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France Says NASCAR Plans To Meet With
ESPN To Discuss Race Times, Promotion
NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France said that this year's racing was some of the best in recent history. The move to lift some regulations and foster a "boys, have at it" philosophy worked as evidenced by the 41 points separating '10 Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson from Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick. That offers a solid foundation on which to improve ratings and attendance in coming years. France said, "We keep the racing as good as its been ... (then) I'm not worried about a thing on the popularity of this sport." However, NASCAR does plan to meet with ESPN officials during the offseason to discuss everything from race times to promotion in an effort to reverse ratings declines (Tripp Mickle, SportsBusiness Journal). In Charlotte, Jim Utter noted France "seems inclined to make changes" to the Chase for the Sprint Cup format. France suggested that the move of most Chase races from ABC to ESPN "may have contributed" to the ratings decline. France also noted NASCAR started yesterday's Ford 400 "two hours earlier than we did last year." He added, "We are looking at shortening races as we go along. We shortened California this time around (and) we think that made for a very good event" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 11/20). FOXSPORTS.com's Lee Spencer wrote France "still wants that 'winner-takes-all' approach to the season finale." France: "Watching someone not just have to run well, but have to beat other people." France believes that "adding a greater 'incentive-based' points system will bring those 'Game 7' moments he desires" (FOXSPORTS.com, 11/19). The AP's Jenna Fryer noted France is "thrilled with how this Chase has developed," but said that he "plans to move forward on potential changes." Drivers "have mixed feelings on what they'd like to see to the Chase." Harvick said he would "like to see a little bit more diversity in the racetracks." Johnson added, "A shorter schedule would be awesome. Shorter races, too" (AP, 11/19).
OUT OF TOUCH? The CHARLOTTE OBSERVER's Utter noted France Friday responded to a question about fans "who don't like the Chase format or who prefer a return to the old points system" by saying, "You met somebody who's telling you that?" Utter wrote France's "incredulous response to the question leads to two theories -- either he believes his own invention is so good he can't believe anybody would disapprove, which smacks of arrogance; or he sincerely doesn't listen to the abundance of fans who ... complain of the Chase." Utter: "That means he's out of touch. Either choice is not very comforting" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 11/21). But FOXSPORTS.com's Spencer wrote France "simply isn't ... 'out of touch' with the fans." NASCAR has "typically floated trial balloons with the media, but France has actively participated with focus groups to gauge the sentiment of his customers." He most recently "sat with groups in Orlando and Atlanta about a month and a half ago." France: "We do have focus groups frequently, and I try to sit in on them. It's usually when we're testing a certain thing that we may be considering" (FOXSPORTS.com, 11/19).
Johnson Captured His Fifth
Consecutive Cup Championship
DRIVE FOR FIVE: The OBSERVER's Utter notes Johnson yesterday won his fifth consecutive Sprint Cup Series and became "just the third driver since 1975 to overcome a deficit in the season finale and win the championship." It "remains to be seen whether Sunday's outcome will help turn the tide" of declining TV ratings and attendance. But the race "brought to a close a season filled with many positives -- a down-to-the-wire battle for the championship, better racing and a new mantra -- 'Boys, have at it' -- that left drivers more discretion in policing themselves" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 11/22). But in a front-page piece for the OBSERVER, Ron Green Jr. noted the race capped a year "marked not only by attendance drops, but by double-digit declines in television ratings." Fans offered a "variety of answers" as to "what has led to the sport's declining numbers." Green Jr.: "There is no single cause and no single answer." But the "success of the three dominant drivers" -- Johnson, Hamlin and Harvick -- has "given the sport a bit of excitement as it screams toward the season's finish line." ESPN VP/Programming & Acquisitions Julie Sobieski: "So many factors play into these ratings. There's not one silver bullet. But to have these guys racing for the championship sets up next year beautifully" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 11/21).
STAYING PUT: FANHOUSE.com's Holly Cain noted France "shot down the possibility of moving the final race from South Florida and dismissed the likelihood of ever ending the year" at Daytona Int'l Speedway. France "didn't indicate if he was looking to swap around" the Chase venues (FANHOUSE.com, 11/19). In Miami, Gary Long wrote in France, Homestead-Miami Speedway has a "friend at the peak of the decision-making pyramid in the annual parceling of race dates." France on Friday "didn't conceal his affinity for South Florida." He said, "This is a great market for our fans to come down and spend a few days. There's lots to do" (MIAMI HERALD, 11/20). But the OBSERVER's Utter wrote if, "as NASCAR officials maintain, Homestead-Miami Speedway is the best place to decide their series' championship, where are all the fans in the stands to justify that contention?" A "lot of people turned out for the Zac Brown concert on Friday," but it "only matters for the sport if they turn out at the race track" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 11/21).
KEEPING THE WEEKEND RACES SEPARATE: NASCAR continues to look at tweaking the eligibility rules for its Nationwide Series to limit the number of Sprint Cup drivers who race in the secondary series. NASCAR reportedly is considering rules that would make Sprint Cup drivers ineligible to win the Nationwide Series championship. France: "We don't want to see Sunday and Saturday homogenized." He added that NASCAR wants to be sure that the Nationwide Series continues to produce new drivers and potential stars for the Sprint Cup. In an ideal situation, France said, it would function as a feeder system for NASCAR's Sprint Cup series the same way that NCAA football functions as a feeder for the NFL. Meanwhile, with the Izod IndyCar Series adding two new manufacturers in GM and Lotus, France was asked what NASCAR was doing to keep manufacturers interested in the sport. France acknowledged that it was important NASCAR continue to innovate and said that the sport is on a "slow, hopefully smart march" to add more technology. He said the sanctioning body and teams are balancing costs and competition as they try to remain good partners with manufacturers and open themselves up to technological developments. He pointed to the sport's move to E15 fuel in '11 as an example of the type of changes it's undertaking to innovate (Mickle).
Garber Says MLS Will Increase Number
Of Playoff Teams From Eight To 10
MLS will explore aligning its calendar with those of major European leagues, such as the EPL, Spain's La Liga and Italy’s Serie A. At a pregame meeting before yesterday's MLS Cup in Toronto, where the Rapids beat FC Dallas 2-1, MLS Commissioner Don Garber said the league would do internal research to decide whether to abandon the current schedule, which runs March through November, for one that could run from August through May with a short winter break. “As we go out to Zurich and try to bring the World Cup back to the United States, we are saying to the world we are going to do the work to … ultimately have the right facts to change to the international calendar,” Garber said. “I’m not saying we’re doing it, we’re doing the work to figure out if we can.” The '11 season again will run from March through November and feature 34 regular season games, up from 30 this season, to accommodate the addition of teams in Portland and Vancouver. The league will feature a balanced schedule where clubs play each other an equal number of times. MLS will also increase the number of clubs in the playoffs from eight to 10 for '11, although officials have yet to finalize a playoff format. According to Garber, MLS has not established a plan for deciding on a schedule change, and said the league will weigh a variety of issues into a potential schedule change. “How do you play games in Montreal in February?” Garber said. “We’re going to look at everything. The best part of projects like this is that nothing is off the table" (Fred Dreier, SportsBusiness Journal).
CHANGE WILL DO YOU GOOD? Garber said of looking at changing the league's schedule, "We are going to do some research and hire the right people to do that analysis and it could be that we at some point can get to an alignment with the world’s calendar. I know that FIFA would like to see that happen. We’ll spend the next couple of years figuring out whether that makes sense for us” (“MLS Cup Final,” ESPN, 11/21). In DC, Steve Goff noted FIFA has "been critical of MLS's March-to-November schedule," and with the U.S. in a "heated race to win the hosting rights to the 2022 World Cup, Garber's comments seem to be a gesture to bolster the U.S. bid." But weather is a "big factor in switching to a late-summer-to-spring schedule." Garber suggested the "likelihood of taking a break in December and January." MLS has "not set a timetable for completing the study" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 11/21). Garber said yesterday, "I don’t think we’d ever be playing games in January and February. The question is could you play games in December? I guess conceivably we could be playing in parts of February" (TORONTO STAR, 11/22). ESPN.com's Leander Schaerlaeckens wrote MLS "went 0-for-2 on the decisions" it announced yesterday. MLS will "end up diluting the importance of the regular season as well as playoffs" by adding two more playoff teams, and the altered schedule "robs the league of the chief boon of the current system -- little competition from other big American sports." Schaerlaeckens: "These decisions serve short-term interests, but not long-term interests of the sport in the U.S." (ESPN.com, 11/21).
FIRESIDE CHAT: Garber Friday sat down with SI's Grant Wahl for "what has become an annual one-on-one chat about the league and soccer in America." The following is a portion of their conversation.
Q: You had Kansas City drop the Wizards name this week and re-brand itself as Sporting Kansas City. The public reaction so far has been mixed. What's your reaction?
Garber: People in our sport are going to be shocked when they spend more time with the ownership group in Kansas City. This is an example of what's going on behind the scenes to drive the growth of MLS. It's a bunch of young guys that understand the game. ... What OnGoal has done is recognize that their goal is to be not just a soccer team in that market [but] to pattern themselves after what FC Barcelona and Real Madrid have done and create a true sporting club. That's why they re-branded.
Q: The Colorado Rapids are in the final for the first time since Stan Kroenke became the team's owner. ... What's your sense of his commitment to MLS?
Garber: This man is very committed to MLS. He has a different approach in terms of his own profile than many other owners in pro sports do, but I never have had any concerns about his commitment to MLS.
Q: MLS' TV deal with Fox Soccer Channel is up at the end of this year. What's the status of those talks and those with Versus?
Garber: We continue to be engaged deeply in conversations with Fox on the renewal of our agreement. I know we're hopeful we can renew it at terms that makes sense for us, and I'm sure Fox is thinking the same way. ... At the same time we'll continue to have conversations with others out of a responsibility to ensure that we're covering the market.
Q: I've heard talk that every team in MLS may have a shirt sponsor next season. Is that true?
Garber: Most teams will. A number of new deals are looking to get done. ... In my view every team should have a shirt sponsor, and if they don't they should be focused on it fully. But I don't know if every team will next season.
Q: The women's soccer league, WPS, is struggling, having dropped its championship team this week. Would MLS ever consider taking on the running of a women's league?
Garber: No. We've spent a lot of time over the last number of years working with both the WUSA and the WPS, and clearly it's disappointing that it doesn't seem to be able to capture the market (SI.com, 11/19).
TREAT YOUR VISITORS NICELY: In Portland, Geoffrey Arnold reported MLS is "close to developing a formal policy to address away ticket sales," and the "new policy will allow teams to sell more than the current limit of 150 tickets to fans of visiting teams." MLS wants to "deal with the growing issue that has surfaced, particularly in the Pacific Northwest." MLS Exec VP/Communications Dan Courtemanche said, "In the coming weeks or shortly after the first of the year, we anticipate that we will have a formal policy." Sounders Owner Joe Roth "created a controversy when he reportedly said that the Sounders would limit away tickets to 150, which is stipulated by current MLS policy" (OREGONLIVE.com, 11/19). Meanwhile, MLS, team owners and SUM on Friday announced a $2M donation to the USA Bid Committee to help land the '22 FIFA World Cup (MLS).
TOP OF THE CLASS: MLS gave out its league awards yesterday afternoon, and they are as follows (THE DAILY).EXECUTIVE AWARDS
Exec of the Year
(Doug Hamilton award)
Red Bulls Managing Dir Erik Stover Marketing Dynamo Senior VP Rocky Harris Corporate Partnerships Real Salt Lake VP/Corporate Sales & Service Katie Mattis Team Administrator Toronto FC Team Services Dir Corey Wray Concessionaire/Merchandiser Red Bull Arena Manager Brett Salzenstein Ticketing Sounders FC VP/Ticket and Retail Sales & Service Chuck Arnold Local Digital Editor Philadelphia Union New Media Coordinator Judah LevineTEAM AWARDS Ticket Sales Sounders FC Operations Sounders FC Corporate Partnerships Toronto FC PR Real Salt Lake Community Relations Fire
Helfant Announces Extended Offseason
For ATP World Tour Beginning In '12
ATP World Tour Exec Chair & President Adam Helfant yesterday announced that the tour has approved the extension of its offseason to seven weeks, starting in '12. The ATP BOD approved the increased break for the '12 and '13 ATP World Tour calendars at its London meetings held in conjunction with the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals (ATP). The AP noted the move extends the offseason in men's tennis "from five to seven weeks ... without reducing the number of tournaments." The seasons "will end sooner in 2012 and '13 with the rescheduling of four late-season events along with the removal of the off-week between the Paris Masters and the ATP Finals." This year's ATP Finals started yesterday, but in '12, the event will begin on Nov. 5 (AP, 11/21). ATPer Andy Murray said, "We've been trying for a few years to make clear that it's too short an off-season. I hope this will make a difference." Roger Federer also "backed the changes." However, he wondered, "Will we have less or more injuries because the calendar is more packed? I don't know" (BBC.co.uk, 11/21).
TAKING CARE OF MATTERS THEMSELVES: In N.Y., Christopher Clarey reported Helfant "decided that the ATP should act on its own by juggling events it controls without demanding cuts from the other big power brokers in exchange." Helfant: "We've decided to try to do what's in the best interests of the sport but be practical about it. So we haven't gone to the Grand Slams and asked anyone to move. We haven't gone to the ITF and asked them to move the Davis Cup." Helfant added, "Nobody else has the calendar that tennis players have. When the NFL goes overseas or the NBA goes overseas, they try to block out the time in a way where players can perform not only when they're over there but that when they come back, they're not shot. Our guys have just had to get used to it." Clarey wrote, "This is no revolution. The tentative plan is not to eliminate tournaments but rather to shuffle dates in the period after the United States Open by pushing the same tournaments into fewer weeks or into a different part of the season. But this is still significant evolution" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/21).
GAMBLING WOES: In N.Y., Joe Drape reported when the ATP in '07 "began a crackdown on gambling and disciplined five lower-ranked Italian players for making bets on matches, it knew that gambling accounts were maintained in the names of some of its top-ranked players, who bet on matches, and did not take any action, according to evidence revealed in a federal lawsuit." Attorney Robert Elgidely, who represents players who were fined and suspended for gambling, said, "They went after the low-hanging fruit that would not impact their bottom line. In the course of discovery, the ATP produced documents that reflected the maintenance of gambling accounts by high-ranked players. I am prohibited by a confidentiality agreement to disclose those names to third parties and even my clients." The ATP, "citing the court's confidentiality order, declined to comment" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/20).
Light Not Taking The NFLPA's Counterproposal
Very Seriously Because Player Reps Didn't See It
Some NFL players are "grumbling that there wasn’t any discussion with them" before the NFLPA formulated a counterproposal to the league's plan for an 18-game regular season, according to Greg Bedard of the BOSTON GLOBE. While the union's counter "came to light last week, it didn’t register much on the radar" of player reps, including Patriots OT Matt Light. Light said that he "hadn’t been presented with anything along the lines of a proposal and that player reps would be included in any significant discussions." As a result, he "wasn’t taking this proposal very seriously." Light said, "I haven’t heard any of it. At some point, we’ll sit down and go through all that stuff, but at this point none of that has happened. I’m not sure where it came from, either. It’s not even worth discussing because there’s nothing out there that’s substantial or that you can substantiate." He added, "Obviously, they want to go to 18 games. Right now, there’s nothing constructive about the process. I don’t think we’re going anywhere" (BOSTON GLOBE, 11/21). NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith said he has "not heard" the NFL's 18-game proposal "is a panacea," as some have suggested. Smith said, "They put a proposal on the table and we countered. We raised some issues with roster size, offseason workouts, training camp, injured reserve, bye weeks and vesting for health care." The NFL CBA expires in 100 days, and Smith said the NFLPA has "seen no justification for a rollback" for player salaries. Smith: "Players can't make more money without the revenue going up. And the reality is we are receiving about 49 percent of all revenue, not 60" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 11/22 issue). ESPN’s Chris Mortensen said of an 18-game regular season: “Football people don’t like it. The players don’t like it, but I think even the players' union understands that the foundation of the next CBA is going to be with an 18-game season. So I’m saying it’s going to happen” (“Sunday NFL Countdown,” ESPN, 11/21).
WHAT ABOUT BOB? In DC, Mark Maske noted attorney Bob Batterman is a "critical behind-the-scenes figure in a set of NFL labor negotiations that could produce the sport's first work stoppage since strikes by the players in 1982 and '87." Some associated with the NFLPA "portray the hiring of Batterman by the NFL's franchise owners three years ago as one of the signals that the league was more likely to seek a labor confrontation with the players next year than to participate in a peaceful round of bargaining." NFLPA Assistant Exec Dir of External Relations George Atallah said, "The players are acutely aware of his history and they know why the owners hired him." But Batterman, who works for law firm Proskauer Rose, "calls that portrayal inaccurate." He said, "I've been with this firm for 44 years. I've been in the labor practice for 43 of those 44 years. ... We have to work with and live with unions, not bust unions. ... I have been a negotiator of hundreds of collective bargaining agreements over the 40 years. Of those hundreds, I could count on one hand, I think, the number of strikes." Attorney Jeffrey Kessler, who works for the NFLPA, called Batterman a "very worthy adversary in labor negotiations" and said, "We always enjoy a good battle with Bob." Former NHLPA Associate Counsel Ian Pulver said, "He's a master at his trade. I am not saying he is always right or always gets what he wants. I am just saying the other side better be ready." Batterman contends that the NFL hired him in part "because he guided the NHL through its negotiations and lockout without legal complications." But he insists that it "doesn't mean the NFL is seeking a lockout." Batterman: "That's hype. No employer wants to shut down a business." He said it is "absolutely" possible a new CBA could be negotiated before the current one expires in March (WASHINGTON POST, 11/21).
NHLPA Looking Into
The NHLPA has responded to NHL Senior VP & Dir of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell's e-mail communications to former Dir of Officiating Stephen Walkom by "issuing a formal request for all information relating to the matter," according to Larry Brooks of the N.Y. POST. A source said that the Campbell e-mails "have provoked numerous calls to the Players' Association office from players seeking answers and expressing their concern over the issue, which has raised further questions about the league's approach to officiating and supplementary discipline." The union "intends to conduct as thorough a review as possible -- not only of the e-mails, but of the NHL's handling of the matter." In addition, the NHLPA has been in "constant fact-checking mode with the league regarding the problematic ownership situation in Dallas, as well as on a variety of day-to-day issues." However, it is the "matter of supplementary discipline as currently handled by the NHL under the current CBA that has galvanized the PA." The union is "certain to negotiate for changes to the system in the next CBA, including the appeals process, which is currently the province of the commissioner" (N.Y. POST, 11/21).
HEADED BACK TO COURT: In N.Y., Klein & Hackel noted the court case that got Campbell "in trouble for vitriolic e-mails just will not go away." Lawyers for Dean Warren, an NHL referee who "lost his wrongful-termination case before the Ontario Labor Relations Board," said that they will "soon apply for a judicial review of the decision." Jordan Atin, one of Warren's lawyers, said that an "application for judicial review would be made in the Divisional Court of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice." The possibility of judicial review "raises the prospect of renewed scrutiny of Campbell's e-mails, which first came to light as evidence in 2009 and 2010 hearing on Warren's case" (NYTIMES.com, 11/20).
TIME TO GO? In Boston, Kevin Paul Dupont wrote under the header, "E-mail Message Is Clear: Hit 'Delete' On Campbell." Dupont: "This is no longer a matter of decisive moves not made, rulebooks in need of revision and clarity, e-mails that certify prejudices. This is about a league leadership’s conscience and its need to let owners, managers, players, media, and paying customers know that wrongs will be righted and all questions will be removed, with courage and with conviction" (BOSTON GLOBE, 11/21). SI.com's Jim Kelley noted the situation has "created a problem of perception, and perception problems have long been real thorns for the NHL." The league is "good at stonewalling, but this matter isn't likely to go away soon." If Campbell "gets hit with enough inside-outside pressure, he could find himself out" (SI.com, 11/19). THE HOCKEY NEWS' Adam Proteau wrote, "The NHL's disciplinary duties ought to be handled by a multi-person panel. If the league wants fewer of its verdicts to be questioned, adding more official voices to the process is absolutely crucial" (THN.com, 11/18). However, on Long Island, Arthur Staple wrote, "Calls for Campbell to be replaced by some sort of tribunal or committee might not work, as hearings need to be held quickly and judgments issued in a timely matter." Staple: "Campbell has the toughest job in the NHL, perhaps in all sports, and he has executed it well" (NEWSDAY, 11/21).
Keyon Dooling Says NBA Players Are
Preparing Personal Finances For Lockout
In Milwaukee, Tom Enlund noted NBA players are "preparing for the worst" with the CBA set to expire at the end of this season. Bucks G and NBPA VP Keyon Dooling said, "Obviously, we feel like what the owners are asking is way too much. And if we keep heading down this path, the likelihood is we'll probably have a lockout." When asked about what preparations players are making, Dooling said, "Finances. Keeping your options open." He added, "(A lockout) is definitely a scary thought. Our league is probably the second most popular brand of sport in the world behind soccer. I think it's at an all-time high, attendance-wise and television-wise, so I definitely think it would be bad for our game" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 11/21).
CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? THEGOLFCHANNEL.com's Steve Sands reported the PGA Tour "will allow fans to have cell phones at events next year as long as they are on a silent or vibrate setting." The Wyndham Championship "was the first to attempt it at a Tour event this year and, by many accounts, it was a success." There will be "another test at the Chevron World Challenge in two weeks, then another test at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines." If both events "go off without a hitch, the regulation is expected to stick for the remainder of the season." Sands noted the tour is hoping that "allowing people to carry a cell phone while at a tournament will help grow attendance" (THEGOLFCHANNEL.com, 11/20).
GOING HIGH-TECH: ESPN.com's Adam Schefter cited a source as saying that the NFL is "conducting high-tech forensic work to trace the electronic pathways and transmission of any photos or messages that might have been sent during communication" between former Jets employee Jenn Sterger and Vikings QB Brett Favre. Sterger met with NFL investigators earlier this month, and turned over to them "cell-phone records, at least one phone and a SIM data card" (ESPN.com, 11/21).