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The NHL and NHLPA, for the first time since talks resumed earlier this week, "broke their silence" Thursday and although "neither side offered much insight into the state of negotiations, it appears progress has been made," according to Katie Strang of ESPN N.Y. A source said that the union "offered two proposals Wednesday, one on revenue sharing and another on the 'make-whole' concept to honor existing player contracts." Additionally, a source said that the union's "make-whole" proposal "includes a phase-in element that would see the players' share drop to 50-50 of revenue by Year 3 based on 'regular' growth." The source said that the NHL "responded to the proposals Thursday ... although it's not immediately clear how receptive it was to the union's ideas, if at all." There had been a "mounting sense that Thursday was a make-or-break point of negotiations." The sides met for "more than five hours and will meet again Friday." NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr also indicated that the union "would be willing to meet this weekend, if necessary" (ESPNNY.com, 11/8). In N.Y., Jeff Klein notes Fehr declined to discuss the negotiations "but sounded a note of highly guarded optimism." Eight players and at least one owner, the Bruins' Jeremy Jacobs, "were present for Thursday's talks." Jacobs also is the league's BOG Chair (N.Y. TIMES, 11/9).
DOWN TO THE DOLLAR: In Toronto, Kevin McGran notes the players are "believed to have offered a 'soft landing' -- three years -- to come down to a 50-50 split on hockey related revenue," to which the NHL "didn’t react well." The league "wants 50-50 in Year 1." But if the players’ revenue share is reduced to 50%, "paying players in full would be difficult unless there is a mechanism outside the salary cap to do so." And a lockout-shortened season "only adds to salary constraints" (TORONTO STAR, 11/9). In N.Y., Larry Brooks notes even allowing for a make-whole that would "cover existing contracts, an immediate dive to 50/50 would create a situation for 2013-14 under which there would be extremely limited cap space remaining to sign the approximately 250 players who are due to become free agents next summer." The NHLPA presented a proposal "targeted to hard dollars under which the percentage would drop to approximately 51 percent of hockey-related revenue (HRR) in Year 3 and close to 50 percent in Year 4 depending upon the rate of annual revenue growth." Sources said that the union has "made it clear to the league the players will not accept a cut in pay as a result of their overall share dropping from last year’s 57-percent of HRR." The NHL has "rejected all previous union initiatives that were based on hard dollars and growth-rate projections rather than on straight percentages." The two sides also "remain separated by a wide gulf regarding changes to systemic issues proposed by the league, most notably including salary arbitration and free agency eligibility" (N.Y. POST, 11/9). CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty noted the "make-whole" provision would "reduce the players' share of HRR to 50.3 percent in Year 3 of the deal assuming only 6.1 percent HRR growth" (CSNNE.com, 11/8).
ISSUES HANGING IN THE BALANCE: In Columbus, Michael Arace writes under the header, "Revenue Sharing Vital For NHL Deal." Arace: "There are other issues, as well, but nothing that could derail negotiations. Nothing, that is, outside of revenue sharing. Are the rich owners willing to prop up their less-fortunate cohorts? That is the question." Fehr has "long held that more meaningful revenue sharing is the key to having a healthier league, top to bottom." It was his "mantra when he led the baseball union" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 11/9). Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Craig Custance noted throughout these negotiations, the league "has shown little to no appetite to include amnesty or buyouts as part of the next CBA." Many of the rosters "currently constructed are the result of long-term planning under a system that could soon be obsolete." Custance: "We don't know what the cap number is going to be. We don't even know for sure how salaries will be counted against the cap." The new CBA may "end up unraveling years of planning and preparation of some teams" (ESPN.com, 11/8).
SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE CBA? In L.A., Lisa Dillman cites a source as saying that the talks "were not just slow but 'very slow'" (L.A. TIMES, 11/9). In Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch cites sources as saying that the two sides "aren't close to a deal and if they're going to get one in place it's going to take several more days." The source said, "At least they're into a meaningful negotiations for once in this process" (OTTAWA SUN, 11/9). In Minneapolis, Michael Russo cited a source as saying that the meetings "have been 'constructive' and there's been 'some progress.'" The hope is they "continue to meet and grind this out rather than having any more blow ups and dark periods because it's become quite obvious that the objective here is to start the season by Dec.1" (STARTRIBUNE.com, 11/8). In Winnipeg, Gary Lawless wrote the two sides are "moving the rock up the hill, be it ever so slowly." They may "get to the top but there is still a chance they slip and it rolls right over them on its way back to the bottom" (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 11/8). In Buffalo, John Vogl notes if Friday's negotiations "fail to lead toward a compromise, though, it's possible the meetings could stop again" (BUFFALO NEWS, 11/9).
JUST BETWEEN US...: ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun cites a source as saying that the NHLPA "wasn't impressed" by the NHL's response on Thursday to its proposals. But LeBrun noted both sides "didn't blow out of the room and hammer each other on the head through the media." There is an "actual back and forth happening." It is what "should have happened a month ago, maybe two month ago, but the pressure of two months' worth of canceled games has finally pushed each side to stop the posturing and actually have meaningful negotiation." LeBrun: "This could still fall apart, but I'm ready to state that I believe there's a better chance of a deal getting done than not at this stage" (ESPN.com, 11/8). Penguins C Sidney Crosby on Thursday before the meetings said, "We're talking, and I think as long as that continues, it's got to be considered positive. When was the last time talks went this long?" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 11/9). Bruins LW Shawn Thornton: "They're talking and nobody's walking out of the room. You have to look at that as a positive" (BOSTON HERALD, 11/9).
SCHEDULE PLANNING: In Detroit, Gregg Krupa notes if the sides "keep talking a lot privately and not much publicly, they could reach an agreement in the next few weeks." That timing "might provide for a 70-game schedule" (DETROIT NEWS, 11/9). Also in Detroit, Helene St. James notes the NHL already has “ruled out the feasibility of completing a full 82-game schedule,” and players now "wonder what the league will try to push through should an agreement materialize this month.” There is a “very real fear that a schedule that would have to be packed regularly with four games a week could send a wave of players to sick bay.” Red Wings D Niklas Kronwall said, “There’d obviously be a lot more games played each week. You’d also have an injury factor. You don’t want to have guys going down, and then all of a sudden you’re hurting the product you put on the ice. So I think you also have to be a little bit cautious.” He added, “Of course, everyone wants to play as many games as possible, there’s no doubt about that. But at the same time, you have to be realistic, too, and kind of get an understanding for how much the body can take” (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 11/9).
RADIO SILENCE: In N.Y., Pat Leonard wrote, "This clandestine bargaining has put the media in a unique position: To provide daily, sometimes hourly updates (thanks, Twitter) on hockey's most crucial week of negotiations with hardly any on-the-record quotes -- few off-the-record, also -- from anyone inside or outside the bargaining room." In some ways, this "absence of media intervention finally has moved the spotlight onto an important fact: what's holding up a deal is not the media's recounting of the NHL's and union's viewpoints; it's the league and the players' association themselves" (NYDAILYNEWS.com, 11/8).
NFL China Managing Dir Richard Young said that the NFL is "enjoying rapid growth in China but it will not stage a game there until the fan base reaches a tipping point to avoid damaging its 'brand equity,'" according to Peter Rutherford of REUTERS. Young said that the league "dropped the ball by getting there late, but he is comfortable with the growth in popularity of American football across China's major cities." Rutherford noted the NFL had to "cancel an exhibition game" between the Patriots and Seahawks in '07 as China "simply was not ready for the sport and the league's international expansion was instead routed through London." The logistical difficulties in bringing the NFL to China and "delivering a product that would do the league justice was also something that had been underestimated." Young said, "Until our fan base is at a level where it can truly support itself, and there is additional demand for more, I'm not supportive of holding a game here." He added, "Wembley sells out in three hours -- that's the NFL. Having empty seats and saying, 'Oh we still have tickets left' -- that's not the NFL." Rutherford noted unlike the NBA, which has been "able to flourish in China due to the country's long-established basketball structure, the NFL is starting from scratch." Growing the game at a grassroots level "will mean educating people about a highly complex sport, providing expensive equipment and finding the space to play." The NFL also is "hindered by the fact American football is not an Olympic sport." Despite the challenges, NFL figures "show encouraging growth, particularly in social media and online streaming" (REUTERS, 11/8).
LONDON CALLING: The Vikings are scheduled to play the Steelers in London next year, and in Minneapolis, Sid Hartman reported while the Vikings' new stadium is being built and the team is playing at TCF Bank Stadium, the NFL "might take a second game out of Minneapolis in 2014 and move it to London as well." Vikings VP/Public Affairs & Stadium Development Lester Bagley "denied the report that the Vikings have made any commitment for more than one game." However, he said, "After the first game is played (in London), we will see how it goes and then we'll decide if another game is scheduled" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 11/8).
The topic of which sports are best positioned for growth was discussed Wednesday on a Global Sports Media Panel at the '12 Covington & Burling Sports, Media & Technology conference, with some bullish on the growth of the UFC while others note the challenges facing the NFL.
The UFC is “making its debut in Southeastern Asia” this weekend with Saturday’s UFC on Fuel TV 6 in Macau, and the company “has much on the line,” according to John Morgan of USA TODAY. UFC Asia Managing Dir Mark Fischer said, “Macau is on Chinese soil, so in many ways it is our first event in China. But when we go into a big city like Beijing or Shanghai or Guangzhou -- mainland China -- we want to go in a very big way. We’re not ready to do that.” Morgan reports UFC officials in ’10 “set up an office in Beijing, and in February the company hosted an event in suburban Tokyo, which marked the first time the promotion hosted a fight card in Asia in 12 years.” Now the company is “targeting Asian markets such as China, Korea and the Philippines, and while martial arts long has played a role in many of those cultures, MMA has yet to take hold as it has in countries such as the USA, Canada and Brazil.” Fischer: “Our fan following in China has grown from 5% of the population a couple years ago to 11, 12%, maybe even higher, in major cities.” He added, “We’re hopefully getting to that point where we build up that demand for a big event in a big city in China and make that big bang. It’s really just a question of time" (USA TODAY, 11/9).
STRIKEFORCE FOLDS, WOMEN IN UFC? MMA FIGHTING’s Ariel Helwani cited sources as confirming a TMZ report that UFC rival promotion Strikeforce women’s fighter Ronda Rousey “has fought her final fight for the promotion and is set to make her UFC debut in the near future.” Sources also confirmed that the recently announced Jan. 12 Strikeforce card in Oklahoma City “will be the promotion's last.” Helwani noted women have “never fought inside the Octagon during the UFC's 19-year history” (MMAFIGHTING.com, 11/8). YAHOO SPORTS’ Kevin Iole notes the plan is for all Strikeforce men's champions to "defend their belts" during the Jan. 12 card. A source stressed that “nothing has been signed and, thus, things could change.” Folding the promotion into the UFC “would also follow” UFC parent company Zuffa's pattern of acquiring MMA promotions and merging them into the UFC. Details are “sparse about how the merger will work and when Strikeforce fighters will begin appearing on UFC cards” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 11/9). On Long Island, Mark La Monica writes Rousey’s move “a significant step on several levels.” It boosts Rousey's “star power, which has grown with each fight as the former Olympic medal winner in judo submits opponents with her arm bar then flashes that Madison Avenue smile.” In addition, it will “boost ratings and pay per view buys on whatever 2013 card she fights on, seeing how her last two fights were headliners that drew some of Strikeforce's highest numbers on Showtime.” It also represents a “180-degree turn from past months and years” where UFC President Dana White said that women would “likely not fight for his promotion” (NEWSDAY, 11/9).
MLB player agent Scott Boras, who has "always claimed owners are a lot richer than they say, said the recent sales of the Dodgers, Cubs and Padres have made a lot of fat cats even fatter," according to Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland PLAIN DEALER. Boras said, "This last year we had a re-appraising of the baseball industry. We had the Cubs' sale for $750 million to $800 million. Then when the Padres sold for $800 million and the Dodgers for over $2 billion, the range of evaluation has changed." Boras: "Now we have owners who have become instant billionaires, or have made over a billion dollars by this re-evaluation. Those top-level franchises that were worth $700 million in the early 2000s, are worth well over $2 (billion) or $3 billion based on appropriate evaluation of the industry." Boras said of MLB's new TV contracts with Fox, Turner Sports and ESPN, "The new TV contracts will bring each club $25 million to $26 million annually." Hoynes writes, "All of which means a lot more money for Boras and his clients" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 11/9).
HEAD GAMES: CBSSPORTS.com's Danny Knobler noted MLB is "in the early stages of testing Kevlar inserts that could go inside caps and help protect pitchers from head injuries." MLB GMs were "briefed Thursday morning on the Kevlar tests, and preliminary results could be presented to team medical personnel at next month's winter meetings in Nashville." Any requirement to wear more protection "would need to be collectively bargained with the players' union, but the first step may be to provide inserts that players could choose to either use or not use" (CBSSPORTS.com, 11/8).
THE SEARCH FOR TOMORROW: Columnist Kevin Blackistone said MLB has done "in total a pretty good job over the last few years in terms of how teams bring people in to run their teams," and nobody is "really getting passed over” for managerial positions. But ESPN’s J.A. Adande wondered, “Why aren’t there more Latino managers?” Adande said about 27% of players on MLB rosters are Latino, so “we should see that reflected in the managerial ranks.” Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw said teams are “thinking outside-the-box with the GM position with young business-types who look at baseball a different way." Cowlishaw: "The key is find a compatible manager to go with that GM” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 11/8).