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MLB's First-Year Player Draft last night "took another step forward as a live prime-time event," according to Mark Newman of MLB.com. Filling a "noted void of past Drafts, five prospects attended, and each was selected in the first round and given hats and jerseys." While five players was “significant," MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said that "he would prefer a crowd of them." Selig said, "Five is a good start, but we need to do better than that." Newman notes this year's event "had a different feel, but the same rising popularity." It continues to be "one of the biggest days of the calendar year in baseball in terms of multimedia visibility and demand by fans -- a far cry from those days when it was a quiet conference call." Selig said, "This will get bigger and bigger and better and better." Newman notes Selig was asked "whether there was any concern about the slide of projected top overall pick Mark Appel of Stanford to No. 8, amid speculation that signability was an issue." Selig said, "It's obviously very premature to draw a conclusion. The only thing I would say, that I've told the clubs over and over for years, when the Draft was instituted in 1965, it was meant to equalize things -- level the playing field. It did for a long time, and then we began to have some things to indicate it wasn't." Selig also said that he was "heartened by the impact that (Carlos) Correa's No. 1 selection likely would have back in Puerto Rico." Newman notes Correa "comes from the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, which MLB developed" (MLB.com, 6/5).
KIDS STICKING WITH BASEBALL? MLB Network's Peter Gammons discussed the implications of the new signing bonus pools for draftees affecting players who play multiple sports and those players possibly going to college instead of signing with MLB teams. Gammons said, “If you’re going to lose those athletes, and that starts in the seventh grade and on, I think you do some damage to the sport.” MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo said, “It’s not quite the doomsday outlook.” Mayo: “There is going to be an adjustment eventually. The question always comes down to, does the kid want to play baseball. In the past they could throw money at him to help him make that decision” (“2012 First-Year Player Draft Preview,” MLB Network, 6/4).
SWING AND A MISS: In Cleveland, Tom Reed wrote, "In a sports nation obsessed with drafts -- real, mock and fantasy -- baseball's annual selection process generates about as much excitement as an intentional walk." Although the sport "remains immensely popular, the general public's lack of familiarity with draftees, the time it takes them to make an impact at the major-league level and the decision to conduct the draft over three days in the middle of the season conspire against it." Indians TV analyst and former No. 2 overall pick Rick Manning said, "It's boring, I don't care how they dress it up. Obviously, that's not true for the kid getting drafted and his family. They will celebrate. But I don't think the rest of the country is going to embrace this because you can't follow (amateur) baseball the way you do other sports. It's too difficult." Reed wrote, "In a society that craves immediate gratification, the baseball draft fails to deliver instant hope to fans" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 6/4).
The NFL yesterday locked out the NFL Referees Association members, after the union that represents 121 referees and officials made economic demands for more money at a session overseen by mediators from the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service, according to NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello. The NFL announced yesterday that it would be hiring replacement referees after the NFLRA CBA expired on May 31 and it failed to reach a deal after 11 formal bargaining sessions, the last two with FMCS mediators. “In our first meeting with the FMCS, the mediators recommended a process to bring the negotiations to what we hoped would be a successful conclusion, and both sides agreed to follow that process,” Aiello said in an e-mail to SportsBusiness Journal. “In addition to the two recent sessions with the federal mediator, we have had nine other bargaining sessions with the union since last October. In our first meeting with the FMCS, the mediators recommended a process to bring the negotiations to what we hoped would be a successful conclusion, and both sides agreed to follow that process. In (Sunday's) session, the NFLRA ignored that process, abandoned positions that it had previously taken with both us and the mediators, and made economic demands totaling millions of additional dollars that they had agreed to drop at earlier sessions. Given the NFLRA’s retreat from the process to which it had agreed, it only took a short time to conclude that the union’s proposal was not intended to move the negotiations forward.”
THE OFFER: Aiello in his e-mail said that the NFL had offered the NFLRA members a seven-year deal with pay increases of between 5-11%. “We did not begin to contact potential replacements until well after the union advised us in March of its intention to take a strike vote and told us of its plan to drag out the negotiations until late summer,” Aiello said. "We obviously could not be put in a position of the union calling a strike once the season had begun. The officials we are hiring are professionals who officiate games at a high level and have backgrounds similar to current NFL officials. We have every confidence that the officials who we bring on will do a fully credible job, and will manage our games efficiently and effectively enforce the playing rules.”
ON STRIKE? NFLRA General Counsel Michael Arnold previously told SportsBusiness Journal that the NFLRA members had not taken a strike vote and wanted to work and were getting ready for the season. But Arnold did not return repeated phone calls and text messages yesterday. FMCS spokesman John Arnold said in an e-mail, "No further meetings have been scheduled at this time. Mediators remain in contact with the parties, and we have no additional comments."
EXPRESSING CONCERN: The NFLPA yesterday issued a statement expressing concern about the NFL’s lockout of the NFLRA and what it might mean for the NFL players. “The NFL Players Association is concerned about the NFL’s decision to lock out professional referees and recruit scabs to serve as referees in NFL games for the 2012 season,” the NFLPA said in a statement. “In 2011, the NFL tasked officials with increased responsibilities in protecting player health and safety, and its search for scabs undermines that important function. Professional athletes require professional referees, and we believe in the NFL Referees Association’s trained first responders. The NFLPA will continue to monitor the league’s actions in this situation” (Liz Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal).
SEEN THIS BEFORE: In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch notes the league “used replacement refs in 2001 for one exhibition game and the first week of the regular season before reaching a deal shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks disrupted play.” That time, things “went smoothly, although one replacement official asked Jerry Rice for his autograph on the field before a game” (N.Y. POST, 6/5). USA TODAY’s Jarrett Bell notes that while replacements would “ensure that games won’t be lost due to a strike by officials, they also will fuel debate” (USA TODAY, 6/5). ESPN's Michael Wilbon said, "The NFL is the most ruthless of all the leagues and if people on Twitter are going crazy now because of the NBA officiating, wait until they get a (look) of replacement officials in the NFL" ("PTI," ESPN, 6/4).
TIME TO TALK: ESPN.com’s Mike Sando wrote there is “plenty of time for a resolution,” and the NFL regular-season opener is “96 days away.” Fans in the past have “seen the NFL and its officials at odds deep into the summer, threatening the regular season before finally reaching agreement in September.” Sando: “There's no need for panic. Replacement refs might do just fine, anyway.” The drop from current officials to replacement officials “would not begin to approach the drop from current players to replacements” (ESPN.com, 6/4). CBSSPORTS.com’s Will Brinson wrote the news of using replacement refs “doesn't have the same pizzazz as the terrifying possibility last summer of football not being played.” Should this impasse continue into the season, it would “take some seriously butchered officiating for fans to clamor for the return of the guys who wore the stripes previously” (CBSSPORTS.com, 6/4). But CSNBAYAREA.com's Ray Ratto wrote the NFL wants to “punish the officials they have, which are presumably the best that can be found, to hire 128 new people who presumably aren’t as good, know the rulebook less than the ones they have now, and in general be worse than what they have -- all in the name of saving money that they are currently swimming in from their victory in the player lockout” (CSNBAYAREA.com, 6/4).
The All India Football Federation's 15-year deal with IMG Reliance "seemed like a marketing coup that would change the game," but 17 months after the deal was announced, there "seems to be many a slip between potential and performance," according to Dhiman Sarkar of the HINDUSTAN TIMES. The US$126M deal promised to "radically restructure, overhaul, improve, popularise and promote” soccer throughout India, from the grassroots to the professional level. With the All India Football Federation ending the last fiscal year at least US$800,000 in the red and its marketing partner having "done little to fulfill its promise, ennui seems to have replaced excitement." The marketing partners are "yet to get a title sponsor for any AIFF tournament," including the top level I-League. The AIFF has "forwarded three suggestions to revamp the I-League and cut costs but don't know how and if they have been taken forward." Sarkar wrote IMG Reliance also "missed the April 20 deadline to inform clubs about the changes they planned to ramp up Indian football." I-League club Pune FC Head of Operations Chirag Tanna said that all clubs "are likely to meet by the second week of June to decide on their next step." AIFF Senior VP Subrata Dutta said, "Because this is a 15-year deal, the gestation period too is a little long. I am sure before the next season starts, IMG Reliance will have a lot of things to say about how they want to take Indian football forward. Banking on the reputation of Reliance Industries and IMG, we sold the rights because thought nobody would be able to market football better. And as they are also our strategic partners, we are waiting for them to add value to our suggestions" (HINDUSTAN TIMES, 6/4).
SI.com's Peter King wrote, "I've got tremendous respect for new NFL Players Association President Domonique Foxworth. We had a couple of long conversations when the labor negotiations were rocky, and I thought he was a terrific voice of reason with management at the toughest point of the talks." Foxworth retired from the NFL after the '11 season, "so maybe he can sell the players that the Pro Bowl is on the precipice of death, and it's up to their efforts to save it. But I doubt it" (SI.com, 6/4).
NO CRYSTAL BALL: In Ottawa, Mark Sutcliffe wrote with the NHL CBA set to expire Sept. 15, planning for next season is "almost impossible." Teams "don’t know whether they’ll be holding training camps, whether the season will start on time, or even how much money they have to spend when free agents become available on July 1." NHL GMs "might have a long way to go just to get to the minimum payroll for next year." Or they "might find out that the cap comes down" by $7M (OTTAWA CITIZEN, 6/4).
FEELING A DRAFT: In Boston, Gary Washburn wrote there "isn't much" the NBA can do with the draft lottery, "unless it goes back to handing the No. 1 pick to the team with the worst record, which offers zero anticipation and excitement for the draft." For NBA Commissioner David Stern, "it's best ... to stand pat with the current system." The team that has the best chance at the top pick "will always cry foul when it loses" (BOSTON GLOBE, 6/3).