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Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson "has become a bit of a target during recent days, but the NFL and some of his fellow owners want to make it clear -- he's still very much the man they trust to run the negotiations" for a new CBA, according to Gantt & Person of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. Giants President & CEO John Mara said yesterday, "There is no more respected owner in the league than Jerry Richardson." Gantt & Person note Richardson "has been pilloried in reports citing anonymous sources and by some who weren't even in the room during recent negotiations." He has been described "as combative and condescending toward players," including Colts QB Peyton Manning. But while there "have been calls in the media for him to step aside from such a prominent role in negotiations, he was not even present at last week's bargaining session in Washington, which ended with the league walking away from the negotiating table." NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello was asked if the recent reports about Richardson's behavior had changed NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's or the league's perception about the owner and "his place in the hierarchy." Aiello: "No, absolutely nothing has changed." Gantt & Person write, "Even in the best of times, Richardson is known for his no-nonsense approach. ... So it should come as no surprise that some feathers could be ruffled at a negotiating table." Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones said of Richardson, "He is one of the most effective leaders I have ever known because he is one of the best communicators I have ever been associated with" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/16).
DID HE OR DIDN'T HE? NFLPA President Kevin Mawae said he was not in the Feb. 5 meeting at which Richardson reportedly was condescending toward players, but Mawae noted comments from Cardinals K and player rep Jay Feely about Richardson's behavior were "consistent with every report" he got from the meeting. Mawae: "They basically talked to them like they don't understand business reports and business papers. ... For us to go into a bargaining session and get talked down to by an owner is discouraging and it's just not right." He added, "At the end of the day, there're 32 owners, and the owners that want to get a deal done need to step up to the plate and let their voices be heard. If they're going to leave it up to Jerry Richardson, we'll keep spinning our wheels" ("The Jim Rome Show," 2/15). But NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash said, "I read the comments that were attributed to Mr. Richardson and that just categorically didn't happen. He never said anything like, 'Do I need to help you read a revenue chart, son?' I don't know where that came from." In N.Y., Judy Battista notes Richardson "has emerged as a lightning rod in the negotiations." In the past he "has acted as a bridge between owners and players," but now he is "viewed as one of the hawks, taking a hard line against players." But with just over two weeks until the March 4 deadline for a new CBA, the Richardson "flap will most likely be little more than a sideshow to the more critical development: there have been no conversations between representatives of the owners and the union since talks broke off after a negotiating session last Wednesday and no talks are scheduled" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/16).
LEADER OF MEN: CBSSPORTS.com's Mike Freeman wrote if NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith is the "intellectual engine for the players' union in their battle against owners, one of the union's main emotional power sources" has been NFLPA Exec Committee member and Saints QB Drew Brees. A source said of Brees, "He's one of the most important people in this fight. He's among the toughest and the most liked. That's a great combination." Freeman noted Brees' reputation "as one of the most level-headed and decent people in football also has helped him earn the respect of many league officials and owners during the negotiations (well, every owner not named Jerry Richardson)." When many players around the league "have questions about the progress of the negotiations, they call Brees." Sources said that when players "want to vent, they call Brees ... because they knew he'll talk them off the ledge." One source said that when Richardson was "highly condescending to Manning in one moment during the negotiating session it was Brees who helped restore calm ... to what was a rapidly deteriorating situation" (CBSSPORTS.com, 2/15).
SIMMER DOWN: SI.com's Peter King wrote, "You shouldn't get too excited about anything in the negotiations between players and owners. History says players have gotten ticked off at pompous or overbearing owners during job actions in 1982 and 1987, the way some players are angry at ... Richardson for whatever he said in a meeting 10 days ago. None of this stuff really matters in deal-making" (SI.com, 2/15). Patriots OT and player rep Matt Light: "At this point, believe nothing that you hear and none of which you see. I just think it's a bad state right now. It's a bunch of people who are arguing over points that have nothing to do with what's at the heart of the matter" (BOSTON HERALD, 2/16).
NO TIMETABLE ON UNFAIR PRACTICE CLAIM: NFL.com's Jason La Canfora reported the National Labor Relations Board yesterday indicated that it "doesn't have a firm timetable for determining if the NFL's claim against the NFL Players Association has merit." The NFL "filed the claim Monday, stating the NFLPA hasn't collectively bargained in good faith and seeking a preemptive ruling to eliminate the union's ability to decertify following the March 3 expiration of the collective bargaining agreement." NLRB Dir of Public Affairs Nancy Cleeland "explained the process for investigating a claim like the NFL's and said there is no firm timetable on how long it could take." She added that "at this point it is undermined if, by merely filing the claim, the NFL would in effect preclude the union from decertifying until a ruling is made by the NLRB." La Canfora reported the NLRB "will thoroughly investigate the matter ... beginning with regional field staff and/or staff attorneys interviewing members of both negotiating parties, pouring over records of each session, what was proposed and whether or not parties showed up on time." They will try to determine if the NFLPA has been "surface bargaining" (NFL.com, 2/15). Mawae said the NFL's charge of unfair bargaining is "laughable." Mawae: "It's a joke considering the fact that the last proposal that was made was ours, and it took them two months to respond and they only responded with a one-page paper. ... Let's not forget that they're the ones that opted out of the deal to force us into this negotiation in the first place" ("The Jim Rome Show," 2/15).
Goodell writes in Op-Ed that it is time for
"serious negotiations" for new labor deal
SPEAKING FOR THE FANS: In his weekly column for the PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell writes, "It has become fashionable to say that the current NFL labor dispute is a battle pitting millionaires (the players) vs. billionaires (the owners). In a sense, that's true, but it omits a very important component, one that makes the players and owners so rich -- the fans. ... Neither side seems to care about us at all. Each side talks about how detrimental a lockout would be, but neither side has recognized what would happen to us if there were no football in 2011." Rendell added, "How will it end? By getting all the parties -- union, owners, commissioner Roger Goodell in a room for 'round-the-clock, nonstop negotiating sessions, with no one going home until there's an agreement. ... Both sides must give a little" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 2/16).
NFL VP/Communications Brian McCarthy yesterday said that the league e-mailed the 400 fans "displaced by problems with temporary seats" at Super Bowl XLV "to offer either $5,000 or reimbursement for 'actual documented' Super Bowl expenses, whichever figure is higher," according to the AP. The latest offer is the "third and most valuable option for fans who had tickets but no seats" for the game. McCarthy in an e-mail said that the NFL "decided to extend another offer after commissioner Roger Goodell talked to fans over the past week." The initial offer was "for $2,400 -- three times the face value of the affected seats -- and a ticket to next year's Super Bowl." The league "soon added a second option of a ticket to any future Super Bowl plus airfare and hotel costs" (AP, 2/15). L.A.-based attorney Michael Avenatti, who is the lead attorney in a class-action suit against the NFL and the Cowboys over the seating debacle, said that his firm currently represents over 100 people. Avenatti: "Ultimately, we expect the class to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,500 fans." He added, "We do want to get a resolution before this becomes full-blown litigation. My clients and all of the fans are incredibly reasonable. They merely want 100 cents on the dollar back for whatever they spent to attend the Super Bowl. Whatever they paid for their tickets, plus their expenses. And in addition, the league needs to step up and provide some other compensation, whether it be future Super Bowl tickets or something of that nature. No one's trying to get rich from this" (Fox Business, 2/15). Dallas-based attorney Trey Branham, who also represents some ticket holders, said that the NFL is "gradually moving in the right direction" with its offers to fans, "but hasn't gotten there yet" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 2/16).
Major League Gaming has struck a broad-based partnership with IMG Worldwide in which IMG Media will lead global expansion efforts for the popular, N.Y.-based competitive video gaming league. IMG will pursue a variety of programming, distribution, licensing and marketing efforts for MLG around the globe, initially targeting gaming hotspots such as Korea, China, Brazil and the U.K. The pact, developed rather quickly over the past two months, will likely begin to yield tangible international efforts later this year. "Global expansion wasn't really on our menu for 2011, and now it is," said MLG CEO & co-Founder Sundance DiGiovanni. "Nobody else is such a logical fit with such a proven track record to help us with this. This is about as non-distractive [to core, U.S.-based operations] as global expansion can be." IMG, for its part, was aggressively seeking a greater involvement in video gaming, particularly as the industry continues to build a deep stronghold among consumers aged 12-34 and various online and social gaming models explode in popularity and usage. Financial terms were not disclosed, but both sides will be incentivized to develop international gaming outlets. "MLG has already built a dominant brand and has shown some very provocative ratings among their core demos," said IMG Media President Michel Masquelier. "This is a space we see great opportunity in, and MLG is the right partner and this is the right deal. MLG is exactly the kind of client I like to do business with. They're young, open-minded, have strong personalities and have a global vision." MLG will begin its eighth annual Pro Circuit tour April 1 in Dallas.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber on Monday said that the league is "financially healthy." Garber: "We have a handful of clubs that are profitable. Some of our teams are doing OK and some of our teams are losing money. Overall, the league is in good economic shape. Our investors are strong. They remain committed." Garber "wants to see a 20th team, probably in New York, added by the 2013 or 2014 season." He also sees 22 teams "by the end of the decade, but isn't in a hurry to expand." Garber: "You have to be sure you are expanding properly and doing it with the right owners and the right markets, managing the player pool. ... We are only going to expand if it makes sense for the growth of all of our measures" (CP, 2/14).
SEEING STARS: Rockets CEO Tad Brown in the past has indicated that the team "has pursued hosting another All-Star Weekend since the 2006 event was held in Houston, but he said Tuesday that he was more confident than ever that the franchise and the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau could land another game and the associated festivities." Brown, speaking to Houston's KRIV-Fox, said, "We’re under consideration for 2014. We’re hopeful, but the NBA has not made any determinations." He added that it "could take until the end of the year for the NBA to reach a decision" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 2/16).
KICK THE HABIT: U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) yesterday urged MLB officials to "ban tobacco products on the field and in dugouts and locker rooms." The senators wrote to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and the MLBPA saying that the "time has come to extend a ban implemented 28 years ago in the minor leagues" (Bergen RECORD, 2/16).
TAKING A LOOK BACK: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman recalls the '04-05 lockout as part of BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK's "Hard Choices" feature. Bettman said, "Prior to the collective bargaining agreement running out in 2004, it was clear that the players' union's strategy was to tough it out. The conventional wisdom was that no sports league would ever cancel an entire season. And if they did, they'd never live to tell about it." Bettman continued, "After the lockout, our sponsors and fans hung in there. At the time, though, ESPN didn't share our vision. We signed a cable TV partnership with Versus, or what was then Outdoor Life Network. We would not be nearly as well-positioned as we are now if we hadn't changed. We're headed toward six years of record revenues and attendance" (BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK, 2/14 issue).