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MillerCoors' title sponsorship of the newly created Coors Light NHL Stadium Series, which will include a Penguins-Blackhawks game at Soldier Field on March 1, is viewed by the league as a separate arrangement from Bridgestone’s title sponsorship of the NHL Winter Classic. NHL Senior VP/Corporate Sales & Marketing Keith Wachtel said, "The Winter Classic remains as our crown jewel outdoor event in the U.S. The stadium series will be different in scope." Other outdoor games, including a pair at Yankee Stadium during Super Bowl week that will pit the Rangers against the Devils and Islanders, will be announced in the coming weeks. Reports indicate there will be at least five games in the series. MillerCoors' sponsorship of the stadium series is part of the beer company’s seven-year, $375M deal signed with the NHL in February '11, the league’s most financially lucrative sponsorship ever. Wachtel said, "Back then, we spoke to MillerCoors about these kinds of major events, events they wanted to own. This is part of that deal." As the NHL has with the Bridgestone Winter Classic, Wachtel expects to add presenting partners for the Coors Light Stadium Series. Those sponsors will receive assets such as on-ice and camera-side dasherboard advertising. He said, "We’re looking at having four or five presenting partners" (Christopher Botta, Staff Writer).
MARKET WATCH: In N.Y., Belson & Klein note NHL teams and cities have been "clamoring" to host outdoor games, as they generate "outsize television audiences, healthy merchandise sales and opportunities for teams and cities to sell extra sponsorships and tickets." NHL COO John Collins said, "The local perspective is so unbelievably powerful. Everybody in that market -- even people who don’t write about hockey -- are forced to cover hockey for the four or five days we’re in the market." The NHL in the coming weeks is "expected to announce" a Ducks-Kings game at Dodger Stadium as well as a Senators-Canucks matchup at BC Place. It is "unclear whether the Stadium Series will be a permanent fixture on the NHL schedule, but considering the possible link between the series and the Olympics, it appears unlikely there will be as many as six outdoor games in non-Olympic years" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/2). ESPN.com's Scott Burnside wrote the NHL has "long been criticized -- and rightly so -- for being too timid, too parochial, too unwilling to seize the moment and work at becoming more than just a niche sport in the United States." But when the league "does think outside the box, it is flayed in some quarters." Burnside: "Funny how much of the criticism of the league has come from the media, and yet we haven't heard much carping from the fans themselves" (ESPN.com, 5/1).
TIMING IS EVERYTHING: YAHOO SPORTS' Nick Cotsonika noted the NHL has reasons to stage six outdoor games next season, and it "goes beyond high demand among teams and fans." The league wants to "go hard in its first full season after the lockout." It wants to "capitalize on the hoopla leading up to the New York/New Jersey Super Bowl on Feb. 2." Assuming the NHL goes to the Sochi Olympics, it wants to "give TV partners NBC and CBC something to promote during the Games and something that will excite fans about the restart of the regular season." The Winter Classic was created to "make a national impact in the U.S. and the NHL wants it to continue to have that national impact as its own brand." But Collins said of how those events have worked in the host markets, "The impact at the local level is becoming an equal part of the story." Cotsonika noted the Stadium Series "doesn’t need to have the same national impact if it has the same local impact." The Blackhawks think that the game at Soldier Field "will be even bigger than" the '09 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field. Collins said, "The ability to bring the Penguins into Solider Field, another one of those iconic venues in Chicago, I think is just going to create an awful lot of enthusiasm and sets up to be just a fantastic event for us." He added, "I think the Stadium Series idea is all about tapping into that local passion, which you experience when you’re there." Collins: "Let’s light up the markets around hockey as brightly as we can" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 5/1).
GOING BIG TIME: Penguins President & CEO David Morehouse said of the series' proximity to the Sochi Games, "The last Olympic gold-medal game (2010) had all NHL players and a big (television) audience, so being part of the outdoor game around then was something we liked." He added, "We like to help the NHL with these kind of signature events." Morehouse said that details for tickets "are being worked out," but added that the Penguins "will get an allotment for the game at Chicago" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 5/2).
An effort backed by David Beckham to bring an MLS team to Miami is “about to pick up steam and could go public in about a month,” according to Steven Goff of the WASHINGTON POST. The league has “prioritized a second club in New York for the 20th team and is intrigued by Orlando’s aggressive expansion campaign, but with Miami featuring Beckham and Dolphins management, Miami has quietly re-emerged.” The MLS Fusion played in South Florida from '98-'01 before it folded. MLS also is “taking a hard look at how early to start the season in future years.” The March 2 launch this season was “the earliest in league history, and aside from weather issues in several cities, the early start presented marketing and ticketing challenges.” However, pushing back the start with the same number of league matches “would require additional mid-week matches” (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 5/1). NBCSPORTS.com's Steve Davis noted Beckham’s "original MLS deal came with rights to purchase an MLS team," and his "marketing muscle and the big Beckham machine can not only apply pressure in the right places, but it will look attractive to MLS in many ways, too." MLS "desperately needs an imprint in the American southeast," and "Brand Beckham could easily bully its way past Orlando’s more grass roots effort" (NBCSPORTS.com, 5/1).
LET'S NOT BE HASTY: N.Y. Comptroller John Liu said that the city “should not reject foreign money out of hand” to fund a proposed MLS stadium in Queens. Liu, referring to reports of a potential investment in the project by EPL club Manchester City Owner Sheik Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, said, “I always prefer New Yorkers, but on the other hand, these guys seem to be very deep pocketed. So hopefully taxpayers won’t have to subsidize a single penny of the project.” In N.Y., Annie Karni noted Liu, a candidate for mayor, “still opposes the entirety of the plan because the details of a proposed land swap are unclear.” But Liu “does not have a formal role in the uniform land use review procedure for the project” (CRAINSNEWYORK.com, 4/30).
India is seen as the largest untapped global basketball market, and a projected domestic basketball league "is scheduled to debut within the next two years," according to Pete Thamel of SI. A joint partnership between IMG and India-based Reliance Industries in '10 "purchased the marketing and broadcast rights to domestic basketball in the country for 30 years." Meanwhile, the NBA also is "eager to exploit India's dizzying demographics." NBA Commissioner David Stern said, "I just see it as unlimited in terms of its potential." Stern said that he is "pressuring" Deputy Commissioner & COO Adam Silver, who will take over for Stern in February, and NBA Int'l President Heidi Ueberroth to "grow the game faster in India than in other emerging markets." Thamel notes Nike, adidas and Coca-Cola, among others, have signed up as the NBA's "marketing partners on the subcontinent." Three NBA games are "televised every week in India on the channel Sony SIX," and league execs believe that young Indians will "use the latest technology to consume the sport, a hip alternative to cricket and soccer that should grow as access to it increases." Both the NBA and IMG-Reliance "will reap the benefits of each other's success, and reports have surfaced of a possible partnership between the two forces." However, full investment by the NBA "in a foreign pro league remains tricky." IMG Senior VP/Global Basketball Bobby Sharma said, "They have a multibillion-dollar brand to protect. That doesn't lend itself toward risk-taking, and doing business internationally in emerging markets by definition is risk-taking" (SI, 5/6 issue).
The NFL and NFLPA "continue to trade barbs" regarding HGH testing in the league, but the "rhetoric from both sides hasn't changed," according to Tyler Dunne of the MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL. The two parties "agreed that HGH testing was needed" when the lockout ended in '11. But two years later, the problem "still has not been addressed." The NFLPA "claims it wants a fair process," and the NFL has "yet to do much beyond tough talk." In the meantime, one unnamed NFC player said that HGH use is "rampant" in the league, estimating that 10-15 players on each team used it. Dunne wrote the league's popularity "could take a hit" if HGH testing is "instituted and stars begin to test positive." That could create the perception HGH testing is being stalled because "neither side wants skeletons out of the closet." If 25% of NFL players are "truly taking HGH, the NFL could be tip-toeing around a public relations nightmare." ESPN analyst Darren Woodson, who played 12 years in the NFL said, "Does Roger Goodell want the league to have a black eye? Hell no. He doesn't want to go through the same thing baseball just went through" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 5/1). ESPN's Marcellus Wiley, who played 10 years in the league, said the NFL brand "doesn’t need to take any more hits at this present time." Wiley: "‘The Shield’ needs to be shielded from ... anonymous sources saying things like this. But this is a part of the underbelly of the NFL, the subculture of the NFL." He said the estimate of 10-15 players per team using HGH "may sound alarming, but it may be a fact because guys are doing it” (“SportsNation,” ESPN2, 5/1).
A MATTER OF TRUST: ESPN's John Clayton reported “trust from the players” has been the main obstacle to implementing HGH testing. Clayton: “Going into a venture where you’re going to have blood testing, which is a very bold type of transition, they just don’t feel comfortable yet with the process." The CBA calls for testing as long as both the league and union "could agree on the process." The NFLPA is "not happy right now with the current population study information." Players want more information, and "until they feel comfortable, they’re not totally willing to agree to it.” There “may be pressure" from Congress, other players, the league and Goodell to implement a testing program, “but until they feel comfortable, they’re not giving their blood over for those tests” (“NFL Live,” ESPN, 5/1). CBS Sports Network's Doug Gottlieb said, “The right thing for the NFL to do is to let WADA or USADA in as a third party so it kind of cuts them out of it” ("Lead Off," CBSSN, 5/1).
LATEST ATTACK ON PLAYER SAFETY: ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said the NFL "need to test for HGH" in part because Goodell has based his tenure as commissioner "on player safety." Kornheiser: "You can't tell me that artificially-induced, bigger, stronger, faster players are good for player safety. If you're worried that repeated hits to the head cause brain injuries, then you can't have repeated harder hits to the head because players are on HGH." ESPN's Michael Wilbon said, "If the NFL is going to hang its hat on player safety, you can't just do it on concussions. Even this would contribute to more concussions and more severe concussions when you're talking about impact on the playing field” ("PTI," ESPN, 5/1). CBS Sports Network’s Allie LaForce said, “If the NFL wants them to be safer, wants less concussions, all of this, they can’t promote human growth hormones. They have to start testing" ("Lead Off," CBSSN, 5/1).
The NFL will “hold a three-day career development symposium next week in Philadelphia" at the Wharton School of Business on the Rooney Rule, with attendees including Commissioner Roger Goodell and Giants GM Jerry Reese, according to Barry Wilner of the AP. Steelers Chair Emeritus Dan Rooney, who was “instrumental in developing the rule named after him,” will be “speaking to or networking with current and former coaches, former players and anyone aspiring to a management position in the NFL.” Patriots Owner Robert Kraft, Giants President & CEO John Mara, Jaguars Owner Shahid Khan, and Cardinals President Michael Bidwill will also address the attendees. In addition, Goodell, Rooney and Kraft will “participate in small networking groups.” Keynote speakers will be CBS’ Bill Cowher and ESPN’s Bill Polian. NFL Exec VP/Football Operations Ray Anderson and NFL Chief Human Resources Officer Robert Gulliver are “overseeing the program” (AP, 5/1). USA TODAY’s Jarrett Bell cites an Examining Coaching Mobility Trends & Occupational Patterns report showing that since ’70, “no minority head coach fired in the NFL has landed a head coaching job on the major-college level.” Of the 42 coaches “who became NFL coordinators after losing their first head coaching job, just two were minorities” (USA TODAY, 5/2).