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The NFL would lose $1.7B through '15 if a new labor deal is not struck before the regular season begins Sept. 8, NFL officials told reporters Thursday during a 90-minute session at league HQs. The NFL in October disclosed that it would lose $1B by the start of the season without a new labor deal, but the NFL expanded on that Thursday, saying the consequences of not reaching a deal in time for the season would be far greater and would not end until '15. In the event games are lost, the financial losses would be an additional $400M a week, said NFL Exec VP/Business Operations Eric Grubman. The NFL called the meeting to get across its message that it wants accelerated talks with the union, and that the consequences for both sides would be devastating if a deal is not reached before the CBA expires on March 4. Later, NFL Management Council Senior VP/Labor Relations Peter Ruocco, using an overhead visual, said that 495 players would lose unrestricted free agency on March 4 and 74 players would lose accelerated salaries they were due, representing hundreds of millions of dollars. If a deal is not struck by March 4, the league said it would lose $120M, largely in the value of sponsorships not signed, season tickets not renewed and merchandise and licensing deals not inked. If a deal is not signed by the preseason, the loss rises to $350M, the NFL said. Sixteen teams already have announced ticket-price freezes or will soon, said NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello. Grubman said one significant licensing deal already had to be restructured. The league is asking the union for further expense credits, representing 18% of revenues. The league walked reporters through several examples of why the expense credits are necessary, and NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash said the reason the union did not agree with the league's analysis is because the players have a great deal now and do not want to give it up (Dan Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal).
SIZING UP THE COMPETITION: In N.Y., Ken Belson reports the "top leadership of the league and union have met frequently in recent weeks," but there "have been no full-fledged negotiations since November." And with the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl "yet to be played, those talks are unlikely to occur until after Feb. 6." In the "absence of more complete talks, both sides have tried to amplify their arguments in public." NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that he "would take a $1 salary if a new collective bargaining agreement is not in place by the deadline," while several NFL player reps "went to Capitol Hill last week to tell lawmakers that they are fighting to increase retiree benefits and oppose a cap on rookie salaries" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/28). In Austin, Cedric Golden wrote, "Instead of reaching out to one another at the bargaining table in a real-life negotiation, this appears to be a classic game of chicken, pitting billionaires against millionaires, with the paying public left holding the ball." The next few weeks are the "most important in Roger Goodell's career." There are "no winners in a work stoppage, especially Goodell, who built his base on the concepts of strong discipline and accountability" (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 1/27).
LET'S MAKE A DEAL: In Boston, Ron Borges writes under the header, "It's Time For Real Bargaining, NFL." This is "not the time for empty gestures or subterfuge like reducing your salary to $1 or cutting it to '68 cents' if a deal is done before the deadline" as NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith counter-offered. Borges: "What must be done is some honest bargaining and a return to the thing that made the NFL the powerful force it is -- complete revenue sharing among all 32 teams." The "biggest date on the NFL calendar is not" Feb. 6, the date of the Super Bowl, but March 4, the "morning the fiscal war is declared between the players and owners" (BOSTON HERALD, 1/28). In Philadelphia, Ashley Fox writes, "I'm already tired of the posturing. Get to the table and get a deal done." The PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER's John Gonzalez writes Goodell's offer to reduce his salary to $1 is "such a shameless PR ploy." Goodell "makes about $10 million a year with bonuses," so "unless he owes more money than Michael Vick, Goodell will be fine financially." The INQUIRER's Frank Fitzpatrick writes the move is "no more sincere or worthwhile a gesture than Congress cutting its salary" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 1/28).
PRESS PLAY: The NFLPA’s new online promo regarding a work stoppage was discussed Thursday on ESPN’s afternoon talk shows, and Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw said the union is “making a point .. and they need to do that because people still say, 'The players are going on strike.'” Cowlishaw: “They're not going on strike. They're being locked out." ESPN’s J.A. Adande: “It does help to remind the public that the players don't want a strike. They're happy the way things are” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 1/27). ESPN's Michael Wilbon: "The NFLPA needs to communicate one essential thought: We're being locked out, we'd like to play, the owners are not letting us play. That's what they're doing. They're trotting out rank-and-file guys to say, 'They don't want us.'" But ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said, "Here's the problem with it because it's a lousy ad. … They don't have any stars. Put Peyton Manning out there and say, 'The thieving weasel owners are locking us out.' Or say this, 'We want to play but we don't want to take any less money.' The owners want them to play without pay" ("PTI," ESPN, 1/27).
FRACTURES IN THE RANKS? On Long Island, Bob Glauber reports many players are "pushing back" against Jets CB Antonio Cromartie for earlier this week questioning Smith's "handling of negotiations." Glauber: "Fractures within the membership will increase if owners declare a lockout March 4 and players see their salaries and medical benefits eliminated" (NEWSDAY, 1/28). Santa Rosa Press-Democrat columnist Lowell Cohn said of the players, "They should have solidarity. They should at least publicly have solidarity. Cromartie is at fault. If he has a problem with what's going on with his leadership, there are ways to do it. You get on the phone, you write a letter, you write to the union. You don't start tweeting like a 10-year-old" ("Chronicle Live," Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 1/27). ESPN's Wilbon said, "When we get to the really important negotiating period where they try to get a deal done, you're going to see some differences among players. Some players who are younger and know they don't have that much time in the league, they want a deal done. Older guys, particularly quarterbacks and left tackles and wide receivers, they got some money. They can ride it out" ("PTI," ESPN, 1/27). N.Y. Daily News reporter John Harper: "That players' union is not strong enough to stay together ... if they actually start missing games and missing paychecks" ("Daily News Live," SportsNet N.Y., 1/27).
ESPN.com's E.J. Hradek spoke with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman recently, and Bettman "shared some thoughts on some of the league's recent high-profile events, the continuing battle against head injuries and the change to the All-Star format." Below are excerpts from the Q&A.
Hradek: Might we see a second NHL edition of the HBO Sports reality show next winter?
Bettman: They are interested in continuing this. And, those are discussions that we have to have. Whether or not we do it or we do it in the same form or we focus on something else is something that we've yet to formally discuss. ... It was a great experience for everybody and I would anticipate that we would do it again.
Hradek: Your current U.S. television deals with NBC and Versus are expiring at season's end. What update can you provide on the progress toward a new U.S. TV deal?
Bettman: The first discussions will be with our existing partners, NBC and Versus. We may be the single biggest beneficiaries of the Comcast-NBC-Universal merger because here our two national broadcast partners -- broadcast and cable -- are coming together and they're going to be jointly run by Dick Ebersol and his team. That's great news for us. We've been in a holding pattern -- wait and see -- until the merger was approved. Once the transaction closes we'll begin formal negotiations and try to work our way through an extension of the existing relationship.
Hradek: The league is introducing a new format for the All-Star Weekend. How did it come about?
Bettman: One of [NHL VP/Hockey & Business Development] Brendan Shanahan's responsibilities is to look for ways to meld the game and its essential elements with the things we do with our fans and the things that we do with our business partners. ... In the spring, he came to me and said, "I have an idea for the All-Star Game, what do you think?" I thought it was a terrific idea as did most people in the organization. ... To us, this was just another way to have fun with the game. The creation of the Friday night fantasy draft ... we got to invent a whole new event and I think that people are going to have a great time with it.
Hradek: The concussion suffered by Sidney Crosby has ignited further talk about what else the league can do to best protect the players. What is your feeling when you hear this discussion?
Bettman: It's easy to overreact and overlegislate, but that has implications for the game. You just can't run off and do it. I know a lot of people have focused on Sidney Crosby's concussion, as have we. We're not happy it happened and obviously he isn't, either. ... That was a collision. And, in a fast-paced game like ours, where the players are bigger and faster than ever before, there are going to be collisions. I think what we need to do is to continue to focus on this issue and what can be done to better protect the players (ESPN.com, 1/27).
LOOKING TO BE IN GREAT SHAPE: The AP's Ira Podell reported while the NFL and NBA are "facing labor uncertainty, the NHL is taking a moment to puff out its chest as it heads into an All-Star weekend unlike any other." Six years after a full season was lost, the NHL "finds itself in a unique position of negotiated calm and unprecedented success." The league said that it is "on pace to break revenue records," as it expects total revenue to "rise for the fifth straight year to nearly" $2.9B. League generated revenue is "believed to be going up by 14 percent -- an 85 percent jump over the past four years." Bettman said, "The league is extremely well positioned. The vital signs are good and we anticipate continued growth and momentum" (AP, 1/27).
PUBLIC HEALTH SCARE: A GLOBE & MAIL editorial stated, "Sidney Crosby’s health is a public trust. ... The National Hockey League and the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey club failed to live up to their duty as guardians of that trust, and are now reaping what they sowed: Mr. Crosby will miss the all-star game this weekend (his 10th game out with a concussion), undermining the much publicized event in the United States." The NHL has "failed to understand the seriousness of head injuries," and it "needs to learn the lessons" of Crosby's concussion. The editorial: "The league's protocol should bar the return of the concussed or unconscious, and send a clearer message about the seriousness of brain injuries" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/26).
The WTA "claims to have 4.4 million fans on social media portals in China, more than any other global sports association, including the NBA," and a victory by China-native Li Na over Kim Clijsters in Saturday's Australian Open women's final "would presumably boost all the numbers," according to Christopher Clarey of the N.Y. TIMES. Li is the "first Chinese woman to reach a Grand Slam singles final," and WTA Chair & CEO Stacey Allaster said, "I have to believe we'll hit an all-time record with women's tennis with the number of viewers who will watch Li Na compete in the final." Clarey notes the WTA in recent years "has made China a priority," opening an office there in '08, sending WTA President David Shoemaker "for a lengthy reconnaissance mission, making the China Open one of its four mandatory tour events in 2009 and attempting, in general, to determine the best way to ride the tiger in a country where the culture of racket sports is well established" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/28). Futures Sports & Entertainment Dir Kevin Alavy: "To maximize the size of the television audience, having Li Na in the final is perfect. China is an absolutely critical market for tennis globally. Having her in the final can have a transformative effect on the global viewing story. We wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be the most-watched tennis match of all time." Shoemaker: "This could be the beginning of a tidal wave that will set off such excitement in China, where every youngster -- boy or girl -- will want to pick up a tennis racket and try to copy this new star" (CNN.com, 1/28).
FOLLOW THE LEADER: REUTERS' Nick Mulvenney reported Li "hopes reaching the final of a grand slam for the first time ... will inspire a new generation of Chinese players to one day rival the number of Russians in women's tennis." Li: "Maybe because right now I have got into the final, maybe many young players or children will see that and think, 'maybe one day we can do the same or even better than her?' ... So I think if we do better ... more people will come to watch, more people will pay attention." Mulvenney noted Li last year became the first Chinese female the be ranked in the top 10, and she "would climb to fifth in the world rankings with a win on Saturday" (REUTERS, 1/27).
CAN LI SELL? FANHOUSE.com's Greg Couch wrote Li is "not going to sell" to U.S. viewers. She "has all the personality and color and warmth in the world, but she speaks broken English and doesn't have drop dead good looks." Couch: "In the U.S., that stuff is mandatory. She is not going to sell women's tennis under any circumstances." Caroline Wozniacki "might," as the 20-year-old is the top-ranked player in the world and "pushes her good looks and blond hair and short skirts." Couch: "One thing is sure: Women's tennis is in desperate need of a top player, a leader. Wozniacki has not won a major. Serena Williams is the best, but she doesn't play enough. Clijsters has been dominating the tour, but she has already retired once, and this comeback can't be expected to last too much longer" (FANHOUSE.com, 1/27).
CHANGING OF THE GUARD ON THE MEN'S SIDE? Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray will play each other in the Australian Open men’s final instead of the event featuring the anticipated Rafael Nadal-Roger Federer matchup, and ESPN’s “Around The Horn” asked whether having new faces in the final is good for tennis. Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan said the sport does need “new faces, just as golf needs new faces,” but only because “nobody watches" the Australian Open. Wimbledon and the U.S. Open “need Nadal and Federer." Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw said, "I'm not ready or interested in new faces yet. I still want Federer and Nadal. They played the greatest match ever in Wimbledon three years ago. They're still at a point in their careers they can play some more. I want to see those two guys on the court in the final" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 1/27).
Heat F LeBron James Thursday said that he "will probably attend next month's collective bargaining session" between the NBA and the NBPA during All-Star Weekend in L.A. James: "It's definitely something that's going to be a huge focus of All-Star Weekend. Even though the game is huge, I think the labor agreement will be one of the biggest meetings that we have that weekend, so hopefully we can get some things across." James also "attended another meeting last summer in New York." James: "I've been there, pretty much I've had an active role, went to a few meetings." The league and the union scheduled the All-Star break meeting last week "as they try to work toward a new deal to replace the one that expires on June 30" (AP, 1/27).
IRISH EYES ARE SMILING? In Ireland, Susan Falvella Garraty reported the Steelers might be "Ireland bound for a ... 2011-2012 regular season game." Some "groundwork has already been laid for a regular season game" at the Gaelic Athletic Association's Croke Park stadium in Dublin, which "has a seating capacity in excess of 80,000." A spokesperson for Ireland Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport Mary Hanafin indicated that discussions "have already been held at the official level on the potential of a NFL regular season game being played in Ireland in the fall" (IRISH ECHO, 1/26). Steelers Chair Emeritus Dan Rooney is currently serving as the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland.
HEADING TO THE TEE BOX: GOLFWEEK's Matt Nelson reported the "mammoth PGA Merchandise Show will expand to Beijing on March 18-20 and Guangzhou on Oct. 20-22." Officials said that the PGA Merchandise Shows in China "will have a 'business to business' focus ... offering golf-playing equipment, apparel, golf business products and services, and golf accessories, as well as golf course construction, design and maintenance products, services and equipment." Education "will also be a component" (GOLFWEEK.com, 1/27)....Golfers David Duval, Jim Furyk and Matt Kuchar "have been voted to the PGA Tour Players Advisory Council for 2011" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 1/27).
MISSING THE POINT: In Las Vegas, Jeff Wolf writes NASCAR's new points system "might be more simple, but only a simpleton would think it will make racing more exciting." NASCAR "continues to incorrectly put too much emphasis on the championship and its last 10 races it calls a playoff." Wolf: "No matter how much [NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian] France wants NASCAR to be like the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball, it never will be" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 1/28).