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The NHL and NHLPA are "tentatively scheduled to resume bargaining talks" tomorrow in N.Y., according to sources cited by Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com. The NHLPA also has scheduled "an internal conference call between the negotiation committee and the executive board" for today (ESPN.com, 11/4). NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said of a Saturday meeting with NHLPA Special Counsel Steve Fehr, "We met on and off for most of the day and covered a lot of ground." The CP's Chris Johnston noted it "represented a significant departure in protocol from the last few months, when the parties rarely sat down together for more than an hour or two at a time." The meeting was "unique because it included just the No. 2 men from the league and union, perhaps offering a harbinger of better times ahead" (CP, 11/4). In L.A., Helene Elliott noted after Saturday's meeting, instead of "engaging in finger-pointing and rhetoric afterward," Daly and Fehr "each issued a straightforward statement Sunday." That is "huge progress in itself." The big breakthrough "occurred last week, when the league agreed to adjust its stance on the 'make whole' clause in its last proposal." The league "apparently is willing to rework that to ensure the players get the full value of their contracts, though it's not clear how exactly that will happen" (LATIMES.com, 11/4). In New Jersey, Tom Gulitti notes Daly and Fehr yesterday put out statements that were "reserved but generally positive" (Bergen RECORD, 11/5).
A CHANGE IN TONE: In Toronto, Kevin McGran noted one thing about Saturday's meeting "was clear: this round of talks is different." For one, it "involved the deputies, not the main characters." Secondly, they "are talking." Thirdly, the talks are "being held in secret, effectively keeping rhetoric to a minimum" (TORONTO STAR, 11/4). In N.Y., Pat Leonard noted the two sides are "doing their best to avoid any of the counterproductive, public relations spin that has marked much of this NHL lockout" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 11/4). On Long Island, Steve Zipay wrote the tone after Saturday's meeting was "far more cordial than after previous sessions." Union leaders also "conducted a conference call Sunday to brief players on the developments" (NEWSDAY, 11/4). In Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch writes the "icy relationship between the NHL and NHLPA may finally be showing signs of a thaw." There are "indications progress was actually made" (OTTAWA SUN, 11/5). The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts writes the "ugly public-relations fallout after the NHL cancelled the Winter Classic on Friday appears to have spurred the latest talks" (GLOBE & MAIL, 11/5).
PERHAPS A COMPROMISE: TSN.com's Darren Dreger noted the league "amended a proposal made last month to shift the cost of the NHL -- designed 'make whole' provision from the players share over to the owners side." The concept of "make whole" is a "protection plan to cover player salary reduction in dropping the players revenue share from 57 per cent to 50 per cent in Year 1 of a new CBA" (TSN.ca, 11/3). In Minneapolis, Michael Russo wrote this is a "huge concession because players have made very clear in the last little bit that they are willing to go to a 50-50 split as long as all their contracts mutually negotiated in good faith under the previous collective bargaining agreement are honored in full." If that is true, and "there's indeed no strings attached to this owner proposition, this would be a huge step toward a new CBA and then moving on" (STARTRIBUNE.com 11/4). Meanwhile, in Chicago, Chris Kuc cited a source as saying that the league's latest offer of a 50-50 split is "not only off the table, but the NHL has shifted its focus on getting more than half" of hockey-related revenue under the new agreement. One owner has even "urged his peers on the Board of Governors to stick with the league's initial offer of 43 percent for the players, though is believed unrealistic" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 11/4).
PUT A CAP ON IT: The GLOBE & MAIL's Shoalts writes, "Trouble looms from a couple of surprising groups on each side of the labour divide." At issue are "two changes from the former collective agreement in what goes into the salary cap, in particular the payroll floor." NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, in his last offer, before the previous round of talks broke off on Oct. 18, said that teams would "no longer be allowed to count player bonus money on their payroll in order to get to the floor." He also proposed "all player salaries above $105,000 (all currency U.S.), even those on a team’s minor-league roster, would now be included under the salary cap." This "alarmed two groups." One is a "lot of NHL owners, many of whom were considered moderates, who are not happy that under this proposal they could no longer include on their payroll bonus money that would likely never be paid in order to get to the salary floor," which was $48.3M in '11-12. The other "unhappy group is all of the players in the AHL, who would effectively see their salaries capped at $105,000 under Bettman’s offer" (GLOBE & MAIL, 11/5). In N.Y., Larry Brooks writes, "Cap the players at 51 percent of hockey-related revenue but guarantee the players 49 percent." Combined with a "lower floor, this diminishes the chance the league would ever have to issue make-whole checks to the union following any season" (NYPOST.com, 11/4).
ASSESSING THE MESS: In Illinois, Barry Rozner wrote under the header, "Does Bettman Really Care About NHL?" Bettman works for the "benefit of few owners who are either bad at running a business or are in a market where they can't make hockey work." Rozner: "I asked an NHL executive last week how many owners we're talking about here, and he said he thought the number was between six and eight." It seems that "proving a point and getting the players to pay for the owners' mistakes is all that matters to Bettman" (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 11/4). In Vancouver, Tony Gallagher wrote under the header, "NHL Wants The Players To Pay For Its Mistakes. Over-Expansion, Poor Locations Prime Reasons Some Teams Lose Cash" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 11/4).
DEEP LOYALTY? In St. Louis, Mike Reilly writes Bettman is the "worst commissioner in modern sports history for this reason: He's never been humbled." Reilly: "How much abuse will hockey fans accept before they find other uses for their money?" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 11/5). But in Chicago, Rick Telander wrote, "The owners -- and, to a much lesser extent, the players -- have no fear. They know fans are suckers. They know fans' desire to be entertained is boundless." When the dispute is settled the fans "will be back, bigger than ever" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 11/4).
The '13 Winter Classic was canceled on Friday, and NHL officials said that the Red Wings and Maple Leafs "will play in the next Classic -- presumably Jan. 1, 2014 -- in Ann Arbor," according to Ted Kulfan of the DETROIT NEWS. Univ. of Michigan AD Dave Brandon said, "Our relationship with the NHL has been terrific. ... We are glad they are committed to bring the next game to the Big House." Red Wings D Ian White: "We've already had some damage that won't be able to be undone to our sport. (The league) just continues to pile on. It actually embarrasses me as a player. You go out in public, people view us differently from this. The NHL just continues along this path" (DETROIT NEWS, 11/4). In N.Y., Jeff Klein wrote the loss of the Classic "was a sobering note" for the NHLPA. Union officials for months had said that they "expected the league to cancel the game as a negotiating tactic." Rangers C Brad Richards: "I don't know why that needs to be canceled. You can play it in February. The stadium's not going anywhere." But NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in several e-mail messages last week wrote that the league "had no plan or intention to 'resurrect' the game this season" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/4). ESPN.com's Strang & Custance wrote the decision to cancel the game "was based on a number of factors, and logistics were a concern." The NHL was "tasked with a unique challenge this year in building two rinks -- one at 'The Big House' and one at Comerica Park." The league "did not want to host such an event without the usual bells and whistles ... and it did not want the pageantry of the event tainted by the work stoppage" (ESPN.com, 11/2). HBO's "24/7" reality series, which in years past has followed the two teams leading up to the Winter Classic, "will not happen" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/3).
CAUSE & EFFECT: In Boston, Steve Conroy wrote this year's Winter Classic "was supposed to be the biggest one yet." One exec said, "It obviously means we won’t have those millions of dollars of revenue. But the game has also become kind of a jumping-off point for the rest of the season in the States. It’s not good" (BOSTON HERALD, 11/4). In Raleigh, Chip Alexander noted the loss of the game "could cost the league at least $10 million in gate receipts" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 11/3). The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts offered a breakdown of the events that necessitated, "at least in the league's mind, the cancellation of the NHL's marquee event." The tipping point "may have been the result of the labour negotiations or, specifically, the enormous ill will between the owners, players and fans caused by the lockout." The players were "angry about the prospect of playing" (GLOBE & MAIL, 11/3). The GLOBE & MAIL's Shoalts in a separate piece wrote by cancelling the Classic, the league and its owners "just made like Wile E. Coyote and set off a bomb in their own faces." The move "is a black eye for the league." One NHL exec said, "I don't care about the PR hit." But the exec added that the game should have been cancelled "the minute the owners came to believe the NHLPA saw the game as a bargaining carrot" (GLOBE & MAIL, 11/3). ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun wrote if there is a '12-13 season, it "has been poisoned by a labor impasse." Players are "already grumbling ... that they won’t bend over backward for league events or appearances once hockey resumes." The "bad blood that’s brewing between owners and players is far from done boiling over." The NHL and the Red Wings "don't want to host a tainted Winter Classic" (ESPN.com, 11/2).
BOUNCE-BACK POTENTIAL: ESPN.com's Scott Burnside wrote the Winter Classic "isn't broken." Burnside: "And kudos for the NHL, which agonized over this decision even as late as Friday morning, for immediately announcing" that the Red Wings would host the '14 game against the Maple Leafs. Next fall, the Winter Classic "has the power, the potential, to be a bridge between the disgrace of the lockout and what the players and owners will be hoping is a fresh start." With the NHL "wanting to make a big splash in returning from the current lockout, perhaps it will take an aggressive look at having multiple outdoor games in the U.S." (ESPN.com, 11/2).
MOTOR CITY MADHOUSE: In Detroit, John Niyo wrote, "In effect, it's just a postponement for both events." Red Wings officials "did not want to stage a rushed, cut-rate version of this major event in the immediate aftermath of an ugly labor war" (DETROIT NEWS, 11/4). Also in Detroit, Helene St. James noted the Red Wings tomorrow "plan to communicate with their original ticket purchasers by email ... allowing them to either receive a full refund on tickets and associated fees or maintain their tickets for future Winter Classic and Winter Festival events" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 11/2). In Toronto, Steve Simmons wrote it has been a "tough time" for Red Wings and Tigers Owner Mike Ilitch. Not only "did his Tigers get swept out of the World Series but he lost his festival of hockey planned around the Winter Classic" (TORONTO SUN, 11/4).
A potential NFL developmental league is something league officials have "studied in the past, and it’s really come into focus now with the demise of the UFL," according to Jason La Canfora of CBS. There are people on the NFL Competition Committee "who believe there could be a four- to six-team bus league where it replaces what used to be the World League of Football, and you have guys here in the spring playing in smaller U.S. cities." La Canfora: "Scouts can be there, it’s easy to get around. This is something that could come before the owners for a vote in the spring at that ownership meeting if they can build a consensus within the competition committee on exactly which plan to move forward with” (“The NFL Today,” CBS, 11/4).
CROSSING THE POND: In Boston, Greg Bedard wrote, “I was very impressed with the Rams-Patriots game in London." Wembley Stadium last Sunday was “packed, the crowd was into it, the turf was superb, and there were no problems from an operational standpoint that I could see.” It had a “big-game atmosphere, somewhat akin to a Super Bowl in that both games have a sizable contingent that isn’t totally familiar with the game.” Ticket prices “started at $75.” But when the NFL “finally puts a team there -- and it’s coming after Los Angeles, because the owners want it -- my advice after talking to a few fans is for the NFL to ignore its sizable ego and slash ticket prices” (BOSTON GLOBE, 11/4). SI’s L. Jon Wertheim writes, “The league hasn’t given up its global ambitions. And what better place to establish a beachhead than the U.K.?” Wertheim: “There’s a rich sporting culture. No language barrier. A wealth of potential TV partners.” The cynic “might point out that the U.K.’s lax regulations on sports gambling also tip the odds in the NFL’s favor” (SI, 11/5 issue).
SEEING IS BELIEVING: All Week 9 NFL games sold out for TV, marking the third consecutive weekend and fifth time this season that all games were televised locally. Ninety-seven percent of games sold out for local TV -- the third highest rate through Week 9 and up from 94% at this point last season. Paid attendance through eight weeks was up more than 1,000 per game to 65,610 from 64,609 in ’11 (NFL). PRO FOOTBALL TALK’s Michael David Smith wrote, “There are, however, a few caveats. For starters, blackouts are down in part because the NFL changed the rules this year to make it easier for teams to get blackouts lifted in their home markets.” When some teams have already played five home games and other teams have only played three, it is “possible that an attendance increase could just be a statistical quirk related to teams with bigger stadiums having had more home games.” It is also “entirely possible that we’ll see an uptick in blackouts over the second half of the season.” In addition to “more blackouts in San Diego and Tampa, we could easily see blackouts over the second half of the season in places like Oakland, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Jacksonville” (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 11/2).
PAYTON’S PLACE: ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter cited sources as saying that “within the past year, the multiyear contract extension the Saints announced for Sean Payton in September 2011 was voided by the NFL, making the suspended head coach a free agent after this season.” Sources said that as “recently as March, when Payton was visiting NFL offices to appeal his yearlong suspension in the bounty scandal, he asked NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for the status of his contract extension and was told it was unsatisfactory as it initially was constituted.” Sources also said that “at issue in the contract was one specific clause that would have enabled Payton to walk away from the deal if general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended, fired or left the New Orleans organization.” Schefter noted the NFL “believed that any such language in Payton's contract would set a bad precedent for other coaching contracts and rejected the deal well before Loomis was suspended for the first eight games this season for his part in the bounty scandal” (ESPN.com, 11/4). Goodell said that the Saints and Payton “haven’t submitted a new contract since the NFL rejected the first one.” ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas noted Payton “isn’t allowed to talk to Saints’ officials" while he is suspended. Yasinskas: "So I don’t know that this situation will be resolved until after the Super Bowl” (ESPN.com, 11/4).
Concerns over tennis' "lack of doping safeguards deepened on Sunday when Roger Federer, president of the Association of Tennis Professionals' player council, revealed that he was not being drug tested as much now as he was in the mid-2000s," according to Simon Briggs of the London TELEGRAPH. Federer's comments "came on the heels of Andy Murray's calls for more testing to be carried out, and they reflect the lack of rigour" in the sport's defenses. Federer said, "I feel I am being tested less now than six or seven years ago." Briggs wrote Federer "did not have the exact statistics of his own tests to hand, but ITF documents show that he was tested between five and nine times" in '11. The equivalent figure from '10 was "more than eight." Federer: "Whatever number it is, I do not think it is enough. I think they should up it a little bit, or a lot. It is vital that the sport stays clean. We have had a good history in terms of that and we want to ensure it stays that way." Tennis player Novak Djokovic said, "I agree. We are trying to make this sport as clean as possible, as fair as possible, and I have nothing against testing. Why not? We should do it more" (London TELEGRAPH, 11/5).
LED BY FED: USA TODAY's Douglas Robson wrote after "leading the ATP Tour Players Council as president the last three years, Federer has become a savvy student of the laws of political governance." Much of Federer's "behind-the-scenes work this year has focused on persuading the four majors to share a larger piece of the revenue pie with players." He also has "lobbied that a larger percentage of prize money go to earlier rounds to rectify a growing income distribution gap." That work has "increasingly fallen on his shoulders" as both Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, once Player Council members, "left their leadership positions." At the Masters event last month in Shanghai, Federer arrived on a Friday and "discussed strategy" with ATP player and board reps "till about 1 a.m." He practiced the next morning, "spent about 7 hours in meetings with various representatives of the Grand Slams and still attended the player party Saturday night." On Sunday evening, he "hosted three hours of meetings in his hotel room with the Player Council, ATP executive staff and U.S. Open executives -- all before he struck a match ball" (USATODAY.com, 11/4).
NEED TO LET UP? Former tennis player Pat Cash in a special to the LONDON TIMES writes players are feeling fatigued as the "tennis season has extended into an 11th successive month of competition." At the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, a "small matter of 262,000 paying customers and millions of television viewers will expect the eight men who contest this week's big event, worth a potential [US$1.75M] to the winner, to be at their peak." Decisions made by the ATP "are contributing heavily to the fatigue felt by these players." Cash: "I'm not the first and won't be the last to say these players are expected to play too many tournaments." The decision to shorten the tour "is a good one." But "continuing to make playing surfaces slow, therefore extending most rallies and in turn causing the matches to last way longer, is taking a heavy toll and is the main cause of weariness" (LONDON TIMES, 11/4).