SBD/March 23, 2012/Leagues and Governing BodiesPrint All
The NFLPA concluded its first day of its annual player rep meetings in Marco Island, Fla., yesterday by issuing a statement saying they have not received help from the NFL or the Saints in their efforts to interview Saints coaches and management as part of the union's own investigation the club's bounty program in which players were paid bonuses to knock out opponents. In a statement, the NFLPA said its leadership "looks forward to meeting with the Commissioner to discuss the League's 'Bounty' investigation...We expect the League to provide all information so that we can ensure a fair process for all who were involved." Asked to comment, NFL Senior VP/Communications Greg Aiello said in an email, "We told the union that Saints coaches and other personnel are free to speak to the union if they choose. The commissioner has stated that he asked the union several weeks ago for its recommendation on player discipline" (Liz Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal). ESPN’s Adam Schefter said Goodell is “soliciting input” from the NFLPA because “he wants to hear what the NFLPA thinks, what it believes and what it recommends" ("NFL Live,” ESPN, 3/22). In N.Y., Battista and Borden note the union “would probably fight any discipline it deems overly harsh, a situation Goodell, and perhaps the union, would probably prefer to avoid” (N.Y. TIMES, 3/23). ESPN.com’s Andrew Brandt it “will be interesting to see how the NFL Players Association weighs in.” The union has “made player health and safety a top priority in recent negotiations and has harped on this theme for more than a year” (ESPN.com, 3/22).
CONGRESSIONAL INVOLVEMENT: U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Thursday that he “would chair a hearing of the Judiciary Committee on bounties in sports to determine whether federal bribery laws should be expanded to include such activities.” Durbin said, “When an injury is by design and is paid for, we’ve moved beyond any definition of sport. I’m happy that the NFL acted swiftly once a bounty program was discovered. But questions remain about what the NFL and other professional and collegiate sports organizations are doing to protect their players and the integrity of their sports.” Durbin said that reps from the NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB and the NCAA “will be asked to testify” (LATIMES.com, 3/22).
JUST WARMING UP: In Pittsburgh, Gene Collier writes Goodell is “just warming up.” Goodell is the commissioner “at a time in its semi-glorious history that is unlike any other.” His charge will be “viciously difficult ... to reposition the most successful entertainment entity in sports history into something that is clearly not about hurting people.” This is while “the marketing department (e.g. the networks) relentlessly promotes the worst of the NFL's violence at every opportunity” (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 3/23). In DC, Thomas Boswell writes, “The NFL is in a fight for its soul, or maybe for its life. And it knows it. We won’t grasp for a decade, maybe not for a generation, just how big a problem the NFL has in the wake of its pay-for-injury bounty scandal.” He continued: “Too much safety is bad for business. Everybody knows it. ... Football is a hundred, or a thousand, times bigger than boxing was. But it’s not invulnerable -- from itself.” The NFL is “now at its crossroads.” Boswell: “Can the sport find the right rules, the improved equipment, the necessary culture change -- like the massacre of the Saints -- to create a new balance between terror and some semblance of safety and honorable play?” (WASHINGTON POST, 3/23).
FOLLOW THE LEADER: FOX SPORTS’s Mike Pereira writes, “Am I surprised at the level of punishment handed down to the Saints? No. If anything, I wouldn’t have been shocked if both the fine and the draft choices had been higher.” He added, “I really do have to hand it to Goodell.” Those who have “questioned his motives as he strives to protect players don’t know him.” It is not about “an 18-game regular season,” nor is it about the “several hundred veteran players who have sued the league claiming that the NFL failed to disclose that it has known the risks posed by sustaining concussions but didn’t do anything about it.” Pereira: “I don’t always agree with you commissioner, but I do on this one. The Saints and Rams got what they deserved” (FOXSPORTS.com, 3/23). ESPN.com's Brandt wrote, “Two themes underlie the commissioner's statements” on Wednesday. The bounty program from an internal perspective “weakens competitive balance.” From an external perspective, it “erodes public confidence in the league” (ESPN.com, 3/22). But in Ft. Worth, Randy Galloway writes what “we had this week from Goodell was the same form of grandstanding and overkill as the NCAA gave us in '87, even if that opinion unfairly demeans Goodell.” Galloway: "I give him much more credit than anything ever associated with the NCAA.” But the charge of “overreaction, overkill and grandstanding for headlines, lawyers and Congress still stands” (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 3/23).
UPSET WITH THE SYSTEM: YAHOO SPORTS’ Jason Cole noted free agent TE Jeremy Shockey “continued to vent his displeasure with NFL Network analyst Warren Sapp and the league in general over accusations that he was an informant” in the Saints bounty scandal. Shockey on Thursday said that he “has not been contacted by anyone with the NFL regarding its apparent violation of league policy that whistleblowers not be identified.” Shockey, on Sapp's accusations, said, “There should be a standard for punishment, like getting suspended or fined or losing your job. If I say something about officials, the league fines me” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/22).
The '12 Izod IndyCar Series kicks off Sunday with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and while the basic core group of teams, drivers and tracks returns to the sport -- "led by four-time series champion Dario Franchitti and Target Chip Ganassi Racing and anchored by the Indianapolis 500 -- just about everything else is new," according to John Oreovicz of ESPN.com. IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard is "hoping that the 'new' factor for 2012 results in the addition of a complimentary word: Improved." Improved performance from the "new cars and engines." Improved safety. Improved television "ratings and attendance." But most importantly, "improved visibility and impact for Indy car racing as it fights for its place in the 21st century sporting landscape." In spite of the "extra costs associated with a wholesale equipment change and a less-than-ideal economic and sponsorship climate, a full grid" of 26 cars will race for Sunday's event (ESPN.com, 3/20). USA TODAY's Nate Ryan in a front-page piece notes Sunday will be IndyCar's first race since driver Dan Wheldon's death Oct. 16 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and reminders will be "lurking everywhere in St. Petersburg -- Wheldon's adopted hometown and where" he was buried at the age of 33. After a prerace ceremony honoring Wheldon, his sister Holly will "drop the green flag and later present the winner's trophy." Driver Scott Dixon said, "The weekend is going to be hell for a lot of people emotionally" (USA TODAY, 3/23). In Indianapolis, Curt Cavin writes out of IndyCar's "October heartbreak springs hope but no assurance" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 3/23).
STREETS OR OVALS? ESPN.com's Oreovicz noted some "longtime Indy car racing observers are worried about the lack of ovals" on the '12 schedule, as there are only four. But that is "expected to be a one-year aberration as Bernard strives to achieve a 50-50 mix of oval and road racing events." In return, the IndyCar Series is "adding a street race in Qingdao, China, and heads back to Auto Club Speedway in Greater Los Angeles for the first time" since '03. The Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix "also returns after" a three-year absence. While "controversial in some circles, the move into China is popular with IndyCar Series title sponsor Izod." Phillips-Van Heusen and Izod Exec VP/Marketing Mike Kelly said, "Our Izod licensee in China, Dishang Group, has commenced opening stores under a plan that is expected to see over 500 Izod stores opened within the next five years. Exposing an iconic American sport to the world's largest population aligns perfectly with our brand messaging and in-store design" (ESPN.com, 3/20). In Houston, Russ Goodall cited a source as saying that the Grand Prix of Houston will announce Wednesday that it has "secured a title sponsor for the event." Bernard is "expected to attend the news conference, but it is not known when the Grand Prix of Houston would be added to the IndyCar Series schedule." The Grand Prix of Houston has not been run since '07 when it was part of the Champ Car World Series (CHRON.com, 3/22). IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard appeared on Bloomberg TV’s “Sportfolio” said IndyCar is “an American-based sanctioning body so what we really want to focus on is making sure we have a minimum of 14-16 races here in the United States on a yearly basis. But then we want to listen to our partners and our sponsors and make sure we’re really reaching out to the markets they want to see us in. The top two markets they wanted us in were China and Brazil” (“Sportfolio,” Bloomberg TV, 3/21).
INDYCAR'S NEXT TOP STAR: The AP's Jenna Fryer noted "despite limited results, [Danica] Patrick caught the eye of the causal sports fan -- often to the detriment of the other drivers." Now that she has "moved on to NASCAR, IndyCar has a wide-open opportunity to fill the void she left behind." Driver Will Power said, "You need 10 Danicas, not just one person who holds the series up, but 10 people who are very popular. There's some pretty interesting personalities in the series." Patrick had one victory and seven podiums in 115 career starts, but she had "unbelievable marketing support from sponsor GoDaddy.com." That sponsorship now goes to driver James Hinchcliffe. He said, "I don't think we need to replace Danica. I think what is important is to let fans know that there is more than just one face of this sport. ... I think she did great things for our sport and brought a lot of attention at a very good time for us. But, I think going forward it is important that we branch out and let people know that it is more than just one driver." IndyCar received a "boost last month with the addition of Rubens Barrichello." But the series "needs American drivers to truly appeal to the U.S. audience." There are currently seven full-time American drivers on the series, the most since '07 (AP, 3/20). USA TODAY's Ryan noted Barrichello, the "most experienced driver in Formula One history will begin his first full-time Izod IndyCar Series season Sunday." Bernard said that ticket sales for the Sao Paulo race spiked 40% "after the announcement March 1 that Barrichello would be paired" with fellow Brazilian driver Tony Kanaan. Franchitti said, "Rubens could go sit at his farm in Brazil and drink wine or go to Disneyland or whatever he wants to do. That he chooses to come here says a lot about the series and where it's going" (USA TODAY, 3/21).
NEW CARS, ENGINE SUPPLIERS: ESPN.com's Oreovicz explained the '03 Dallara IR03 car was "not intended to have a nine-year lifespan, but the tough economic climate and the changing landscape of Indy car racing over the past decade made that a necessity." While Penske and Ganassi have won 74 of the past 99 races, the introduction of the new Dallara DW12 chassis "could change that" (ESPN.com, 3/20). IndyCar VP/Technology Will Phillips said, "You can never eliminate all of the potential scenarios." But optimism "reigns, largely because of the new" Dallara DW12, which has a "host of revolutionary safety features." In a move to "reduce the possibility of cars launching, as Wheldon's did from tire-to-tire contact, bodywork extends wider than the wheels, with bumpers behind the back wheels" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 3/23). USA TODAY's Ryan also noted along with Penske and KV Racing Technology, the Andretti team has "switched to Chevrolet, which returns to IndyCar" after a seven-year absence. It "figures to mount a challenge to Honda, which will keep Ganassi in its fold this year." Lotus, which "doesn't have a first-tier team in its lineup, also is building motors this year" (USA TODAY, 3/21).
STAFFING OVERHAUL: In Indianapolis, Anthony Schoettle notes following October's season finale, Bernard replaced 15% of the series' front office staff and "overhauled the series' executive ranks." Officials said that the changes are "designed to improve communications across series departments and make sure everyone is accelerating in the same direction." Dreyer & Reinbold co-Owner Dennis Reinbold said, "I was kind of surprised by all of the staff changes, but so far I like a lot of what they're doing." Bernard promoted Marc Koretzky from Dir of Business Development to COO. Koretzky will be "responsible for much of the day-to-day operation of the series and will be Bernard's point person in transforming it." Though Bernard is "finalizing a search to fill a couple key executive posts -- including web and licensing positions -- he said he feels he has the team in place he needs to accelerate series growth." He said that he will "not downsize the staff of 60" (INDIANAPOLIS BUSINESS JOURNAL, 3/19 issue).
The LPGA seems "comfortable in its own skin, and while not showing the ratings that accompany the men, its niche is finding its niche, and it has done just that," according to Jay Paris of the NORTH COUNTY TIMES. LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan said, "Our approachability is the key as it relates to other sports. We may not be that 3.5 Nielsen rating on CBS this Saturday, but if you bring your top 100 customers out here to spend a few days with us, I promise you they will go back with the experience of a lifetime.'' As the Kia Classic at La Costa Resort & Spa began yesterday, Paris noted what is "on the upswing is the LPGA's popularity, based on the increased number of tournaments and television exposure." The increased interest "percolating in the LPGA is linked to the improving economy." Whan said, "I tell people, if you want to go sit somewhere and watch an event, that is probably not us. But if you want to come and feel you are part of it, feel like you met a couple of athletes, I think that is what you will like about the LPGA" (NORTH COUNTY TIMES, 3/22).
THE GREAT COMMUNICATOR: GOLFWEEK's Beth Ann Baldry notes sometimes Whan's "off-script comments cause his staff to hustle when he leaks something too soon, but by and large Whan's ability to communicate makes him a success in the eyes of many." Golfer Laura Diaz said, "He values your opinion even if he doesn't agree." Looking ahead to '13, Whan "hasn't lessened his anxiety." He has 13 tournaments "up for renewal," and nearly half are "in the process of renewal agreements." Referring to the longtime title sponsor that did not renew, Whan said, "As good as last year was, all I can think about is (losing) State Farm. I'm worried we might lose (another) one" (GOLFWEEK, 3/23 issue).
FLORIDA PUSH: GOLFWEEK's Alex Miceli notes Salamander Hotels & Resorts co-Founder & CEO Sheila Johnson, who also has a stake in Monumental Sports & Entertainment, has "had her eye on playing host to an LPGA event." Last week at the PGA Tour's Transitions Championship at her company's Innisbrook Golf Resort, Johnson "upped the ante for the women's game." After meeting with a potential sponsor, she "spoke about parlaying PGA Tour success into similar gains with the LPGA." Johnson said, "My first baby step or grand step that I want to make is, I want to secure [an] LPGA event at our properties." The LPGA, with 15 of its 27 tournaments this year in the U.S., "could use more domestic events." LPGA Chief Communications Officer Kraig Kann said in an e-mail, "Obviously the LPGA would be interested in listening to a concept like this one that allows the tour to put down permanent central Florida roots. At this point, however, there have been no formal discussions between the two parties" (GOLFWEEK, 3/23 issue).
A CHANGING TRADITION: GOLFWEEK’s Beth Ann Baldry writes the LPGA’s history is “a complicated flowchart of changing title sponsors and venues.” When the tour announced its plan to “add a fifth major to its slim schedule -- the Evian Masters, in 2013 -- it’s not as if the tour had uprooted a longstanding tradition.” Golfer Angela Stanford said, “Unfortunately, our tour doesn’t have long stretches of tradition. There are few tournaments we have played more than 20 years” (GOLFWEEK, 3/23 issue).