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An NBA schedule "unlike any other -- short, compressed, frantic, unwieldy in some spots and incomplete in others -- was finally unveiled" last night, and it "may be greeted with as much angst as excitement," according to Howard Beck of the N.Y. TIMES. Teams will "sometimes play on three consecutive nights" and some teams "will play five games in six nights." NBA teams "have not had to play on three consecutive nights since the last lockout-shortened season" in '99. Every team "will play at least one back-to-back-to-back set" and 11 teams "will have the burden of doing it twice" Beck notes the schedule "will not be balanced, or particularly sane." Each team "will play just 18 out-of-conference games, which means every team will skip six cities." Chicago fans "will not see Kobe Bryant," while Thunder F Kevin Durant "will not make it to Madison Square Garden." The Mavericks "will not make it to Washington, denying them the chance to make the traditional White House visit afforded to defending champions." But the NBA "clearly had one eye on the ratings as it fashioned the new schedule." The Lakers "will play the usual two-game series with the Heat, the Celtics and the Knicks." The league is also "maximizing Miami’s star power," sending the team "to all of the major markets" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/7). The Nets and Magic "had been due to play regular-season games at the O2 Arena as part of an effort to promote basketball in the lead up to the Olympics," but those games "have fallen victim to the labour dispute." It is "still planned for the NBA to return to the UK for pre-season games in 2012 and 2013" (PA, 12/6). USA TODAY's Zillgitt & Falgoust report the All-Star Game "remains Feb. 26 in Orlando" (USA TODAY, 12/7). NBA TV's Vince Cellini said, “It was a monumental task by the league to try to construct this thing and make sure this condensed schedule would work" ("GameTime," NBA TV, 12/6).
I'LL BE MISSING YOU: In Phoenix, Paul Coro notes the Suns are "the only team that will not have a home game this season against Boston, Chicago, Miami, New York or Orlando." Suns Managing Partner Robert Sarver said, "When the preliminary schedule came out, I asked the league to reconsider and they didn’t. You’ve got to factor in all the arenas and timelines, and they weren’t able to move dates around." Sarver noted that the Suns "will get two home games against the Lakers, Mavericks, Clippers and Spurs" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 12/7). In Toronto, Doug Smith notes the "list of teams not paying a visit to the Air Canada Centre this season is at least as significant as the names of the ones that will." The Suns, Thunder, Clippers and Mavericks will not play the Raptors in Toronto this season, and those four "virtually certain sellouts will undoubtedly put a crimp in the attendance figures" (TORONTO STAR, 12/7). Also in Toronto, Mike Ganter notes that is "four quality teams MLSE won’t get a chance to cash in on so you know ownership can’t be too happy with the schedule either." The "good news is season ticket holders will not be asked to pay to see the New Orleans Hornets or the Utah Jazz" (TORONTO SUN, 12/7). In Charlotte, Rick Bonnell notes the team "most prominent among the home absences" for the Bobcats are the Lakers, a "guaranteed sellout." The Bobcats will also miss home games against the Mavericks and Thunder (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 12/7). In Ft. Worth, Dwain Price wrote under the header, "No Rose Or Howard For Mavs Fans: Bah Humbug" (STAR-TELEGRAM.com, 12/6). In Milwaukee, Charles Gardner notes Bucks fans "will not get a chance to see Dirk Nowitzki and the defending league champion Dallas Mavericks, and they also will miss the Los Angeles Clippers and reigning rookie of the year Blake Griffin" (MILWUAKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 12/7). In N.Y., Steve Adamek notes Knicks F Carmelo Anthony "will not return to Denver for a visit this season," nor will F Amar'e Stoudemire "go back to his old home in Phoenix" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/7).
THE NATIONAL SPOTLIGHT: USA TODAY's Zillgitt & Falgoust note the NBA yesterday releasted its "231-game national TV schedule on ESPN, ABC, TNT and NBA TV, which is subject to change later in the season." The Celtics "are featured 31 times, followed by the Lakers and Bulls at 29, the Knicks and Heat at 27, the Mavericks at 26 and the Thunder and Magic at 24." The Raptors and Cavaliers "are on the TV schedule but only once each" (USA TODAY, 12/7). In Ft. Lauderdale, Ira Winderman notes the Heat "have the maximum six games on ABC, the maximum 10 on ESPN and the maximum nine on TNT." The Heat are also scheduled "for two games on NBA TV, with 10 possible additional Tuesday broadcasts that are selected in a fan poll." A team can appear on NBA TV "a maximum of nine times" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 12/7). On Long Island, Alan Hahn notes the Knicks will "open the season on TNT, the first of seven games on the network, play 10 games on ESPN and four on the coveted ABC Sunday afternoon schedule, starting Feb. 19" against the Mavericks (NEWSDAY, 12/7).
BOWING TO TV: ESPN.com's J.A. Adande wrote, "You knew the NBA would do everything possible to keep its television partners happy and preserve as many marquee matchups as possible." The "flip side is that teams that aren't big ratings draws don't have to face powerhouses from the opposing conference twice." It carries a "hint of the NFL, where schedules are unbalanced based on the past season's record, and can sometimes facilitate last-place-to-first-place turnarounds" (ESPN.com, 12/6). The CHARLOTTE OBSERVER's Bonnell wrote it was "quite predictable the league would maximize the inventory for ABC, ESPN and TNT." Bonnell: "Good business? Sure. ... But of course the losers in that bargain are small-market teams like the Charlotte Bobcats who don't get a lot of sure sellouts" (CHARLOTTE.com, 12/6). In Dallas, Eddie Sefko notes it is "true that there are many variables at work in making an NBA schedule, especially when it has to be reworked to accommodate the lockout." But these days, "arenas have conversions from hockey to basketball down to an art form." Sefko: "There would have been nothing wrong with playing some afternoon games on weekends. And, of course, the NBA still found a way to stick a five-day All-Star break in the middle of the season" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 12/7).
The final day of the NHL BOG annual meetings was taken up with discussion of the collective bargaining status, and the governors yesterday "heard a report on the recent collective agreements" signed by the NFL, NBA and MLB, according to David Shoalts of the GLOBE & MAIL. The governors were also told "where things stand with the NHLPA." The union is "keeping quiet about its demands but conversations with those on the management side show the league is expecting a major clawback from the players in their share of hockey related revenue." Under the current agreement, the players "receive 57 per cent of the hockey related revenue." The NFL and NBA, "the other leagues with a salary cap, received concessions from the players on the revenue front." NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was "non-committal about the labour negotiations, saying only he expects them to start after the all-star game" on Jan. 29 (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/7). ESPN.com's Scott Burnside noted the "first opportunity for the two sides to begin meeting won't be until late January, at the earliest." That is due to NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr "spending a great deal of time traveling to talk to players about which issues are priorities for them and to make sure the players understand his position on how to conduct negotiations." Bettman said, "Don has suggested it will take at least 'til the All-Star Game when he's ready." NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said that fans "shouldn't draw parallels between the NHL and the collective bargaining agreements in other sports." Oilers President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe said that he "thought there was a different feel at the outset of these negotiations compared with the ones that led to the 2004-05 lockout." He said, "There doesn't appear to be any doom and gloom on the horizon, but I guess we'll know in a few months" (ESPN.com, 12/6).
LET'S TALK IT OUT: Devils RW and player rep David Clarkson said yesterday that there "has been no player rep meeting or conference call scheduled to discuss" implementation of the NHL's four-conference realignment plan. Clarkson said, "I'm sure in the next week or so there will be an E-mail sent out or a phone call and people will start talking about it." In New Jersey, Tom Gulitti notes some players "have expressed concern that the teams in the seven-team conferences will have a mathematical advantage because they have to beat out only three teams to make the playoffs instead of four," and that is "one issue the NHLPA likely will look at." Rangers G and assistant player rep Martin Biron said, "The league has the final say. It's not an easy thing to figure it out for everybody." Reports indicated that the Rangers "were one of four teams to vote against the realignment plan" (Bergen RECORD, 12/7).
WORD TO THE WISE: A Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE editorial states, "Given the growing worldwide popularity of the sport, the NHL is in a strong position to finally take on the fighting culture that detracts from the game and ... may be killing its players." Former NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard's "death should prompt the NHL to have its own wow moment, and realize that fighting isn't a necessary part of the game" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 12/7).
Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik "would not reveal whether he voted for or against next season's four-conference realignment," but acknowledged yesterday that for his team, "the additional travel in a conference with Boston, Buffalo, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Florida is 'a definite minus,'" according to Damian Cristodero of the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES. NHL VP/Communications John Dellapina said, "I'm sure our guys will work hard to make the schedule as efficient for the Florida teams as possible." Vinik "likes that every team will visit the St. Pete Times Forum, and said preliminary numbers for next season's travel budget show an increase 'virtually insignificant from this year.'" He said, "The league is going to do their best to schedule our away games, try to hop from one city to another. They promised to do everything in their power to make that as efficient as possible for our travel" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 12/7). But in St. Petersburg, Gary Shelton writes, "Unless Tampa Bay has been sold to Canada ... this realignment roulette makes no sense." This is "evidence the big offices of the NHL consider the Lightning only as an afterthought." Shelton: "Tampa Bay is like that leftover piece of a model airplane that you just helped your kid assemble. No one can quite figure out where it is supposed to go" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 12/7).
PANTHERS LOOKING AT GLASS HALF FULL: In Ft. Lauderdale, Craig Davis notes despite the longer trips the Panthers will have to take under the new alignment plan, coach Kevin Dineen "sees the arrangement enhancing the appeal of hockey in South Florida." Dineen said, "You like being associated with those teams, and I think that's something with the presence that you get of Canadians and people from Buffalo in the area. I think that bodes well for our attendance and the enthusiasm we'll have in the building." Davis notes the "downside for the Florida teams is a greater burden in travel within the conference as well as to every Western city." But Panthers GM Dale Tallon said, "If this is what is best for the overall competitive league balance, then I'm OK with it. … From the business side, getting Toronto and Montreal and Boston to come to our building is really good for us" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 12/7).
EXECS ON BOARD: In Chicago, Chris Kuc reports Blackhawks Chair Rocky Wirtz was "pleased with the radical change, citing the fact the Hawks still would have traditional rivalries while travel to the West Coast will be reduced, TV ratings will benefit from not as many late starts and the other five Original Six teams are guaranteed to play in the United Center at least once per season." Wirtz: "It's good for the league and selfishly it's good for us" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 12/7). Stars Owner Tom Gaglardi said of the new conference alignment, "We may benefit as much from this change as any team in the NHL -- it's that important to us." In Dallas, Mike Heika writes, "By making things a little tougher on teams in the East, the NHL now makes things a lot easier on teams in the West. And that's fair" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 12/7). Flyers Chair Ed Snider said the team "liked what we had, but it hurt a lot of other clubs." He added that teams "like the Flyers 'sacrificed' -- they will have to travel more -- and went with the new format for the overall good of the league." Snider: "It's not perfect, but it helps a lot of clubs" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 12/7). In Minneapolis, Michael Russo notes Wild COO Matt Majka "is excited that Wild fans will get to see every team annually." Majka said, "Sidney Crosby has played in Minnesota exactly twice in his 420-game NHL career. (Alex) Ovechkin has played here three times in 501 games" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 12/7). Oilers GM Steve Tambellini: "I like the fact that you see Sidney Crosby in your rink every season, and Ovechkin. I think that's really important as a hockey fan" (EDMONTON SUN, 12/7).
PLAYERS LIKE THE CHANGE: The GLOBE & MAIL's Mirtle & Duhatschek note NHL players yesterday "seemed to be mostly onside with the plan." Some were "in favour of the fact that travel will be lessened" for Western Conference teams, while others "questioned the conference-only format of the first two rounds of the playoffs." And most "liked the idea of seeing every NHL city, even if only once, in every season." Devils RW Ilya Kovalchuk said realignment is "better for teams in the West because some of them have horrible travel schedules" (THEGLOBEANDMAIL.com, 12/6). In California, Eric Stephens notes Ducks W Bobby Ryan is "looking forward to playing more games within the same time zone." Ryan said, "It cuts down on the travel. I'm definitely in support of that" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 12/7). In DC, Tarik El-Bashir notes Capitals RW Mike Knuble "likes the fact that every team will face each of the other 29 clubs at least twice." He said, "Every city should have a chance to see Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and the other young stars every year. That’s a good thing for the fans and for the league" (WASHINGTON POST, 12/7). Blues C Jason Arnott: "You get to see all the stars around the league and they come to your building and you go to their building. That's the way we used to do it when I first started and everybody seemed to enjoy it" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 12/7). Flames LW Alex Tanguay said, "It's really nice that every team goes everywhere -- it's fun for the fans. Everybody wants to see Sidney Crosby, (Alex) Ovechkin, (Jonathan) Toews in their building." Flames RW Lee Stempniak: "The one thing I like is that you get to go to every city in the league. ... I think everyone should play in Montreal every year, Boston, New York -- historic cities like that" (CALGARY HERALD, 12/7). Sharks LW Ryane Clowe: "It was open-minded, it’s different. Probably interested to see when the schedule comes out, how your schedule is going to be, how the travel is going to be and how after next year, how it will all play out” ("Chronicle Live," Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 12/6).
PLAYOFF PUSH: ESPN.com's Scott Burnside noted at March's GM meetings, teams will discuss "what to do with the four teams that emerge as conference winners." The "logical process would be to seed them based on regular-season points: No. 1 versus No. 4 and No. 2 versus No. 3." But there has been "some suggestion that the league might want to preserve a traditional East-West final series." Leafs President & GM Brian Burke said that he "would be against predetermining which two conference winners were going to face each other." He said, "Teams should be reseeded after every playoff round." He added to do otherwise "just cheapens the regular season for me." Blues President of Hockey Operations John Davidson: "Do you want an East-West final or do you want the better two teams to play in your final which is your centerpiece?" (ESPN.com, 12/6).
MEDIA REAX: NBC’s Darren Pang said, “The more I look at it, the more impressed I am with how well prepared Gary Bettman and the Board of Governors and the general managers have been with this. ... The general managers that I spoke to were thrilled with it” (“NHL Live,” NHL Network, 12/6). The GLOBE & MAIL's Eric Duhatschek noted there is "a lot to like -- and maybe one small objection to raise -- about the NHL's realignment plan." Under the "new scheme, teams in the east will need to travel more, adding costs." But it creates a "more equitable playing field: they’ll now get to see what the current Western Conference clubs have been dealing with" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/7). In N.Y., Larry Brooks writes, "It is impossible to think of a single benefit that will accrue to the Rangers, Islanders and Devils -- and by extension, their respective fan bases -- under this new plan that does seem to have the potential to be a boon for clubs in the central time zone." But Brooks added there is "one way it can get worse for our three teams, and it is this: If they will be forced to play in a conference named for Mario Lemieux" (N.Y. POST, 12/7). The Boston Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont said, “We’re going to be confused in the terminology now. What they’ve got is four ‘divisions.’ They’ve got two conferences and four divisions. They’re calling them four ‘conferences’” ("Sticks & Stones," NESN, 12/6). Both ESPN.com's Craig Custance and GRANTLAND.com's Katie Baker named their realignment "winners and losers."
MLB has become the "first major pro league in North America to issue dress guidelines for media members, putting them in writing this week at the winter meetings," according to Ben Walker of the AP. The dress code prohibits "beachwear and club outfits," as well as flip-flops, "visible undergarments, tank tops or anything with a team logo." MLB was "aware of the flap caused in the NFL when a Mexican TV reporter drew unwanted attention at the New York Jets' training camp in September 2010 and it formed a committee of executives and media representatives to work on guidelines." The panel "included female and Latin reporters and there was input from team trainers." The "skimpy attire worn by some of the TV reporters covering the Marlins in Miami drew particular scrutiny." MLB Senior VP/Club Relations Phyllis Merhige said, "There's no one who expects reporters to wear a suit and tie. But with the advent of different media, there are now individuals who are not part of a bigger organization that may have a dress code." The new rules ban "sheer and see-through clothing, ripped jeans, one-shouldered, strapless shirts or clothing exposing bare midriffs." Also listed are "'excessively short' skirts, dresses or shorts cut more than 3-4 inches above the knee." MLB said that it would "consider appropriate actions if the guidelines were broken" (AP, 12/6).
TWITTER REAX: SportsBusiness Journal's Eric Fisher wrote on his Twitter feed, "Lot of jokes re: new baseball writer dress code. But it basically codifies common sense. Any self-respecting pro already avoids banned items." Current TV's Keith Olbermann wrote, "If it had been a WELL-dressed code, would've wiped out everybody except Vin Scully." NBCSports.com's Craig Calcaterra wrote, "Don't worry: pleated Dockers still OK." The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Rob Biertempfel wrote, "Maybe I'm wearing a sweater vest today to comply with the new MLB dress code for media." Sportscaster Len Berman wrote, "MLB new dress code for the media, banning skimpy skirts....that's just for the women reporters, right?" The San Diego Union-Tribune's Tim Sullivan wrote, "I'm embarrassed MLB has imposed a dress code on media covering the game. Not because it's an infringement, because we've gotten too lax." CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman wrote, "I want to see baseball actually enforce this alleged dress code."
Backed by the success of Lindsey Vonn, Ted Ligety, Julia Mancuso and Bode Miller, U.S. skiers are "becoming viewed, by many, as the marquee faces of the sport," according to Matthew Futterman of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. The U.S. has "produced world class skiers before, but never has it produced so many skiers who consistently land on the podiums at World Cup events." There also is a "pipeline in place with a group of young skiers who are on the verge of breaking into the sports' top tier in the coming years." The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association recently signed a multiyear sponsorship deal with the "tourism bureau of the Otzal Valley in the heart of Austrian ski country." USSA Chief Revenue & Marketing Officer Andrew Judelson said that the deal, which includes a "'significant cash component,' gives the team a winter home that includes housing, training facilities and easy access to top World Cup tour stops." Several top "European consumer brands, most notably Audi, have signed as sponsors" as well. Meanwhile, Miller was featured on a "promotional poster for the season's opening event in Soelden, Austria." Futterman notes the NGB's "investment in facilities is also helping move the sport's center of gravity closer to the U.S." The USSA recently opened a $4.3M "speed skiing training center" on Cooper Mountain in Colorado that has attracted some "top European skiers." The NGB also "raised $60 million during the past decade to build its training center" in Park City, Utah (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 12/7).