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The eighth day of federally overseen mediation between the NFL and NFLPA commences today at 1:00pm ET in DC just 59 hours before the expiration of the CBA. The mediation is expected to continue tomorrow morning, before NFL execs depart for nearby Chantilly, Va., for an owners meeting. George Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service, will again oversee the talks. While the two sides met for over 40 hours over seven consecutive days ending last Thursday, it does not appear to have bridged the gap. Hovering over today's talks are reports the union plans to decertify before the CBA expires, and a possible decision from a federal court on the so-called lockout insurance case. The union is trying to prevent the league from cashing in media fees during a lockout. So far, owners have not participated in the talks, so if one or more attends today’s session that will be sure to garner attention. Barring a breakthrough or an extension of the deadline, the CBA expires at 11:59pm Thursday. It is unclear if the owners meeting that begins at 3:00pm tomorrow will stretch that far into the next day (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal).
SLIM CHANCE OF SETTLEMENT: In N.Y., Gary Myers writes the "chances of a settlement in the next three days are extremely remote." If there is "any sign of progress Tuesday, the sides can agree to stop the clock and continue to negotiate," but that "appears to be the best-case scenario" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/1). Also in N.Y., Judy Battista writes "not much movement is expected ... because seven days of mediated sessions produced no significant progress on the critical issues." But "neither side can afford to look as if it is not trying to get a deal done." There is a "chance the owners and the union could agree to push back the deadline for the expiration of the deal to give themselves more time to negotiate." The "real question is what happens if the union decertifies." The threat of decertification is "leverage for players," as owners "will have to decide whether to lock out anyway, which could expose them to antitrust lawsuits and damages." But the fans' hope that the owners "would impose work rules that would allow the games to go on while the issues are resolved in court over years -- as has happened in previous labor disputes -- may be dashed." Sources said that owners "did not want to pay players while players are suing them," which means NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell "could take a hard line and tell players that if they decertify, the league will simply shut down -- no games, no paychecks -- unless players withdraw any lawsuits alleging antitrust violations." League officials "have said repeatedly they will not use replacement players" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/1).
UNDERNEATH IT ALL: A Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW editorial stated, "Owners' equal sharing of TV revenue underpins on-field competitive balance. It's the real secret of the NFL's business success, attracting huge TV audiences that networks and advertisers pay so much to reach. Large-market teams' far greater ability to generate non-TV revenue, which isn't shared, threatens that balance and success." That is "increasingly tilting the NFL's level playing field against small-market teams," and Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones and his "large-market buddies would like to tilt it ever more in their favor." The editorial: "The real issue isn't players' slice of the NFL pie. It's whether owners will stick with the recipe that makes that pie so massive" (Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 2/28).
WHAT ARE THE ODDS? On Long Island, John Jeansonne reports experts "seriously doubt there will be a work stoppage lasting into September, and they generally put the odds of an NBA blackout in 2011-12 near 50-50, at the worst." Business is "too good in America's two most successful pro leagues -- for both owners and players." Former Eagles VP Susan Tose Spencer, who worked for the team during the '82 strike, said she is among those who believe NFL owners are "not stupid enough to eliminate the season." Spencer: "I don't think they're going to lose any games. With the games we lost (in '82), everybody lost." Univ. of Chicago economics professor Allen Sanderson: "The NBA has a lot to learn from watching the NFL line up this putt. How much fan backlash is there if things go south? ... I know I'd rather be going second in this situation" (NEWSDAY, 3/1). CNN.com's Chris Isidore reported a Standard & Poor's note issued yesterday indicates that some NFL teams "may be able to survive two years without any games being played." The "continued flow of money from television networks, sponsors and some customers during a possible lockout puts the owners in good position to weather a potential canceled season" (CNNMONEY.com, 2/28). But in Jacksonville, Gene Frenette wrote it is "hard to imagine owners and players being so stupid as to not resolve their differences." Frenette: "Nobody is going to feel sorry for an NFL that chokes on its own greed" (JACKSONVILLE.com, 2/28).
NBA Deputy Commissioner & COO Adam Silver said that the league "needs to do more to help small-market teams ... compete with franchises in larger markets," and that it is a "management goal as it embarks on a new collective bargaining agreement with players," according to Allan Brettman of the Portland OREGONIAN. Silver: "We're trying to formulate a new agreement that will allow teams like Portland -- smaller markets in the league -- to have an opportunity to be both profitable and competitive on the court." In addition to "fixing what Silver described as a 'broken economic model,' the league wants to assure that small market teams ... can compete with the appeal of players moving to larger market cities." Silver said, "I don't think we want a system where players are necessarily locked into place for their entire careers, because movement is good, for the players and the teams." But Silver added Heat F LeBron James leaving the Cavaliers as a free agent was the "worst possible situation." Silver: "Whether there should be compensation for that team or they should have had other benefits to offer (James) to get him to stay ... are things we need to look at" (OREGONIAN.com, 2/25). Pacers Owner Herb Simon said, "I'm a little concerned about the gravitation away from the smaller teams. ... We need to even the playing field and do something about the disparity in revenues. It shouldn't be only the large markets who win championships." In Indianapolis, Bob Kravitz wrote, "What we're seeing is the AAU-ization of the NBA, with the top players wanting to join other stars to form super-teams." There "needs to be either a hard salary cap ... or the ability to apply an NFL-like franchise tag on top players" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 2/28).
OMINOUS SIGNS: In Boston, Mark Murphy reported players "departed All-Star weekend without much hope -- either from their own representatives or those in commissioner David Stern's army of lawyers -- that disaster is going to be averted next fall." NBA owners "seem committed to shutting down after the CBA expires at season's end." Celtics G Ray Allen is "rightly worried that based on perception, the players will shoulder part of the blame" for a lockout, "even if they cave in and owners still follow through with their threats." Allen: "A lot of people around the world don’t understand that we want to play, and it’s the owners who aren’t particularly happy with what’s going on. They want to change the business model. But we want to keep it going on, because we don’t want to lose the momentum we have. The league isn’t in a good place right now" (BOSTON HERALD, 2/27). The AP's Jim Litke wrote the NBA "hasn't been this entertaining in a while." Litke: "Hustle is in, the East is no longer the junior varsity, and players from top to bottom are putting on such a good show that most nights you'd swear everyone on the floor is angling for a new contract." With four months to go "on the owners' threat to lock them out and kiss off next season," the players are "taking their case to the public" (AP, 2/28).
DOES STATUS QUO WORK? In Orlando, Mike Bianchi wondered why fans in "non-glamour markets" should "even bother rooting for teams or going to games when they know they have little chance of keeping their star players and winning championships." Bianchi: "If this is what Commissioner David Stern and the NBA wants -- a few power teams in a few major markets -- then they should just contract the rest of the league and put Cleveland, Milwaukee, Sacramento, etc. out of their misery. Otherwise, the league needs to adopt an NFL-type franchise tag and/or a hard salary cap so mid-major teams can keep their star players and compete on a level playing field." The league "may like the short-term buzz it is getting from superstar players moving to major markets, but it will reach a point long-term where fans in the smaller markets will abandon their teams, stop buying tickets, quit watching the NBA and find something more productive to do with their time and money" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 2/26). But on Long Island, Barbara Baker wrote "superstar players are not wrecking the league," rather they are "generating more widespread interest than the NBA has seen in years." While some observers at the All-Star Game were "wringing their hands over the game's demise, the game itself drew its highest rating" since '03, up 37% over last year. The Heat-Celtics season opener also was the "most-watched NBA regular-season game in history." Baker: "The truth is that fans really don't like parity as much as they like good basketball or a good storyline. And right now, the NBA has plenty of both" (NEWSDAY, 2/27). In Toronto, Dave Perkins wrote, "Judging by soaring NBA television ratings, fans like watching superteams. They're surely tuning in to do it." Stern "need look no further than" MLB, which "has never been healthier financially." MLB "has been riding a good long upward swell and the main reason for it is that the New York Yankees got good again." The freedom for NBA stars to "map their common destiny is something the owners ... absolutely hate." Perkins wrote, "If sponsors, networks and big-market fans are happy, will the league really remake itself to gladden customers and proprietors in a few grumpy outposts? Maybe it will. But unless there's a mass exodus of customers from half the league's cities, we shouldn't hold our breath waiting" (TORONTO STAR, 2/26).
Some questioning why Hornets were able
to add to payroll with Landry trade
CONTRACTION A POSSIBILITY? TRUEHOOP's Henry Abbott wrote Stern's "rhetoric about the Hornets has become fascinating and, if you're a Hornets [fan], maybe a little scary." Stern has "dipped into the NBA owners' pockets specifically in an effort to keep the team in the Crescent City," but that "does not mean that team is not, simultaneously, a pawn in various bigger games." Abbott wrote if the NBA's "rich teams are going to be forking over big dollars in revenue sharing" under a new CBA, there is a "ton of value for everyone in eliminating the teams that will collect the most." It "could also be powerful to threaten the players with contraction." Abbott: "Basically, if they're going to insist on a big percentage of the league's basketball revenues, the league can threaten to reduce player income the old-fashioned way: by eliminating jobs." Stern's "main point has always been that the league would try to make it work in New Orleans." But Stern in comments suggested that the NBA "has enough teams to serve the current market." Abbott: "He could have done wonders for the mood of Hornets fans by saying he would not consider shutting the team down. He did the opposite" (ESPN.com, 2/25).
Don Garber is entering his 12th full season as MLS Commissioner, and he may have "more influence on the fate of the global game in its final frontier than any other American," according to Brian Straus of FANHOUSE.com. As MLS "continues to grow, with 18 teams planning to play this year and a 19th coming aboard in 2012, there are no signs his influence is on the wane." Garber last week chatted with Straus for an extensive interview, excerpts of which are below:
Q: It seems like ESPN, which does so much to shape the opinions of sports fans in this country, continues to give the league short shrift in its promotion and on SportsCenter. I know you ask them for more. What do they say in response?
Garber: They say SportsCenter is independent of the programming group and its value to the sports industry is its role in shaping opinion about sports. And it's done that earning the respect of sports fans and media for almost a generation. As such, we need to earn a position of editorial support. I believe we have earned a lot more than we've been getting from ESPN. ... The decisions that are made there (SportsCenter) are not made by John Skipper. This sport can't have a bigger supporter and stronger cheerleader than John Skipper. They're made by editorial guys who are looking at video, the coordinating producer, who's making a decision.
Q: In terms of creating a soccer nation, obviously the World Cup bid occupied a lot of your energy, your time, perhaps resources. First, how much did the bid, the whole process, cost the league and SUM?
Garber: Millions of dollars. Many many millions of dollars in financial support, resources, the time commitment. ... But I'd do the same thing again, and maybe we would have provided more. I don't regret anything that we've done, whether it was the financial contributions that we made, whether it was the office space we provided, the time our staff spent.
Q: Your name is attached to pretty much everything MLS does, and a lot of writers and fans seem to believe that you are the driving force behind every decision made. ... You're not an investor in this league, so it's hard for me to imagine that you have more say than Phil Anschutz, Stan Kroenke and the guys with the money. How does it work?
Garber: I'm the public face of the league. It's hard to have 18 individual people be the public face of the league collectively. ... Major League Soccer is a corporation. It's an LLC. So while the league operates no differently than any other league, for the most part, I'm the CEO of the company and I answer to a board of directors. That's no different than Roger Goodell, or Gary Bettman or David Stern, who answer to their board of governors (AOLNEWS.com, 2/25).
In Philadelphia, Paul Domowitch notes NFL owners have "made no promises to Indianapolis" in the event that Super Bowl XLVI gets canceled due to a season-long lockout. With the '13 and '14 Super Bowls already awarded, the "earliest Indy could be awarded another one" is '15. Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee President & CEO Allison Melangton said, "We haven't had that discussion with the NFL. But they've been great partners in the 5 years I've been working with them, and I know that we will be treated fairly." Still, Domowitch writes considering the "financial investment the city of Indianapolis and the state of Indiana have made in Super Bowl XLVI, the NFL almost certainly could expect to be sued if the Super Bowl is canceled" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 3/1).
QUICK OFF THE STARTING LINE: The AP's Jenna Fryer wrote NASCAR "could not have dreamed a better opening two weeks to the season -- the youngest winner in Daytona 500 history followed by the end of elder statesman Jeff Gordon's 66-race losing streak." The competition "has been stellar, with the first two races boasting record lead changes." In addition, Sunday's Sprint Cup Series Fresh Fit 500 sold out at Phoenix Int'l Raceway and "overnight ratings from Sunday show Fox has drawn more viewers both weeks." Fryer added, "More important, though, is the buzz since 20-year-old Trevor Bayne's upset Feb. 20 to win the showcase race" (AP, 2/28).
PRIVATE EYES: In London, Sylt & Reid reported F1 has "paid down a large tranche of the $2.8bn debt used by private equity firm CVC to buy the motor racing franchise in 2006." CVC reportedly "took advantage of the dip in interest rates in the economic downturn to begin repaying debt." CVC owns a 63.4% stake in Delta Topco, F1's commercial rights-holder, and it "financed its leveraged buyout in 2006 with $550m of debt from Lehman Brothers and $2.3bn believed to have come from Royal Bank of Scotland." Delta Topco in '09 "made interest payments of around $157.5m" (London TELEGRAPH, 2/27).