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MLBPA Exec Dir Michael Weiner yesterday "made the first stop of his annual tour of spring training clubhouses, meeting with the St. Louis Cardinals for more than the planned 90 minutes," according to Derrick Goold of the ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH. The MLB CBA is set to expire after the '11 season, and Weiner said that the "heft of his presentation to the Cardinals was about bargaining, about the CBA and about the calendar ahead." Weiner, who will "make his way around Florida spring training sites in the next couple weeks," confirmed that he "expects to talk with MLB at least twice during spring training." But he added that "momentum" for a new CBA "likely won't build until the regular season." Weiner "declined to discuss specific issues that he'll look to address or resolve with the next round of bargaining," though he said that he "expects entry-level players, expanding the draft to international lands and even the use of smokeless tobacco to be discussed." Weiner: "I don't think either side is looking to fundamentally change the way contracts are negotiated in baseball" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 2/22). He added of a new CBA, "I know we're prepared to try to get it done. I'm confident that ownership is prepared to try to get it done as well" (USA TODAY, 2/22).
PLAYERS UNITED: Cardinals P and player rep Kyle McClellan said of the MLBPA, "Between our veterans and our leaderships, we're very aware of the past. People talk about '94. They talk about what we had to do to gain things and hang onto them. That's the difference between us and everyone else -- solidarity." YAHOO SPORTS' Jeff Passan noted one Cardinals player indicated that he received a licensing check of $6,500 from the union, down 80% from a typical licensing check of about $40,000. That "didn't rest well with him," but he "didn't begin to question the union using the money to build up a war chest in case labor negotiations don't go as planned." The player: "I trust them. We don't want to end up like the NFL where we're losing our leverage because players are going out and spending their money. I'm fine giving up money for the good of the union." Meanwhile, MLB sources have indicated that they will "pursue a worldwide draft during bargaining sessions," but Weiner said, "The idea of a worldwide draft -- while not prejudging what happens at the bargaining table -- is difficult. We're prepared to talk about reforming how all entry-level players come into the game. The logistics of applying a unitary draft to players from such varying conditions, though, is tough" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/21).
GOING COLD TURKEY? MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince noted the "smokeless tobacco trend is generating discussion" as MLB and the MLBPA near negotiations. U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) both are "calling for an outright ban." MLB "must sign off on" a ban, but there is "growing reason ... to suspect it will." Castrovince: "We could very well be entering the final season in which smokeless tobacco use is so noticeably present in the game" (MLB.com, 2/21).
Steelers QB and NFLPA Exec Committee member Charlie Batch yesterday emerged from the fourth consecutive day of labor talks "not quite so optimistic," but "for the first time, there was more than just a no-comment from either side, and even a hint of positive news," according to Gary Mihoces of USA TODAY. Batch: "Things are going well. We'll see how things progress over the coming days." Under a directive from Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service Dir George Cohen, both sides "have declined to comment on the talks." But as NFL outside counsel Bob Batterman was leaving the talks Sunday, he said Cohen is a "first-class mediator" (USA TODAY, 2/22). In N.Y., Judy Battista reports the two sides are "expected to reconvene" today for the "fifth of the scheduled seven days of negotiations" with Cohen. Because mediation is "nonbinding, either side could walk away from the negotiating table at any time." That it "has not happened has provided a glimmer of hope that some progress is possible in what have been contentious negotiations." Cohen "requested a news media blackout on the talks," and if that "remains the case, the first update on the talks could come Friday," when NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith is expected to address player agents at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. The union "has made that meeting mandatory for agents, an unusual move that underscores the importance of the information that will be shared" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/22).
HIGH SUCCESS RATE: The Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service conducts about 5,000 mediations a year and has a settlement rate of about 86%, according to an FMCS spokesperson. MLS last year settled its labor dispute with the MLSPU on March 20, five days after Cohen began overseeing the bargaining between the two sides. Some in the industry were heartened yesterday by the fact that the NFL and NFLPA were meeting for a fourth day and neither side was talking. But others took the fact that the two sides were meeting and not talking as merely smart public relations in the wake of the public agreement by the NFL and NFLPA to meet and not talk about it (Liz Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal). In L.A., Sam Farmer writes there is "always a chance the sides could strike a deal," but it is "more likely this is all cosmetic." Farmer: "No matter where they go from here, each side needs to show it negotiated in good faith and made its best effort to reach an agreement. What better way to do that than say, 'We locked ourselves in a room with these guys for a week and still couldn't work things out'" (L.A. TIMES, 2/22).
IT DON'T COME EASY: Colts DE Dwight Freeney guest hosted ESPN's "Jim Rome Is Burning" yesterday and discussed the labor situation. Freeney said, "I don't know what will come out of those talks, but that's a good step. All I can tell you is this: As players, all we really want is to just play football, and I'm just glad that our representatives and our owners are trying to find common ground. But I'd be lying to you if I said it's going to be easy." He added, "Above all, I hope that both sides can do what's best for the fans and that's to get back on the field. The owners want the games and we want to play the games. A deal will get done. I just hope it's sooner rather than later" ("Jim Rome Is Burning," ESPN, 2/21).
LABOR STRIFE IN THE TWITTER AGE: The N.Y. TIMES' Battista notes "dozens of players and agents ... have taken to Twitter during the NFL's labor strife, opining on everything from the court skirmish over how the NFL's television contracts were structured to the 18-game regular season to players having to pay for their own health insurance if the league imposes a lockout" when the CBA expires on March 4. The NFL's labor negotiations are the "first of a major sports league to be played out in the social media age, giving hundreds of players, dozens of agents, millions of fans and even a handful of owners the equivalent of a gigantic microphone to offer instant -- sometimes frustrated -- analysis of the once-cloaked minutiae of contentious negotiation." The "risks of unfettered communication were most evident even before the season ended" when Jets CB Antonio Cromartie "criticized with expletives negotiators from both the league and the union for not getting a deal done." That "drew rebukes from fellow players," including a tweet from Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck, "who has long been active in the union, questioning whether Cromartie knew what CBA meant." That raises the question: "Might Twitter create a problem maintaining cohesion among a diffuse and dispersed group of players in the face of a lockout?" The union offered a short list of talking points for players in a publication called the "NFLPA Guide to the Lockout," which included the following reminder: "In this modern world of media and social networking, know that the nature of comments you make on Facebook, Twitter and text are taken seriously by the public. One negative comment by a player can be detrimental to the negotiation process and confuse the public and media on the position of our players" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/22).
NHL fans, sponsors and owners "love the idea" of outdoor games and "everyone wants to host one," but the question remains whether that means "they should get one," according to Scott Burnside of ESPN.com. If the NHL "moves forward with this notion of flooding the marketplace with outdoor games, it will have done the nearly impossible -- sucking the pizzazz out of the Winter Classic and rendering it, dare we say, ordinary." The outdoor games "will all have a certain sameness and they will all become regional events." Sunday's Canadiens-Flames Heritage Classic "barely registered as an event" in the U.S. There was "no build-up like there was for the Winter Classic over the past three years," rather it was a "regional game between two Canadian teams." Burnside: "Nothing wrong with that, but the league better be careful what it wishes for." Meanwhile, Burnside wrote there is "something absolutely unique" about Minnesota's "fascination and connection to the game." The "beauty of having an NHL outdoor game in Minnesota is the league, USA Hockey and the NCAA would be able to put on a grand show that transcends the game itself" (ESPN.com, 2/21). In Montreal, Pat Hickey writes the "only thing classic" about the Heritage Classic was the "classic extremes in the weather." Hickey: "While conditions vary from arena to arena, the state of the playing surface at McMahon Stadium seriously undermined the credibility of the NHL. Hockey at this level should showcase speed and physical play, but the ice was so hard that it was difficult to maintain speed, particularly in the corners. And the bone-chilling cold meant players spent most of the game tiptoeing away from the opportunity to make big hits. This was a game between two teams battling for playoff berths, and they should have played under conditions that reflected the importance of the game" (Montreal GAZETTE, 2/22).
JUMPING ON THE BANDWAGON: In Calgary, John Dowd notes the WHL drew 20,888 fans yesterday for the Regina Pats-Calgary Hitmen game, the "first WHL game to be played outdoors in Canada." There is "little wonder" the WHL would like to "stage at least one outdoor game per season following Monday's smashing success at McMahon Stadium." WHL Commissioner Ron Robison: "We've had a number of inquiries from other centres in the league, and we had a couple of teams here today observing. Certainly there's a lot of interest, but it's a major undertaking and not necessarily something we can do on an annual basis, but we're certainly going to be looking at it more in the future. I think we have room for at least one. We'd like to be part of the NHL Heritage Classic festivities moving forward." Dowd notes the "first WHL outdoor game actually was staged in Spokane last month in front of a crowd of 7,525 when the Chiefs played host to the Kootenay Ice" (CALGARY HERALD, 2/22).
Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne "has declared to compete for the Nationwide Series championship" this season, though he "could choose to change and compete for" the Sprint Cup Series title, according to Bob Pockrass of SCENEDAILY.com. Bayne "had not planned to run the entire Cup season as he has only 17 races with sponsorship for Wood Brothers Racing," but "thanks to the win Sunday, the team already has said it would add Martinsville next month and would compete in at least the first seven races." Bayne is "unsponsored in Nationwide but has a commitment from Roush Fenway Racing to run every event." If Bayne decided to compete for the Sprint Cup title instead, RFR co-Owner Jack Roush "would have to approve the switch as Bayne is a Roush Fenway driver on loan to Wood Brothers for Cup races for 2011." If Bayne did switch, the Daytona 500 points are "not retroactive -- he would start this week with zero points." Bayne: "We knew this was a possibility. I don't think we knew it was as strong of a possibility, but we knew it was and we made that decision. And we still have to get sponsorship, too. That's a big part. If we get full-time sponsorship, then I'll really be kicking myself in the butt, but, for now, I think we're probably just sticking with what we planned" (SCENEDAILY.com, 2/21). NASCAR officials yesterday said that Bayne "would be allowed to change his mind." USA TODAY's Nate Ryan reports while the points Bayne earned from the Daytona 500 "wouldn't count, the victory would in determining his eligibility for the Chase for the Sprint Cup." Under a new format this season, the 12-driver Chase "will feature the top 10 in points and the two drivers ranked 11th to 20th with the most wins" (USA TODAY, 2/22).
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT: Wood Brothers Racing co-Owner Eddie Wood said the team's limited schedule "enables us to continue racing, but you need to be in all of them." Wood: "That's our goal to get back full time." In Tennessee, Andrew Gribble noted the Wood Brothers "haven't fielded a full cup schedule since 2008." Wood Brothers co-Owner Len Wood: "The price hasn't gone up. We're still the same guys that missed this race in 2008. We're trying to turn it around and hopefully we gained a little credibility yesterday. If something turns up, we're ready to go." Gribble noted Jamie McMurray, who won the '10 Daytona 500, "landed a sponsorship deal with McDonald's less than a week after the race to cover the 12 races he and his other sponsors hadn't budgeted for." But that deal was "in the works long before the 2010 season" (KNOXNEWS.com, 2/21). In L.A., Jim Peltz noted Bayne is "running only a limited schedule in the premier Sprint Cup Series this season and much of his success will depend on whether he gets a full-time Cup ride with stout race cars." If so, he would be a "race promoter's dream and could help NASCAR's effort to appeal to younger fans." The Hartford Courant's Shawn Courchesne wrote, "Even if Trevor Bayne is the next big thing, it's highly unlikely that fans will see that in 2011." But the Allentown Morning Call's Keith Groller wrote, "The Daytona win, and the PR-friendly way he handled it, should give him the perfect boost to secure the sponsors needed for more Sprint Cup starts this year" (LATIMES.com, 2/21).
STORYBOOK ENDING: FOXSPORTS.com's Rea White wrote in a week "filled with stirring stories, the energetic and charismatic young man took things to a new level." Bayne "captured the imagination of fans everywhere as he stormed to victory in what, at this point, is a part-time Cup effort." White: "Over the course of Speedweeks he has charmed a fan base just getting to know him and garnered the respect of a slate of NASCAR veterans" (FOXSPORTS.com, 2/21). In N.Y., Viv Bernstein writes, "NASCAR itself could not have scripted an ending to this year's Daytona 500 that would have put the Wood Brothers in victory lane on Sunday" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/22). ESPN's J.A. Adande said NASCAR is in a "similar quandary to golf in that you want big names up on the leaderboard or lead lap, but how are you going to get more big names if they don't win races or win events? So it's good that you have another major Daytona 500 winner in the mix" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 2/21). A Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL editorial states, "The wild, win-or-crash race also seems to have attracted some new fans to NASCAR -- or at least brought back some fans whose attention had wandered in the highly competitive professional sports market. ... In with the new, but preserve some of the old, too. That's a good strategy for NASCAR" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 2/22).
NOT NEEDED, BUT NICE TO HAVE: ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said NASCAR did not need Bayne, “a guy that nobody knew until the last 10 laps of the race, to win to be the best thing for NASCAR." Wilbon: "It could be a great thing going down the road if we look back and this is the start of something special. But there is a big enough constellation of stars in NASCAR ... that you don't need this kid to win." ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser noted the ratings for the race “were enormous,” as it “really beat” the NBA All-Star Game. But Wilbon noted that "those people did not tune in to see an unknown kid necessarily win the race" ("PTI," ESPN, 2/21).
The Izod IndyCar Series today will announce that it will "return to Las Vegas Motor Speedway this fall after a six-year hiatus," according to Jeff Wolf of the LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL. IndyCar officials and several drivers are expected to attend today's 11:00am PT news conference at Crystals in CityCenter "to announce details of a new race Oct. 16 at the speedway." The race will be the IndyCar Series' season finale and "part of a three-day event that will include the 15th annual Smith's 350k NASCAR Camping World Truck Series on Saturday night and the Las Vegas debut of IndyCar's developmental Firestone Lights Series on Sunday" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 2/22). Meanwhile, IndyCar officials yesterday revealed that the Indianapolis 500 on May 29 will start at noon ET. The race has started at 1:00pm since '06, when Indiana began observing Daylight Savings Time (IndyCar).
ALL IN THE FAMILY: In Indianapolis, Curt Cavin reported former IMS Corp. CEO Tony George's return to the Hulman & Co. BOD "was a compromise." George "wanted back in the mix, and members of the family that supported that thought that letting him back on the Hulman & Co. board was OK." The Hulman & Co. BOD reportedly "will decide who serves on the IMS Corp. board, and the thing to remember is that there is now three new non-family votes on the Hulman & Co. board." Cavin added, "That’s the part of last week’s change that most people skipped over. I find it interesting because Tony George always seemed against new voices in the family business until he was forced out. Now he supports it. How those men vote will be interesting. We’ll see if it changes the dynamics of the sport" (INDYSTAR.com, 2/21).
Though UFL officials said that they “remain convinced they have a sound business plan that can make the league a long-term success, it does appear 2011 could well be a make-or-break season for the league,” according to Henry Cordes of the Omaha WORLD-HERALD. The league said that the Omaha Nighthawks lost $7-8M last season, part of “total losses for the five-team league approaching” $50M. The UFL during the ’10 season had $6M “in unpaid bills league-wide, including some months-delayed paychecks to Nighthawks support staffers and more than $200,000 owed to the Omaha hotel that served as the team's home base.” Nighthawks coach Joe Moglia said that what “everyone needs to understand is that the UFL is a startup business,” and like any startup was “bound to face losses in early years as it laid its foundation.” He said that the UFL “right now lacks two things it ultimately needs to succeed.” The “biggest is a lucrative network TV contract.” Moglia said that the league also “needs more investors," something it has "not pushed hard enough for.” Cordes noted the "first sign of the league's financial troubles came in January when the Orlando-based Florida Tuskers closed up shop after a year of mediocre attendance.” Days later, Mavericks Owner and UFL investor Mark Cuban “sued the league over an unpaid $5 million loan.” UFL Commissioner Michael Huyghue said that “while ‘significant’ losses are expected again” this year, the league's investors are “committed to absorbing those costs to help the league become established.” The league is also “looking to cut costs, including a slight cut in team roster sizes.” A network TV contract “remains critical long-term, and the UFL may hold a wild card in its pursuit of one.” UFL Communications Dir Michael Preston said that the league is “currently in talks with major networks over rights to UFL games should the NFL not begin play as scheduled this fall” (Omaha WORLD-HERALD, 2/20).