SBD/January 21, 2013/Leagues and Governing BodiesPrint All
The NHL's "once-angry fans are embracing the NHL as if all is forgiven," as the first 16 games of the '13 season were sellouts, and the "crowd size was up in eight markets," according to Kevin Allen of USA TODAY. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman yesterday said, "We appreciate and are gratified by the response we have received from our fans. The attendance numbers and TV ratings once again demonstrate the passion of NHL fans." NBC yesterday announced that its coverage of Saturday's opening day received a 2.0 overnight rating, the "highest overnight rating for regular-season coverage, excluding the Winter Classic, the NHL has seen in 11 years." But while general reaction "has been positive, there has been minor fan backlash" (USA TODAY, 1/21). In Detroit, Drew Sharp wrote of Saturday's Red Wings-Blues game, "There were no hard feelings from the lockout in St. Louis." The standing-room sellout crowd of more than 20,000 at Scottrade Center was "loud and boisterous about 20 minutes before the puck dropped." The fans' reaction was "probably indicative of the majority of NHL cities." Hardcore hockey fans will "quickly forgive -- more so than other professional sports -- because their pure devotion for this sport runs a little deeper than it does elsewhere" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/20).
SELLOUTS AROUND THE LEAGUE: In Philadelphia, Sam Carchidi noted Saturday's crowd of 19,994 at Wells Fargo Center for Penguins-Flyers was "the largest in Flyers history for a regular-season game." Carchidi: "Starting the NHL in late January is perfect." There is "more drama" with games every other night, and season-ticket holders "have more disposable cash because of the money they saved from the canceled games" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 1/20). In Ft. Lauderdale, Craig Davis noted the Panthers' original season-ticket holders before Saturday's game against the Hurricanes "were introduced on the ice along with players Saturday." The sellout crowd of 19,688 was "the most ever for a Panthers opener and the 11th-highest overall" (SUN-SENTINEL.com, 1/20). In Ft. Worth, Drew Davison noted while the Stars announced a sellout crowd of 18,532 for their game against the Coyotes, there were "a few empty seats as the video board jokingly suggested that Manti Te'o's girlfriend occupied one of them." Still, the crowd "was loud and passionate for the first game since" the lockout ended. The effects of the lockout "appeared minimal to the casual hockey fan" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 1/20). In Calgary, Vicki Hall writes at the Scotiabank Saddledome for yesterday's Sharks-Flames game, the "customary sellout crowd of 19,289 pretty much roared through the entire first period as the Flames worked the faithful into a frenzy" (CALGARY HERALD, 1/21).
FAITHFUL FANS ARE REWARDED: In Toronto, Joe Warmington wrote, "If there were fans here looking for NHL payback, they were scarce. Opening night was rocking" (TORONTO SUN, 1/20). In Montreal, Christopher Curtis noted Canadiens management "pulled out all the stops Saturday night: enlisting pop rockers Simple Plan to play a pregame concert outside the Bell Centre, giving every ticket-holder a free beer and creating a general party atmosphere around the arena" (Montreal GAZETTE, 1/20). In Tampa, Tom Jones wrote, "Any thoughts that the fans would hold a grudge ... were erased when every seat in the Tampa Bay Times Forum was sold." The arena "cranked up during pregame ceremonies, which included a thank-you" from Lightning C Vincent Lecavalier, and the "buzz stayed in the building through the game" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 1/20). In Buffalo, Robert McCarthy in a front-page piece notes fans arriving to First Niagara Center a few hours before game time "experienced a special welcome from the entire Sabres team, who suddenly appeared at the main gates to greet returning fans." The players "shook hands, signed autographs and posed for photos" (BUFFALO NEWS, 1/21). Meanwhile, the Sabres grossed $2M from sales in the team’s official store at First Niagara Center this week. The team sold all merchandise in the store for 50% during that time period (“Flyers-Sabres,” NBC, 1/20).
CROWNING THE KINGS: The AP's Greg Beacham noted the Kings on Saturday "recognized last June's Stanley Cup triumph in a joyous ceremony before their season opener." With the "help from the family of a victim of the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Conn., the Kings hung their black-and-white banner in the rafters at Staples Center and received their Tiffany rings." Nancy Anschutz -- the wife of Kings Owner Phil Anschutz -- "handed the ring boxes to the players as they skated to center ice." Bettman was "in the building, but didn't go on the ice" (AP, 1/19). SI.com's Allan Muir wrote the Kings' ceremony was "light on Hollywood and heavy on heart" (SI.com, 1/19).
OWNERS OPEN UP: Sabres Owner Terry Pegula on Saturday said, "We apologize to the whole hockey fan base, the media, our sponsors and our supporters for the hardship we may have put people through. Sometimes things happen that you don't plan for. I can tell you this, we truly are excited about being back. ... Deep down inside, you have to help some of these teams that are really struggling. That's how you keep a league, or we'll be back to the Original Six before you know it. It was worth it for the health of keeping a 30-team league" (AP, 1/19). Hurricanes Owner Peter Karmanos said of the new CBA, "We get more revenue. It's that simple. I'm not sure what the percentage is but it's significant. Our market is good enough that we'll spend the money to the (salary) cap if we think it can make a big difference for us. We're not just going to waste it and throw it away. The simple fact is out of $100 million in revenue we get $7 million more of it." Asked if he ever believed the entire season might be canceled, Karmanos said, "I was prepared not to play. [NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr] was doing his job. He's done it everywhere he's been. ... The players that hired him knew exactly what they were getting into. I strongly believe we could have gone to Fehr before the start of the season and said, 'We'd like the same exact deal we've had the last umpteen years' and he would not have answered" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 1/20).
SHIFT CHANGE: In N.Y., Larry Brooks wrote the NHL has "work to do in restoring a brand tarnished by owners' greed, and most certainly so in markets that were hurting before the lockout, but a compelling on-ice product will go a longer way to reestablishing trust in the league than gimmicks or full-page ads of apology" (N.Y. POST, 1/19). Wild RW Cal Clutterbuck said, "I'm just glad we stuck together. ... It was really important that players that were making a lot of money were standing behind the guys that may be [in] a bind in a year or two" (STARTRIBUNE.com, 1/19).
TRICKLE DOWN EFFECT: AHL President Dave Andrews said that the NHL's return "might actually be a boon to business for its member clubs." He added that hockey's "overall return to the public's good graces will help the AHL's bottom line." Andrews: "Having 100-some players down from the NHL for a while really helped the league from a media exposure point of view, but with the NHL back, I think it will drive interest in the game again that had started to fall off a little bit. ... We had a real strong start to the year, then you saw people started to get a little disappointed with the NHL not coming back. It impacted people's attitudes about the game, and that's changed now with the NHL starting back up" (PENNLIVE.com, 1/20).
Bruins Owner and NHL BOG Chair Jeremy Jacobs on Saturday "sounded optimistic" that the league's new CBA can "build fiscal stability among the league’s 30 owners and that it eventually can lead to another agreement," according to Kevin Paul Dupont of the BOSTON GLOBE. Jacobs termed the process of building the league's stability "evolutionary rather than revolutionary." He said this NHL season "could have and should have" started on time. Jacobs added that the lockout "should not have been necessary." When asked why the season did not start on time, he responded, "You’d really have to ask, uh, the other side that. ... They had no expression or desire to make a deal." He added, "If someone doesn’t engage, you don’t offer. Nobody won. But more importantly, no one lost." Jacobs added that teams "still will be divided into 'the haves' and the 'have-nots.'" Jacobs: "We’ve seen some franchises in certain areas do terrifically and then fall apart. Hopefully we won’t see a lot of that. If you step back and look at where we were eight years ago, we put together something that hadn’t happened -- we had an agreement (the CBA crafted in 2005) that was based on a percentage. And as you’ve seen since then, other leagues have followed with some success. That was definitely the right direction and the right composition. The numbers were wrong. We just got the numbers wrong. We believe we’ve got the numbers right now." Jacobs said that now he "gets a sense of true player unity and a sense of satisfaction over the new deal." Asked if NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr is due credit for that unity, Jacobs responded, "I wouldn't credit him for anything" (BOSTON.com, 1/19). Read the GLOBE's full transcript.
SHOCK-AND-AWE STRATEGY: ESPN N.Y.'s Katie Strang wrote Jacobs "chose a strange way to welcome the return of hockey" when he made a "bizarre about-face in his pregame news conference as he took deliberate shots at" the NHLPA. Jacobs: "The players are going to get very rich under this transaction. They were very rich going into this. They passed up $700 million in payroll. That's a lot. And I'm hopeful that it was fulfilling." When asked if he felt it was fair to say he blamed the union for the time lost as a result of the work stoppage, Jacobs responded, "I won't comment on that." Strang called his performance an "odd display for an owner who claimed to be enthused about the start of play." Jacobs "touted" NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's "leadership in reaching the 10-year agreement." Jacobs said, "He's probably brought a little bit of an abrasive personality with him. Not everyone loves him. And that's understood. But he's done a yeoman's job and worked his butt off. You can't outwork Gary" (ESPNNY.COM, 1/19).
END OF THE LINE AS BOG CHAIR? Jacobs also "talked as if he is preparing for the day he will step down" as NHL BOG Chair. Jacobs said, "I can see them wanting to get a fresher mind than mine." Asked how he felt about being characterized as the lockout's leader, he responded, "First of all, you’re not in a position to try to defend yourself because it’s not constructive to the process. I am coming off winning a Stanley Cup (in June 2011). I’ve got a sold-out building. I have a financially sound business -- no debt. I’ve owned (the team) for 37 years. I’m the last guy that wants to shut this down. I don’t want this to shut down. Unfortunately, I play in a league with 30 teams and when I step back and look what’s going on with the broadest sense of the league, I’ve got to play a role that is constructive. My selfish interest was definitely to keep this going within the parameters of the deal that was out there. But it (didn’t) make sense for the league, long-term. ... A lot of people were promised that we would try to right-size this. And I had to play a role in it" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/20).
SPIN SESSION: In N.Y., Jeff Klein called Jacobs' presser a "remarkable news conference." Jacobs' "surprisingly candid comments revived the bitterness of the lockout, after the league's efforts to put the lockout in the past" (NYTIMES.com, 1/20). Also in N.Y., Pat Leonard wrote Jacobs' comments were meant to "apologize to fans for the lockout," but the press conference "quickly spiraled into a passive-aggressive spin session blaming the NHL players' association for the work stoppage and trying to rewrite history." Jacobs' "patronizing tone surely will not sit well with the union." Instead of "focusing on the start of the NHL season, Jacobs was taking parting shots at the players" (NYDAILYNEWS.com, 1/19).
Nets G Deron Williams on Friday became the league’s "first high-profile player" to call for the "ouster" of NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter, according to Ken Berger of CBSSPORTS.com. Williams said, “I think change is needed, top to bottom." Williams’ comments come after the publication of a 469-page report released Thursday which absolved Hunter of criminal liability but "blasted him with a meticulous assault against what it characterized as questionable stewardship of union finances, failure to properly manage conflicts of interest ... as well as a litany of acts that displayed poor judgment and served his personal interests above those of union.” Williams: "I don't think things were getting voted on like they should have been. I'm sure there's guys that are still with Billy, and some guys that aren't. We've just got to figure out what the next step is." Hawks G Kyle Korver said, "I think everyone's got to read the information, and we've got to make the decision together. I think where all this can go wrong is when people start throwing out their opinions. We all have the information now. In the past, we didn't always know. ... We need some of the higher-caliber players to kind of step up and bring some guys together" (CBSSPORTS.com, 1/18).HUNTING SEASON? In Boston, Gary Washburn wrote the question now is "whether major structural changes are in store" for the NBPA. Whether Hunter retains his position will be "determined by the powers in the executive committee and Board of Representatives." A source said that there are "two factions in the union -- those who are supportive of and loyal to Hunter, and those who are not and believe he has lost the past two labor negotiations." The report "demonstrated that more players need to be involved in the union's business structure and decision-making -- or it could weaken even more or even dissolve" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/20). USA TODAY's Jeff Zillgitt cites a source as saying that many agents will be "satisfied as long as Hunter is not involved in the next round of collective bargaining negotiations" (USA TODAY, 1/21).
The NFL “plans to expand the league's Rooney Rule in the aftermath of zero minority hires" among the 15 head coach and GM positions this offseason, according to Jason Cole of YAHOO SPORTS. Sources said that the league is “hoping to add" team president, assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator to the list of positions that will "require a minority candidate be interviewed.” The NFL also is “hoping to restart its annual coaching and management symposium program to help train assistant coaches and staff members on the duties" that go with head coach and GM positions (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/18). NFL Chief Human Resources Officer Robert Gulliver in a statement said the league has “already started the process of developing a plan for additional steps that will better ensure more diversity and inclusion on a regular basis in our hiring results” (NEWSDAY.com, 1/19). NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith in response to Gulliver’s statement said, “My first question is I would be interested in knowing what they expected.” PRO FOOTBALL TALK’s Mike Florio wrote, “That’s a great question. What level of minority hiring would have transformed the NFL’s disappointment to satisfaction?” (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 1/19). In N.Y., Gary Myers wrote the Rooney Rule “failed miserably in this hiring cycle.” Eight teams “interviewed minority candidates,” and eight teams “hired white coaches.” The rule was “a bust in the front office as well: Seven teams hired new general managers, seven teams hired white general managers.” Gulliver in his statement said that teams “complied with the Rooney Rule.” But he added the hiring results this year “have been unexpected and reflect a disappointing lack of diversity” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/20).
CHANGE IS NEEDED: In Boston, Greg Bedard wrote the NFL is “rightfully embarrassed because not one minority candidate landed one of the eight head coach openings.” Encouraging more minorities in ownership and exec positions “would certainly help” (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/20). Denver Post columnist Woody Paige said, "The Rooney Rule is not only about hiring African-American head coaches, but training young African-Americans to be head coaches. How is that working for the league? It is not working out well enough. There needs to be a panel brought together of both blacks and whites involved in the NFL and outside the NFL to study what more the NFL can do.” The L.A. Times' Bill Plaschke said the issue “has got to be on the agenda of the owners’ meetings.” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell “talks about concussions and talks about Bountygate," but he needs to "sit these owners down and say, ‘Look at what’s happening. Look at yourselves. Look at what you’re doing here.’ It all starts at the owners’ meetings” ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 1/18). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said Goodell “should take a very active role in this and use friendly persuasion." Kornheiser: "He should single out owners, he should make a list and he should say, ‘We recommend the following three to five people.’” But ESPN's Michael Wilbon said the NFL “seems to have different agendas right now, and diversity at the coaching ranks and GM ranks doesn’t seem to be among them” (“PTI,” ESPN, 1/18). In New Jersey, Mark Eckel writes, “In 2013 it is easier for an African-American to become president of the country than it is for him to become a head coach in the NFL.” Eckel: “I am 100 percent in favor of hiring the right man for the job, the most qualified man for the job no matter the color of his skin, but in a league where over 65 percent of the players are one color, how are there less than 10 percent of the head coaches with the same color?” (TRENTON TIMES, 1/21).
SHOULD LITIGATION BE USED? PRO FOOTBALL TALK’s Florio wrote NFL teams “should address this problem because it’s the right thing to do.” They will address the problem "when they perceive a significant threat to their bottom line from public pressure or litigation.” Florio: “Here’s hoping they choose to do the right thing before they have to” (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 1/18). But ESPN's Bomani Jones said, “You have to wonder if the only thing that’s going to make hiring changes in the NFL is some sort of legal action" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 1/18).
NAMESAKE'S THOUGHTS: NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported Steelers Chair Emeritus Dan Rooney “believes this year's shutout was an anomaly.” Rooney “believes in the Rooney Rule, saying that the minority candidates didn't sell themselves like in previous years.” He also “pointed out that the rule is designed to ensure that minority candidates have interviews and fair shots at these jobs -- nothing more.” Rooney: "Let me say this: In all eight cases, we have very excellent compliance. Every team followed procedures, interviewed minority candidates. From that standpoint, we were pleased. As far as, now people saying they didn't get the job. Maybe this year, there weren't the candidates they thought there would be so they would get the jobs.” Rooney added, “I think what we have is definitely a workable thing. We do have to come up with an idea to try to help people to get to be candidates. But it does get down to the coaches building a staff." Rooney also “would like to ramp up training methods to put minority candidates in such positions,” which will “provide owners and GMs with a broader look” (NFL.com, 1/20).
Sprint today announced it will allow fans to determine the format of the first race of the Sprint Cup Series season, the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona. By voting at NASCAR.com or on NASCAR mobile apps, fans can choose the number of laps from three options (40/20/15 or 35/30/10 or 30/25/20); they can dictate the type of pit stop (no pit stop or 2 tires or 4 tires); they can determine the number of cars eliminated after the second segment (no elimination or 2 cars or 4 cars or 6 cars); and they can pick which one of three fire suit designs Miss Sprint Cup wears. Fans can vote as often as they want. The announcement opened the annual NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway. The idea was to give fans “Unlimited” options for how the race would run to highlight Sprint’s “Unlimited” plan, said Sprint Dir of Sports Marketing Tim Considine. He added, “To us, it’s ‘What do you like? What don’t you like?’ We wanted to get that chatter started and bring some energy to the event and to the start of the season.” Considine said that being able to offer fans those choices and allowing them to determine the format of the opening, non-points race of the season was a major reason the telecom company signed a six-figure deal to replace Budweiser as the title sponsor of the opening race at Daytona, which formerly was called the Shootout. The race will be broadcast Feb. 16 on Fox. The format will be identified by vote by Feb. 13, but voters can cast votes for the number of pit stops and the number of cars eliminated up until the moment the green flag drops. Considine said, “It's fair to say this will be the storyline Fox takes to the airwaves on Feb. 16.” He said that the network has even talked about creating a “campaign central” concept where fan votes are tracked and analyzed during the pre-race broadcast.
In London, Neil Harman writes the U.S. Open “will be met with a walkout from an overwhelming majority of the men’s players this year unless it comes up with a considerable improvement in prize money and reconsiders its decision to move the final to a Monday night.” Men's tennis players said that the decision to have a Monday final was “taken without consultation and that they disagree with the extension of the event, having preferred a Friday semi-final and a Sunday final.” Their “greater beef, though, is with what they see as an insignificant increase in their rewards” (LONDON TIMES, 1/21).
ROCKIN' IN THE U.K.? In N.Y., Mitch Lawrence wrote, "We’re not convinced that London is the best place for international expansion, even if they did get almost 19,000 for the Knicks-Pistons game at the O2 Arena." U.K. fans are “not so taken with the sport, which ranks far below" English soccer leagues. For the NBA to “expand overseas, it first will take NBA-suitable arenas.” NBA Deputy Commissioner & COO Adam Silver “cited only three cities besides London that have the kind of arenas that could possibly house a team: Berlin, Istanbul and Paris" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/20).
WORLD WEARY: In Chicago, Phil Rogers wrote MLB's "attempt to create its own World Cup" with the World Baseball Classic is "limping along as a second-tier novelty, in large part because major league executives and players aren’t embracing it.” There was “some thought” the U.S. team’s “previous disappointments would prompt U.S. organizers to work harder to build a team around its biggest advantage, pitching.” But “too many of the best players -- no doubt in consultation with their teams -- told manager Joe Torre no thanks.” There also is an “unfair nature to how teams share the WBC talent burden" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/20).
PREMIER SUSPECT? In Miami, Michelle Kaufman wrote if there was "any doubt” that the EPL “lags behind Spain’s La Liga when it comes to star power, the recently-released FIFA Team of the Year and UEFA.com Team of the Year do not contain any players from the EPL.” The FIFA team, voted on by players “all over the world, featured all 11 players from La Liga.” The UEFA.com Team of the Year was “made up of eight La Liga players” and three others. It is the “first time in 12 years no EPL players made the UEFA.com team” (MIAMI HERALD, 1/20).