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The three major sports unions filed friend of the court briefs on behalf of the 10 players suing the NFL, contending that if the league lockout were allowed to stay, it would imperil labor relations in all sports. The NHLPA, NBPA and MLBPA filed the 40-page brief Friday. “The resolution of these issues may affect employer-employee relations not only in the National Football League, but also in MLB, the NHL, and the NBA,” the unions wrote. The amici filing Friday was quickly followed by the players' own brief, a 125-page document seeking to persuade the two judges who had voted last week to stay a lower court's injunction of the lockout, strongly suggesting they believed the NFL’s case that the dispute was still largely a labor one, and not an antitrust case. If that is true, not only would the lockout remain in place, but also the player’s antitrust case might be dismissed. Calling the NFL a cartel, the players contended, “The NFL’s view of labor policy is premised on its belief that the right of the majority of a workforce to change or remove a union is unavailable once the union engages in collective bargaining.” When the NFLPA decertified on March 11, the players contended that removed the antitrust exemption for the league. The league argues the exemption lasts a certain period past the end of the collective bargaining process. Without the exemption, the lockout would almost certainly be an antitrust violation. The NFL’s reply to the players is due Thursday, and oral arguments are set for next Friday before the three judge panel (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal). In Friday's filing, the players reiterated that the "decision to dissolve their union was their lawful right, and the absence of a collective bargaining agreement shouldn't stop the NFL's ability to 'conduct professional football'" (AP, 5/20).
CLOCK IS TICKING: USA TODAY's Nate Davis notes while NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said that there is "no timetable under which games would be lost, barring resumption of talks between the owners and players toward a collective bargaining agreement, the window is growing perilously small." Teams playing in the annual HOF Game "typically report to camp roughly two weeks beforehand, around July 24 this year." In addition, the "shrinking offseason could become a concern for players -- especially those trying to rehabilitate from injuries to be physically prepared to avoid future ailments amid the rigors of the season" (USA TODAY, 5/23). SI.com's Peter King writes he does not expect U.S. District Court Judge David Doty's ruling on damages in the TV rights case "to sway the case enough to force the two sides to negotiate." King: "I don't expect anything to happen until the three-judge appeals panel rules whether the NFL can continue to lock out the players, and by all accounts, that decision won't come until late June, at the earliest" (SI.com, 5/23). ESPN's Adam Schefter said, "There seems to be an increasing amount of gloom and I think it's a real chance that we could wind up missing the start of the season" ("NFL Live," ESPN, 5/20). In Nashville, Joe Biddle wrote both owners and players are "guilty of allowing this work stoppage to happen, and neither will admit it." Biddle: "When I watch television clips of both parties walking into mediation sessions, I lose faith that anything will be settled until late summer at best. ... If you think these guys are itching to go above and beyond the call of duty to settle this labor issue, guess again" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 5/21).
PUSHING FORWARD: SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Kaplan cites sources as saying that the NFL is "planning an expansive marketing and promotional initiative for its 2011 kickoff game and opening weekend contests that fall on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11." The league is "scheduled to brief owners on the plans" tomorrow at the spring meetings in Indianapolis. Sources declined to "divulge details of the rollout other than that the effort would be sizable and involve a variety of communication mediums." Owners this week also "will get a briefing from the league office on how teams are handling customer relations during the lockout." The NFL's club services group is "set to present on the practices clubs are employing to assuage ticket holders, fans, sponsors and other over the work stoppage" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 5/23 issue). Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Tony Grossi reports the lockout "will not affect" the Pro Football HOF enshrinement ceremonies this year. The Class of '11 induction "will take place on the night of Aug. 6 inside Fawcett Stadium no matter what federal judges say" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 5/23).
NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter threw doubts on any optimism that the NBA could avoid a lockout when the CBA expires on June 30, saying the recent counter-proposal the league offered the players was worse than the previous proposal and one the players could not accept. “While the media portrays the negotiations to be very amicable, I think the impression is that there is movement occurring,” Hunter said in a speech before the Sports Lawyers Association on Saturday. “Let me go on the record and say there has not been any movement.” Hunter said that the players believed the first proposal from the NBA given to them in writing around the time of the ‘10 All-Star Game was “draconian” and “shocking.” Hunter said the owners presented the players with a new proposal three weeks ago. “Let me say for the record that the proposal that we got was a regressive proposal,” he said of the NBA’s recent proposal. “We thought the first proposal was bad and we got the second one, and it included even more demands that we considered to be more repressive than the original proposal.” Hunter noted that the players are willing to negotiate and want to make a deal before the expiration of the CBA. But he said that he would not do a bad deal for players. Hunter: “What I have promised is that I would not accept a bad deal and I would not do a bad deal. And if it means we have to be confronted with a lockout, then, you know, I am ready for a lockout.” He added, “Time to time, I have been quoted in the paper saying if our choice is to accept a deal that the NBA and the owners have presented to us or opt for the lockout, then I say give me the lockout. Because I guess it is my belief is that the only way … for us to have progress is we have to take the gloves off and feel the blows that are being thrown.” Hunter added that a lockout would be “devastating” and added that it took the league at least six years to recover from the ‘98-99 NBA lockout.
MEETINGS HAPPENING FREQUENTLY: NBA Exec VP and general counsel Rick Buchanan said league and union negotiators have been meeting frequently on collective bargaining and will continue to do so with about 40 days left until the NBA CBA expires. “The throttle is down,” Buchanan said Saturday at the same conference Hunter attended. “We are meeting frequently with the union, both in small groups and with our larger labor committees. We have every intention of trying to reach an agreement.” Buchanan said although NBA revenues are up, so are costs, and collectively NBA teams have suffered “substantial losses” over the last five years and will continue to do so without a new CBA. “What our goals are in collective bargaining is to develop a system that allows teams in the NBA an opportunity to make a profit and allows all 30 teams the chance to compete for a championship,” Buchanan said. “That’s what we want” (Liz Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal).
SAY IT ISN'T SO: In Detroit, Vincent Goodwill writes an "extended lockout would be catastrophic to the league's future." TV ratings are "up across the board for this postseason, matched only by its drama and unpredictability." The Lakers and Celtics, last year's NBA finalists, "are missed, but contrary to what some feel, new blood, along with ready and able challengers, are keeping everyone interested." Bulls G Derrick Rose and Thunder F Kevin Durant are the "new, fresh and likeable faces of the league." Goodwill: "A riveting finish is in store, but if a lockout occurs, all of the league's positive momentum will cease. And unlike their counterparts in the NFL, the NBA won't have the benefit of goodwill from the fans -- at least not as long of a leash they're giving the NFL" (DETNEWS.com, 5/21). T'Wolves Owner Glen Taylor, Chair of the NBA BOG, said, "I would just tell you we're meeting with the union every week and I'm real positive. We've had nice, good meetings, but there's still a long way to go" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 5/23).
The NHL is expected to post record revenues of "very close to $3 billion" for the '10-11 season, an increase of more than $200M from the previous season, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in a speech before the annual Sports Lawyers Association conference in DC on Saturday. "Business is generally good in the National Hockey League," Daly told an audience of about 500 sports lawyers. "Attendance is up. Ratings on all of our national platforms ... we're all up." He added, "In particular, we had a record year in terms of views and households. ... It looks like we are looking at another significant increase in league-wide revenue," Daly said. "Obviously, because of the HRR [Hockey Related Revenue] growth, we are projecting for this year, it appears as if our salary cap will be going up again," Daly said. The salary cap was $59.4M per team this past season and Daly projected it could be $60.5-63.5M for the '11-12 season. The actual salary cap for next season will be set at the end of June, prior to the start of free agency, Daly said. Since the new NHL CBA that ended the '04-05 lockout was signed, annual league-wide revenues have grown by about $750-800M to nearly $3B, Daly said. League-wide revenues were at about $2.7B last year. During the same time period, the NHL club salary caps have grown by more than $20M per club after starting at what Daly conceded was likely an "artificially low" $39M per club for the '05-06 season. The CBA expires in September '12 (Liz Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal).
FACELESS LEAGUE: ESPN's John Saunders noted the NHL "is probably having as great a playoffs as they have had in years," but the league does not "push their stars." Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom said, "This is an age old problem with hockey. ... The predominate thinking in hockey is you're supposed to be one of the guys. … The mentality is if you're really a superstar, you're humble. That's good in the locker room. Not great for marketing, and they've always had that problem in hockey." ESPN's Len Elmore said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is a protégé of the NBA and "he needs to take that playbook and take a look at how you develop these individual guys." Elmore: "You've got to develop better storylines" ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN, 5/22).
NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France “isn't bothered by seeing contact and conflict on the race track, suggesting it's part of the sport's history, but he wants to make sure it doesn't go too far,” according to Ron Green Jr. of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. France: "We have said we can over-officiate and over-regulate in some circumstances over a 60-year period of time.” He added, “You can't go around with a missile and a weapon out there. But if you're having contact, that's part of NASCAR. ... We're going to remain a contact sport with the basic philosophy that we're putting more in the drivers' hands. If they go over a line we think is there, we'll deal with that." Meanwhile, France said that he is “open to the idea of shortening some races if tracks, television and fans want that, and he expects attendance to be up for both” the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race and Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway over last year. France: "We have shortened races over the five or six years, we've shortened several including some Nationwide series. Yeah, I think we would be open to that. If it works [for] the tracks, if it works for our network partners and obviously if the fan base wants that, that will be something that will be case by case." He said of the use of split-screen advertising on future telecasts, "It's not a brand-new concept. It was tried a decade or two ago with mixed reviews. If it enhances the viewing experience and works for the advertisers, we're all open to that” (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 5/21). In Charlotte, Jim Utter noted NASCAR drivers “would love to know what every ramification is for every action so they could measure their retaliation against other drivers.” But that is “exactly what NASCAR does not want" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 5/21).
BOYS HAVE AT IT: France on Friday said NASCAR has every intention of leaving things "in the drivers’ hands,” and YAHOO SPORTS’ Jay Hart asked, “Why wouldn’t he?” The competition “is tight, TV ratings are slightly up and after a few seasons on the slide, NASCAR appears to be on the come again.” France for the “first time in years” was “left to talk about the positives of the sport, rather than defending its shortcomings.” Meanwhile, Hart noted having Dale Earnhardt Jr., the sport’s “biggest star," being "competitive makes everything more interesting.” Hart: “Earnhardt running well begets TV ratings going up (which they have) which begets NASCAR becoming more attractive to networks which begets racing readily available on TV, and that benefits everyone” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 5/20).
FOXSPORTS.com's Jon Paul Morosi notes MLB interleague play “has long had its critics,” but it can be “a useful tool in realigning the sport.” Fans “like interleague play.” Morosi: “Of equal importance, they will pay to watch it. What more evidence should the game’s guardians need?” (FOXSPORTS.com, 5/23). But in Pittsburgh, Guy Junker writes under the header, “Interleague Play Is Getting Boring.” Junker: “Most fans I talk to can take it or leave it and would be more interested in it if the schedule was more balanced with more visits from teams like the Yankees and Red Sox than once or twice every 14 years” (Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 5/23).
GROWING INTEREST: In New York, Derrick Ek noted there “have been ongoing discussions between local officials and LPGA executives in recent months about a possible return of the Corning Classic, and both sides say they’re optimistic it will happen -- although not in 2012.” Former Classic President Jack Benjamin said that the economy “hasn’t quite recovered enough yet to line up adequate sponsorship.” But he added that there “have been talks with former Classic title sponsor Corning Inc., as well as other potential sponsors.” LPGA Chief Communications Officer David Higdon said Commissioner Michael Whan and current tour management are “extremely interested” in returning to the area (CORNING LEADER, 5/22).
WINTER CLASSIC AT WEST POINT? In New Jersey, Tom Gulitti wrote Army’s Michie Stadium should be a site for the NHL’s Winter Classic. The facility is “located an hour-plus drive north from Manhattan at West Point, N.Y.,” and would “provide plenty of history and scenery plus an opportunity to honor those who serve in our military.” With Yankee Stadium “unavailable at least until 2014 because of the Pinstripe Bowl, Michie would give the NHL a controversy-free way to get New York as the home market and keep the Bronx alive as a potential future Winter Classic site” (Bergen RECORD, 5/21).
FROM START TO FINISH: The BBC's Andrew Benson noted F1 Management Chair Bernie Ecclestone is “considering moving the inaugural Indian Grand Prix to the end of the season to make room for Bahrain,” which had its season-opening date in March cancelled due to political unrest in the island nation. One option is "to move India from its 30 October date to 4 December, a week after the current final race in Brazil, and put Bahrain on India's date.” Ecclestone said, "I'm not sure at the moment what I'm going to do. Everything's up in the air. I haven't decided. We'll see if we have to go to Bahrain" (BBC.co.uk, 5/20).