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The NHL this morning "shot down" a report that it is planning to expand to Las Vegas, Quebec City, Seattle and Toronto, according to the TORONTO STAR. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said to French-language TV outlet TVA Sports, "Not in our plans. Nothing new to report on expansion." The four cities have been named "every time there's talk of expansion in the NHL but it would be surprising that all four would get a team at once" (THESTAR.com, 8/27). SportsBusinessNews.com's Howard Bloom in the initial report stated the four cities would be added "by 2017," with each franchise coming with a $1.4B expansion fee (TWITTER.com, 8/26). Meanwhile, in Vancouver, Tony Gallagher reports today the NHL expanding to Las Vegas is a "done deal," and the the only thing to be determined is "which owner will be entitled to proclaim that he brought the first major league sports franchise to Sin City." Given how "dead set against a team in the gambling haven" NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was 10 years ago, the move "into another player friendly state-tax-free zone represents a considerable about-face" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 8/27).
BETTMAN'S BIG BET: SI.com's Allan Muir noted Hudson Pacific Properties President, CEO & Chair Victor Coleman "has been identified as someone interested in bringing an NHL club to the Pacific Northwest," while Quebec City, while Quebecor Media President & CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau is "an obvious owner-in-waiting" for a potential Quebec City team. While those two cities and their "lengthy ties to the sport would be logical choices, it's the possibility of pucks in Vegas that really catches the eye ... and draws out the snarky naysayers." Muir: "Give Bettman credit. He's had the vision and the courage to put teams in locations his predecessors never would have considered." Once in place, he has "laid everything on the line, including his own political credit, to help them survive." In many of those locales, the game "has thrived, planting the kind of roots that gives it a legitimate chance of long-term success." If there is "anything to this report, if Gary really believes that Vegas is ready for the NHL -- and vice versa -- maybe we all should just listen to the man" (SI.com, 8/26).
Darlington Speedway is returning "to its traditional Labor Day weekend," one of a "handful of changes" to the '15 NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule, according to Jim Utter of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. The Southern 500 was held on Labor Day weekend from '50-'03 before Darlington’s "lone Cup series date moved to Mother’s Day weekend." This season, the race "was held April 12." Atlanta Motor Speedway, which is hosting the Labor Day weekend race this year, "will move to the second race of the season." Additionally, the spring race weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, which has "been beset by attendance problems," will move from the middle of March to the middle of April. The 10 Chase for the Sprint Cup races "remain the same." NBC will "kick off its return as a broadcast partner" with the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona Int'l Speedway on Sunday night, July 5. The race "traditionally is held on Saturday night," and DIS officials said that it "would return" in '16 (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 8/27). USA TODAY's Jeff Gluck notes the Atlanta change means Phoenix Int'l Raceway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway -- formerly the second and third races of the season -- "are now part of a Western tripleheader with Auto Club Speedway in Southern California." Kentucky Speedway's race weekend "moves from late June to July 11, bumping New Hampshire Motor Speedway one week later and eliminating the traditional July weekend off in favor of one in June." NASCAR also "added a third weekend off in late August before the final two races of the regular season, which could give drivers and teams a much-needed breather" before the Chase. It also could "give teams revving up for the title run extra time to prepare" (USA TODAY, 8/27).
SOUTHERN COMFORT: In South Carolina, Lou Bezjak notes fans and drivers "have been clamoring for Darlington to get this date back since NASCAR moved it." The date change "works with Darlington’s marketing campaign to highlight its history going forward into next year’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 weekend." The move back to Labor Day weekend gives track President Chip Wile and his staff "more than a year to get ready for next year’s race." The "only obstacle of having the race move backed to Labor Day is having to compete with college football" (Florence MORNING NEWS, 8/27). ESPN.com's Ryan McGee wrote NASCAR, in a "rare about-face, is finally putting the right race back into its rightful place" on the schedule. It is the "lone bold move of a largely business-as-usual calendar rollout." McGee: "Race fans, you have been handed a second Southern 500 life." A chance to "prove that you actually are the stock car traditionalists that so many always claim to be." NASCAR admitting a "mistake by undoing an old, unpopular decision is an event that comes along ... well, never." If this "doesn't work, there won't be a third chance" (ESPN.com, 8/26).
FEELIN' KINDA SUNDAY: DIS President Joie Chitwood III said of the Coke Zero 400's move to Sunday night, "As the schedule shakes out, Fox hands the baton off to NBC and Daytona gets their first race, and we think that is significant. As part of that, NBC wants to find a little of their Sunday night magic that they use for their No. 1 program, which is ‘Football Night in America.’" Chitwood added, "NBC wanted their first NASCAR event to be something special, so understanding that, we felt this was the right thing to do for 2015" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 8/27). More Chitwood: "You think about the 10-year absence NBC has had from our sport and they're coming back in, we're going to do it Daytona-style: Big and bold. When you think about all the great promotions and elements that NBC has done for their 'Sunday Night Football' program, we expect the same kind of atmosphere, attitude, promotions around this event" ("NASCAR America," NBCSN, 8/26).
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER: NASCAR Exec VP/Racing Development Steve O'Donnell talked about putting the schedule together as Fox and NBC begin the first year of their new rights package. He said, "When you look at the collaboration that went into this year's schedule -- a lot of cooperation with all the track partners, a lot of discussions with all of our stakeholders and then most importantly looking at what's in the best interest of the fans -- I think we've netted-out a terrific schedule." He noted the drivers are "certainly vocal" about their opinions on the schedule and "we've got to take their input, which we do." O'Donnell: "We certainly factor that in, but then it's our job as a sanctioning body to really balance that and listen to all the stakeholders in the sport." FS1's Steve Byrnes noted there had been rumors that with NBC taking over for ESPN in broadcasting the second-half of the Cup season, the net might seek "radical changes to the schedule." O'Donnell said, "One of the things that probably gets lost sometimes is really deviating even a week on a race schedule is huge for our sport. Unlike other sports, we don't have six to eight home games where a fan can pick and choose what game they may go to. Fans make vacation plans sometimes years in advance. So for us to even change a week out of a market is a huge impact on a racetrack and on our fans" ("NASCAR Race Hub," FS1, 8/26).
NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith said the organization has been "extremely pleased with the way the CBA has unfolded," as the salary cap has "increased dramatically." Appearing on ESPN2's "Numbers Never Lie," Smith said, "The players are taking the lion's share of television revenue, which is the largest piece of revenue going forward. We have mandatory spends in the National Football League, free agency. We hit close to $900 million in guaranteed money for the first time. I know that this union is a player-run union, and we believe in things like transparency. I believe in empowering our players to not only negotiate the CBA, which they did, but they are responsible for the continuity and the success of this union." Smith is being challenged for the union's top position by former NFLer Sean Gilbert, with an election set for March. Smith is "looking forward" to the vote, saying, "If they make a decision they want to go somewhere else, that's the beauty of a transparent and player-run system." Meanwhile, Smith said the NFLPA is "well ahead of where I thought we would be on the issues of player safety." He stated, "Not only have we made bold steps to change football on the national level, you've seen the high school and youth football level start to mimic virtually everything that we've done to make their game safer." Smith addressed the lack of punishment meted out to Colts Owner Jim Irsay and said, "We are better off in the National Football League if there are standards that apply to everyone who are in this business. I think that our goal of making the league better and our men better and everyone who's involved in the system, men and women, better is to ensure that there's a standard that applies across the board" ("Numbers Never Lie," ESPN2, 8/26).
GILBERT'S PLAN: USA TODAY's Jarrett Bell writes if there was "any issue that galvanized the players" during the '11 lockout, it was "their refusal to extend the regular season at a cost of more bodily wear and tear." That issue "looms as the toughest philosophical hurdle" Gilbert faces in "trying to win support" for the NFLPA Exec Dir position. Gilbert yesterday said he favors an 18-game regular season, but when Seahawks OT Eric Winston was elected NFLPA President in the spring, he "reiterated the players would never budge in their opposition" to that. Taking power from Smith "will be daunting in another sense: Gilbert must sway a rank-and-file membership that typically takes its lead from player reps" and the BOD. For Gilbert to "swing the election, it's paramount that he garners support from union members in leadership positions and from agents, whose support he has also worked to cultivate" (USA TODAY, 8/27). CBSSPORTS.com's Jason La Canfora noted with the CBA "running for seven more years, and that labor peace the foundation of its continued ability to shatter previous marks with its television and Internet deals, it remains to be seen how attractive any of this would be" to Goodell and the owners, though the league "has made no secret of its interest in 18 regular season games" (CBSSPORTS.com, 8/26).
The NBA is "expanding the area that must be clear behind the basket and cutting the number of photographers along the baseline in an effort to improve player safety," according to Brian Mahoney of the AP. The new regulations call for an "extra foot of open space on both sides of the basket stanchion." NBA President of Basketball Operations Rod Thorn said that "clearing the congestion behind the playing area was planned even before" Pacers F Paul George broke his leg when he "crashed into the stanchion last month during a USA Basketball exhibition game." Thorn: ''The conversations about this topic preceded Paul's injury by several years. ... But of course when an injury occurs like the one to Paul, it reaffirms the changes we have made and the need to continue to evaluate our policies." Mahoney noted "only 20 camera positions, 10 on each baseline, will remain, down from 24 last season and 40 during" the '10-11 regular season. Each baseline can have "six photo spots on one side of the basket and four on the other, and dance teams or other entertainers cannot be stationed along the baseline" (AP, 8/26). In San Antonio, Dan McCarney noted Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has been among the "more vocal critics of the NBA’s congested baselines." Popovich became upset last preseason when Spurs G Tony Parker "jammed his finger on a camera while spilling into the baseline crowd" (MYSANANTONIO.com, 8/26).