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Hunter Sets All-Star Weekend As
Benchmark For CBA Progress
NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter yesterday "after a three-hour bargaining session with NBA owners" set forth the "first unofficial negotiating deadline for making progress toward a new labor deal: All-Star weekend in Los Angeles," according to Ken Berger of CBSSPORTS.com. Hunter said if the owners and players are not able to "develop some momentum" and "resolve some of the issues" by February, the union will "know what the bottom line's going to be." Hunter: "I would anticipate that by All-Star, we should know whether there's a likelihood of a deal." NBPA attorney Jeffrey Kessler characterized yesterday's meeting as "cordial and productive," while Hunter called the talks "amicable." But Berger noted there were "no significant breakthroughs on how to arrive at a new agreement that both sides would be willing to sign to forestall a work stoppage" after the '10-11 season. NBPA President and Lakers G Derek Fisher said that NBA players, unlike NFL players, "have yet to take the step of collecting signatures to authorize decertification of the union." Fisher: "Decertification is an option that is available to us, but we're genuinely focused on the positive side of getting a deal done." Berger noted yesterday's bargaining session "did nothing to disrupt the constructive tone of the talks, which have progressed cordially after a contentious meeting at the most recent All-Star weekend in Dallas." But the owners and players "made little progress on ... major issues such as the players' share of revenue, the proposed imposition of a hard salary cap, and drastic reductions in maximum salaries and guaranteed deals." Hunter said that the next step is to "break down into smaller groups to begin tackling 'the smaller issues that are not quite as divisive'" (CBSSPORTS.com, 9/22).
ELEVEN TEAMS AT MEETING: In N.Y., Jonathan Abrams noted yesterday's meeting marked the "final time that a contingent of players ... could be present before the sides meet" during the All-Star break. Eleven teams were represented at the talks on the ownership side, including Cavaliers Owner Dan Gilbert, Lakers Exec VP/Business Operations Jeanie Buss and Celtics Managing Partner & CEO Wyc Grousbeck. Fisher said, "It's going to be a tougher process. But it's very clear in the room ... that both sides are going to be committed to that process. ... It's very apparent in the room. You can touch it, that both sides want to get something done" (NYTIMES.com, 9/22).
FedExCup Finale Tees Off In Atlanta With All 30
Players In Field Eligible To Win $10M Top Prize
The FedExCup winds down this weekend with the Tour Championship, and the fourth iteration of the PGA Tour playoffs has "delivered star-studded fields playing for big money and generating interest at a point in the season when interest in the sport was scant," according to Larry Dorman of the N.Y. TIMES. While a "few glitches remain in the system, a perfectly equitable formula is unlikely in a system that carries over regular-season points to a four-event playoff." The PGA Tour has "tweaked the system twice, and the players seem satisfied that most potential inequities have been addressed." Dorman notes there is a "standard three-word response on the tour that covers most tournament eligibility questions and purse and points distribution complaints: just play better" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/23). ESPN.com's Jason Sobel wrote the FedExCup "remains an innovative substitute for the previous schedule, which ended in November and saw the game's top two players eschew the festivities at East Lake Golf Club." All 30 golfers teeing off today in Atlanta are eligible to capture the FedExCup's $10M top prize, and any criticism of the Cup for "its supposedly failing format is unworthy." Golfer Steve Stricker: "I don't think you need to understand the points system to really follow it. I mean, I don't understand the NASCAR points system but I still enjoy following it" (ESPN.com, 9/21). SI.com's Alan Shipnuck wrote this week's Tour Championship, offers "real intrigue and a host of storylines ... for a change." The event should provide a "stellar conclusion to the most intriguing" FedExCup yet (GOLF.com, 9/21).
MR. FIX-IT: GOLF.com's Gary Van Sickle wrote the PGA Tour could tweak the FedExCup points system every year and it still "wouldn't address the real problem: the points don't relate to anything real." They are "arbitrary numbers, and no amount of adjusting will change that fact." The only chance of making the FedExCup race "interesting to viewers and the media is to score in terms of something we can understand: relation to par." The Tour should "simply keep track of players' cumulative scores during the four playoff tournaments." That might be the "only way anyone will arrive at the 72nd hole at East Lake and know what he has to do to win" the FedExCup, and the "only way any player will ever stand over a putt knowing it's worth $10 million, a moment I think we're all rooting for" (GOLF.com, 9/20). The GLOBE & MAIL's Lorne Rubenstein writes the FedExCup points system is "complex, to say the least, and the PGA Tour must have had to find major mathematical wizards to derive the permutations and combinations in the tournament ether." It is "heavy going to understand what transpires" in the playoffs, contrary to ordinary Tour events when "low score wins, as it will at the Tour Championship" (GLOBE & MAIL, 9/23).
Two-Time FedExCup Winner
Woods Failed To Qualify
I'LL BE MISSING YOU: Some pundits suggested the PGA Tour should have included Woods in the Tour Championship field even though he failed to qualify, but CBSSPORTS.com's Steve Elling wrote the world's No. 1 golfer "didn't deliver." The FedExCup playoffs, "like the tour itself, are designed as a meritocracy," and Woods had "just as many chances as everybody else to earn a spot in the 30-man field." Elling: "With all due respect for the loss of marketing mojo that will be felt in the TV ratings or at the gate without the defending FedEx champion on the course this week at East Lake, it was Woods' decision not to play more tournaments over the summer to increase his chances of adding points." Augusta Chronicle columnist Scott Michaux responded, "Either you have rules that reward merit in an annual points race or you don't. I don't feel the need to discuss this silly concept any further" (CBSSPORTS.com, 9/21). Golf Channel's John Feinstein said, "You certainly don't exempt anybody into an event where you have to be in the top-30 for the year to qualify. That means you qualify, you don't get a sponsor exemption or Tour exemption because you help TV ratings" ("Golf Central," Golf Channel, 9/20). Golf Channel's John Hawkins: "If you give them a free pass into the Tour Championship, you give them a free pass to skip whatever they want leading up to it. It's a bad idea" ("19th Hole," Golf Channel, 9/22).
LOSING MY MOMENTUM: The Tour Championship comes after the Tour instituted a one-week break following the BMW Championship, the third of four FedExCup events. GOLFWEEK's Adam Schupak wrote, "Whatever momentum was building from three terrific tournaments was wiped out by the quietest week in golf." The LPGA and Champions tours also were dark last weekend, which "felt like the day after baseball’s All-Star game, aka the slowest sports day of the year, except it lasted four days" (GOLFWEEK.com, 9/20).
Antonucci Says Losing L.A. Sol Before
Start Of Season Was Tough For WPS
The WPS Championship kicks off Sunday at Cal State East Bay, but "what the league will look like next year is anyone's guess," according to Tom FitzGerald of the S.F. CHRONICLE. League supporters insist that "brighter days are ahead," but the "numbers are not encouraging." Two of the league's top teams -- the L.A. Sol and St. Louis Athletica -- "folded this year and average attendance dipped from 4,500 in its inaugural season of 2009 to 3,600 this year." Outgoing Commissioner Tonya Antonucci estimated that WPS clubs "need an average attendance of 5,000." She believes the figure is "absolutely possible." Antonucci said that she "hoped her resignation as commissioner, effective at the end of the season, wouldn't be construed as a blow to the league's credibility." Antonucci: "The model can work. It needs improved economic conditions." She added, "The league is going through a transition, with less emphasis on the national league office. The owners are taking a more active role in setting a strategic agenda for the league." FitzGerald noted WPS General Counsel Anne-Marie Eileraas, who will become WPS CEO upon Antonucci's departure, "will inherit a difficult situation." The staff at WPS HQs was "slashed this year, and some executives took pay cuts." Antonucci said that she "voluntarily worked without pay for five months earlier this year." After last season, the league also "lost its highest-drawing team" -- the Sol. Antonucci: "That was tough for me. I fought very hard with the expansion committee to find a new buyer." FitzGerald noted the WUSA "lasted three seasons" until '03, losing an estimated $100M. WPS "has tried harder to keep expenses in check, but it launched in a terrible economy last year and has been unable to land as many national sponsors as it needed" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 9/22).
SLOW GROWTH PROCESS: Antonucci said despite the loss of the Sol and Athletica, the league is still hopeful it will find "slow and steady growth." She said, "In the early years of any pro sports league, you're going to see teams sort of come and go if you will as it finds it footing and the model sort of settles in with the owners that are committed." The seven-team league is "very close to announcing Buffalo as the an eighth team to join the league for 2011." Antonucci: "We've seen tough situations with the economy, no doubt, and we've had to manage through those and adapt and continue to be efficient with our model, cut costs. We're trying to make the teams stronger so that they can continue. ... It's about generating awareness among fans, growing the fan base" ("Chronicle Live," Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 9/22).
WHY THE RUSH? WPS Boston Breakers coach Tony DiCicco "criticized the scheduling" of the team's WPS Semifinals match against the Philadelphia Independence tonight. The winner faces a "cross-country trip with about 60 hours of recovery time" before Sunday's championship. DiCicco: "It's tough for either team to travel to the West Coast for Sunday morning. ... I understand the TV implications, but don't you want your showcase game, your championship game, to be among your best games of the season? I personally think it was a big mistake by the league" (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/23).
Octagon Suggests Badminton
Develop Players Into Stars
The Badminton World Federation is hoping to "undergo a massive make-over" as the sport's governing body "carries out a three-year plan designed to 'grow the badminton brand' worldwide and increase its revenues," according to Javier Espinoza of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. BWF COO Thomas Lund said that the organization “commissioned an audit to sponsorship agency Octagon” to help with the process. Octagon Asia VP Lucy Strong said that the agency has come up with “a series of recommendations,” including “improving the quality of BWF competitions and creating ‘benchmark events’ as opposed to initiating new ones.” Octagon in its report also recommended that badminton authorities “promote a more broadcaster-friendly schedule to capture more viewers and upgrade the quality of their TV production.” In addition, Octagon recommended the BWF “develop its players into global stars.” Badminton has participation levels of around 30% of the population in China and India, “far in excess of levels in Europe.” The sport is “ranked as the second most popular sport" in South Korea and India. It is ranked as the fourth most popular sport in China, eighth in the U.K. and 10th in Canada. The BWF this month hired IMG Media to “handle all media rights for its key events in all territories, across all five continents.” Lund hopes that the deal, which goes into effect in '11, “will help the sport’s brand gain acceptance in previously unexplored markets” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/23).