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After "limited communications" over the weekend between NHLPA Special Counsel Steve Fehr and NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, the "stalemate between the sides continues, making it likely that the Winter Classic will be canceled," according to Katie Strang of ESPN N.Y. A source said that the league is "expected to cancel the Winter Classic on Thursday." Daly yesterday said that the two sides have "no plans to meet." The NHL and the NHLPA "have not resumed negotiations since swapping proposals in Toronto almost two weeks ago, and it seems clear that the impasse is not close to ending" (ESPNNY.com, 10/29). Daly said that if the NHL cancels the Winter Classic, it "has no plans to reschedule the event for this season, even if there is a prompt settlement to the lockout." Daly: "I can certainly confirm that if the game is canceled, there is no 'resurrection' scenario for this year." In N.Y., Jeff Klein notes the NHL's contract with the Univ. of Michigan to host the game states that the league "can cancel as late as the day of the game and pay only a minimal penalty." The contract "does not grant the league access to the stadium for rink-building purposes until Dec. 1." While the sponsorship arrangements surrounding the Winter Classic "may require an early decision on cancellation, the physical setup of the rink could be done relatively late." If the NHL cancels the Winter Classic "before Saturday, it will forfeit $100,000 of its $3 million rental fee." If the league cancels "at any point from Saturday until Jan. 1, it will forfeit the same $100,000 and whatever expenses the university incurs up to the time of cancellation." In both cases, UM "would refund the remainder of the NHL's $3 million rental fee" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/30).
LOSING MORE THAN JUST A GAME: S&E Sponsorship Group CEO Brian Cooper, whose company represents a number of corporate clients who do business with the NHL, said that the pending cancellation of the Winter Classic is "a significant moment in the league's ongoing labour dispute." Cooper: "This is the first year that it really affects Canada. There was going to be a lot of in-market (sponsorship) activations, there were going to be a lot of hosting opportunities, there were going to be consumer promotions. ... This was a big date." Cooper estimated that this season's event "was poised to generate about $3 million in corporate sponsorships, not to mention revenue lost from ticket and merchandise sales that are unmatched on any other single day during the NHL season" (CP, 10/29). In Detroit, Helene St. James reports if the Winter Classic get canceled, "so does the Winter Festival," scheduled for Dec. 16-31 at Comerica Park. NHL Operations personnel "haven't been to Ann Arbor since September, and don't have any visits planned for November" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 10/30). Also in Detroit, Ted Kulfan writes canceling the Winter Classic and Hockeytown Winter Festival would "be a staggering blow for the league and Metro Detroit" (DETROIT NEWS, 10/30). In Toronto, Lance Hornby writes both the Maple Leafs and Red Wings "will gladly come back and play in 2014 and the school has already indicated there will be no hard feelings." But Ann Arbor and Detroit were "counting on as much as $75 million to be generated" (TORONTO SUN, 10/30).
BARGAINING CHIP: ESPN.com's Craig Custance wrote the Winter Classic is "just too big an event, especially ambitious this year in Ann Arbor, Mich., to try to throw together in a short period of time." The Winter Classic has "long been seen as the harbinger of the state of CBA negotiations." Losing that event is "a sign of just how fruitless the negotiations have been." It could mean this lockout "will drag on longer than anyone originally feared" (ESPN.com, 10/29). In Philadelphia, Frank Seravalli writes, "It has appeared all along that the NHLPA has built its campaign around the NHL not being willing to cancel their largest revenue generator of the season." That "bluff may be called this week" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 10/30).
THE FEHR FACTOR: In Minneapolis, Michael Russo noted NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr "felt it was incumbent upon him to travel to Minnesota" yesterday, because the more than 30 NHLers based in the state "asked for a meeting a week or so ago so they can be updated on the work stoppage and ask questions." While in town, Russo sat down with Fehr for an interview. Below are excerpts from their conversation.
Q: Where are we going from here? Fehr: I don’t know the answer, and believe me, I wouldn’t keep it to myself if I did. Q: You succeeded in baseball fighting the cap. You could have quite the legacy if you reversed the cap in hockey. Fehr: Look, I’m not going to discuss what we might do in other proposals down the road. We would still like to make an agreement and to negotiate from the proposals that we’ve made. We think they provide an excellent framework from which to do it. We gave them three different approaches to have the player share fall over time. It’s an eminently reasonable position, and their position seems to be to cut the share immediately, which has the effect of cutting the individual contracts, including one’s they just signed a few weeks ago. And you’ve got to wonder how somebody can look at themselves in the mirror when they do that. Q: I always wonder and I think fans do, how do you justify fighting for 12.3 percent of a salary when you’re potentially risking the loss of 100 percent if we lose a season? Fehr: If this was a one-year agreement, that would make a lot of sense. But it’s not. It’s a five-or-six-or-seven-year agreement. Also, look at what’s on the table (from the owners), there’s a lot more that’s on the table in addition to just player share. Q: Are you worried about fractures in the union or players worried about lost wages? Are some players frightened? Fehr: Yeah. ... But that doesn’t mean you make a bad agreement because of it. Q: Have you talked to the league about expansion? Fehr: We asked them if they have any plans for expansion, if it’s even on the calendar or anything like that, and they’ve said no (STARTRIBUNE.com, 10/29).
WHAT THE PLAYERS ARE SAYING: Hurricanes C Eric Staal said that the players' solidarity "has not wavered." Staal: "There's still resolve but guys are also anxious" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 10/30). Devils G Martin Brodeur said, "The league really had almost the same attitude as the last time around. And with the last few weeks and the way they've conducted themselves, I don't know what's in the back of their heads, but they seem to be on a path that we saw seven years ago and it's not something that's fun to see." He added, "You know what I'm worried about? I don't live in a hockey-driven town, New Jersey isn't like Toronto or Montreal or Detroit. And people now that I see don't even think about talking to me about hockey. ... We brought a lot of attention to our sport and to our league in this area. But slowly you just see how people start asking me less about hockey around here. You have to worry about that a little bit" (ESPN.com, 10/29). Kings D Willie Mitchell said the NHL is "one of the only places in the world where they (owners) sign them (contracts) and renege on them without us being creditors" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 10/30). In L.A., Helene Elliott wrote it was "surprising" to see that Blue Jackets D Jack Johnson's website "has the Blue Jackets logo on it and a link to the league's site." During the lockout, the league and teams "have removed images of active players from the front pages of their respective websites as part of a policy of not promoting the players they're battling with at the negotiating table." Some league or team official "is likely to swoop in on that pretty quickly" (LATIMES.com, 10/29).
STUCK IN THE MIDDLE: In Pittsburgh, Dave Molinari notes Penguins C Sidney Crosby has not gone to play overseas "because the cost of insuring his contracts with the Penguins." Crosby's future earnings and recent physical problems "converge in a perfect storm of circumstances to bloat the price of insurance." His agent, CAA Hockey co-Head Pat Brisson, said that it could "cost as much as $400,000 per month to get Crosby the coverage he needs." That kind of expense "doesn't fit into the budget of most European clubs, let alone the organizers of games designed to raise money for charitable causes." Crosby said, "I think guys are all probably a bit surprised that (the lockout) has gone on for this long, if anything. I don't think the belief or the unity has changed at all" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 10/30).
CONSIDER THIS...: CBSSPORTS.com's Brian Stubits wrote the idea of an amnesty clause has been "conspicuously absent and doesn't seem like it is going to make an appearance" in the CBA talks. In a lockout where "everything is or should be at least considered, the amnesty's absence is surprising." It would "behoove everybody to at least consider life with a buyout option." It would seem to "help everybody get to where they want to be" (CBSSPORTS.com, 10/29)....SPORTING NEWS' Jesse Spector wrote under the header, "Could Existing, Unhappy Teams Form A Rebel League?" If fans "want to see a 'rebel league' shake up the hockey world, the best way to do it would be for the rebels to come from within" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 10/29).
The departure of IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard "has played out like an episode of Keystone Cops, threatening to push IndyCar into a full-blown crisis,” according to Jenna Fryer of the AP. But the series “doesn't seem to think it has a crisis, even though powerful team owner Roger Penske accused the board of directors of showing ‘poor judgment.'" Penske said, "There is no future plan. They need to realize this will hurt teams with major sponsors. We need continuity." Interim CEO Jeff Belskus said that he "hasn't set an established timeline to hire a CEO.” Fryer wrote IndyCar has “done little to calm the storm brewing since the season ended Sept. 15.” There were “no public reassurances from IndyCar on Monday that everything will be fine, the series can do better without Bernard and that a strategy is in place for growth and stability.” PR firm Tuckahoe Strategies President Ramsey Poston, who previously served as NASCAR Managing Dir of Communications, said, "IndyCar is in crisis. ... Every day that goes by without a leader or a well-defined plan is damaging to the 2013 season and beyond.” But team Owner Chip Ganassi maintains that this “current storm has been blown out of proportion by the media and is much ado about nothing” (AP, 10/29). USA TODAY’s Jeff Olson writes, "It's not so much the decision to get rid of Bernard that makes one question the wisdom of those in charge.” IndyCar "took a multi-million-dollar hit this year from the mismanagement of the canceled race in China.” The issue of the cost of replacement parts "was legitimate, as were questions about scheduling and direction.” But the “real damage comes in the form of public relations, or the lack thereof,” as a “once-proud and iconic sport is undone and embarrassed (again) by politics and those who practice them” (USA TODAY, 10/30).
ASKING FOR DIRECTIONS: In Indianapolis, Curt Cavin wrote one issue surrounding Bernard's exit that "hasn’t gotten much discussion" is the "sudden departure in July" of IndyCar COO Marc Koretzky. Koretzky was one of Bernard’s “big hires, and that didn’t end well.” The IndyCar BOD “needs someone to step up and be transparent about where this series stands.” If finances “were a problem in Randy’s tenure, say so.” Cavin: “Show us. Show cause for this” (INDYSTAR.com, 10/29). AUTOWEEK.com’s Steven Cole Smith wrote, “I've been trying to envision some sort of plan, some scenario that the IndyCar board has in mind that will make the firing of Bernard … seem sensible, and propel IndyCar in a positive direction that Bernard could not. Unless 75-year-old Roger Penske wants the job, I can't” (AUTOWEEK.com, 10/29).
TOOK A WRONG TURN: SPEEDTV.com’s Robin Miller wrote, “In the 44 years I’ve covered Indy car racing, nothing compares to the spineless, devious and classless treatment of Randy Bernard." It was "as unprofessional as it was unnecessary and certainly a black eye for a series that is the laughing stock of motorsports today.” This was a “senseless murder of a good man” (SPEEDTV.com, 10/29). Speed’s David Hobbs said, “I hate to see open-wheel racing machine gun itself in the foot all the time. They don’t just take pots shots with a .45, they literally get out the old machine gun and really rake themselves up” (“Wind Tunnel,” Speed, 10/28). ESPN.com’s John Oreovicz wrote this is “indeed a sport in crisis,” and it has been “for the past 30 years.” IndyCar fans are “upset,” as cutting ties with “the guy who has appealed to the fans and expended more energy and effort in running the show than anyone else in the past 30 years emphatically sends the wrong message” (ESPN.com, 10/29).
While the NHL lockout is "the AHL's gain, the AHL also needs the NHL's support, and continues to serve as a developmental league," according to Jesse Spector of SPORTING NEWS. Thus, AHL President David Andrews is in "a unique position as far as the NHL lockout is concerned." Asked if the NHL lockout is providing a boost for the AHL, Andrews replied, "I think it is, especially in terms of exposure for the league from a media perspective, and with a national television opportunity in Canada every weekend, and taking a lot of those games back to the U.S. and to Europe. ... Our attendance is up -- we've had the strongest start we've had, ever, in the first weekend and second weekend. Normally, this time of the year is a slower period, from the time we open up until about U.S. Thanksgiving, then it starts to take off. We're seeing heightened interest, for sure, in a lot of markets -- particularly those that are in NHL general markets, like Chicago." He added, "When the NHL comes back, we'll compete for hockey fans, and we compete with the NHL on television. One thing I believe is true is that when you see our attendance go up during a lockout, it's not NHL season-ticket holders or NHL corporate ticket holders, it's people who ordinarily watch NHL games on TV and don't have the opportunity, so they want to see it live. You hope to make an impression on those folks, provide them with a great experience, and get them to come back." Asked if labor negotiations represent the biggest difference between his job and that of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Andrews replied, "I have to do it, too. I just don't have to do it in as big a way. We have a collective bargaining agreement with our players association that we have to negotiate every three or four years" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 10/26).
WORKING WITH AFFILIATES: In Connecticut, Michael Fomabaio noted the influx of would-be NHLers that have landed in the AHL is "an opportunity for AHL teams, some of whom learned their lessons during the season-long NHL lockout of 2004-05." Bridgeport Sound Tigers President Howard Saffan said, "We're marketing extensively on Long Island through the Islanders, as well as the Port Jeff Ferry. We've created packages specifically for Islanders fans, Islanders' season ticket-holders." He added, "The Islanders' staff has been great, PR and marketing, getting our message out across the Sound." Fomabaio noted AHL teams were "averaging 5,638 fans" per game through the first 14 days of the season, while the "same 14 days" last season drew 5,558 fans per game (CONNECTICUT POST, 10/28).