90s. Let's go back to our roots. Let's go back to what made IndyCar. And the first thing we need to do is make sure that our brand image is positive." Also "being cast aside -- for now, at least -- is IndyCar's relationship" with ISC, whose tracks will not host any IndyCar events in '11. Bernard: "We don't want to shut doors with ISC, but we have to go with places that we believe are best for the series. ... We want to be in a position next year where we have 25 or 26 hungry promoters coming to us trying to secure one of our 17 or 18 races." Oreovicz noted the venue for the Oct. 16 season finale "has not been determined, but it is expected to be Las Vegas Motor Speedway." Bernard revealed that ISC-owned Auto Club Speedway "made a strong pitch to host the finale, including direct contact from" California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (ESPN.com, 9/10).
NEW BEST FRIEND? In Ft. Lauderdale, Steven Cole Smith wrote the '11 schedule "signals a tightening bond between" IndyCar and SMI, though Bernard "denies that any deal with SMI precluded his series racing at ISC tracks." Bernard: "ISC has promoted 66 races in their history with us, and I think that's very important to know. But I also think it's very important to know that we are trying to move IndyCar to the next level." Bernard said with ISC, "scheduling was a major issue, sanctioning fees were another and a third would be marketing" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 9/11). Meanwhile, YAHOO SPORTS' Nick Bromberg noted the "schedule shuffle means that the first oval race of the season will be the Indianapolis 500." Also, IndyCar "still has a majority of its races on Versus, a channel that is an afterthought to all but hardcore sports fans" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/11).
VEGAS, BABY: In Indianapolis, Curt Cavin wrote Bernard "made his love for Las Vegas clear Friday." Bernard: "I don't think there's a better city in the world to have a season finale." Bernard is "confident" in Las Vegas Motor Speedway because the track is owned by SMI. Bernard: "When you deal with (SMI) you're dealing with the top" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 9/11). In Las Vegas, Jeff Wolf wrote Bernard "doesn't hide his enthusiasm about bringing the last race and banquet to Las Vegas," and the "determining factor appears to be if the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is willing to help pay for the event sanctioning fee" that could be around $1M. Bernard "has a proven track record in Las Vegas from when" he served as PBR CEO (LVRJ.com, 9/10). AUTOSPORT.com's Matt Beer noted Auto Club Speedway was a Champ Car venue from '97-'02 and was used by IndyCar from '02-'05, while LVMS was "part of the original Indy Racing League schedule" from '96-'00 "before holding Champ Car races" in '04 and '05 (AUTOSPORT.com, 9/11).
BACK TO THE MILE: In Milwaukee, Dave Kallmann noted the IndyCar Series will return to the Milwaukee Mile next year, and AB Promotions' Chris McGrath described a "simpler approach to ticketing and overall more affordable seats." McGrath: "There were at least five different price points from the grandstands. We're going to turn it into three." AB Promotions is a "joint venture between McGrath's Avocado Motorsports Marketing, which will concentrate on sales," and BMG Event Productions, which "will handle logistics." McGrath said that the group "has had exploratory discussions with several potential title and presenting sponsors." Meanwhile, AB "continues to explore options for ... added value for the weekend." McGrath and AB's George Sechrist said that ideas include "everything from volleyball to BMX cycle competition." Sechrist said that the "aim is to make Saturday night, in particular, a huge party on the grounds." Kallman noted contracts "cover the 2011 race, and AB and the series have options for 2012 and '13" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 9/11).
OFF THE GRID: In K.C., Randy Covitz noted Kansas Speedway "will not have an IndyCar Series race next year ... for the first time since it opened in 2001," as the "addition of a second NASCAR Sprint Cup weekend for June 2011 at Kansas Speedway crowded out the IndyCar Series." Kansas Speedway President Pat Warren: "With the current economic environment, we had to re-evaluate all of our events and are turning our attention to those that make the most financial sense." Covitz noted the May 1 IndyCar Series race "drew about 45,000 fans" at 82,000-seat Kansas Speedway, which convinced ISC that "losing the Indy cars would be offset by gaining an additional Cup weekend, which is expected to draw in excess of 100,000 and generate better television ratings" (K.C. STAR, 9/11). Meanwhile, in Illinois, Dick Goss noted Chicagoland Speedway also is "out of the loop" for IndyCar in '11. The track is getting the first race in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup, yet "considering how highly the big-name IndyCar drivers have spoken of running here, it does not feel right to say there is no open-wheel race in 2011" (Joliet HERALD NEWS, 9/11).
TAKING A HIT: Bernard said attendance was a "significant factor" in not renewing the race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Bernard: "There wasn’t a large crowd and if they can’t deliver, why would any series want to go back" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 9/11). In Miami, Veiga & Shah reported the IndyCar Series' exit from HMS "won’t have a significant impact" on the track, but local officials said that the "departure comes at a difficult time for the cash-strapped city" (MIAMI HERALD, 9/11).