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The top teams in NASCAR have united to form Race Team Alliance, a business association designed to improve revenue and save costs for Sprint Cup teams. The Race Team Alliance includes Chip Ganassi Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske. MWR Owner Rob Kauffman has been elected the group's Chair. Kauffman said that the organization was designed to bring teams together for the first time to improve revenue and cut costs. He said that one of the things they have discussed is looking for a hotel sponsor for all the teams, so that teams could reduce their hotel and travel costs. Another possibility might be to find an airline partner that would allow teams to move away from the private aircraft they currently use for races. Kauffman: "Everybody brings a bunch of people to different cities throughout the year and puts them in hotel rooms. Wouldn’t it make sense to pull room nights together and put a (request-for-proposal) together and get someone like Marriott to be an official hotel partner and provide room nights? Wouldn’t that be a good idea? Of course it would. We now have the machinery in place to do that and are tons of other things we can do." The organization is the first of its kind in NASCAR where teams are independent owner-operators and not franchises. On Twitter, some motorsports writers questioned how teams that compete on the track could collaborate off it, but most U.S. professional sports leagues are made up of teams that compete on the field and collaborate on business matters. Kauffman said, “The key word is collaboration.”
MORE TV REVENUE FOR TEAMS? Kauffman said that the teams have not discussed the way NASCAR splits TV-rights revenue or the possibility of creating a franchise system for NASCAR teams. Both are issues that have been raised independently in the past. NASCAR, which will begin a new, 10-year TV deal in '15 worth more than $8B, currently splits the revenue under a formula developed in the early 2000s that gives tracks 65%, teams 25% and NASCAR 10%. In recent years, team owners like Kauffman’s partner, Michael Waltrip, have questioned whether or not the portion they receive is fair. NASCAR has been adamant in past years that the split won’t change in the future, but NASCAR Chair Brian France this weekend raised the possibility that it could, saying, “We are rethinking that a little bit, and in particular with the Nationwide teams, as well. But that'll be something that we will consider and we will look at to make sure that the appropriate values are where they need to be.” Kauffman said the TV split is “not really within our parameters. ... It’s an issue that affects teams, but it’s not something teams can control. Our priority is dealing with our own issues.”
JOINING FORCES: Though the Race Team Alliance is the first association of its kind in NASCAR, it is not the first time teams have come together in motorsports. F1 teams came together in '06 to form the Formula One Teams Association. The organization has represented teams in budget-cap negotiations and collectively bargained their share of TV revenue. Kauffman said that is not the direction that the Race Team Alliance wants to take. He said, “This is about collaboration. The association’s plan is to stay on the high road. Things beyond (our) control are best not to focus on. The business model of team ownership could be improved, but it is what it is. No one forces you to (own a team). What the team alliance is about is team owners working together. Richard Childress said it best: Teams need to help themselves.” NASCAR Chief Communications Officer Brett Jewkes in a statement said, “We are aware of the alliance concept the team owners have announced, but have very few specifics on its structure or purpose. It is apparently still in development and we’re still learning about the details so it would be inappropriate to comment right now. NASCAR’s mission, as it has always been, is to create a fair playing field where anyone can come and compete. Our job is to support and strengthen all of the teams, large and small, across all of our series and we’ll continue to do that. NASCAR is a unique community with hundreds of stakeholders. They all have a voice and always will.” Meanwhile, Kauffman said the Race Team Alliance will hire some staff to assist in putting out request-for-proposals and working with the teams. He expects the staff to be lean and work with member teams on initiatives. He also said that the organization hopes to add other Sprint Cup teams as members in the future. Kauffman: “The ink is just on the by-laws. We’re just starting out.”
NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France on Saturday said that he is "happy with how the Sprint Cup’s new Chase for the Cup format is working," but he also "mentioned the sport continues to grapple with continued declines in ticket sales," according to David Scott of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. France addressed the state of the sport prior to the Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400, saying, "We can all see the benefits of changing the (importance of) winning and it has changed the racing on the track. Drivers are telling us that. They’re taking different chances. We expect the racing to get better and we certainly like the format.” France said that "fan-friendly renovations" such as DIS' $400M "Daytona Rising” project will "help stop a six-year slide in ticket sales for the sport." France said, “We’re talking about lowering the barrier to entry. Lowering the cost of racing, getting parity where teams can come in and have success and making ourselves more relevant to manufacturers and partners is all part of the NASCAR model. It’s been slow and hard" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 7/6). Meanwhile, France said a "robust" discussion will go into setting the '15 schedule. The AP's Jenna Fryer noted a "revamped format to the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship this season, coupled with NBC taking over the second half of the television schedule next season, gives NASCAR an opportunity to make scheduling changes." But France said that there are "no current plans to award a coveted Sprint Cup race to Iowa Speedway." France also indicated that the Sprint Cup season finale is "staying put for the 'foreseeable future' at Homestead-Miami Speedway." The track recently "extended its sponsorship agreement" with Ford through at least '19, with an "option to extend" through '24. France: "We've liked the fact that to do it in South Florida, the weather is great that time of year, it's a good market for us" (AP, 7/5).
WHEN THE LEVEE BREAKS: In Daytona Beach, Dinah Voyles Pulver noted rain "forced an early end to the Coke Zero 400 and interfered with much of the weekend’s racing action." The race, originally scheduled for Saturday night, was pushed to an 11:00am ET start yesterday and then was shortened due to more rain. DIS President Joie Chitwood III said, “We did the best we can and hopefully our fans understand that we want to see a lot of great racing, too, but we’ve got to make sure we’re good stewards of the sport and provide the right environment for that.” He added of not finishing the race due to the threat of more rain later in the day, “I think we had all the right information in front of us and made the best decision we could." But Chitwood said that "aside from the weather," he was "pleased with the weekend." Chitwood: "I think our fans got a little over three hours of some pretty good Cup racing." He added that he was "pleased they got the Lee Brice concert and the fireworks show in Saturday" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 7/7). Also in Daytona Beach, Ken Willis writes, "You're always risking a rain issue when you plan outdoor activities in summertime Florida. ... Still, let's keep beating the drum to move Daytona's 'other' race to September and the start of the Chase" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 7/7).
Sounders D DeAndre Yedlin last month became the first American from MLS' developmental academies to play in a FIFA World Cup match, and since then, the publicity campaign to "turn him into the face of the league has been like one of his runs: swift, calculated and effective," according to Jorge Arangure Jr. of the N.Y. TIMES. In two and a half "whirlwind days" in N.Y. last week, Yedlin visited ESPN, SI, "GMA," "CBS This Morning," Al Jazeera America, CNN and Fox Sports, among others. Yedlin "is a valuable commodity for a league still trying to gain a foothold with the mainstream American audience." He "is affable, handsome and, unlike the more reserved" Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, "exceedingly media-friendly and image-conscious." Yedlin’s performance in Brazil "has also created a complicated situation for MLS" in that while the league "would like to market Yedlin as one of the league’s more promising players, he is surely going to attract the attention of European teams" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/6). Sounders Minority Owner & GM Adrian Hanauer in a statement yesterday said of reports that Yedlin's play has drawn the interest of Serie A club AS Roma, "This has drawn lots of interest for him from leagues around the world. For now, DeAndre is in Seattle and we need him to help us win our upcoming games against Portland. If something transpires with a foreign team, we will announce it" (MLSSOCCER.com, 7/6).
BESLER EYEING A MOVE, TOO? Sporting KC CEO Robb Heineman said there is a "strong possibility" that D Matt Besler could pursue a transfer to an overseas club after his performance at the World Cup. Besler's agent, Libero Sports' Eddie Rock, said that his client "is weighing options that include offers" from EPL and Bundesliga clubs. In K.C., Sam McDowell notes if Besler "finds an acceptable landing spot with an overseas club, that team would be required to negotiate a transfer fee" with Sporting KC and MLS. Sporting KC Manager and Technical Dir Peter Vermes and Heineman "have made it clear they will not block a player’s aspirations to follow other opportunities -- but they first plan to make a pitch of their own to Besler" (K.C. STAR, 7/7). Besler and Yedlin on Friday appeared together live in studio for CBS' "CBS This Morning." Yedlin said the U.S. team "showed the world that this is turning into a soccer country." He added, "Hopefully, we've given people more reason to watch not just U.S. soccer, but also MLS." Besler said of potentially leaving MLS, "I hope I get to stay. We'll see what happens. Right now, I'm extremely happy here in the U.S." ("CBS This Morning," 7/4).
GAUGING GROWTH: U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said of whether it is possible for MLS to become one of the world's best leagues by '22, “Yes. But it’s going to take a lot of effort and additional investments. I think we’ve hit so many of the benchmarks we’ve set along the way -- and some we haven’t hit and some we’ve changed -- that I would think it’s possible. At this point, in terms of the players and compensation levels around the world, there’s one league and then you get some tax situations." He added, "MLS is going to continue to grow. I can’t put a percentage on that, does it take five or 10 percent improvement on the field? We can’t measure it that way. Clearly the economics of MLS are getting better, which means they can afford to retain top players and try to go out and get more top players. That’s the only way you’re going to get to that level" (SI.com, 7/3). Meanwhile, in Orlando, Paul Tenorio writes to look at the World Cup as a "light switch that will forever turn" the U.S. on to soccer "misses the point." No soccer fan "expects a night-and-day changeover." MLS' progression "has been going on for 20 years, and there is still plenty more work left ahead." MLS ratings "fall well short of the NFL, but so does every other sport in the U.S." There "has been progress when it comes to soccer's media impact," and one can "point simply at the investment that media companies are pouring into MLS" as an example of this. ESPN "isn't apt to throw money at something it doesn't believe is going to pay off down the road" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 7/7).
The MLBPA is "conducting an investigation into the role some agents might have played in the Biogenesis doping scandal that rocked the sport last year," according to sources cited by T.J. Quinn of ESPN.com. Sources said that the MLBPA retained veteran attorney Robert Muse to "run the investigation several months ago," and he and his staff are "expected to issue a report within the next few weeks." Sources said that the "two primary subjects of the investigation" have been L.A.-based CAA, where agent Nez Balelo represents Brewers RF Ryan Braun, and N.Y.-based ACES, run by longtime agents Seth and Sam Levinson. Sources said that at least "two other agencies are part of the probe as well." Sources added that the investigation also has "looked into charges of client poaching." MLBPA General Counsel David Prouty "declined to confirm the existence of the investigation." However, sources said that Muse's investigation is "looking into whether the Levinsons were indeed aware" of ACES agent Juan Carlos Nunez' work "as a leg man" for Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch or his part in Blue Jays LF Melky Cabrera's fake website to explain a failed drug test (ESPN.com, 7/3). MLBPA Exec Dir Tony Clark on Thursday said, "The great thing is that in any number of conversations I've had with our agent community, 99.9 percent of them are committed to the same thing, and that's the best representation of the players. We are looking into any ways that we can continue to provide the best support and best representation we can for guys." YAHOO SPORTS' Jeff Passan cited a union official as calling "the community 'the wild, wild West,' with daily allegations of agents trying to buy clients with cash or other inducements." Passan noted how Muse intends to "tackle client poaching -- a scourge not just in baseball but across the professional-sports landscape -- is a bigger question." Parsing "he-said, he-said arguments is not easy, especially when the players themselves -- particularly minor leaguers who are paid a pittance -- are willing participants in the impropriety" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/3).
Hockey HOFer Wayne Gretzky's agent, Darren Blake, is "denying a report" from the N.Y. Post that Gretzky is "trying to bring an NHL team to Seattle," according to the CP. Blake in an e-mail wrote that Gretzky "isn't involved in any bid." Blake wrote, "As you can imagine prospective team owners from various franchises call frequently to gauge his interest in coming on board. Seattle is no different." Meanwhile, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly "declined to comment on the report" (CP, 7/4). In N.Y., Kosman & Brooks reported in the original article Gretzky has "joined a group of investors" hoping to bring a team to Seattle. Sources said that the Gretzky group is "one of three looking to bring an NHL franchise" to Seattle, but each "faces an uphill battle in that league Commissioner Gary Bettman has not said the league is ready to expand." It is "not known if the Gretzky group or either of the other two groups are eyeing an expansion team or hope to move an existing team to the Pacific Northwest." Gretzky in '11 "partnered with Providence Equity Partners," a N.Y-based private-equity firm, in a $1.5B bid for MLSE, which owns the Maple Leafs and Raptors. However, the NHL "rejected the group’s offer because it would have been structured as a leveraged buyout with debt levels higher" than 50% of the franchise value (N.Y. POST.com, 7/4). CBSSPORTS.com's Chris Peters wrote should Gretzky "ever get involved in the Seattle group, it would go a ways in legitimizing their campaign and putting a very famous face on the NHL-to-Seattle process." That said, there are "still so many snags in Seattle's hopes for an NHL team, not the least of which is the need for the city to attain an NBA team once again" (CBSSPORTS.com, 7/5).
In Boston, Nick Cafardo wrote there "should have been a succession plan" for MLB Commissioner Bud Selig a year ago, when it was known he "would be ending his tenure." There is "no doubt that Selig would pick" MLB COO Rob Manfred to be the next commissioner. Owners "have fallen in line with Selig's recommendations and leadership, so it would seem out of character for them not to seriously consider Manfred when he would continue Selig's vision." One owner said, "Everyone is trying to keep an open mind, but the lead horse is Manfred. The owners I speak to feel comfortable with him to keep things going in the right direction. Bud's input is extremely important and we know that Rob would be Bud's first choice" (BOSTON GLOBE, 7/6).
WORK IN PROGRESS: ESPN.com's John Clayton noted the NFL "is working" on a developmental league. It "knows there are numbers of investors willing to put together developmental leagues for them." The NFL is "waiting for the right option, and I believe it will do something." Clayton: "I just don't know when." Too many "good, young players are falling through the cracks." When a team "loses a starting player to injury, the pool of potential replacements is poor." Owners "know that, but they don't want to create a loss-leader to solve the problem when they can have outside investors pay to be aligned with the NFL" (ESPN.com, 7/6).
LAUGHING ALL THE WAY TO THE BANK: SI.com's Jon Wertheim noted the prize money increases for this year's Wimbledon "are really dramatic." Reach the round of 16 in singles "and win $200,000?" That was the "size of a finalist's check not long ago -- and the winner's check at certain tour events now." This "further dilutes the importance of run-of-the-mill tour events and emphasizes the Slams' supremacy." Acting on "behalf of the players, the tours were the driving forces behind these increases." But you "can't help but fear this has come at the expense of the tournament constituents" (SI.com, 7/6).
NO SUCH THING AS BAD PRESS: In Rochester, Jeff Di Veronica wrote for U.S. Soccer and the NWSL to "improve the second-year league's visibility," its biggest stars need to "stand in front of the cameras and talk to the media, even when the spotlight is there for the wrong reasons." That is how the message gets out, "at least in part," that Reign G Hope Solo is on a squad that is "having the greatest season in women's professional soccer history." It "doesn't mean it'll end up on ESPN unless Solo does or says something silly or unprofessional, it just means it gives the NWSL a chance to gain some extra interest, so new fans know it exists" (ROCHESTER DEMOCRAT & CHRONICLE, 7/4).