SBD/April 22, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

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  • NFL Lockout Watch, Day 42: League Rejects Law Firm's Request To Rep Group Of Players

    The NFL "has rejected a law firm's request for a conflict-of-interest waiver to represent a group of players seeking to join the antitrust fight against the league," according to Dave Campbell of the AP. NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello Thursday said that the league "notified the firm of the denial." The firm was identified as Indianapolis-based Barnes & Thornburg. Aiello said that it "would be inappropriate to allow the firm to work with players in a claim against the NFL while one of its partners represents the league in music licensing for shows on NFL Network and NFL Films" (AP, 4/21). NFL VP/Communications Brian McCarthy said in an e-mail statement, "We notified the law firm that while we do not know the specifics of the claims that would be asserted or the players who would be involved, we cannot consent to the firm's request to grant a waiver. As a matter of policy, we do not believe it is appropriate to consent to firms bringing suit against the NFL while simultaneously representing league entities even on unrelated matters." The disclosure that the firm has been seeking to represent more than 70 players in the antitrust action has sent tremors through the sport, already awaiting a ruling from Judge Susan Nelson on whether she will move to lift the six-week-old lockout. Nine NFL players and draft prospect Von Miller are named plaintiffs in Brady v. NFL, which seeks to lift the lockout and end free agency restrictions. The issue the law firm was addressing is whether every NFL player is represented by the interests of that class, and the firm was seeking to have a seat at the table in discussions of a new deal. Barnes & Thornburg is known in sports for representing the Hamburg, Germany, tennis tournament in its lawsuit against the ATP for antitrust violation, but it has almost no role in football. The music licensing work for NFL Network and NFL Films was only added recently with the hire of a new partner in L.A. who brought the business with him (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal).

    DISGRUNTLED PLAYERS NOT COMING FORWARD: In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch notes so far, "none of the 70 reportedly disgruntled players has stepped forward to publicly proclaim their displeasure with the 10 members ... representing the union in the ongoing antitrust case against the owners." Seahawks G Chester Pitts Thursday on Twitter speculated that the "reason for that is simple." Pitts: "They don't exist" (N.Y. POST, 4/22). Jaguars LB Kirk Morrison said the report that mid-level players were trying to get a seat at the bargaining table was "all rumor" ("Jim Rome Is Burning," ESPN, 4/21). 

    COURT REPORT: The NFLPA is seeking damages in the so-called lockout insurance case from the NFL that could approach and possibly exceed $1B, the league disclosed in legal papers Thursday. Federal Judge David Doty ruled on March 1 that the NFL violated the CBA by negotiating provisions into its $4B of broadcast deals requiring payments in a lockout, finding the league had undersold the contracts. He has set a May 12 damages hearing, and the NFLPA laid out its case for damages late last month, but the financial request was redacted. Most of the numbers were also redacted in the NFL's brief, but the league did write the NFLPA is seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in compensatory damages, plus punitive damages. In its brief, the NFLPA said it would seek punitive damages of three times the compensatory amount. The NFL contended in its brief that the NFLPA deserves no damages because it did not ask for them previously and because the union decertified. "To be sure the NFL does not agree that the NFLPA has abandoned collective bargaining," the league wrote. "But the NFLPA may not seek a remedy here to bolster or restore its leverage in collective bargaining while simultaneously arguing that as a result of its purported disclaimer, it is no longer engaged in collective bargaining and will not do so in the future." The league also disclosed that the damages of $6.9M assessed by the special master in his February decision has already been paid. Judge Doty overturned the special master's decision, finding wide-ranging violation of the CBA instead of the narrow example the special master found. The NFL brief relied heavily on the special master's finding, so it is unclear if the filing will sway Doty, who largely rejected those findings in his March 1 ruling. The NFLPA also wants the judge to force the league to put the media payments into an escrow account that cannot be tapped until after the lockout ends (Kaplan).

    WIGGLE ROOM: ESPN.com's Adam Schefter reported the recently released NFL schedule "leaves open the possibility that there could be no games the first three scheduled weeks and all 16 regular-season games could still be played." Every game in Week 3 "has teams which share the same bye week later in the season," which means the teams "could make up that week's games on what was originally scheduled to be their bye." The NFL also "could lose the week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl, and has secured hotel rooms in Indianapolis -- site of the Super Bowl XLVI -- for two weeks." That means the league "could start the season as late as Oct. 2, 2011 and still finish the Super Bowl by Feb. 12, 2012" (ESPN.com, 4/21).

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  • Stern Trumpets NBA Season Before Mentioning Possibility Of A Lockout

    Silver, Stern reiterate only eight NBA teams will make money this season

    NBA Commissioner David Stern on Thursday "rattled off all the reasons to believe his $4-billion business has performed well in the past season," before adding the "necessary disclaimer to explain why the NBA might be headed for a lockout" when its CBA expires at the end of June, according to Greg Logan of NEWSDAY. Stern reiterated that the league is "projecting a profit-loss record of 8-22 by the league's 30 franchises." He said, "Despite how good things are, we still are likely to finish having lost collectively in the neighborhood of $300 million, which is better than the $370 million we lost two years ago and the $340 million we lost last year. We're happy with that, but we remain intent on having a system that allows us to have a sustainable business model." NBA Deputy Commissioner & COO Adam Silver said reports of the NBA aiming to cut player salaries by one-third are "generally accurate in a macro sense." Logan notes you "almost could hear the drums of labor war beating when Silver compared the situation to the NHL's loss of the entire 2004-05 season to achieve a 25 percent salary rollback." But Stern "wasn't quite prepared to threaten a season-long shutdown." He said, "We would never be at that point. We don't expect to get there, but a lockout is not a punishment. It's an economic weapon (to) make a deal" (NEWSDAY, 4/22). Stern added, "We'd like to be rolling right along, but we're looking for a CBA that gives the owners a return on their investment." However, he did say there is an "opportunity to do that and make a deal with the players." Stern: "We've committed to each other to give it our best shot, and we will. We have over 2 months. I don't think it distracts from the playoffs, but it's there" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 4/22).

    THROWING THE FLAG? In N.Y., Stefan Bondy notes with NBA referees "again under heavy criticism for their officiating during the playoffs," Stern on Thursday hinted that the league "may adopt new rules for disputed calls, including NFL-style challenges." Stern: "Eventually, you may have someone sitting at a desk rather than having a discussion of three referees every time there's a disputed play. We might have one person whose job it is to keep the headphones on and always watch. And you might let a coach throw the flag in the last two minutes. We're striving for accuracy. We have to find a way to speed the game up, and to get it right. That's the most important" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/22). ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst noted Stern "doesn't think replay expansion will be in place by next season." But the commissioner "thinks the technology, and perhaps even the challenge flags, are coming." Stern: "Do we stop the game every time? I don't think so, but there are going to be improvements made over the course of time that are going to eliminate a lot of the controversy" (ESPN.com, 4/21).

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  • Richie May Be Right Pick As WNBA President, But Did League Wait Too Long?

    Writer feels WNBA missed opportunity
    with timing of Laurel Richie announcement
    The WNBA's introduction of new President Laurel Richie on Thursday was a "missed opportunity" for the league, which made the announcement "two weeks AFTER the women's Final Four (held at a WNBA arena) and a week AFTER the WNBA draft," according to Mechelle Voepel of ESPN.com. Donna Orender announced in early December that she was stepping down as WNBA President, and if the league "wanted to help its new president meet, all in the same place, a lot of people who cover and follow women's basketball, it would have had a timeline that put a president in place before the women's Final Four and the WNBA draft." Three months "should be enough time to interview and vet candidates, make a decision, give the final selection time to decide, and then announce it." But for Richie, the WNBA "waited until a week after its draft -- missing television time for the new president to both announce picks and be interviewed about her job/philosophy in front of the very audience that is most interested in her product -- to make the announcement." In addition, the league's official release on Richie sent out Thursday morning "did not say where she is from originally, how old she is or whether she ever played organized sports -- let alone get into her reasons for being interested in this job." Voepel noted the WNBA president "needs to work with the players and coaches to continue to improve the product," and with the "fans and management of individual teams to make sure the needs of the former are being met by the latter." For Richie's near future, "that means seeing all 12 teams in person and observing how things are handled by each franchise." Richie has "marketed a lot of different products and ideas in her career," but she also "needs to try to forge real connection to the consumer and develop an understanding of the media/websites that actually cover this sport on a regular basis" (ESPN.com, 4/21).

    THE RIGHT PICK: SLAMONLINE.com's Ben York wrote the NBA and David Stern "took their time in finding a replacement for Donna Orender, and they got it 100% right." The WNBA is entering its 15th season, and it has a "realistic opportunity to truly prosper and thrive but it needs a solid foundation and developmental plan to get there." York: "Richie’s success both in the for-profit and non-profit world correlate perfectly with the WNBA and its core values." With Richie’s success as Senior VP & CMO of the Girl Scouts of America and "through altruistic passions such as her time with Big Brothers Big Sisters, it seems there is a deep appreciation for reaching children at a young age and inspiring success." The WNBA needs to "grow the game at a younger level and the connection Richie has with the Girl Scouts shows an innate desire to impact young women early on." Meanwhile, York noted Richie does not have a basketball background, but Stern did not either when he became NBA Commissioner in '84, and "look how much the NBA has grown since the time he took over" (SLAMONLINE.com, 4/21). ESPNW.com's Michelle Smith wrote Richie's background with the Girl Scouts "provides a template for selling the concept of the empowerment and capabilities of young women," while her experience with Big Brothers/Big Sisters "will give her perspective on the power of the grassroots experience" (ESPNW.com, 4/21).

    WILL HER SKILLS TRANSLATE? AD AGE's Rich Thomaselli noted Richie is credited for moving the Girl Scouts "away from its cookies, craft and camping reputation" by rebranding the organization as being "more forward thinking, including activities such as robotics, fashion design, space camps and more." She also spent more than 20 years at Ogilvy & Mather, but whether her "marketing and brand management skills translate to the WNBA remains to be seen." The most recent agency exec to "make the move to running a league did not have a happy ending." Carolyn Bivens in '05 stepped down as President & COO of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative Media North America to become LPGA Commissioner, and "her tenure was marked by controversy" (ADAGE.com, 4/21).

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  • League Notes

    MLB Commissioner Bud Selig on Thursday said that the playoffs "could expand to 10 teams as early as next season." Selig: "Moving toward expanding the playoffs. I think 10 is a fine number ... 10 out of 30 is good. Maybe as soon as next season." Selig did not "go into details on how the two extra wild-cards would factor in" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 4/22). Selig said, "I would say we're moving to expanding the playoffs, but there's a myriad of details to work out." MLB.com's Barry Bloom noted the issue "must be determined in collective bargaining with the Players Association, which has to agree on adding the games and how it fits into an already tight schedule" (MLB.com, 4/21). In Boston, Scott Lauber notes if expansion occurs, a "new wild card round likely would be introduced, with two wild card teams playing for the right to advance to face a division winner" (BOSTON HERALD, 4/22).

    PICKING APPLES: MLS President Mark Abbott said that the league "believes New York is a soccer market and is committed to putting the next expansion franchise in Queens if a deal can be reached to build a soccer-only stadium." Abbott said, "The market is large enough and diverse enough to support two teams. Geographically, we think a team on the New York side could prosper, and the Red Bulls agree it could help them" (NEWSDAY, 4/22). In Newark, Michael Fensom noted MLS and the Red Bulls both "feel a second team in the area would form a natural rivalry" (NJ.com, 4/21).

    UFL IN TROUBLE: In Las Vegas, Steve Carp reports while the NFL prepares for next week's Draft amid questions about the '11 season, the UFL is "moving forward with plans for its third season, even though it, too, is dealing with uncertainties." The league "still has no TV contract," and expansion plans "are in limbo, so the schedule can't be finalized." Additionally, the league is "still paying off creditors; about $100,000 in debt is tied to the two-time champion Las Vegas Locomotives." UFL Commissioner Michael Huyghue: "It doesn't change our position. We're still committed to play in 2011." He added that the NFL lockout "has hampered the UFL's attempt to lock up a TV deal, which also is tying up its game schedule" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 4/22).

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