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About 10% of NFL games this season "have been blacked out on local television in the home team's market, a figure that's up from last year but not as high as league officials said entering the season they feared," according to Mark Maske of the WASHINGTON POST. The NFL noted that there "have been 23 television blackouts in the local market of the home team in 224 total games league-wide through 15 weeks of this season." That 10.3% blackout rate is "up from 8.9 percent through 15 weeks of last season, when 20 of 224 games had been blacked out." Only six of 224 games, or 2.7%, "were blacked out through 15 weeks of the 2008 season." NFL officials entering this season said that "they feared that as much as 20 percent of games would be blacked out this year" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 12/23). The 23 blackouts through Week 15 are the "most since there were 30 in 2004" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 12/28).
Jaguars Avoided TV Blackouts This Season
After Selling Out Just One Game In '09
CAT SCRATCH FEVER: In Jacksonville, Vito Stellino noted the Jaguars avoided a TV blackout "for every game this season," just one year after "all but one home game was blacked out on TV and speculation was rampant that the team was heading to Los Angeles." As a result of the sellouts, the "perception of the team has changed." Jaguars Owner Wayne Weaver said, "The national press is all of [a] sudden recognizing us as an ascending football team." Stellino noted how the Jaguars "turned it around is a complicated story that started with Mayor John Peyton, who convened a group of civic and business leaders last year to brainstorm ways to help sell tickets." Another "key ingredient was the innovative pricing plans put together by the Jaguars, plans that are now being copied by other teams" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 12/26). But in Dallas, Rick Gosselin noted NFL fans "aren't coming in droves and filling the league coffers like they once did," a "cautionary note to the NFL owners and players as they head down the stretch toward either a contract settlement or lockout." The Buccaneers are "averaging only 49,705 this season" at Raymond James Stadium, which seats 65,908. Similarly, the Raiders have "had crowds in the 30,000s this season, Detroit has been in the 40,000s and Buffalo the very low 50,000s" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 12/26).
ROGER THAT: USA TODAY's Jon Saraceno in a cover story noted since Roger Goodell replaced Paul Tagliabue as NFL Commissioner in '06, he has "embraced his job with a forceful yet collaborative management style, aimed at resolving conflicts and tackling controversial issues head-on." Goodell, the "architect of the NFL's controversial crackdown on gratuitous on-field violence, hasn't been intimidated by change, he has embraced it." Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson said that "he 'lectured' the commissioner two weeks ago about his rigorous schedule and self-demands." Richardson said, "He is driven. He has a lot of self-discipline -- 10 on a scale of 1 to 10. My worry is that ... he will burn himself out. It's in my best interest, and the owners', that he pace himself" (USA TODAY, 12/27).
James Claims He Didn't Know
Meaning Of The Word "Contraction"
Heat F LeBron James yesterday said that he "never intended to advocate contraction in recent comments he made about the league's 'watered down' talent level compared to the 1980s," according to Michael Wallace of ESPN.com. James said, "That's crazy, because I had no idea what the word 'contraction' meant before I saw it on the Internet. I never even mentioned that. That word never even came out of my mouth. I was just saying how the league was back in the '80s and how it could be good again. I never said, 'Let's take some of the teams out.'" He added, "I'm with the players, and the players know that. I've been with the players. It's not about getting guys out of the league or knocking teams out. I didn't mean to upset nobody. ... I didn't say let's abandon the Nets, and not let them move to Brooklyn or let's tear down the Target Center in Minnesota. I never said that" (ESPN.com, 12/27). In West Palm Beach, Ethan Skolnick confirms James never used the word contraction in his remarks, but it "definitely came out of the mouths of a couple of the reporters who were around him Thursday, as he continued answering the questions" (PALM BEACH POST, 12/28).
TOO LITTLE TALENT? James last Thursday asserted that the NBA "was better when numerous teams had multiple stars," adding that he "hopes the league can return to that someday, because right now there isn't enough talent to support the 30 current teams." James said, "Hopefully the league can figure out one way where it can go back to the '80s where you had three or four All-Stars, three or four superstars, three or four Hall of Famers on the same team. The league was great. It wasn't as watered down as it is (now)." He added, "(Contraction) is not my job; I'm a player but that is why it, the league, was so great. Imagine if you could take Kevin Love off Minnesota and add him to another team and you shrink the (league). Looking at some of the teams that aren't that great, you take Brook Lopez or you take Devin Harris off these teams that aren't that good right now and you add him to a team that could be really good. Not saying let's take New Jersey and let's take Minnesota out of the league. But hey, you guys are not stupid, I'm not stupid, it would be great for the league" (ESPN.com, 12/24).
Fisher Acknowledges That Not All NBA
Players Are Always Going To Agree
DON'T HATE THE PLAYERS: Lakers G and NBPA President Derek Fisher responded to James' original comments last week and said, "I don't necessarily agree with (James' comments), but at the same time I understand and respect the fact (that) 460 opinions won't always be alike. I don't think it's my place to tell one of our guys what they should be thinking or feeling or saying, but I don't necessarily agree with the sentiment." With the NBPA involved in CBA negotiations with the NBA, Fisher added, "I don't know if it necessarily hurts our cause. It's surprising I would say, I guess, maybe to a lot of people but I guess I'm just a realist in that regard" (ESPNLA.com, 12/24). Pistons G Ben Gordon said, "I don't know if it would help or make things better, but I know a lot of guys probably wouldn't like being out of a job" (DETROIT NEWS, 12/27). In N.Y., Peter Vecsey writes under the header, "LeBron Contraction Talk Is Selfish, Misguided." James' comments reveal that he "genuinely cares about himself." Vecsey: "The NBA is his world. Everyone else is just renting" (N.Y. POST, 12/28).
A SHORT-SIGHTED OUTLOOK: YAHOO SPORTS' Adrian Wojnarowski wrote James' original comments "left the sport stunned on Christmas Eve, searching for an understanding of why he would go so far to undermine the union on the cusp of an apocalyptic collective bargaining brawl." One agent said, "How do you say that right before collective bargaining? Does he get that he’s advocating to reduce the number of jobs in the league? LeBron has no idea what happens when he says (stuff) like this." Wojnarowski: "The NBA has never had a superstar align himself with the interests of the commissioner and owners on the cusp of such a monumental fight, but understand this: It’s an edgy move that will win him favor in the league office" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 12/24). CBSSPORTS.com's Ray Ratto wrote under the header, "What LeBron's Forgetting: If Teams Leave, So Do Men With Money." James' theory, which he "delivered off the cuff and without the proper research and development, just took out" Nets Owner Mikhail Prokhorov. Ratto: "You know how many billionaires you get to take out and keep your job? The over-under is minus one-half" (CBSSPORTS.com, 12/24).
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME: The N.Y. POST's Vecsey reports James and his reps have "contrived something" called the "Full Court Birthday Celebration" for James' 26th on Thursday. It is a "non-charitable event, but kids from The Boys and Girls Club of America are free to roll in if accompanied by a high roller." An invitation advertises the presence of "athletes, models, musicians, as well as political figures, socialites, taste-makers and affluent leaders from various industries including art, business and finance." James and his reps for the Miami party also are offering sponsorship opportunities, ranging from $10,000-500,000 (N.Y. POST, 12/28).
Sterger Attorney Says There Is Reason To
Believe Favre Is Getting Preferential Treatment
The attorney for Jenn Sterger expressed concern yesterday that the NFL has delayed issuing a decision on allegations against Vikings QB Brett Favre in order to avoid disciplining Favre, who is expected to retire after this season. "He is a high-profile athlete and a star in this league," said Joseph Conway, Sterger's attorney. "He did do it or he didn't do it. There are lots of reasons to believe he is getting preferential treatment." The allegations that Favre sent inappropriate phone messages and photos to Sterger in '08, when he was the Jets' QB and she was a game-day host for the team, first surfaced on deadspin.com earlier this year. Conway said Sterger and her representatives had given the NFL all it needs to prove that Favre violated the NFL's personal conduct policy, including an almost two-hour interview between Sterger and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Dec. 16, for which she flew to N.Y. at the NFL's request. "I don't know what is taking so long," Conway said. Conway also said he was concerned by a statement that the NFL put out last week regarding a memo sent to teams about a new workplace conduct program, which stated that employees had the right to a workplace free from harassment, discrimination and intimidation. "My concern is, they come out a few days before Christmas with a new policy and it leads me to believe there will be no discipline and will hide behind the fact that they have corrected the problem because they have a new policy in effect," Conway said.
WAITING FOR A DECISION: Asked about Conway's statements and about when the league would make a decision, NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello said in an e-mail: "Mr. Conway speaks to our office regularly and we would be more than pleased to discuss these questions with him directly. He is aware that we undertook a very comprehensive investigation and have continued that review diligently. As Mr. Conway knows, we do not have subpoena power and it is sometimes difficult to reconstruct events that occurred more than two years ago." Conway, however, said that he is not in regular contact with the NFL and that he asked league attorneys last week for the memo explaining the new workplace policy but had not received it. Conway, a former assistant U.S. attorney, also said this is the first he has heard that the investigation has been impeded by the NFL's lack of subpoena power. "The fact that they don't have subpoena power is a non-issue in this investigation; they knew that going in," he said. Conway said that Sterger's representatives have presented the NFL with a large volume of e-mails, texts and MySpace messages, and that some of the texts were sent from a 601 area code, which is in Favre's home state of Mississippi. "We had our forensic expert turn it over to their forensic expert," he said. Conway said that as Favre's employer, the NFL can ask him to turn over his phone records. "Brett Favre is an NFL player, you demand the stuff from him. If he doesn't turn it over, that is his prerogative, but you can draw a negative inference from that," he said.
TOO LATE TO ACT? ProFootballTalk.com has written that New Jersey has a two-year statute of limitations regarding workplace sexual harassment claims, and that Conway said the last communication from Favre to Sterger while both worked for the Jets came on the day of the last game of the '08 season, meaning that any sexual harassment lawsuit would need to be filed by today. But Conway told SBJ that that was not Sterger's last contact with Favre and that the statute of limitations theory was not correct. Conway added that it was not Sterger's intent to sue but to clear her name and reputation in the wake of inaccurate press reports. Sterger's representatives have stated repeatedly that they would not pursue litigation if the NFL disciplined Favre, Conway noted. Conway noted that when Sterger agreed to be interviewed by NFL investigators Nov. 11, they were told it was the last piece of the puzzle in the investigation. "Here we are on Dec. 27, 2 1/2 months later," he said yesterday, "and any discipline that comes out of this will be rendered moot by the fact that the regular season is over" (Liz Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal).
RUNNING A REVERSE: In N.Y., Michael O'Keeffe wrote it is "more than a little surprising that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has apparently decided not to discipline Brett Favre" for the Sterger incident. The NFL's "marketing people know that 45% of its fans are women," which is why the NFL "spent a big chunk of this season promoting league-licensed jerseys, T-shirts, sweatshirts and jackets designed especially for women." That also is why players "wore pink caps, gloves and shoes to promote breast cancer awareness," and why the league helped produce the play "Lombardi," because "two-thirds of Broadway tickets are purchased by women" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 12/26).
Majority Of 5,329 Fans Who Attended Leafs-
Devils Game Arrived Via Public Transportation
Two NHL games “were played in the middle" of Sunday's blizzard in the N.Y. area, despite public officials "begging people to stay home and off the roads," according to Lynn Zinser of the N.Y. TIMES. The Devils hosted the Maple Leafs in Newark and the Canadiens played the Islanders on Long Island. The NHL issued a statement that read in part, “When a local government requests a cancellation, we cancel.” But Nassau County Chief Deputy County Exec Rob Walker on Sunday said that “a postponement had been advised” for the Islanders' game. No explanation “has been given as to why that advice was not followed in the case of the Islanders game Sunday night.” The Canadiens-Islanders game drew an announced crowd of 3,136 at Nassau Coliseum. In Newark, Devils Arena Entertainment President Bob Sommer said that the team “conferred with the state police and transit officials and were told they could proceed with their Sunday night game.” He added that the “majority of the 5,329 fans who attended the game arrived by public transportation.” Sommer: “Fortunately or unfortunately, we’re loaded with dates, so to find another open date would be very, very difficult. This was a scheduling issue, so we played.” The Islanders-Rangers game last night also “went on as scheduled, although there were large swaths of empty seats when the game began.” MSG officials said that “there was no thought given to canceling Monday night’s game because the snow had stopped falling and transportation in New York City was returning to normal” (N.Y. TIMES, 12/28). In N.Y., Mark Everson reports the Devils are “offering free tickets for one of three upcoming games to those with used or unused tickets” from Sunday’s Maple Leafs-Devils game “because of the snowstorm and ensuing transportation difficulties.” The free tickets are for either the Jan. 4 game against the Wild, the Jan. 9 game against the Lightning or the Jan. 23 game against the Panthers (N.Y. POST, 12/28).
STUCK ON THE ISLAND: On Long Island, Katie Strang cited sources as saying that the Islanders’ “request for postponement ultimately was overruled” by the NHL. The league “declined comment.” It is believed that the “ruling was based upon the fact that both teams arrived safely and were available to play and because no state of emergency was declared for Nassau County.” The Islanders on their website “announced a plan to reimburse fans who were unable to attend the game.” The team also “modified the ticket policy to allow those who actually attended the game to exchange their ticket ‘to any future Islanders home game starting with this Wednesday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins through the remainder of the 2011 season, based on availability’” (NEWSDAY.com, 12/26).