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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith met yesterday in N.Y. to discuss the league's current labor situation, and both parties agreed to hold a formal bargaining session with both negotiating teams on Saturday in Dallas. They also agreed to a series of meetings over the next few weeks, both formal bargaining sessions and smaller group meetings, in an effort to reach a new agreement by early March (NFL/NFLPA). In DC, Mark Maske noted the two sides have said that the "last full bargaining session came before Thanksgiving, although they have remained in contact through less formal channels" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 1/31). In N.Y., Gary Myers writes the "threat of a lockout, which would send the NFL into chaos, has almost become bigger news than Super Bowl XLV," so it "makes sense that the league and the NFLPA get serious about at least making an attempt at reaching an agreement." Goodell, Smith and NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash are "all holding informal media sessions this week." Smith "holds his formal news conference Thursday and Goodell gives his annual state of the league address Friday." With "all these meetings planned, it will be interesting to see if they eliminate the shots they've been taking at each other publicly to avoid creating more friction than already exists" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/1). In Boston, Greg Bedard wrote the planned bargaining session is "obviously good news, although it remains to be seen how much work is really done." Both sides are "trying to put a good face on the situation during the biggest week of the NFL year." It also "remains to be seen what rhetoric will be later in the week" (BOSTON.com, 1/31). N.Y. Daily News reporter Frank Isola said, "Smart PR move by Roger Goodell and the players' association, make it look like they're making progress at the Super Bowl. This way people don't talk about a strike or a lockout" ("Loud Mouths," SNY, 1/31).
LET'S MAKE A DEAL: NFL Network's Jason La Canfora reported the league and the union will "hammer away incrementally" at a new CBA through these meetings. La Canfora: "That's how a deal gets done: Getting people together regularly, weekly, hopefully eventually hourly, daily, over a period of time to get the deal. But you have to get to the table first repeatedly. Now we're going to have that" ("NFL Total Access," NFL Network, 1/31). ESPN's Chris Mortensen said the two sides "have about a 30-day clock that will run, and they'll try to continue to set more schedules, more sessions, to negotiate the collective bargaining agreement. ... They'll also have small working groups work on the peripheral issues and try to get it so they can piecemeal this thing together and beat the deadline. If they make progress, they can always extend that deadline on March 3" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 1/31).
THE TIME IS NOW: SI.com’s Peter King reported Goodell is “adamant that he doesn’t want to wait until September for a deal.” Goodell: “The damage will start occurring and escalating by March. … Will fans put money down for season tickets? Will sponsors set aside money to advertise on games they’re not sure will be played? My fear is that players think there won’t be any damage done until we miss games. Not true” (SI.com, 1/31). King later said Goodell is "going to put on a full-court press with DeMaurice Smith and the players' association to try to get this thing solved before there's a lockout. I don't believe he's going to be able to do that." King: "The NFL has traditionally been a deadline league to get deals done in labor, so I believe this is going to go into the late summer or early fall" ("PTI," ESPN, 1/31). In Austin, Cedric Golden writes, "This dispute will stretch through the summer and into September, costing the league more money and hurting its image with the fans. It wouldn't surprise me to see the first three weeks of the regular season come and go before they get this fixed" (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 2/1).
TAGLIABUE, UPSHAW SAW THIS COMING? SI.com’s King reported former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has indicated that late NFLPA Exec Dir Gene Upshaw “had a clear understanding that the deal would be shortened, with the implication being that Upshaw understood the owners would need some relief from the deal if it became too one-sided for the players.” Tagliabue said, “We knew it’d be terminated at the earliest possible date. We knew it wasn’t sustainable long-term.” King wrote he had “never heard it said that Upshaw had such an understanding.” NFLPA General Counsel Richard Berthelsen said, “I don’t recall Gene ever saying this was going to be a deal that was destined to be reopened. Paul was not saying that to Gene either, before we reached the settlement or in the wake of it, to my knowledge” (SI.com, 1/31).
KICK IT UP A NOTCH: YAHOO SPORTS' Doug Farrar wrote CBS "took things up a notch by refusing to air" the NFLPA's "Let Us Play" ad. Farrar: "Essentially, CBS is acting as a bad-faith defendant, refusing to air an ad from an entity with whom it currently holds a dispute. And if that isn't a conflict-of-interest claim waiting to happen, I don't know what is. Another possible angle is that the network doesn't want to risk displeasing the league and losing that sweet TV deal down the road." Farrar added, "In refusing the ad and neglecting to give a specific reason beyond a vague claim that it doesn't want to be involved in labor negotiations (too late for that!), CBS brings up a topic that the owners would rather not see discussed -- once again, the NFL's antitrust exemption should (and will) be called into question, especially if the NFLPA decertifies in the face of a lockout, allowing an antitrust suit to be filed. ... It's not the same impact that would be felt if such an ad was rejected for the Super Bowl, but these 'little things' are how larger disputes tend to begin" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/31).
The LPGA "has unveiled its early list of commitments" for the inaugural RR Donnelley Founders Cup charitable tournament from March 18-20, and the list is "notable for who isn't committed," according to Jeff Shain of the ORLANDO SENTINEL. Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel and Suzann Pettersen have yet to say they will play in the event. That is "not to say some -- if not all -- may eventually put their names in the lineup," but a "couple haven't been shy in voicing their concerns about some of the details." The donation earmarked for LPGA-USGA Girls Golf is $500,000, but LPGA officials are "pointing out that sponsor RR Donnelley also is picking up some costs that usually go into the purse -- such as players' hotel rooms and caddie fees." Also, the winner's chosen charity "will receive $100,000." LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan: "RR Donnelley is paying full title sponsor money, including television costs, just like any other title sponsor would. In this case, we're able to use some of that money toward the operational costs of running the event" (ORLANDOSENTINEL.com, 1/31). But Pressel said in a statement, "I feel that the event belittles all other events that donate similar numbers to charity and still provide a full purse." GOLF WORLD MONDAY's Bill Fields reported the LPGA "launched a counter-offensive, touting golfers who have committed to play ... and announcing a new wrinkle: In addition to the $500,000 the LPGA hopes to raise for LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, it will offer a $200,000 charitable purse for the top-five finishers to give to the charity of their choice" (GOLF WORLD MONDAY, 1/31).
NEGATIVE FEEDBACK: SI's Jim Herre wrote of players' criticism of the Founders Cup, "My guess is that a mini-revolt is underway. Could be that Whan didn't think this one through. If any of you saw the memo he wrote to the players about the Founders Cup, you can tell he's getting a lot of negative blowback. He was backtracking like crazy." SI's Gary Van Sickle: "It's not as if the LPGA creates 70 or 80 millionaires a year like the PGA Tour does. If you don't finish top 50 on the money list on the LPGA, you're not exactly in a high tax bracket." But SI's Alan Shipnuck wrote the tournament is "going to happen, warts and all." Shipnuck: "It looks petty to skip it. It looks pathetic to issue a press release, like Pressel, to air your grievances." GOLF.com's Charlie Hanger: "It's a noble concept but so far poorly executed and a tough sell for the LPGA, where many do struggle to make a living" (GOLF.com, 1/31). ESPN.com's Jason Sobel wrote, "This isn't about how much money is being donated or how the process was implemented. It's about the LPGA players putting up a united front to grow the game and think ahead to the future. Without some of these top players, the efforts of the tour will be overshadowed by the absence of a chosen few. Those who don't like the idea or how it came about need to put aside their philosophical differences and support the LPGA at this event" (ESPN.com, 1/31).
TRES MARIAS CHAMPIONSHIP CANCELLED: GOLFWEEK's Beth Ann Baldry reported the LPGA has postponed the April 21-24 Tres Marias Championship until '12 "due to drug violence in the area" after the tour's security firm "deemed Morelia, Mexico, too risky." The tournament contract runs through '12, but an LPGA official said that the tour "would need to see a significant improvement before returning" (GOLFWEEK.com, 1/31). Golf Channel's Gary Williams called the postponement "another challenge for Michael Whan." Williams: "You think that the LPGA wants to lose an event? They want to add events. Here's the one big thing that is the most tangible. ... Now they're going to have a three-week gap between the Kraft Nabisco and the next event. That, to me, is very unfortunate. ... The best way to build your brand is to build momentum." But Golf Channel's Erik Kuselias said, "They can't protect their players, they can't have the event" ("Morning Drive," Golf Channel, 2/1).
In Boston, Kevin Paul Dupont reported "increased revenue and a strong Canadian dollar have enabled NHL players to scale back their escrow payments this season." The players "set aside 17 percent of each paycheck in the first quarter, then dropped to 13.5 percent in the second." Now, they are "going to roll back to 10 percent in the third" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/30).
LEARNING ON THE JOB: NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr, who spent 32 years with the MLBPA, acknowledges that the "economics are unique in each professional sport." He said, "I'm trying to wrap my arms around it, trying to plan how all the work's going to get done over the next year (or) year and a half. Over the last few months, I've been doing a lot of travelling -- first to see the players and now agents." Fehr said that he expects negotiations for a new NHL CBA "to be civil." He has known NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman "for a number of years and would like to have their eventual discussions kept private, noting with a laugh that it could never happen" (CP, 1/31).
AGE-APPROPRIATE MATERIAL: In Birmingham, Jon Solomon reported Auburn men's basketball coach Tony Barbee believes the next NBA CBA "will allow players to enter the draft right out of high school." Speaking at the Birmingham Tip-Off Club, Barbee said, "Talking to a lot of people I know at that level, I think it's going to go back to the old day." Barbee is represented by CAA's Leon Rose, who also reps Nuggets F Carmelo Anthony and Hornets G Chris Paul (AL.com, 1/31).
A MISSED OPPORTUNITY? In London, Simon Briggs noted the new world rankings in women's tennis feature "women from 10 countries in the top 10 positions," further emphasizing the "global reach of tennis." Still, the "frontier the marketing gurus really want to conquer is China, so there must have been much gnashing of teeth" when Li Na lost to Kim Clijsters Saturday in the final of the Australian Open. While China is "developing a growing presence in women’s tennis, with four women inside the top 100, this was its chance to plant a giant red flag on Rod Laver Arena." Briggs: "Had Na won, she would have boosted participation levels in the People’s Republic, as well as the share prices of tennis’s leading manufacturers" (London TELEGRAPH, 1/31).
LESS IS MORE: In Boston, Gary Washburn wrote it is "time to end the fans' 100 percent vote" for NBA All-Star Game starters. The fans voted Yao Ming as a starter for the Western Conference, despite the Rockets C being sidelined for the remainder of this season after playing only five games. Washburn: "The league needs to change the voting policy regarding injured or ineligible players so they can’t be named starters. It’s embarrassing" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/30).