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SBD/February 18, 2013/Leagues and Governing BodiesPrint All
NBPA player reps on Saturday voted unanimously to terminate the contract of Exec Dir Billy Hunter in the wake of a report that he placed his interests above those of players. In a short press conference after a meeting in Houston, NBPA President Derek Fisher said, "Today for the NBPA was a day of change. ... We want to make it clear that we are here to serve only the best interests of the players. No threats, no lies, no distractions will stop us from serving our membership." Fisher announced that he would remain as president and Spurs F Matt Bonner would remain as VP. Heat G James Jones now is secretary-treasurer and Nets G Jerry Stackhouse was elected first VP (Liz Mullen, Staff Writer). YAHOO SPORTS' Adrian Wojnarowski cited sources as saying that player reps "voted 24-0 in favor of ending Hunter's stay with the union." Six teams "weren't represented at the meeting" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/16). Hunter in a statement "denounced this 'extremely troubling process' and hinted at a probable legal challenge" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/17).
JAMES AND STACKHOUSE PLAY KEY ROLE: USA TODAY's Jeff Zillgitt wrote Hunter's reign came to an "inglorious end Saturday" after about 15 agents on Saturday morning "met with union officials, including Fisher, acting executive director Ron Klempner and attorneys from the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison." The law firm "updated agents on the state of its inquiry and answered questions." The players "met shortly after that and made their decision" (USATODAY.com, 2/16). In the players meeting, one source said Heat F LeBron James "really stepped up, led the charge. His voice was heard. It was great, and it was important" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/16). In N.Y., Howard Beck wrote Hunter was fired "with a bold, decisive vote and a public rebuke." Sources said that James and Nets G Jerry Stackhouse were "the two most forceful voices in the room," and they "rallied the players to make the change." Sources added James and Stackhouse "literally drove the discussions." James following last night's All-Star Game said, "Our current state as of yesterday wasn’t in the best possible position we can be in. And that’s why Billy Hunter’s duties was relieved. And now we feel comfortable with where we’re at right now. But we got a long way to go." Beck writes for years, the league's "brightest stars have eschewed any sort of responsibility for managing their union." This "emphatic, principled stand by James on Saturday was a rare exception to the rule, and it mattered greatly." Sources said James "practically cross-examined" lawyers from Paul, Weiss, which prepared an audit on Hunter's time as head of the union. The players at the meeting "demanded explanations from the committee members who previously sided with Hunter over Fisher." A source said, "It was spectacular" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/18). Cavaliers G and player rep Daniel Gibson said, "It was much needed. A lot of players, including myself, were very vocal that things needed to be done from top to bottom" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 2/17).
THE FALL OF HUNTER: In Boston, Gary Washburn wrote the ouster was "expected" and what "many players felt was a necessary move." The removal of Hunter is "yet another chapter in what has become a melodrama in a union plagued by infighting" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/16). The AP's Brian Mahoney wrote it is a "swift fall for the 70-year-old Hunter, a former athlete who was well-respected by many players." But agents "didn’t like him, questioning his bargaining strategies and frustrated they didn’t have a bigger role in his union" (AP, 2/16). TRUE HOOPS' Henry Abbott wrote Hunter's parting "might be the biggest story in the NBA today, and nobody will talk about it, chiefly because there are too many teams of lawyers working on this to count right now, and they're all keeping their options open." Anything anybody says has "a fair chance of coming up in one legal proceeding or another" (ESPN.com, 2/16). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Chris Herring wrote the decision ended an "ugly, headline-grabbing standoff" between Hunter and the union (WSJ.com, 2/16). ESPN’s Bob Ley said firing Hunter was the “final act of a bitter and prolonged fight between Hunter and a growing segment of player reps and union officers.” ESPN's Stephen A. Smith said of Hunter, "Clearly, it appears he was guilty of nepotism … but it was cited that he did absolutely nothing illegal.” The players “do not want Billy Hunter. It would actually be completely foolish for him to fight it” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 2/17).
HUNTER VOWS TO FIGHT: In Toronto, Doug Smith noted Hunter still is owed about US$10M on his contract and "his lawyers have established a website and blog for him to make his defence public." Hunter in a statement said his dismissal was "preordained." Hunter: "The legal team and I will begin . . . reviewing the actions taken and statements made against me in the meeting room in my absence" (TORONTO STAR, 2/17). NBA TV's David Aldridge noted Hunter's dismissal “could get ugly,” as he and his legal team have “not taken litigation off the table.” Aldridge: “They believe that the contract is valid … and that the union cannot unilaterally, in their view, get rid of the contract.” NBA TV’s Vince Cellini: “Billy Hunter is not going to go quietly regarding this decision” (“NBA Gametime,” NBA TV, 2/17). ESPN's Smith said, "He's definitely going to fight this because it's a matter of integrity here" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 2/17).
WHAT'S NEXT? NBA agent David Falk said that he "does not want the job, even if it's offered." Falk: "I think the single most important issue is a person who's got the vision and the talent to work with the league to grow the league from roughly $5 billion to $10 billion. So when I hear some of the names being bandied about -- former agents or former players -- that's not remotely what the players need right now. The players need almost a corporate executive who got hired to increase the sales of a company, who can come in and work with the league to exploit new income streams, whether it's in digital media or whatever, new technology" (USA TODAY, 2/18).
The final All-Star Game press conference of NBA Commissioner David Stern‘s tenure “played out like so many of the others, with Stern working the room with a mix of charm, seriousness, humor, pride, lawyerly word-parsing and snark,” according to Steve Aschburner of NBA.com. The most notable difference from past performances “was increasing play-by-play” with Deputy Commissioner & COO Adam Silver, his "presumptive successor" when Stern officially steps down Feb. 1, 2014 (NBA.com, 2/16). SI.com’s Ben Golliver wrote “unlike Stern’s two most recent All-Star State of the Union addresses, which were dominated by pre-lockout and post-lockout topics, the 2013 version was noticeably free of fireworks” (SI.com, 2/16). In N.Y., Mitch Lawrence writes Stern "didn’t do a lot of reminiscing at his swan-song All-Star press conference,” as that is “not his style.” Silver said, “With David, it’s never about what it once was, it’s always, look at the opportunity we have ahead of us. The only time he looked back, recently, was when we flew down here together. He was trying to figure out when we were last here. All the years run together now” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/18).
STATE OF THE LEAGUE: Both Stern and Silver weighed in on a number of topics during the State of the League address. Among the highlights:
D-LEAGUE: Silver said of the D-League, “Ultimately we’d like to have a 30-team league, and we do envision a one-to-one relationship between every NBA team and a single D-League affiliate.” He added he spoke to D-League owners about “increased use of D-League teams internationally.”
DRUG-TESTING: Stern said of HGH testing and an agreement with the NBPA, “We expect that to happen, we really do, before the start of next season.” He added, “Our players have been front and center with us on this one. They want to be and be perceived as playing in a drug-free sport” (THE DAILY).
THINK GLOBAL, ACT LOCAL: Stern said of the league’s int'l efforts and social media reach, “We’re a little bit ahead in China; we have 150 people or so there, only five in Africa and five in India. But it’s coming, and what happens to us is the ability to transport ourselves digitally.” Stern said he is “anticipating scheduling additional exhibition games” in China. Stern: “We have offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing and we’re considering opening an office in Guangzhou.” Silver said of efforts in India, “David is planning to go to the market to Mumbai and other cities in India in the next two months to continue looking at those opportunities. In terms of growth in India, I think we’re a ways away from scheduling a preseason or regular season game there” (THE DAILY). USA TODAY’s Jeff Zillgitt noted Stern will “remain active in the NBA's global business.” He said that he will “make trips to India, China and Africa in the next year.” Stern: "Our international prospects remain as strong as ever" (USATODAY.com, 2/17).
AND THE MEMORIES: When Stern was “asked his favorite All-Star memory as NBA commissioner, he chose the 1992 game, when Magic Johnson returned to win MVP honors after retiring the previous fall because of the HIV virus.” Stern said, "Giving sweaty Magic Johnson a big hug right after he hit the last 3 and still being able to hug him, because he's alive every time I see him. That is at the top of the list" (AP, 2/17).
NASCAR driver Danica Patrick yesterday won the pole for this Sunday's Daytona 500 and in the process "did something only she could do: She helped NASCAR's present and future with a single great lap," according to Jeff Gluck of USA TODAY. Fans who would have "never considered watching a NASCAR race will be tempted to tune in" this coming Sunday "to see how Patrick fares." They "might even get hooked on racing." It is "not a stretch, then, to imagine that, 20 years from now, fans in the stands and drivers on the track might point to this day as the reason they became interested in NASCAR." Now the "question becomes: Will NASCAR execute?" For the nation's "premier motor sports series, this could be the shot in the arm that helps it recover from sagging attendance, in part from the 2008 economic downturn, and falling TV ratings that have besieged it the last few years" (USA TODAY, 2/18). USA TODAY's Nate Ryan notes Patrick's starting position "certainly is a gender breakthrough for the male-dominated motor sports arena" as she became the first woman to win a pole in the Sprint Cup Series. Ryan writes it was "a serious jolt of star power for NASCAR." Patrick, who has "appeared in a record 11 Super Bowl commercials and on red carpets, helped get #Daytona500 trending on Twitter" yesterday. Patrick said that the pole "probably was more significant than the 2008 Izod IndyCar Series victory that made her the first female to win an oval-track race in auto racing's big leagues" (USA TODAY, 2/18).
MARKETING MACHINE: In Orlando, George Diaz writes despite any "wails of protest, this is great business for everybody: FOX Sports, the Speedway, NASCAR." The sport may "still struggle to find the 'It Guy.'" But there is "no question who is the 'It Girl'" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 2/18). The AP's Mark Long wrote Patrick "leading the field to the green flag in NASCAR's showcase event should be must-watch television" (AP, 2/17). Fox’ Darrell Waltrip said, “This is going to give our sport ... worldwide exposure” ("NASCAR Racing," Fox, 2/17). NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick said, "It shifts the focus. It's a huge deal for our sport to have her on the front row of the Daytona 500." He added, "It definitely sets a new milestone in our sport. I'm glad it's for all the right reasons." Driver Mark Martin said, "It's a pretty big deal when Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. sits on the pole here. It's a bigger day when Danica does it, and for good reason. It's never been done" (ESPN.com, 2/17). SI.com's Dustin Long wrote the "true indication of her power won't be seen just in Nielsen ratings, Twitter trends or any other ranking." It will be "what the sport looks like in two decades." Driver Jeff Gordon said, "I've always been a big believer in what's good for the sport is good for all of us. So this is great for the sport. The rest of us will benefit from that, as well" (SI.com, 2/17). In Charlotte, Jim Utter writes winning the pole at "any superspeedway usually has little to do with the actual racing, but Patrick’s milestone still was important" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/18).
THE FOCUS OF ATTENTION: In Daytona Beach, Godwin Kelly writes Patrick is "quickly reshaping Speedweeks into 'She-weeks.'" This is "quickly becoming Danica's Daytona." Prior to winning the pole, she was the "toast of NASCAR Media Day on Thursday after she detailed her relationship with fellow Cup Series driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr." Patrick: "The pole is good for the team and it's good for [sponsor] Go Daddy, good for NASCAR. I don't mind answering questions about the other stuff, but it's nice to change the tone of the questions because of what's going on at the track" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 2/18). Also in Daytona Beach, Ken Willis writes yesterday's pole win "further cemented her as 'The Story' in the bigger-than-ever buildup" to this Sunday's race (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 2/18). The ORLANDO SENTINEL's Diaz wrote this is an "ironic twist for anyone rolling their eyes at all the undue attention Danica was getting because of her relationship" with Stenhouse. There is "a lot more to love now other than her personal life" (ORLANDOSENTINEL.com, 2/17). In Boston, Michael Vega writes yesterday's events "shifted the media attention away from Patrick’s off-track relationship" with Stenhouse (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/18).
RACE REWIND: The CHARLOTTE OBSERVER's Utter writes of last Saturday's Sprint Unlimited race, "When drivers participating in a race are confused about the rules, that says a lot." For all the "good things about fan involvement surrounding the Sprint Unlimited, keeping things simple would be better." Utter: "Remember, the race has a bigger audience then just those who voted." So, the people "following along that didn't participate need to be able to understand as well" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/18).
NFL owners nearly tripled Commissioner Roger Goodell’s compensation in '11, paying him $29.49M and likely making him the top-paid commissioner in sports. The figure is in the league’s tax return, which the NFL was scheduled to file with the IRS by the end of the day last Friday. Most of the pay is in the form of a $22.3M bonus, a compensation structure that will continue into the future. Goodell’s pay is now more closely tied to his performance and not largely derived from a set salary, which was $3.12M in '11. He earned $11.6M total in '10. Goodell in '11 helped ink a 10-year labor deal and lucrative new TV contracts, so it is unclear if this '11 pay reflects a high water mark of sorts. Goodell’s aim is to dramatically increase NFL revenues, so if he is successful, it then stands to reason his compensation would remain in the mid- to high-$20M range. The NFL declined to comment on the information in the tax return, which by law it must make available if requested. “The NFL is the most successful and best-managed sports league in the world,” said Falcons Owner and Compensation Committee Chair Arthur Blank in a prepared statement. “This is in no small part due to Roger’s leadership and the value he brings to the table in every facet of the sport and business of the league. His compensation reflects that.” NBA Commissioner David Stern and MLB Commissioner Bud Selig are thought to earn in the mid-$20M range. MLB’s and the NBA’s tax returns are not public because they are structured as for-profit groups. Goodell’s contract runs through '19. The next highest-paid NFL exec in '11 was Exec VP/Labor & General Counsel Jeff Pash, who earned $8.8M, of which $5.9M was a bonus. Pash was the chief labor negotiator during the CBA strife. NFL Exec VP/Media and NFL Network President & CEO Steve Bornstein, who in past years has been the top paid exec at the NFL, earned $5.7M, of which $2.6M was a bonus (Daniel Kaplan, Staff Writer).
NFL EXECBASEBONUSTOTAL Roger Goodell$3.12M$22.30M$29.49M Jeff Pash$1.26M$5.93M$8.83M Steve Bornstein$3.00M$2.61M$5.73M
SLIMMED DOWN: PRO FOOTBALL TALK’s Mike Florio wrote Bornstein “took a major haircut” with his pay in ’11, and it is “unclear why Bornstein’s pay dropped so dramatically.” His eight-figure compensation “previously was blamed on the realities of the market for high-end TV executives.” Either that market “changed, or the owners decided that Bornstein no longer fits within the ‘high-end’ category” (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 2/15).
MLB is “set to finish its first arbitration shutout,” according to the AP. It is “all but certain there will be no salary arbitration hearings this year for the first time since the process began in 1974.” No cases “have been argued before three-person panels after 133 players filed for arbitration last month.” One “remains scheduled for a hearing next week -- and those sides already have a deal in place” (AP, 2/16). In Boston, Nick Cafardo asked, “Have teams become complete wimps to the point where arbitration is now a dinosaur?” Cafardo: “More and more, teams are willing to settle with their players just to avoid what might be a negative setting in which the players gets criticized.” Teams “pay out more money because they don’t want to hurt feelings.” Agent Alan Nero “feels there no longer is the malice that used to exist between the union and MLB.” Nero said, “Both sides are so well-prepared now. Everyone knows a player’s value well before the numbers are even exchanged” (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/17).
UFC and Viacom-owned Bellator are two "media heavyweights ... locked in a smackdown of their own over the future” of MMA, according to the N.Y. TIMES' Amy Chozick, who wrote under the header, "The Slugfest In The Executive Suite.” William Morris Endeavor agent Ari Emanuel is "in one corner" representing the UFC, while “in the other corner” is Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman. Viacom “decided to enter the fight business itself” after it "balked" during negotiations to keep the UFC on the company's Spike network, leading to the UFC's departure to Fox. Sources said that Viacom in fall ’11 paid around $50M "for a majority stake" in Bellator. That Viacom "now owns a gritty league of muscled gladiators” speaks to the “fierce battle for live sports rights.” But it also “demonstrates the evolution of cage fighting.” The new league “certainly has not stopped the bad blood between” UFC and Viacom. Dauman said “in airing UFC fight and reality shows, Spike really built UFC from almost nothing.” UFC President Dana White calls Dauman’s characterization “the most pompous, arrogant thing to come out of someone’s mouth.” White adds, “Everybody thinks they can buy a cage and do what we do.” A source said that UFC in negotiations with Viacom “had wanted to own a 50 percent equity stake in Spike and to maintain too much control over which fights the league broadcast on pay-per-view.” Dauman “saw other benefits in owning a league outright, like profiting from pay-per-view, digital and international broadcasts, Bellator action figures and perhaps someday casting a Paramount film with Bellator fighters, for example.” Dauman said he has a "lot of respect for Dana White.” He added, “As far as I’m concerned there’s no bitterness at all.” Chozick noted Viacom has “flooded the airwaves with ads for Bellator.” Bellator has “fared better than most UFC competitors, building a loyal audience and a stable of fighters” (N.Y. TIMES, 2/17).
YOUNG BLOOD: Bellator announcer Sean Wheelock said that the promotion “has a chance to stick around for the long term because of its ability to build its own stars.” In N.Y., Marc Raimondi reported Wheelock "believes Strikeforce’s fatal flaw ... was that is relied too much on talent that was first popular elsewhere.” Bellator has been “different, building around young, homegrown fighters" like lightweight champion Michael Chandler (NYPOST.com, 2/17).