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MLB owners on Thursday unanimously approved a dramatic new instant replay system that promises to change how the game is played. Under the new system, a wide variety of on-field plays will be challengeable by managers, and teams now gain new ability to show close plays on their videoboards, regardless of whether they are reviewed. Managers will be given one challenge per game to use. If they are correct on their challenge, they can use a second challenge. Umpires retain the ability to review plays at their discretion, regardless of the number of challenges a manager still has. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig called the measure one of the high points of his 21-year-plus tenure. MLB will hire two additional crews, numbering eight umpires in total, to man the new Replay Command Center at MLBAM’s N.Y. headquarters (Eric Fisher, Staff Writer). In Pittsburgh, Bill Brink notes in addition to home runs, replay will "cover ground-rule doubles, fan interference, fair/foul calls and trap plays." Plays involving base running, such as "whether a runner passed his teammate on the bases, touched a base or scored before the third out, are reviewable, as is whether or not a pitch hit a batter." Replay will cover "forces and tags, but not the 'neighborhood play'" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 1/17). On Long Island, Anthony Rieber notes MLB will make sure each stadium "is equipped with enough cameras and technology to achieve a 'standardized' level of coverage." One exception "could be the season-opening two-game series" between the Dodgers and D-Backs that will be played in Sydney, Australia. MLB officials said that they are "unsure if they can equip the Sydney Cricket Grounds in time for the new system" (NEWSDAY, 1/17).
CHALLENGE ACCEPTED: FOXSPORTS.com's Jon Paul Morosi notes teams likely will "contour their clubhouse video systems with chains of communication designed to alert managers right away if a call should be challenged." A dedicated phone line also will "run from the clubhouse -- the video coach/monitor, so to speak -- into the dugout." There is "no subterfuge," as that is now "completely legal." The only caveat is that managers "must notify crew chiefs verbally and in a timely manner to lodge a challenge" (FOXSPORTS.com, 1/17). In N.Y., Tyler Kepner notes when MLB Exec VP/Baseball Operations Joe Torre and former MLB manager Tony La Russa "met with the current managers at the winter meetings last month, they found some managers worried about adding another responsibility." But La Russa said that it "was clear that the managers were best qualified to determine which calls would have the greatest impact on the game." He kept "coming back to that word -- impact -- when discussing why the new replay system would add a compelling strategic wrinkle." La Russa: "You really don’t need a pocketful of challenges. It doesn’t come around all that often" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/17).
HURRY UP AND WAIT? In N.Y., Anthony McCarron writes critics might wonder if additional replay will "slow down games at a time when some believe pace of game is already an issue." Red Sox President & CEO Larry Lucchino, appearing on MLB Network Radio, said that he "doesn’t believe that will be a problem." Lucchino: "What I don’t want to see is a long period of play stoppage. I don’t think that’ll be the case. I know they’ve had that in mind, that concern." Torre "estimated that the replay ump would rule on challenges within 90 seconds." Those rulings "can’t be argued, either." Torre said limiting the amount of challenges should help keep "the rhythm of the game" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/17). In Ft. Worth, Jeff Wilson notes Rangers C J.P. Arencibia "is fine with the system as long as games aren’t slowed too much." Arencibia: "The biggest thing is getting a system that is efficient because the game is already one of the slower-paced games for fans" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 1/17). ESPN.com's David Schoenfield wrote, "Everyone will be worried about delays, but for the most part we'll be looking at two replays per game, four at the most." If it "takes 90 seconds to review a play, that's three-to-five minutes of added time per game." That is "worth it" (ESPN.com, 1/16).
POTENTIAL BACKLASH: In N.Y., Andy Martino wrote baseball games are "too damn slow, and this is a major problem for holding the attention of young fans." While MLB deserves "praise for embracing change and pursuing accuracy by expanding instant replay, it is tough not [to] think of this worst-case scenario" (NYDAILYNEWS.com, 1/16). ESPN's John Kruk wondered, "Is instant replay going to be instant?" He noted MLB games "are long now," and if the new system slows it down more, "we could lose some people" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 1/17). SNY's Adam Schein said the games could last 4-5 hours as "baseball has an image problem already" that the games are too long. Schein: "More replay makes it convoluted" ("Loud Mouths," SNY, 1/16). The GLOBE & MAIL's Jeff Blair writes MLB managers, players and fans "will now have a greater degree of certainty and, most likely, a longer game." Blair: "Welcome to the era of the 5 1/2-hour World Series game; welcome to the era of even more advertisements for Fox Broadcasting’s prime-time lineup" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/17).
WORK IN PROGRESS: FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal said fans should not "expect perfection in year one." Rosenthal: "Baseball fully anticipates that problems will surface and fully intends to adjust as warranted" ("Fox Sports Live," FS1, 1/16). MLB Network’s Chris Rose said, “I know that there are a lot of you griping, ‘Oh gosh, how much time is this going to add?’ You know what, the point is we’re trying to get things right. ... Are things going to be perfect in 2014? No! It’s a new system. Everybody take a deep breath. I like what we’re doing here” (“Intentional Talk,” MLB Network, 1/16).
LONG TIME COMING: ESPN.com's Jayson Stark wrote it "probably took roughly a decade too long for this miracle to happen," but Selig deserves a "firm pat on the shoulder here." Stark: "He finally stopped trying to convince us that nobody, in any dugout in the land, wanted more replay, and let this monumental development come about" (ESPN.com, 1/16). In L.A., Bill Plaschke writes the "ironically perfect thing about baseball's instillation of full instant replay is that it does not require a second look or video examination, or further review" (L.A. TIMES, 1/17). MLB.com's Richard Justice wrote the league "got better on Thursday afternoon." It got "more interesting too." The rollout is "Expanded Instant Replay 1.0." It is "so new and different that it's almost certain to be imperfect" (MLB.com, 1/16). In Denver, Troy Renck writes, "After further review, baseball is prepared to embrace the technology that has been available to fans watching on their couches for decades" (DENVER POST, 1/17).
LETTING IT GO: ESPN's Keith Olbermann noted if a manager decides to "challenge the ump's call and you’re right and the ump looks bad, you get another challenge." Olbermann: "This seems to me there's going to be a lot of vendettas springing from that." ESPN's Howard Bryant said, "There's nothing but vendettas between the umpires and the players. ... This is going to be an example where everyone is going to have to check their ego at the door" ("Olbermann," ESPN2, 1/16). CBS Sports Network's Doug Gottlieb noted replays will be shown in the ballpark, which "of course exposes the umpires when they blow" a call. Meanwhile, CBSSN's Allie LaForce said umpires "think this is a great thing because they got so much heat last season for some really bad blown calls." LaForce: "I just want to make sure that they're still held to a really high standard because with instant replay now, it's almost like they're off the hook a little bit" ("Lead Off," CBS Sports Network, 1/16).
MLB COO Rob Manfred said the league’s relationship with the MLBPA is not overly threatened despite recent tensions surrounding the Alex Rodriguez situation. The union earlier this week blasted the league’s participation in the “60 Minutes” report on Rodriguez and said it would be exploring legal options surrounding potential violations by MLB of the Joint Drug Agreement. But Manfred said that does not suggest the return of a more tumultuous relationship that existed before ’02. “Our relationship is a long-term thing. Like in any relationship, you have good days and bad days. But I believe our long-term relationship will stay positive,” he said. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, as expected, declined to comment on the Rodriguez situation given the active litigation. But he again lauded the sport’s progress in drug testing. “The only thing I will say is that we have a drug-testing program and its enforcement is critical,” he said. "I’m proud of what we’ve done. I gave my word personally to a lot of people, we gave our word, particularly to our fans. To be very blunt about it, that plan was going to be as tough as it could be and it would be enforced.”
TALKS ON COLLISIONS CONTINUE: While MLB did approve changes to the instant replay format, a desired ban on home plate collisions remains incomplete. MLB Exec VP/Baseball Operations Joe Torre said MLB is still drafting potential rule language regarding a collision ban, and negotiations with the MLBPA on the topic continue. “We are writing a rule. It’s not finished being written because it’s not easy,” Torre said. “But in essence we’re going to just make sure that the baserunner can’t just purposely bowl somebody over.” Manfred said a deal with the union is anticipated in time for Opening Day. “We fully expect we’re going to make an agreement,” he said. “We are still in the process.”
THE FINAL COUNTDOWN: Selig on Thursday noted he is looking ahead to his last year in office. “I have a lot of things to get done before Jan. 24 of next year,” he said. “It’s full speed ahead. Everybody’s excited about the season. That’s always my No. 1 concern, but I do have a lot of things hopefully I can get done.”
The Nets beat the Hawks 127-110 Thursday at London's O2 Arena, and NBA Deputy Commissioner & COO Adam Silver prior to the game said the league has "plans in place to continue playing regular-season games in London." The league also "hopes to continue building our business in London and throughout Europe." Despite the Nets' goal of building an int'l brand, the "plan is to spread it throughout the league" so different teams will play overseas. Silver said establishing a franchise in London and other "major European cities" is something "we've talked about for years." However, if the NBA went to Europe, it would "be with a division rather than a single team for ease of logistics." Silver: "Part of understanding the opportunity is to play games like this and to measure the response and go from there." Meanwhile, NBA Commissioner David Stern said despite Olympic qualifying games possibly occurring during the season, the league "will not be interrupting the NBA season nor will we be releasing our players to go play because that would be impractical as a business matter." The league, though, will "try to be as supportive as possible within our business model of the changes that they're making" (NBA TV, 1/16).
PUTTING ON A GOOD SHOW: Hawks' play-by-play announcer Bob Rathbun noted the majority of the "sold-out crowd of close to 20,000 has stayed until the end of the contest." Rathman: "The fans here at O2 give both teams a standing ovation. They enjoyed the NBA show, no doubt.” NBA TV's Jared Greenberg noted organizers "sold this game out in four hours." NBA TV's Andre Aldridge interviewed Stern, who is retiring on Feb. 1, during Thursday game and asked him, "“When you took over three decades ago, could you have envisioned this global growth?” Stern responded, “It would have been presumptuous to the max. Anymore than I could have anticipated that there would be an Internet or there would be satellite delivery of our signals or anything like that” ("Nets-Hawks," NBA TV, 1/16).
FOR MORE FROM LONDON: SBD Global correspondent Richard Gillis files a report from Stern and Silver’s discussion with the U.K. media from the Nolan Partners Sport Industry Breakfast at BT's central London headquarters. Meanwhile, SBD Global monitors the media coverage of the Nets-Hawks game from the U.K.
The NBA's transition of power from Commissioner David Stern to Deputy Commissioner & COO Adam Silver when Stern retires on Feb. 1 is the subject of a cover story in the latest edition of BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK, and the magazine's Ira Boudway writes the NBA currently "resembles a multinational corporation," and the "seamlessness of its executive transition should be the envy of most of them." Along with basketball operations, Silver will "oversee marketing, finance, legal, security, and merchandising departments, among others." Stern and Silver’s personalities "reflect the changing nature of the job." Stern is "famous for his disarming wit and flashes of anger; for better or worse, he’s incapable of being anything other than his fulsome self." But Silver "is smoother, more corporate." Stern "promises not to cast a long shadow." He said, “My feeling of the issue is, when you’re gone, you’re gone. So my new office will not be at the NBA. And that’s it.” Stern's "official title will be commissioner emeritus," and Silver said that he will be "calling Stern for advice." Silver: "I can’t imagine a scenario in which we won’t be talking on a regular basis. It would be foolhardy for me not to be constantly checking in with David.” Boudway notes Silver is "not concerned about any appearance that Stern is still pulling the strings" (BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK, 1/20 issue).
REGRETS, I'VE HAD A FEW: Stern during a press conference prior to Thursday's Nets-Hawks game in London was asked if he had any regrets during his three decades as commission. He said, "I wish the WNBA was 24 teams, rather (than) 12. That will take us some time. I wish the American team at the Athens Olympics had won gold rather than bronze. But I'm very happy with where we are, and I'm looking forward to perhaps traveling a bit with the NBA and enjoying watching its continued growth" (ESPNNY.com, 1/16).
MLS Commissioner Don Garber on Thursday said the league "is losing" $75M-100M a year, according to Eric Beato of the NEW ENGLAND SOCCER JOURNAL. Speaking between the first two rounds of the MLS SuperDraft, Garber said, "One of the things that is interesting with (the league) is that I don’t get asked as much about our economic viability and the stability of the league. It’s all accepted that this league is going to be here to stay" (NESOCCERJOURNAL.com, 1/16). Meanwhile, Garber said Toronto FC committing nearly $100M recently to acquire players, including F Jermain Defoe and MF Michael Bradley, is a "historic move," but added he is not sure it "translates across every other team in the league." He said of the club, "They needed to be big and bold and show their fans and show the media and their sponsors that they are doubly committed and really interested in being one of the dominant professional soccer teams in the region. We're excited for it. ... I think it'll be a great moment for our fans and certainly help our business up in Canada." Bradley is the latest member of the U.S. men's national team to rejoin MLS, and Garber said this is a "seminal moment and period of time" for the league due to the number of USMNT members that are "players in our league or players who played in our league." Garber: "It's a powerful statement that we're trying to make that says, 'We want Major League Soccer to be the league of choice for fans, we want it to be the league of choice for administrators and coaches. But we also want it to be the league of choice for those guys who grow up in the game here" (SI.com, 1/16).
TRICKLE-DOWN ECONOMICS: With the announcement imminent of ESPN and Fox landing MLS TV rights, the N.Y. TIMES' Jack Bell wrote there is "likely to be a trickle-down effect from the richer deal." Each MLS club will get about $3M more than in the prior deal with NBC and ESPN. The league’s contract with the MLSPU expires at the end of '14, and players "are likely to see an opening to increase the salary budget (which was $2.9 million for each team last year) while also negotiating to increase the minimum salary." The growth in rights fees also will "enable the league and its clubs to continue to up the ante in bidding for players from abroad, and for Americans who went to Europe but now want to come home, as the national team stars Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey have done in the past year" (NYTIMES.com, 1/15).
The PGA Tour is "expanding its Women's Initiative, featured last year at The Players Championship, and will rename it PGA Tour Woman," according to Garry Smits of the FLORIDA TIMES-UNION. The program's goals will be to "unify female fans of the Tour through a shared interest in golf, wellness and fitness, travel experiences and leisure activities, career development, networking opportunities, business innovation and charity." The program "expands on Executive Women’s Days held at tournaments throughout last season." The initiative was "held at last year’s Players at the Women’s Pavilion, sponsored by Astellas." The pavilion at this year's Players will "be renamed The Experience, and Astellas will remain the national sponsor of Executive Women’s Days." It will "be at 20 PGA Tour events this season" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 1/16).
ESPNW's Michelle Smith noted the WNBA "is having what must be considered serious discussions" with the Warriors to determine the future of the Sparks, two weeks after the news broke that the Sparks' ownership group "handed the team back to the league." The business of "running the world's best professional women's basketball league is on hold until the Sparks' future is determined." Smith: "A league schedule awaits. The announcement of a draft date awaits. The players' new collective bargaining agreement awaits." The "best part about the Warriors' involvement thus far is that Golden State's ownership wants to be here. No arm-twisting involved." That is "why the WNBA should be doing everything it can to make this happen" (ESPNW.com, 1/15).
HAAS WANTS F1 TEAM: AUTOSPORT.com's Rencken & Noble noted Stewart-Haas Racing co-Owner Gene Haas is "working on plans to launch" a new American F1 team. Sources said that Haas "is working with former Red Bull and Jaguar technical director Gunther Steiner on the F1 project." The new team "is provisionally called Haas Racing Developments." SHR "recently expanded its facilities in Charlotte, which could be part of the preparations for a potential F1 involvement" (AUTOSPORT.com, 1/16).
UFC SHOCKED BY CLAIMS: UFC co-Chair & CEO Lorenzo Fertitta said that he "was surprised" by MMA fighter Georges St-Pierre's comments regarding the league's drug testing, or a lack thereof, and added that the issue "did not come up when the Canadian star discussed his departure from the promotion last month." UFC President Dana White "echoed that claim Wednesday, adding there has been no contact between the UFC and St-Pierre since the statements were made" (ESPN.com, 1/16).