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Izod IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard yesterday resigned, ending his leadership of the series with two years left on his five-year contract. Bernard’s announcement followed an emergency meeting of the BOD of Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) Corporation, which owns the series. The board named IMS President & CEO Jeff Belskus interim CEO of IndyCar, but did not set a timeline for finding a permanent replacement. Belskus said that the process for selecting a replacement will be done in discussion with The Boston Consulting Group, a global management consulting firm that IMS hired to assist in reviewing and helping improve the company’s operations and strategy. Bernard’s resignation came less than three weeks after IMS board member Tony George approached the board about acquiring the IndyCar Series. George, who sources said put together a group that made a seven-figure offer for the series, last week resigned from his position on the board because his offer to acquire the series represented a conflict of interest. Belskus reiterated that the IndyCar Series is not for sale. Belskus: “The organization remains completely committed to owning and operating IndyCar.” Bernard, who will continue to serve in an advisory role with IndyCar, did not return calls seeking comment. His resignation came just three days after a report in the Indianapolis Business Journal (which is not affiliated with SportsBusiness Journal/Daily) said he had been fired. It followed a rocky year for the series, which suffered double-digit decreases in TV viewership, had a race in China canceled and began searching for a presenting sponsor that potentially could replace Izod as its title sponsor before the apparel brand’s deal ends after the '15 season. Bernard, the former head of the PBR, joined IndyCar in '10, taking over as CEO for George (Tripp Mickle, SportsBusiness Journal).
WHAT WENT WRONG: In Indianapolis, Curt Cavin writes Bernard "was wildly popular with IndyCar's fan base, starting with the distribution of his e-mail address to all who sought it." Bernard "helped bring a new equipment package and new venues to the series, but he was criticized for his handling of the Dan Wheldon tragedy and for a financial deficit increased by the lucrative China race not being held in August." IndyCar "got nothing" from an estimated $8.75M agreement with the Chinese, and the signing of several race events to lower sanctioning fees "also hurt the bottom line." Bernard "often found himself at odds with IndyCar’s team owners, and that was never more evident than in June when he posted on Twitter that some were out to get him fired" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 10/29). ESPN.com's John Oreovicz wrote despite a "generally satisfactory performance since he took over," Bernard's power base "weakened over the past six months as a group of IndyCar Series team owners waged a behind the scenes campaign for his ouster." A conflict over the cost of spare parts for the series' new car "served as the focal point for the unhappiness between the teams and IndyCar management" (ESPN.com, 10/28).
WHAT NOW? SPEEDTV.com's Marshall Pruett reported Bernard "is not expected to be involved with the series during the final two years of his contract." With "enough bad publicity built around Bernard's name since the season ended just six weeks ago in Fontana, and with a noticeable lack of public support for Bernard from his bosses, it appears the board had the justification it was looking for -- mounting negative sentiments regarding IndyCar's CEO -- to call its second emergency meeting in less than two weeks in order to cut ties with Bernard" (SPEEDTV.com, 10/28). The AP's Jenna Fryer wrote IndyCar is "coming off arguably its best season in series history." Bernard introduced the first new car in nine years this season, and the on-track product "was perhaps the best in auto racing." IndyCar "had eight different winners, its first American champion since 2006 in Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Chevrolet won the engine manufacturer title in its return to the series after a six-year absence." Belskus "had no answer" when asked "how it was in IndyCar's 'best interest' to part with a CEO who brought such positive to the series and was popular with fans." It is "not clear what's next for the troubled series." Motorsports marketing agency Just Marketing Int'l Founder & CEO Zak Brown said, "It all appears a bit strange and kneejerk to me. I don't understand why Jeff Belskus hasn't communicated a longer-term plan. Unless there isn't one, which as CEO, I hope he has" (AP, 10/28).
IN HINDSIGHT...: In Milwaukee, Dave Kallmann writes, "The IndyCar Series isn't in good shape. It wasn't two years ago, or four or six." But Bernard "brought hope." He came "without a history in the sport and therefore without an agenda, beyond making the sport better. He was tireless, eager to learn and accessible." Kallmann: "If for no other reason than the risk of alienating a significant portion of an already too small following, the removal of Bernard seems like a mistake" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 10/29).
More than a quarter of the NHL regular season "is gone with Friday's confirmation that games Nov. 2-30 are to be written off," according to Lance Hornby of the TORONTO SUN. The lockout's "long shadow has erased 326 games so far," and likely will "fall next" on the Jan 1. Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Mich., and the Jan. 27 All-Star Game in Columbus. The league, which has a $3M deal "to rent the University of Michigan's 'Big House' for the New Year's Day game" between the Maple Leafs and Red Wings will "get penalized financially if it waits beyond next week to cancel." Sources said that the NHL "could use an out to save itself all but $100,000 if it acts before the end of next week." While most owners are "under orders" from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman "not to comment on the lockout, players past and present teed off on Friday." Lightning RW Martin St. Louis in a text message wrote, "They don't want to meet, (they) cancelled November. Way to go Gary, you really care about the game!" (TORONTO SUN, 10/27). In Detroit, Ted Kulfan noted the NHL needs "at least six weeks to build rinks in Ann Arbor -- and at Comerica Park, where alumni, minor league, junior, high school and youth league games are scheduled [to] be played during a week-long festival." That sets a "target date for an agreement between the owners and players of mid-November." Kulfan: "And that doesn't look good" (DETROIT NEWS, 10/27). The TORONTO SUN's Hornby in a separate piece noted the NHL will "lose its nationally televised moment in the sun with the cancellation of the Hall of Fame Game Nov. 9" between the Maple Leafs and Devils, in which '12 inductee Mats Sundin "was to get an emotional home-ice send off." No hockey games at the Air Canada Centre means "fewer visitors to the nearby Hall." Hockey HOF President & COO Jeff Denomme on Friday said, "We've felt the impact right away at the gate. We've already had to do some adjusting to staff modelling. In the last lockout (the 2004-05 season wasn't played) we lost about 25% revenue. It's too early to tell this time, but it could be more challenging because the economy is (weaker)." He added, "No game would be disappointing, because it's an integral part of our weekend" (TORONTO SUN, 10/27).
FINANCIAL IMPACTS: In Nashville, Josh Cooper noted by canceling a "larger chunk of games, the league gave teams a chance to book replacement events at their arenas and recoup some lost revenue." It is "unclear if the Predators have plans to fill their open dates at Bridgestone [Arena], but lining up big events on short notice is difficult." Metropolitan Sports Authority Board Member Steve North said, "A lot of these things are booked a year in advance or more" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 10/27). In Philadelphia, Sam Carchidi projected the Flyers will have "lost $17.1 million in gate receipts for the 13 home games they will miss through the end of November." The league "estimates that it will have lost $720 million because of the missed games" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 10/27). In Minneapolis, Michael Russo noted the Wild organization "loses a $1.1 million gate for every home game canceled" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 10/27). In Ft. Lauderdale, Harvey Fialkov noted the latest cancellation "dramatically hurts the Panthers in the pocketbook, as their annual Thanksgiving homestand is usually the second-most attended group of games during the season, behind the New Year's Eve homestand" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 10/27). In Philadelphia, Frank Seravalli noted the latest cancellations will "cause the players to miss four of their scheduled 13 paychecks (Oct. 15, Oct. 30, Nov. 15, Nov. 30) due throughout a regular season." For the average NHL salary of $2.5M, a "loss of 26.5 percent of the season equates to a roughly $662,500 pay cut" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 10/27).
DEADLINES FOR A DEAL: Rangers G Martin Biron on Friday said, "It's the same thing they did eight years ago. It's the same thing the NBA did, the NFL did, is just putting in deadlines and trying to pressure players into taking bad deals. And that's not really negotiation, and that's why it's not going anywhere" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 10/27). The GLOBE & MAIL's Sean Gordon wrote, "The aim here is pretty evident: test the players' resolve by threatening a shortened season with pro-rated salaries, which would force them to give up roughly the amount of money the league was asking for in terms of salary concessions in its last offer." It is a "reasonable tactic from the NHL's point of view, but don't expect the players to blink -- certainly not until it actually becomes logistically impossible to play a full season." That "won't be for at least another three weeks" (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/27). Hockey HOFer Ken Dryden said, "Obviously they figure they can go to the end of April for the regular season, the end of June for the playoffs. I think most years, where there's a lockout in any league, you do lose games. The question is, at a certain point, you lose too many games to make it a representative season. I think that number is probably around 50. If you can play 50 games, you can play a season" (CALGARY SUN, 10/27). The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts wrote, "My best guess is the owners and players still have at least two weeks to figure out how they are going to arrive at a 50-50 split of NHL revenue and save an 82-game season" (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/27). The GLOBE & MAIL's Gordon in a separate piece wrote it is "good for the league if there is a sense of doom over the coming season." The NHL "knows there are players who fear for their future and don't want to lose a season's salary." That is "really where we are: The sides don't want any deal, they still want their deal." The NHL is "clearly testing the players' commitment to their cause." Expect the players' to "test the league's commitment to finding a way out of the cul-de-sac" (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/27).
SEEN IT ALL BEFORE: In Boston, Kevin Paul Dupont wrote the NHL is "following the template drawn up by attorney/advisor Bob Batterman, who had the NFL following a similar scorched-player policy until Patriots owner Bob Kraft infused the talks with a kinder, gentler approach." Dupont: "Is there a Kraft clone among the Original 30 owners? You can bet your last roll of black tape it’s not Bruins boss Jeremy Jacobs." Two "likely candidates" would be Flyers Chair Ed Snider and/or Red Wings Owner Mike Ilitch. But "for now, the league is following the course of its hired gun, and the players remain united behind" NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr and Special Counsel Steve Fehr. Dupont: "Either someone with a true love of the game steps in between now and mid-January, or this season is fini" (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/28). In New Jersey, Tom Gulitti wrote it is "difficult to believe this lockout has reached this point." A lot of the "blame can be placed on" Bettman and the owners, who have "repeatedly shot themselves in the foot and made this into a much more contentious process than it needed to be." Donald Fehr has "done a masterful job of uniting the players, but his main negotiating tactics have been stalling, and hammering the NHL's repeated missteps" (Bergen RECORD, 10/27). In Pittsburgh, Rob Rossi wrote under the header, "Pasts Of Bettman, Fehr Will Shape Hockey's Future." NHL fans are "left to wonder what Bettman and Fehr are doing to a sport whose future seemed bright." If Fehr is "viewed as a baseball guy working with hockey players, Bettman cannot shake the knock -- mostly from Canadians -- that he is not a hockey guy" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 10/28).
LOOKING LONG TERM: The PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER's Carchidi in a separate piece wrote, "Lost in all this waiting, all this posturing, is the fact that even if the players do lose 12 percent compared with the last CBA's revenue split -- again, the NHL says that won't be the case -- most of them will easily make that up in their next contracts." The players, who have an average salary of $2.5M, "need to understand that not only will they make up the 12 percent, but, based on recent history, they will surpass their salaries by percentages that could reach in the hundreds." But when Donald Fehr "complains about money's being deferred -- or taken from future players -- they need to look at the whole picture and take that new perspective to the bargaining table." Carchidi: "Listening, Mr. Fehr? Didn't think so" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 10/28).
Wild D Ryan Suter said that critical comments he made of Wild Owner Craig Leipold to ESPN The Magazine on Friday "came off wrong and that he just wants to play," according to Michael Russo of the Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE. Suter yesterday said of Leipold and GM Chuck Fletcher, "I know they're good people. And I know they wouldn't negotiate thinking, 'OK, let's give them this because it'll end up being this.'" He added, "I don't question Craig. I don't feel like it was negotiated unfaithfully or untruthfully" (STARTRIBUNE.com, 10/29). Suter on Friday said, "It's disappointing that the owners, they sign all these guys and some guys were signed within the last week before the CBA was up. Now, they're trying to go back on their word. ... If you can't afford to (sign contracts) then you shouldn't do it. (Leipold) signed us to contracts. At the time he said everything was fine" (ESPN.com, 10/26).
PLAYERS GETTING CRITICAL: Blue Jackets D Jack Johnson "posted his thoughts about the NHL lockout on his own website Sunday, ripping the league and team owners in a piece titled 'Where is the honor?'" Johnson wrote, "The concept that the owners are trying to dismantle existing contracts that they in good faith offered, signed, and committed to is appalling, unprofessional and disgraceful" (QMI AGENCY, 10/28). In Vancouver, Iain MacIntyre writes Suter's criticism of Leipold "delivered the most direct and damaging blow so far against the league." Bettman is "perfectly built for his task" and is "publicly impervious to criticism." Owners, with "civic standing and other businesses in play, typically are not." It will be "fascinating to see if other players now take the fight to the club level, bypassing Bettman and criticizing their owners by name." Railing against Bettman "has done players no good" (VANCOUVER SUN, 10/29). Lightning RW Martin St. Louis said, "We're telling everybody we're going to 50 percent, let's share the responsibility to get there. ... When there's a problem, we have to fix it all the time. They don't want to take responsibility, too" (TAMPABAY.com, 10/26). Wild C Matt Cullen said, "Once the full season is off the table, it's understanding all of a sudden everything goes south. ... I really hope that we can get this back on the rails and get back in the room talking here and get this thing done and get back on the ice. I think all of us understand that the window is very short before this thing can get really ugly." He added, "We're extremely close when you look at the whole big picture" (STARTRIBUNE.com, 10/26).
EUROPEAN INFLUENCES: The AP reported that the KHL said that two games between Dynamo Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg that had been "set for Brooklyn's new Barclays Center have been moved back to Russia." The teams were "supposed to meet in Brooklyn on Jan. 19 and 20," but the league announced Friday they "instead will play in St. Petersburg on Jan. 20 and in Moscow two days later." The KHL said that it "made the switch because of the NHL lockout" (AP, 10/26). QMI AGENCY noted the reason for the cancellation "wasn't clear." It would seem that "if the NHL was still in lockout mode, the games in Brooklyn would have provided the KHL with a big boost in visibility and media coverage" (QMI AGENCY, 10/27). YAHOO SPORTS' Nicholas Cotsonika wrote in "many ways, the vast majority of European players would rather be playing in the NHL than the KHL or anywhere else right now." They are "just visiting these leagues." But there also is a "reason a few European players have threatened to stay home if the NHL cuts their pay dramatically." In North America, they "feel like visitors culturally, and the NHL's advantage as a league, while still large, isn't quite as large as it used to be." Senators D Sergei Gonchar said, "Playing over here, it's much more enjoyable now than it was. To be honest with you, I'm enjoying it here. For me, it goes either way (if the entire NHL season is canceled). I like it here. I enjoy my teammates. We have a great team. So I don't care" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/27).
CHARITY GAMES GO ON: In Chicago, Chris Kuc noted members of the ’10 Stanley Cup-winning Blackhawks on Friday night “skated together during the ‘Champs for Charity’ exhibition at Allstate Arena.” The game raised an announced $353,000 for “Ronald McDonald House Charities of Illinois and Northwest Indiana” and a crowd of 11,649 was reported (CHICAGOTRIBUNE.com, 10/26). Also in Chicago, Adam Jahns noted it was "an impressive crowd for a charity game.” The atmosphere at the game “was better than at the last two NHL All-Star Games.” It served as "proof that fans ultimately will come back after the NHL’s lockout no matter how infuriated they are and no matter how many times you hear that the league is destroying itself with another lockout.” Jahns: “They came back in 1995. They came back in 2005. And they’ll come back after this one” (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 10/28). In DC, Stephen Whyno noted the fans “provided an entertaining atmosphere and the game evolved like an all-star game in which all the players wanted to be there” (WASHINGTON TIMES, 10/28). The STAR TRIBUNE's Russo notes 30 NHLers last night “put on a show for 3,000 NHL-starved fans at Mariucci Arena” to benefit charity (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 10/29).
NBA Commissioner David Stern said he was “surprised” the news of his February ’14 retirement did not leak to the media, according to Scott Cacciola of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. Stern said, “I was stunned that after having the discussion in a room with the owners on Wednesday afternoon that it did not leak overnight.” But Stern said the move was “in line with a very strong request that I had made (to the owners).” When asked if he had “cooled on the idea of European expansion,” Stern said, “No, I was never heated on it. … Every year I say it'll be there in about 10 years. My problem now is that I've been saying that for 10 years.” He added, “Given the economies there, it's not going to happen anytime soon.” Stern: “But I do believe that the time will come when that will be an item of consideration by then-ownership of the NBA.” He continued: “In Latin America ... we've had some interest expressed for (an NBA Development League) team in Monterrey (Mexico), and for a team in other countries where it would partner with a local football club, which is what you Americans call soccer. That's the way that we talk about league expansion” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 10/27).
FRIENDS IN THE END? Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban said of Stern's retirement, "I anticipate saving a lot of money going forward. No, it won't be the same going forward without David. David has his stamp ... has left his imprint ingrained in everything about the NBA, so certainly there's going to be a transition.” Cuban said of Stern’s legacy: "It's one of a focus on growth and recognizing that the NBA is in the entertainment business and that it's a global product, not just a local product. Whatever platforms that took us to, he was ready to go. He wasn't protective at all. He was wide open. I think that was great." NBA Deputy Commissioner & COO Adam Silver has been named Stern’s successor. Cuban said, "Adam will do a great job. I think if things go the way we want, the biggest decision and hurdle will be what trophy we name after David. I nominate the Most Fined in a Season Award, but it probably won't be my decision” (ESPNDALLAS.com, 10/26).
LASTING LEGACY: In Boston, Gary Washburn wrote Stern “brought coolness and sophistication to the NBA.” It is undeniable that the league “developed into a professional sports juggernaut under his administration.” What Stern “initiated was marketing the league’s superstars.” His legacy as a “pioneer for the game is unquestioned, regardless of whether there was a ferocious businessman behind the affable smile” (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/28). In Indianapolis, Bob Kravitz wrote Stern “did an amazing thing during his tenure,” as he made a “black league palatable to white Americans.” The case “can be made, and should be made, that Stern was one of the greatest commissioners in the history of professional American sports.” Stern “recognized the power of TV and superstars.” In addition, the case could be made in recent years that he “became a little bit too powerful.” But he also has “made this league a far better one than the one he adopted back in 1984” (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 10/28). In California, Marcia Smith writes Stern “kept pace with change.” The mark he will leave on the NBA “will be as the Johnny Appleseed of the game” (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 10/29).
A CLOSER LOOK: In N.Y., Mitch Lawrence wrote, "If you want to get on Stern for the big stuff, as he heads into his final 15 months of service as commissioner, we can think of a few items" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 10/28). In Charlotte, Rick Bonnell wrote during Stern’s tenure the “curmudgeon began to outweigh the visionary.” Stern can “out-debate almost anyone,” but at some point he “decided cajoling and intimidating people was a better course than winning them over.” Stern has "always displayed" both leadership and vision “in abundance.” Bonnell: “I just wish he’d been better at treating people the way he’d expect to be treated” (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 10/28). ESPN's Dan Le Batard said Stern was “condescending, he was smug, he was a bully, but he got a lot done in his career." Le Batard: "What I’ve been amazed by is if he had retired two years ago, maybe three years ago, we’d be singing glowing praises of David Stern" ("Dan Le Batard Is Highly Questionable," ESPN2, 10/26).
STERN WARNING: ESPN.com’s Scoop Jackson wrote Stern knew the time “was right, he knew to exit the game before the whispers of the greatest commissioner ever's continued decline got louder.” He had become the “equivalent of a genius on the verge of madness.” But the one thing Stern “will remind us before he leaves is how you can't be half a gangster and expect the world to rightfully kiss your ring when you say goodbye” (ESPN.com, 10/26).
UFC on Nov. 10 will hold its first card in China with UFC on Fuel 6, and the event "won't say much about what will occur in three, five or 10 years,” as UFC's interest in China and the entire Asian market “is a long-term play,” according to Kevin Iole of YAHOO SPORTS. Moments after the conclusion of the Nov. 10 event, "analysis of what it all means will commence.” The “size of the crowd, its understanding of mixed martial arts, the media's interest and all the various possibilities will be intensely dissected” shortly after the Rich Franklin-Cung Le main event ends. But the “success, or the lack thereof, of that specific card will mean nothing when viewed against the long-term picture.” Despite the growth of the sport, it is “going to take years to cultivate the market.” Brazil is “without question” now the UFC's “most fervent market.” TV ratings are “astronomical, and even fighters who are largely unknown in the American market are stars in Brazil.” However, Brazil is “hardly an overnight success story.” Iole: “Expect a similar slow buildup in China. While China has a rich history with the traditional martial arts, it only recently has begun to look at mixed martial arts.” UFC Asia Managing Dir Mark Fischer said, "The rise is happening; it's just not taking off like a rocket ship just yet." Iole noted UFC has “pushed a strong marketing effort in the country, to a point where Fischer feels the UFC is more advanced at a similar stage than the NBA was when it first made its push into China.” Fischer is the former NBA Asia Senior VP & Managing Dir and “began culling the Chinese mainland in 1998.” Fischer: "We're moving on a bit of a faster path. In this age of media now, with the Internet and so forth, we have more avenues than when the NBA was at this stage” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/26).