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The NBPA is "expected to make a new offer to the owners" during today's collective bargaining session in N.Y., but "no matter how much money the players offer to sacrifice when the sides reconvene Tuesday, there is no way it'll be anywhere close to the number the owners are seeking," according to Chris Sheridan of ESPN.com. What continues to be the "biggest divide between the sides is how to split up the money, with the owners still seeking a reduction of approximately $750 million, phased in over four years, from the $2.1 billion in player salaries they doled out last season." The players are "willing to sacrifice some money, but not that much money." A source said, "The owners are asking for a give that puts them in a place where they've never been, which is guaranteed profitability. The biggest problem is that it is unreasonable for owners to even ask for $400 million when they say they are losing $300 million, and thus far they are nowhere near lowering their demands down to the $400 million range. So it's a question of when will they get to a number that is reasonable?" NBA Commissioner David Stern indicated that today's negotiating session is the "most important" yet, but Sheridan wrote it is "not the time for the union to show its entire hand." It is a "time for the players to give the owners a peek at the direction where they'd like this negotiation to move, but not much more." Sheridan: "If you are looking to measure progress Tuesday, look for it in the measure of disdain Stern exudes when he makes his public comments afterward. If he is off the charts in terms of contempt, that will be a bad thing. But if he comes out and concedes that this negotiation is still salvageable, that'll be the most important thing he says" (ESPN.com, 6/20). Regardless of how today's negotiations progress, both sides "might be reluctant to call off the talks entirely, especially since that would overshadow Thursday night's draft." The "best news then might be if they end the meeting by deciding to have another" (AP, 6/20).
A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN: CBSSPORTS.com's Ken Berger noted the "old guard of loyal ownership that used to stand in lockstep with Stern during labor talks is largely gone." Stern as a result "has turned these negotiations over to a younger, more demanding generation of owners who've experienced life-changing losses in their core businesses, watched franchise values rise at a slower pace than ever before and are now seeking what they perceive as a birthright to profitability on the backs of the players." The "hawkish crowd that was the driving force behind the owners' initial draconian" CBA proposal is "led by owners who bought their teams after the league's only work stoppage" in '98-99: Mark Cuban (Mavericks), Robert Sarver (Suns), Dan Gilbert (Cavaliers), Wyc Grousbeck (Celtics), Clay Bennett (Thunder) and Ted Leonsis (Wizards). A source said, "Stern has been letting this cadre of owners lead the charge for months. At some point, he and the moderates will have to step up and say, 'We've tried your way for 21 months, and it hasn't worked. Now, you have to step aside and get a deal, because we're not going to damage what we've worked so hard to build.'" Berger noted "key owners who have not shown enough of their cards" include Jerry Reinsdorf (Bulls), Herb Simon (Pacers) and Michael Jordan (Bobcats) (CBSSPORTS.com, 6/20).
YOU GOT YOURSELF INTO THIS: In Milwaukee, Michael Hunt wrote despite strong playoff ratings, the NBA "could use all the help it could get right now" because those who tuned into the Mavericks-Heat Finals "were watching to make sure LeBron James went down." Hunt: "On that account I have zero sympathy for Commissioner David Stern, who was responsible for creating an anti-PR monster like James in the first place. It was Stern's decision long ago to market individual players over teams, so James' ESPN Egofest last summer that upstaged an entire league was the natural extension of a bad idea that has led to a gradual erosion of popularity for the NBA." Hunt added, "Still, I'm pulling for the NBA to dig itself out from under its self-inflicted financial and image problems. ... Without a relatively quick agreement that accounts for the health of the smaller markets, the NBA is headed for niche-sport status" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 6/19).
The NFL owners’ meeting in Chicago commenced this morning amidst talks of dissension between owners about a possible new labor deal. However, the meeting appears as if it will only last today, and not stretch into tomorrow as previously suggested, a signal that there may not be as much to debate as previously thought. 49ers President & CEO Jed York, speaking before the meeting began, also downplayed talk of disagreement among owners scuttling a potential new labor deal. One key league source said more would be known after the meeting, but this source emphasized that the specifics of an actual deal have not emerged yet, so it was too early anyway to talk about enough owners forming to block a deal. Nine owners are needed to block a deal. The meeting was called to update owners on progress in labor talks with players. Another meeting is scheduled for July 21 in Detroit, though if there is a deal to vote on before then, Commissioner Roger Goodell can always call an earlier one. Goodell is expected to speak to reporters at the end of today’s meeting. Several football-side club employees were at the meeting, suggesting there is talk here about how the NFL will get back up and running presuming a new deal is struck (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal). NFL Network's Albert Breer wrote on his Twitter account, "Number of football people here indicates that they'll be talking about how to get the league year up and running, when a deal is done" (TWITTER.com, 6/21).
MEETING FULL OF IMPORTANCE: In Chicago, Dan Pompei reports today's gathering is the "most significant league meeting since the lockout began." The purpose of the meeting "is to survey team owners and executives on progress made" in recent CBA negotiations between small groups led by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith. Issues such as "revenue sharing, a rookie wage scale, the salary cap, free agency requirements and health benefits are expected to be discussed and debated at length." Steelers President Art Rooney II said, "I think we're just going to get an update on where we stand in labor negotiations" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 6/21). Sources said that today's session is "designed to give each owner a chance to express an opinion on the state of the negotiations." Some owners are "concerned that the terms under discussion might not protect the teams against a future downturn in the national economy." But sources indicated that there "does not appear to be a sufficient number of dissenting owners to block an agreement now" (WASHINGTON POST, 6/21).
BALL IS IN YOUR COURT, ROGER: In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch notes the "onus here will be on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to get the owners -- now split mostly along the lines of big market vs. small market -- on the same page this week." A league source said yesterday, "If (Goodell) can get them united at this meeting, then I think you'll see a deal in relatively short order. If there's unity out of this, mid-July wouldn't be unrealistic (for an agreement)." While the owners "have been advised that the meeting could stretch into tomorrow because of the complexity of the potential agreement," league sources said that it is "unlikely they will take a formal vote on it." Instead, the meetings are "expected to be more of a venting session." Hubbuch notes there "doesn't appear to be enough opposition from small-market teams at this stage to prevent a deal (formal approval from just 24 of the 32 owners is needed), but these meetings could be a wild card if the debate inside the room gets heated enough and Goodell proves ineffective" (N.Y. POST, 6/21). Also in N.Y., Steve Serby writes, "It is time for Goodell to grab this NFL lockout by the throat and unite the hard-line and moderate owners and get a deal done with the players. ... If there are owners who view him as little more than a puppet, then it is time for Goodell to start pulling some strings, to start twisting some arms, to build a consensus that leads to labor peace and free agency" (N.Y. POST, 6/21).
ALSO ON THE AGENDA: In Buffalo, James Fink reports owners today are "expected to at least consider" a proposal to "allow teams to 'cover up' as much" as 15% of seats to avoid TV blackouts. It has "not been determined if they will vote on it or continue to study the implications." Under terms of the proposal, "individual NFL teams could opt into the cover-up scenario but it would not be a mandated league requirement." Bills CEO Russ Brandon said, "It is accurate that there was a proposal that warranted discussion and further thought, but that's all it is at this point" (BUSINESS FIRST OF BUFFALO, 6/17 issue).
U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy "will resist American overtures to rejoin the PGA Tour" next year, according to Matt Hughes of the LONDON TIMES. McIlroy left the PGA Tour after one year in '09 "because of his reluctance to play 15 tournaments a year -- the minimum requirement for membership -- and has no plans to revisit that decision." The Tour is "keen to recruit a player seen as the future of golf," and Commissioner Tim Finchem held talks with McIlroy's agent, Chubby Chandler, "without reaching an agreement." Chandler said, "He won't play the tour again. I don't think he will play 15 tournaments because that's too difficult. He might be able to get to 12 or 13, but he cannot get up to 15. They need Rory more than he needs them. I don't think he will struggle to get places to play." Hughes notes McIlroy "will play ten more tournaments" in the U.S. this season, though he is "resistant to playing" in the season-ending Playoffs for the FedExCup. Chandler, who also reps Lee Westwood, said, "If they could join without playing the FedEx, there may be a chance" (LONDON TIMES, 6/21). In London, Kevin Garside notes despite "renewed appeals for McIlroy to join the tour and play key events" such as The Players, "the answer remains no." Chandler said, "They (Americans) don’t get it. The TPC does not mean as much to those who are not members (of the PGA Tour) and don’t play here. We don’t work around money. They make enough of that" (London TELEGRAPH, 6/21).
PROCEED WITH CAUTION: McIlroy was asked yesterday if he has given any thoughts to playing more in the U.S., but he said, "Not really." McIlroy: "It seems like all my best golf I play is State-side, so I don’t know. I really enjoy my life back home, and that’s one of the main reasons that I didn’t join the PGA Tour this year. I’m sort of caught in between. I don’t really know what to do" (BOSTON GLOBE, 6/21). In New Jersey, Andy Vasquez writes "how McIlroy and his management team navigate the hurdles of the next few months will be critical to the rest of his career." Chandler said, "We’ve got a responsibility to make sure he keeps loving the game and that he don’t burn out. I’ve never handled anybody like him. But we’ve seen people burn out. We’re not going to let that happen with him." He said that McIlroy "will play only 23 events this year and about the same in 2012." Vasquez writes McIlroy is "friendly and down to earth," and despite his success and the possibility of cashing in on sponsorships, "has no interest in creating his own brand or logo." Chandler: "He’s a great example, isn’t he? He speaks nicely. He remembers to thank his mom" (Bergen RECORD, 6/21). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said, "People have waited for a number of years for a rival to emerge for Tiger Woods -- not somebody Phil’s age who’s in his 40’s, but somebody younger -- and they have fixated on the fact that it could be McIlroy. … Not since Tiger has there been a kid hyped like this kid.” ESPN’s Michael Wilbon: “The rush to judgment in professional sports is insane” (“PTI,” ESPN, 6/20).
ON TOP OF THE WORLD: Golfer Arnold Palmer said McIlroy has "set a pace that is going to help golf tremendously." Palmer: "I think that what he has done -- he's got that fresh look, he’s a young boy and he could really put back all the things that we've been missing lately in the game of golf. ... This young man has set a pace that is something for every young person in the world to shoot for and to be, and I just think it's wonderful” ("Morning Drive," Golf Channel, 6/21). A USA TODAY editorial states McIlroy has "established himself as golf's fairy-tale prince, destined to challenge the sport's injured and tarnished lion, Tiger Woods." The editorial: "McIlroy is Luke Skywalker, earnest and innocent, on a quest to upend the old order and restore justice to the golf universe. And even if Woods isn't quite a match for Darth Vader, McIlroy's boy-next-door appeal might make him seem so" (USA TODAY, 6/21). In N.Y., Bill Pennington writes, "If Woods can become healthy -- a big if -- the Rory-Tiger rivalry that will probably ensue will see McIlroy as the more popular figure. He will be a favorite of younger golf fans and non-American golf fans, and he will probably win over the considerable number of golf fans who found Woods’s transgressions repugnant" (N.Y. TIMES, 6/21). In Charlotte, Ron Green Sr. writes under the header, "Rory McIlroy Has The Game, And The Sizzle" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 6/21).
IT'S A SMALL WORLD, AFTER ALL: European golfers have won the past two U.S. Opens, and in DC, Tracee Hamilton writes, "I don’t think nationality matters all that much in 2011." The crowd at Congressional Country Club on Sunday -- which, "while somewhat diverse, was still dominated by white Americans -- cheered for good shots and groaned for bad shots regardless of where the golfer was born." McIlroy's nationality "didn’t make his record-blasting weekend any less fun to watch." Davis Love III said, "The world is a smaller place, so I think we’re going to have to get used to it. Look at the leader board every week on tour. It’s a third U.S. and a third European and then a third Asian or South African, Australian guys" (WASHINGTON POST, 6/21).