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GE, the NFL and Under Armour yesterday jointly unveiled plans for $60M of research into concussion prevention and diagnostic research called the Head Health Initiative. Speakers at the press conference in N.Y. included GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, UA Founder, President & CEO Kevin Plank and NCAA President Mark Emmert. Among those in attendance were Patriots Owner Robert Kraft and Giants President & CEO John Mara. Speaking afterward, Jets Owner Woody Johnson underscored the point of the research, saying, “We know a lot more about the heart and the other organs, we know very little about the brain, so trying to get objective data” is a start. The research dollars are designed to speed evaluation and develop next generation imaging technologies to improve diagnosis that targets treatment therapy for patients with mild traumatic brain injury. That part of the project will get $40M. In addition, the NFL, GE and UA launched a two-year innovation challenge, offering up to $20M to bidders to research, better understand, diagnose and protect against mild traumatic brain injury. This element of the project has its own website, NFLGEbrainresearch.com (Daniel Kaplan, Staff Writer). On Long Island, Bob Glauber notes the venture “also is aimed at helping military personnel cope better with problems associated with traumatic brain injury” (NEWSDAY, 3/12).
PROGRESSIVE THINKING: Goodell said, "In talking to the medical experts over several years, I think there's a predisposition to most injuries, particularly to the brain, or to brain disease. So we do want to know what those biomarkers are." The AP’s Howard Fendrich noted Goodell “also envisions players being required -- with the union's OK, of course -- to wear helmets containing sensors to detect hits that cause concussions.” He said those helmets might be lighter and "less of a weapon" than today's. Goodell “agreed about the importance of quick progress.” He said, "We weren't looking at a long timetable. We wanted to see results quickly." Kraft is “pleased to see these kinds of projects now.” Kraft said, "I wish it had happened sooner. The evolution, the issue has been coming to the forefront and ... a lot of times we didn't talk about it, or talk about it enough. But we need to talk about it and do something about it” (AP, 3/11).
LONG TIME COMING: In N.Y., Michael O’Keeffe writes the announcement is “an attempt to roll back years of bad press for the NFL, which faces a class action suit on behalf of 4,000 retired players who say the league covered up the long-term dangers of brain injuries for too many years.” The NFL may be the “most popular professional sport” in the U.S., but its future is “uncertain as increasing numbers of schools and parents wonder if football's dangers and cost are worth it” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/12). CNBC's Mary Thompson said, “For the NFL, all of this is part of an about face that began back in 2009. ... It's a change of heart spurned by research and lawsuits filed by former players and their families alleging negligence by the league.” CNBC contributor and former NFLer Pete Najarian said the “problem” in football was the “diagnosis process” for concussions. Najarian called the collaboration between the NFL, GE and UA an "absolutely outstanding idea” (“Power Lunch,” CNBC, 3/11).
Snow, rained-out games and "even international baseball have disrupted the easy rhythms of spring training in Arizona," according to Peter Corbett of the ARIZONA REPUBLIC. The Cactus League, which began "eight days earlier than last year, is off to a slow start." Total attendance is "down more than a third from last year as spring training hits its midseason this week." Giants VP Sara Hunt said, "The early start does affect the gate. It’s hard for our season-ticket holders to tack on an extra two weeks." An average of 5,401 fans per game "have turned out for the first 17 days of spring ball through Sunday." Turnout at the games is "down by about" 35%. Another "distraction" has been the World Baseball Classic. D'Backs President & CEO Derrick Hall said that the WBC has "stirred up some excitement and drawn more than 115,000 fans" to the int'l games at Chase Field and Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. He said, "It is some competition for our spring-training venues" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 3/12).
HOUSE HUNTERS: The GLOBE & MAIL's Tom Maloney notes the Blue Jays, with their situation in Dunedin, Fla., "no longer up to par," will use the next 12 months to "shop for a new spring training home, and may consider sharing a facility with" the Nationals or Astros. The Blue Jays’ lease on Florida Auto Exchange Stadium "expires in 2017, the Astros’ on Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee in 2016, and the Nationals’ on Space Coast Stadium in Viera in 2017." The Mets also are "looking for a partner in Port St. Lucie." It would be a "two-year process for approvals and construction if the Jays decide to move into a new location." Geography will be "an important criterion, as major-league clubs prefer to minimize the time required to travel for Grapefruit League games" (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/12).
The NBA Summer League in Las Vegas is "adopting an NCAA-tournament elimination style format that will crown a definitive champion," according to basketball writer Ric Bucher. Every team will be "guaranteed a minimum of five games, per usual, but only three will have a scheduled opponent." The teams with the top three-game results will be "given a one-game bye and the remaining teams will square off, the winners advancing to play the top-seeded teams." After all that, the top eight teams "will then pair off, the winners advancing to play in the semifinals; the semifinal winners will then play one game for the Summer League championship." Teams reaching the finals "will play a total of eight games." The new format will "provide some compelling basketball for broadcast at a time of the year when hoops TV is a little barren" (SULIA.com, 3/11).
CLEAN BREAK NEEDED: NBA.com's David Alridge cited sources as saying that talks of the NBPA "working on a settlement" with former NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter behind the scenes "could be picking up steam." However, neither Hunter's reps nor the union "would comment Sunday." But a settlement "would be the smart, sensible thing for both sides." Neither Hunter nor the union "needs to be embarrassed further in public by the continuing airing of their mutual dirty laundry" (NBA.com, 3/11).
IndyCar parent company Hulman & Co. recently commissioned a report with suggestions for the series, but most drivers at yesterday's media day said that they "have no idea what suggestions from the Boston Consulting Group the series is seriously considering," according to Jenna Fryer of the AP. Driver Scott Dixon said of Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, "I think the guy is very switched on. ... Right now it seems he's just asking questions and seeing what comes back." Dixon "appeared to be in the minority of those who have so far had any interaction with Miles or had any discussions about the direction of the series." There was "not a single representative of IndyCar's management team or the competition department present during the eight-hour media day." It "left the drivers as the spokespeople for the series, a role they are eager to fill." All of them have "ideas on how to strengthen the series, and most of them center on increased marketing and a stronger television package." Driver James Hinchcliffe said, "In reality, the No. 1 goal has to be increased television viewership. If we can solve that, then we can work to expand." Driver AJ Allmendinger said, "I think IndyCar has just got to be marketed better. I don't know if fans see it, honestly that's part of the problem." Driver Tony Kanaan added, "We have the competition. We have the personalities. We need to get it on TV. NASCAR is on TV every single day. We need to put television shows on that show the personalities that tell our stories." Driver Graham Rahal said of former IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard, "When Randy was fired, the two guys I thought would be best for IndyCar were Mark Miles and [Indiana-based Just Marketing Int'l Founder & CEO] Zak Brown. ... Both of them together in IndyCar could do a lot of good for the series" (AP, 3/11).
NATIONAL PRIDE: Fryer reported driver E.J. Viso "isn't worried the death of" Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will "affect state sponsorship of Venezuelan drivers, including himself." Most of Viso's sponsorship money "comes from PDVSA, the Venezuelan state-owned oil and natural gas company." His "primary logo is CITGO." Viso said, "I really need to thank the president because one of the things he did was focus on the sport and there is nobody out there that can say the opposite. That was one of his priorities to expand this sport in the world, which he did. Racing became bigger, motorsports, soccer, baseball, you now see many Venezuelan sportsman in many disciplines around the world." Through his sponsorship from Team Venezuela, Viso has "risen through the ranks and is the only Latino-born driver racing full-time in the IndyCar Series" (AP, 3/11).