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NHLPA Exec Dir Don Fehr told reporters on a conference call Friday that he hopes to find “common ground” with the NHL owners in bargaining sessions this week, but indicated that NHL players do not intend to use the agreements that ended the NBA or NFL lockouts last year as a basis for a new CBA. Fehr said, “Players made a proposal last week that we believed was designed to be both forthcoming and to allow us to bridge any gap we may have. ... And I still remain hopeful that that proposal will remain the basis for any discussion as we go forward." Owners and players are scheduled to resume formal bargaining on Wednesday in Toronto. The NHL CBA expires on Sept. 15. As far as comparisons to the NFL and NBA deals, Fehr said, “I think merely because another sport does something doesn’t mean we should do it in hockey any more than we think because baseball does something we should necessarily do it in hockey.” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in an e-mail yesterday declined to comment on Fehr’s statements during the conference call, writing, “To the extent we have anything specific to say in response to Don's comments, we will say across the table.” He said the NHL and the NHLPA were in contact over the weekend, but wrote, “The communications this weekend were focused on schedule and meetings for next week” (Liz Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal).
PLAYERS KNOW WHAT THEY'RE GETTING INTO: Fehr on Friday said that the union "remains opposed to the league's proposal that players make significant financial givebacks to promote economic stability among wealthy and have-not franchises in the next collective bargaining agreement." Fehr: "All I can tell you and all I can tell the fans is that nobody on the players' side is talking about stopping the season. Nobody on the players' side is talking about saying we have negotiations up to a date and then that's all" (L.A. TIMES, 8/18). Fehr said that the players "are prepared for the eventuality of an owner's lockout if a new collective bargaining agreement can't be reached." Fehr said, "Players understand what is going on, understand what the issues are and understand how the owners’ proposal will affect them, understand how this compares to what happened seven years ago ... understand that this will affect their lives if we can’t find a way through this in the immediate future." He added, "One of the things the players asked me is, 'Why did we give them what we did the last time if this was going to be the result this time?' One of the things which appears to happen in the capped sports, is no matter what the economic circumstances are claimed to be, whether they are claimed to be losses as we had in basketball this last time, or whether there’s an acknowledgment there are no financial problems, as we had in the NFL this last time, it doesn’t matter. The position is, we have a cap and the cap has to be lowered. That seems to be the case" (AP, 8/17).
STAYING UNIFIED: ESPN.com's Jesse Rogers noted after two days of meeting with players last week, Fehr "declared them as unified as ever." The players "might be winning the public relations battle with the owners, but it's not getting them any closer to a deal." Rogers asked, "Does it really matter to the owners if they lose in that arena but win in the negotiating room?" (ESPN.com, 8/17). CBSSPORTS.com's Adam Gretz noted, "There wasn't much new to come out of the 40-plus minute call, but Fehr continued to point out that the owners are the only ones talking about a work stoppage." Fehr made a point that "just because the other leagues do something doesn't mean that the NHL has to follow in their footsteps." He also pointed out that "with the way hockey related revenue is calculated the NHL deal is (in their view) already close to a 50/50 split." Fehr said, "Let me caution you when you start talking about 50/50 splits. If you start talking about all revenue as opposed to just hockey related revenue the way we calculate it, the players are already at just about 50/50" (CBSSPORTS.com, 8/17).
DEFINING PARTNERSHIP: In Toronto, Terry Koshan wrote fans should not consider the relationship between the NHL and union "as a partnership." Fehr said, "If we are partners, do we have joint control? Do we get to have an equal say on how the marketing is done, how the promotion is done, where the money is invested, where the franchises are located? Do we have an equal say when on teams are sold where the money goes? Do we get part of that? Do we have an equal say on how the television arrangements are done? Do we have an equal say on anything? That’s what a partnership normally implies" (TORONTO SUN, 8/18). YAHOO SPORTS' Harrison Mooney wrote, "Anyone hoping the two sides are on their way towards bridging the gap had best be concerned, because it should be clear by now that, as it stands, they're building two separate bridges." The two sides "can't move on to Step 2 until they can agree on step 1, and Fehr made it clear Friday that the players won't have it be a reduction in player salaries and contract negotiating power" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 8/17). The CBC's Don Cherry said that he "expects that a lockout will last two months." Cherry: "I'm afraid it looks like two months. Everybody's talking that they're going to be out two months" (QMI AGENCY, 8/18).
DAVID VERSUS GOLIATH: In Columbus, Aaron Portzline wrote, "Small-market owners could find themselves siding with players against the large-market owners, the power-brokers in the league." An NHL player agent said, "I think as many as eight NHL owners would accept the NHLPA's initial proposal. And there's probably four to six others who would find the proposal acceptable enough that they could tweak a couple of things and live with it." However, Portzline noted Bruins Owner Jeremy Jacobs and Flyers Chair & Founder Ed Snider "hold considerable sway with [NHL Commissioner Gary] Bettman and are strongly opposed to revenue-sharing." Those clubs -- along with the Blackhawks, Red Wings, Canadiens, Rangers, Maple Leafs and Canucks -- "would stand to lose the most revenue" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 8/19). The NATIONAL POST's Scott Stinson wrote, "The question of what will break the impasse, most likely, will come down to resolve." Stinson: "How much patience will the owners of the high-value franchises have for missing games when the only teams suffering under the current system are a smattering of franchises in lousy markets? On the player side, will they stick to their counter-proposal or be cowed if they start missing paycheques?" The NHL "is trying to lean on them," attempting to "grind concessions out of them, especially once the missed games begin." In other leagues, "the tactic has produced a win." It is "right there in the playbook" (NATIONAL POST, 8/18).
NOT COMPARABLE: In N.Y., Larry Brooks noted it is "true pro basketball and pro football players ultimately agreed to take a smaller piece of their pies, yet the cap remained unchanged in the NBA following that league’s lockout while the cap in the NFL was initially reduced by less than six percent." Neither the NBA nor NFL "demanded its athletes submit to rollbacks of existing contracts, a tactic embraced by NHL owners who apparently regard currency in long-term contracts as equivalent to confederate money." The football and basketball negotiations "have as much or as little relevancy to hockey’s bargaining as does Major League Baseball’s current CBA." But if Bettman "insists on citing the NFL and NBA in an attempt to bolster his own league’s position, he might at least want to do so in a more comprehensive, and I dare say, more honest manner" (N.Y. POST, 8/19). In Ft. Worth, Mac Engel wrote, "You may not be sympathetic to the players, but unlike in 2004-05, no one should believe the league any more." This is "another money grab, which as owners is their right." To "suggest otherwise is preposterous" (STAR-TELEGRAM.com, 8/17). In Raleigh, Luke DeCock wrote, “If the last lockout was a necessary alteration in the game’s basic financial structure … the lockout that’s a month away from kicking off is about pure greed.” There is an “agreement to be made, one that addresses the problems facing the game and helps franchises like the Hurricanes.” At this point, the NHL “has made it clear it isn’t interested in making that agreement” (Raliegh NEWS & OBSERVER, 8/18).
WILL FANS FORGIVE AND FORGET? In Montreal, Stu Cowan wrote, “To me it looks like Bettman is banking on two things: 1. That the players, who already lost a year’s salary in the last lockout, will cave after missing a few paycheques this time; 2. That fans in hockey markets like Montreal will be willing to forgive and forget again after a lockout” (Montreal GAZETTE, 8/17). Also in Montreal, Jack Todd wrote, "You get the feeling that Bettman loves his lockouts.” Bettman has presented “an entire irrational plan, one the NHL players’ association would be mad to accept.” There is “no rationale whatsoever for the coming lockout.” But Fehr “has a hammer: Jan. 1. New Year’s Day, 2013.” Young: “Bettman wants that game. NBC wants that game. The owners want that game. How much do they want it? That’s what Fehr has to find out” (Montreal Gazette, 8/19). In New Jersey, Tom Gulitti wrote Fehr is "doing a pretty good job … of distancing himself from the negatives of his baseball past.” Instead of seeing it “as Bettman vs. Fehr, fans saw the game’s biggest stars” making it “Bettman vs. the players” (NORTHJERSEY.com, 8/18).
The NBA has signed a “multiyear ticketing deal with Ticketmaster, which for the first time will consolidate the primary and secondary ticket-selling efforts for all 30 teams,” according to Lombardo & Fisher of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. The deal will create “a centralized online portal for fans that is intended to serve as a one-stop shopping site for all NBA tickets.” League and team officials said that the new site “will add branding power, ease of use, and security to attract more ticket buyers while also delivering additional consumer data collected that will be with the teams.” Financial terms were not disclosed, but the pact "calls for ticket buyers to be directed to a new league-wide landing page featuring logos for all 30 teams.” On that website, to be “separately branded and co-marketed by both Ticketmaster and the NBA, users will be shown all available ticket options for each team, including secondary listings.” NBA Exec VP/Team Marketing & Business Operations Chris Granger said, “To have all the primary and secondary inventory on one site is unique.” Lombardo & Fisher report Ticketmaster's deal with the NBA “will share a fair degree of similarity" to its deal with the NFL, but will include "a heightened focus on primary ticketing.” Ticketmaster COO Jared Smith said, “There’s some evidence that the fan is being trained to immediately go to the secondary market. So our goal is to create something where the fan is presented with a complete, overall view of all safe, trusted ticket options.” Lombardo & Fisher note the deal will allow “the six NBA teams that do not have local Ticketmaster deals to also be part of the larger structure.” The new system “will be partially implemented by the late October start of the upcoming NBA season, with full operational capability projected for the 2013-14 season” (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 8/20 issue).
EFFECTIVENESS DEPENDS ON TEAMS: ESPN.com's Darren Rovell notes whether the site "will be effective will depend on how the teams respond." Each team "can determine how much it wants to charge the seller to list the tickets and the buyer to buy them." It also is not clear if some teams "will institute a price floor that will restrict how low a ticket can be sold for." The NBA likely would not go for the deal "if it didn't think that it can offer a lower aggregate fee than sites like StubHub, which has higher acquisition costs due to the higher price it has paid for marketing" (ESPN.com, 8/20).
49ers coach Jim Harbaugh “wasn’t thrilled by the work of the replacement officials during the 49ers’ 20-9 loss to the Texans and he struggled to bite his tongue in his postgame comments,” according to Eric Branch of the S.F. CHRONICLE. Near the beginning of his news conference, Harbaugh said there were “things I’ve been instructed not to comment on. So don’t even ask me.” He said, “Some crazy, wild calls. Were they accurate? Weren’t they? We’ll see. I have a headache, though. I have a darn headache. A lot of them didn’t seem like they were in the ballpark” (SFGATE.com, 8/18). In Baltimore, Peter Schmuck noted the replacements during the Lions-Ravens game Friday night “were flagging almost every exciting play.” It is “more a statement on the quality of a game for which fans paid full price to see the Ravens starters for less than one half and underqualified officials for nearly four hours.” Ravens WR Anquan Boldin said, "It's unbelievable. They've really got to do something about that. Some of the calls out there ... the way the game was being stopped. It just looked unprofessional." Ravens C Matt Birk: "I feel for those guys out there. They have been thrown into the fire on the biggest stage in the world. They're on a Fox national game and every mistake is being magnified" (Baltimore SUN, 8/18). In Boston, Greg Bedard wrote if you are a fan of a team “that likes to push the envelope of fast-paced offense, you should be hoping” the NFL and the NFL Referee Association end the lockout and “get the real officials in place.” Four NFL GMs last week “felt the biggest impact would be felt by teams that like to go no-huddle to keep the defense off-balance.” One GM said, “No offense to the refs that are out there -- they’re doing the best they can and were pushed into this -- but they can’t get things straight now when the pace is really slow. Can you imagine what it’s going to be like when Tom Brady is trying to go up and down the field in the hurry-up like they did at times last season? Talk about a car crash” (BOSTON GLOBE, 8/19).
GOODELL, MCNAIR DISCUSS SITUATION: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Texans Owner Robert McNair today talked about the replacement referees, and Goodell said, “Officiating is an imperfect science. We think our officials are great, but what we’re interested in is making officiating better for the long-term and we have to reach a long-term agreement.” McNair said, “Clearly, the officials that we have not are not as good professionally as the ones that we’ve had or else we would have had the others all along. But in terms of the impact on the game ... I can’t see any difference.” There are some “calls we don’t like, we have some that should have been made that weren’t made but we don’t have any more and the players are just as well protected.” Goodell said of replacement officials calling the Falcons the “Cardinals” and messing up some easy calls in the preseason, “Those are things what we call ‘administrative aspects of the game’ because they’re not used to working with a mike. Those are not issues that we’re as concerned about. We’re concerned about protecting the integrity of the game and making sure the right calls are being made” (“Squawk Box,” CNBC, 8/20).
END IN SIGHT? USA TODAY’s Jarrett Bell writes with “another round of stain-on-the-game officiating blunders by replacement zebras over the weekend -- and with the regular-season opener 2 1/2 weeks away -- this has to be the week the NFL and its locked-out officials strike a new deal.” Bell: “This has the appearance of a runaway mockery” (USA TODAY, 8/20). SI.com’s Peter King writes the replacement officials this weekend “continued to be a major black eye for the game.” An end to the lockout “can be built, I'm told, with $12 million or $15 million over a seven-year period.” That is “simply not a big enough amount of money to have unqualified officials lord over games that could determine a playoff spot” (SI.com, 8/20). In Atlanta, Jeff Schultz wrote the lockout is “irresponsible,” and it “damages the product” (AJC.com, 8/17). In Jacksonville, Gene Frenette asked, “Why run the risk of damaging America's most popular game by arguing with officials over chump change?” (JACKSONVILLE.com, 8/16). In Cleveland, Bud Shaw wrote there is “no way” the NFL will let the lockout extend into the regular season. If it does, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, in “his role as chief bouncer and protector of The Shield, will never, ever live it down.” Shaw: “Enough posturing already” (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 8/19).
STAKES HIGH: In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch wrote if the NFL “is going to come to its senses, it has shown few signs of doing so just yet.” Hubbuch wrote, “Fortunately for the fans, several coaches and many, many players … aren’t afraid to say so, despite an official directive from the league office to keep their referee comments sunny.” Hubbuch: “The stakes are too high (one regular-season game can decide a team’s entire season) and the NFL’s rule book too big to leave it in the hands of amateurs” (N.Y. POST, 8/19). Also in N.Y., Gary Myers wrote if Goodell “doesn’t succeed” in reaching an end to the lockout then he “loses some credibility when he speaks about the integrity of the game or player safety.” It will “make him look bad if one of these rent-a-referees blows a huge call that costs a team a game” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/19). ESPN.com’s Ashley Fox wrote the league is “dancing on delicate ground,” and the replacement officials thus far “have been a joke.” Fox: “The NFL is OK with using inexperienced replacement officials to determine late hits, horse collar tackles, illegal contact and roughing the passer? Roger Goodell has made player safety his mantra” (ESPN.com, 8/17).
CAT'S GOT HIS TONGUE: In N.Y., Bob Raissman noted Fox' Mike Pereira, who formerly served as NFL VP/Officiating, has been “outspoken supporting the NFL’s locked out officials.” But when Pereira joined Fox’ Kenny Albert and Daryl Johnston during the Bengals-Falcons game on Thursday night, his “approach was softer.” He “seemed to be hedging, saying he felt ‘sorry’ for the replacements.” Raissman: “Wonder if someone got to Pereira and told him to dial it down?” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/19).
A recent survey about the impact of concussions among pro football players found that 115 of 125 former NFLers reported "suffering at least one concussion," and of those 115, 76 listed "at least one mental-health symptom that could be related to their head injuries," according to Matt Crossman of SPORTING NEWS. The study indicated that the "most common ailment among the former players is memory loss," as 56 listed it as a symptom. Other "common problems include headaches (19), depression (12) and mood swings (seven)." Additionally, four former players "reported vision problems and five reported hearing problems," while three "have both." Four players said that they "have trouble with their balance," and three said that they "struggle with cognitive issues, meaning they have problems concentrating." For a point of comparison, Crossman notes a study in '05 conducted by the Univ. of North Carolina found that 60% of former NFLers reported "at least one concussion," and 24.4% "suffered three or more concussions." Meanwhile, the survey conducted by Sporting News found that 92% "suffered at least one," while 60% "suffered three or more." Of the players who suffered a concussion, 89.6% said that "they played with one." Sporting News' survey results are featured in part one of a five-part special report entitled, "Football's Concussion Crisis" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 8/20).
The NFL said that “despite four consecutive years of declining attendance” the early signs for the '12 season "are positive,” according to Darren Rovell of ESPN.com. NFL VP/Communications Brian McCarthy said that 90.6% of season-ticket holders "have renewed their packages this year, surpassing last year's final renewal rate" of 89.3%. Rovell noted that is "welcome news for the league's teams, whose per-game average of 64,698 fans last season was the lowest in 12 years” (ESPN.com, 8/17). In a separate piece, ESPN.com’s Rovell noted NFL teams are “requiring any fan who gets ejected from a stadium to take a four-hour online course before they are permitted to come back into the facility again.” The course, designed by psychotherapist Dr. Ari Novick and MetLife Stadium Security Dir Daniel DeLorenzi, “focuses on alcohol abuse, anger management and crude behavior.” A “handful of teams have used the course over the past couple seasons, but this summer, as part of a review of their best practices, every team decided to enforce the course on offending fans this season.” The program is an “extension of the NFL Fan Code of Conduct.” Not only do fans have to “take the course if they want to come back to the stadium, they have to pay for it, too.” Costs “vary by team," but the Lions and Falcons “charge the least at $50," while the Patriots “charge a league-high $100.” When a fan “completes the course, Novick's company forwards that information to the club” (ESPN.com, 8/17).
IMPROVING THE FAN EXPERIENCE: Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross and Texans Owner Robert McNair appeared on CNBC, and CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin noted Ross is "trying to ... better the experience for fans by doing some pretty interesting stuff" at SunLife Stadium. Ross said when he first acquired the team, he discovered “there’s very few things you can do to really impact the game on the field.” Ross: “I said, ‘Well, how can I impact it?’ I saw it was really enhancing the fan experience. ... They do such a great job on television I think that‘s our biggest competitor.” The first thing he “looked at was from a technology standpoint” in the stadium, and it was “probably the one aspect of life where technology really hadn’t had that impact” become the “first stadium that has high-density wi-fi.” Fans want to access videos and instant replays at the games and “you have to really incorporate social networking.” McNair said, “It is important for us to allow the fan to stay connected however they want to be connected.” When asked about ticket prices and getting fans in the seats, Ross said, “Miami is kind of a difficult place. If we’re winning, it’s great because it’s the best time of year in Miami and there are so many alternative things you could be doing.” Ross said the Dolphins “haven’t had the good fortune of winning” and so the organization is “looking to do things to really make sure we’re ... winning on the field, but also doing things to really bring the fans out.” However, Ross added, “There’s nothing that beats winning that will bring the fans to the stadium by far.” McNair said Ross “has a tougher market than we do because so many of the people down there are from other areas” ("Squawk Box," CNBC, 8/20).
U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber "ruled for the U.S. Soccer Federation in an antitrust and racketeering lawsuit filed by a defunct promoter but also reaffirmed his decision that Congress’ amateur sports act gave the governing body authority over only Olympic events and not the entire professional sport in the country," according to Ronald Blum of the AP. The USSF "was pleased with the opinion" in the six-year-old case. Leinenweber "issued a summary judgment Friday in a suit filed by ChampionsWorld LLC against the USSF and Major League Soccer, a case that claimed the two conspired to put the promoter out of business." But he "refused to change his 2010 decision that the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act of 1998 'gives USSF no more of an antitrust exemption or authority over professional soccer than necessary for it to oversee Olympic and related events.'" The USSF said that it "has sole authority over professional soccer in the United States because it is recognized by FIFA." USSF's lead lawyer Russ Sauer of L.A.-based firm Latham & Watkinssaid, "We are pleased that the court ruled in U.S. Soccer’s favor. Neither the earlier ruling nor the Ted Stevens Act impacts U.S. Soccer’s authority over professional soccer" (AP, 8/17). SOCCERAMERICA's Paul Kennedy noted in the 82-page opinion issued Friday, Leinenweber "threw out the expert testimony of University of Michigan professor Rodney Fort on behalf of ChampionsWorld on the market for international soccer matches in the United States and therefore ruled ChampionsWorld failed to prove the elements of an antitrust case under the Sherman Act" (SOCCERAMERICA.com, 8/18). NBCSPORTS.com's Steve Davis wrote, "Circle this as a story that never became a big deal -- but certainly could have been" (NBCSPORTS.com, 8/17).