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The NHL is "leaning towards canceling" the Winter Classic Friday, however, Day 47 of the lockout passed Thursday with NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA Special Counsel Steve Fehr "continuing their renewed dialogue," according to Rob Rossi of the PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW. Neither the NHL nor the NHLPA provided details of the discussions. But Daly "described talks Wednesday as 'substantive' and union officials expressed guarded optimism about a possible return to the negotiation table." A "shrewd negotiation" of the $3M contract with the Univ. of Michigan will "limit the NHL’s financial responsibility if the Winter Classic is canceled Friday." The contract for the Classic was signed Feb. 8, and it calls for "an NHL payment of $250,000 Friday." However, the contract was "worded so that the NHL will owe only $100,000 if the outdoor game is canceled before or by Friday" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 11/2). In Buffalo, John Vogl notes the "main factors in a Winter Classic cancellation could be logistical as opposed to financial." There are "tens of thousands of fans to think of, including those with airplane and hotel reservations during a holiday weekend." The NHL treats the game "as a first-class event," so the league "might not want to compromise the brand by hastily throwing it together if a collective bargaining agreement is reached" (BUFFALO NEWS, 11/2).
STEP IN THE WRONG DIRECTION: USA TODAY's Kevin Allen writes the pending cancellation of the Winter Classic "should be a reminder that the NHL is much closer to the season blowing up than anticipated during the summer." Both sides "need to pause the blame game long enough to give thought to how to resolve this mess before the button gets pushed." Maybe it is "time for owners and players to reflect sincerely on the damage being done to the game and the financial pain being inflicted on those in no position to tolerate it" (USA TODAY, 11/2). THE HOCKEY NEWS' Adam Proteau wrote if the NHL "chooses to cancel its Winter Classic event this week, it will mark a new low for a league that has become an expert in public relations excavations." All the momentum the NHL "has built with this product will be balled up and pitched into the trash the moment they mothball it." The Winter Classic "would have drawn more than 100,000 people to Michigan Stadium." Proteau: "We're talking about a significant financial infusion to a Detroit-area economy that has been battered as badly as any American city. We're talking about two Original Six teams that have so many devoted followers, there was scheduled to be an unprecedented two NHL alumni games" (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 11/1).
HOW TO SAVE FACE: In St. Louis, Jeff Gordon writes NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman "missed a glorious opportunity to rewrite his legacy." Bettman "blew his chance to shed his label as the Architect of Doom." By avoiding a "prolonged and destructive labor standoff, he could have propelled the league forward toward great relevance in the U.S. sports marketplace." By guiding the owners "through more peaceful negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, he could have built upon his many successes in recent years." Instead, hockey lovers are "lamenting the latest NHL shutdown and the looming cancellation of the season’s Winter Classic." This opportunity lost "would add another black mark on Bettman's permanent record and remind everybody he is still running a Garage League" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 11/2). In Detroit, Gregg Krupa writes among the "first orders of business in burnishing the NHL brand ought to be a 2014 Winter Classic exactly as planned for 2013." The "lure of the events planned is so strong in two countries that anything less in 2014 will be recalled as a betrayal of hockey fans from Detroit to Toronto." There may be "little alternative" to canceling the '13 event as soon as Friday, even though the cancellation "also serves Bettman and the owners as a bargaining chip." But to cancel it "without the simultaneous announcement that NHL officials will extend every effort to bring the same events to Detroit and Ann Arbor for the 2014 Winter Classic would be a grave error" (DETROIT NEWS, 11/2).
COME TO THE TABLE: In N.Y., Larry Brooks notes the NHLPA's conference call on Thursday that "included up to 100 participants was less a campaign rally than an informational exercise in which the athletes implored union leadership to continue to request face-to-face meetings with the NHL in an effort to end the lockout that has reached 48 days without an end in sight." Rangers G Martin Biron after the call said, "It’s critical that we have open lines of communication with the league. We need to meet and be able to discuss all of the issues that stand between us" (N.Y. POST, 11/2). Lightning RW B.J. Crombeen said, "We want to get a deal done, but it's very, very frustrating. What's just as frustrating as that is them telling the fans they want the game back, they're working as hard as they can, but they won't even meet with us. They won't even talk with us on anything." He added, "I personally don't think it's a major gap. It's not like that last time when there was a salary cap coming. There's obviously differences, there's some things, but I'm fairly certain if they were willing to negotiate something could get done fairly quickly" (TAMPABAY.com, 11/1).
DEJA VU? Coyotes G Mike Smith said, "The way the NHL is working right now is they're following everything by what the NBA did, and that's no surprise to us. If they really wanted an 82-game schedule and they cared about the fans like the players do, I think they would have came with that proposal before they went so far away from the players that it took them a month to get back to the point they're at now." He added, "Gary, obviously, he says he cares about the fans but in reality, if he cared about the fans that much he wouldn't keep taking away from the players to try to put more money in the owners' pockets" (AZCENTRAL.com, 11/1).
SOLUTION ORIENTED: ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun noted Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service Dir George Cohen mentioned in an e-mail that he "had been in contact with both parties in the NHL-NHLPA negotiations." Daly in an e-mail responded, "We have both separately been in touch with the FMCS at various points during this process. So far, I think we all have been in agreement that we didn't think that the introduction of a mediator into the process was timely or that it would necessarily further the process. That may change at some point, but it hasn't yet." A union spokesperson said that the NHLPA has "had 'occasional' contact with the FMCS since July" (ESPN.com, 11/1). In Toronto, Kevin McGran writes, "The path to NHL labour peace -- and a chance to save the season -- is an idea that only number crunchers could love: a cap on escrow." NHLPA Special Assistant to the Exec Dir Mathieu Schneider on Thursday said, "If they’re willing to cap escrow, there’s something to talk about. That would definitely be a step toward our direction, but that hasn’t been discussed.” Daly said, "The comment (from Schneider) is news to me, but the concept isn’t. The subject has never been raised across the table to us, either in the form of a proposal or otherwise. It’s just another way of addressing the ‘make-whole’ issue" (TORONTO STAR, 11/2).
FROM PARLIAMENT HILL: Senators Owner Eugene Melnyk said that corporate sponsorship "has not deserted his Ottawa team" during the lockout, and "neither have the fans." Melnyk: "Our season fan base, I could probably count on a couple of hands, of how many people asked for their money back. (The rest) said leave it there. All around, everybody's just being very, very supportive and are sticking with us, other than a few choice people. We've done extremely well on the corporate sponsorship side, in most areas" (OTTAWA SUN, 11/2). Meanwhile, in Ottawa, Warren & Gordon note Melnyk "broke the NHL’s internal policy against individual team personnel speaking about the on-going NHL lockout and collective bargaining agreement negotiations during a Wednesday interview" on Toronto's CJCL-AM. Melnyk, among other comments, said, “We should be playing hockey by now. Everybody knows it, and we’re not.” Daly in an e-mail wrote, "The league has a long-standing policy against club personnel speaking on collective bargaining matters.” However, Daly said that the league "employs 'discretion' and 'common sense' in determining whether specific comments cross the line." He said that the league will "remind Melynk of the policy, but so far, the Senators owner has not been fined or disciplined." Warren & Gordon note if Melnyk "is fined or even slapped on the wrist, it won’t be made public" (OTTAWA CITIZEN, 11/2).
IndyCar has not finalized a process for finding a new CEO and does not have a timeline for naming a new executive, according to Jeff Belskus, Indianapolis Motor Speedway President & CEO and the interim CEO of IndyCar. Belskus said the process will involve more outreach to IndyCar stakeholders -- sponsors, teams, drivers and others -- than the search process that resulted in Randy Bernard’s hiring in '10. He has received a few unsolicited resumes this week. He said that the series will look for someone who has experience as a CEO. “We want to find the best person we can find to lead this organization,” Belskus said. “Experience in sports and entertainment is important. Motorsports experience would be a big plus. It’s not a requirement but it would be a big plus.” Belskus this week met with IndyCar teams, sponsors and staff to discuss IMS Corp.’s priorities for next season. The series will stick with the 19-race schedule it released last month and concentrate on growing its fanbase in the future. “We’re spending a lot of time this fall, and it will go into the first quarter of 2013, on strategic planning and coming up with ways to capitalize on (opportunities),” Belskus said. “It’s going to be about creating awareness for fans at the end of the day. Through that awareness, it’s going to be engagement. How do we engage them and expose IndyCar to them?” Belskus said that IMS has only received one offer, from Tony George, to acquire IndyCar. George submitted a proposal Oct. 15 to buy the series for $5M, and claimed to have $25M in backing for the series. But Belskus said, "We’re not considering any (other offers) and we’re not soliciting any.” He later reiterated that the series is not for sale. “We’re excited about the future of IndyCar in this building" (Tripp Mickle, SportsBusiness Journal).
MOVING ON: The AP's Jenna Fryer noted Belskus in an open letter posted on the IndyCar website "admitted the past week has been challenging and called on fans to 'harness the energy and emotion of this time for the good of the sport we all love.'" Belskus said that he "planned to reach out to 'series stakeholders,' including fans, but wasn't direct when asked what impact the handling of Bernard's departure might have on a series desperate for fans." Belskus said, "It created some uncertainty, and anytime you create uncertainty I don't think that's positive. But I tell you, that we are moving ahead and we are focused on the future and 2013 now" (AP, 11/1). In Indianapolis, Curt Cavin writes, "As for how the final days of Bernard's tenure were handled by the Indianapolis-based organization -- there were rumors and denials aplenty, with Bernard finally resigning at an emergency board meeting Sunday evening -- Belskus acknowledged it was handled poorly." Belskus said, "In terms of style points, we could have done better." He would not say if Bernard "met budget goals." Belskus: "We're a private company, and we don't publicly discuss our financial results" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 11/2).
BUYER'S MARKET? USA TODAY's Nate Ryan wrote the "sheen is off big-time auto-racing in many ways, and remaining relevant is a conundrum that faces every series in this country." Ryan: "So how does NASCAR become more relevant? Well, it could buy IndyCar." NASCAR is "trying to lure a younger audience that doesn't think cars are as cool anymore." Acquiring IndyCar "might ameliorate some of those woes." It also would be "labeled heresy by both series' fervent fan bases." Each side "has something the other needs." NASCAR has "savvy leadership, shrewd marketing and the stability of permanent venues." Meanwhile, IndyCar "brings an inherently more advanced product for the digital age and a more diverse lineup" (USA TODAY, 10/31).
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy's destruction in the greater N.Y. area, major U.S. professional sports leagues were forced to close their HQs, and operate under difficult circumstances. While the safety and well-being of the leagues' employees was always top priority, most offices remained operational. THE DAILY reached out to the NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL and MLS for details regarding this week's logistical challenges in conducting business operations. The NHL had not responded as of presstime.
MLB: MLB's N.Y.-based staff of more than 250 helping run the World Series on-site spent last weekend in Detroit essentially at cross purposes due to the onset of Hurricane Sandy. While in Detroit, MLB granted its employees a liberal leave policy. League staffers were able to return to the N.Y. area whenever they felt themselves or their families were at risk amid the oncoming storm. What quickly emerged over the World Series weekend was an internal employee triage system. Those whose core tasks were finished and those with suburban families generally left Detroit first, trailed by upper Manhattan apartment dwellers less at risk from the storm. MLB also allowed staffers to stay in Detroit as long as needed to wait out the storm there. Carpools immediately formed, with dozens of staffers making the 600-mile drive from Detroit to N.Y. overnight Sunday into Monday. MLB also arranged a charter flight Tuesday morning, after the storm, for those who stayed in Detroit. MLB's automotive sponsor Chevrolet also chipped in, supplying some of the cars used for the carpools, including several promotional vehicles emblazoned with "Official Car of Major League Baseball."
NBA: The NBA's N.Y. and New Jersey offices were closed to employees on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Employees that were able to safely work from home were encouraged to do so. Key facilities and operations staff were housed in hotels near the NBA's offices for the duration of the storm. The league offices re-opened for business on Thursday for employees who had a safe and timely way to commute to the office. NBA employees still experiencing significant issues with their commute, or other issues related to the storm, were encouraged to make alternate arrangements such as modified work hours, or working from home or an alternate location. The NBA also employed a carpool for employees unable to make it into the office by public transportation or other means. Shared car services were coordinated from several outlying N.Y.-metro areas to pick up and drop off league employees. For NBA staffers without access to either running water or hot water, the league made arrangements for shower facilities at Manhattan's Equinox fitness center and the Courtyard by Marriott hotel in Secaucus, N.J.
NFL: While the NFL's N.Y. office was officially closed on Monday and Tuesday, it remained operational via mobile phones, conference calls and e-mail. The NFL set up shuttle bus services in Secaucus, N.J.; White Plains, N.Y.; Garden City, N.Y. and Stamford, Conn. to assist with employees' commutes. Daily e-mails, text messages, automated voicemails and updates on the league's website informed staff of weather developments, traffic situations and other issues. Throughout the week, the league stayed in contact with teams affected by the storm, and with those who had to modify travel plans, such as the Steelers. Additionally, the NFL remained in contact with local and state authorities in an effort to ensure the league was not diverting any resources that could be used to help the relief efforts. Hurricane Sandy also delayed the return trip from Sunday's Patriots-Rams Int'l Series game in London for many NFL employees.
MLS: MLS' N.Y. office has been closed all week and was still without power at presstime. League officials are not sure when power will return to their HQs. MLS' executive staff -- including Commissioner Don Garber, MLS President Mark Abbott and SUM President Kathy Carter -- will work out of the Proskauer Rose offices in Manhattan until the league's main office returns to full operations. Many MLS employees are working remotely from home.