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  • A leader on and off field

    Two nights before the Super Bowl, at the NFL commissioner’s annual party, 47-year NFL executive Jack Steadman embraced Gene Upshaw to thank him for all he had done for the game of football.

    “I told him, had it not been for you, the NFL would not have been able to grow into the pre-eminent league in the world,” said Steadman, recently retired from the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs. “He was a reasonable guy as far as understanding the economics and understanding how the players will benefit from the growth of the league.”

    Upshaw’s unexpected death last week leaves a void at the top of America’s leading sports union, the NFL Players Association, at a time when the players and owners had been gearing up for another round of labor talks (see story, page 37).

    Had Upshaw, 63, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on Aug. 17 and died three days later, survived, Steadman is sure that yet another settlement would have been reached with the league.

    In 25 years at the wheel, the forceful Upshaw drove the union through a decade of labor unrest and into 15 years of peace.

    “He was the greatest leader in the history of professional sports for players,” said Jeffrey Kessler, the NFLPA outside counsel and close confidant of Upshaw.

    Kessler pointed particularly to the union’s success in gaining free agency for players.

    “He led the players to freedom, literally,” Kessler said. “There was not freedom until Gene Upshaw led them to that place.”

    Trace Armstrong, the former player president and now outside adviser to the union, said, “I don’t think there is a person on the planet who could have done what he did. No one knew how close the owners were to winning back in ’89 and ’87 and ’93, and Gene pulled us through.

    Upshaw poses with Patriots owner Bob Kraft
    (second from left), former NFL Commissioner
    Paul Tagliabue and Jonathan Kraft before
    Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston.

    “I think people who didn’t know Gene well did not know how strong a person he was,” Armstrong continued. “He never showed fatigue; he never blinked in the face of adversity. That is how he lived and that is how he ended.”

    Upshaw did receive tremendous heat from many quarters, including those who felt that he had not bargained well enough for his players. Even after negotiating, in 2006, a CBA extension that the owners would later consider so poor for them that they would opt out of the contract, critics continued to pile on Upshaw, airing complaints about everything from pension benefits to the lack of guaranteed contracts. Nonetheless, NFL players today receive a larger percent of revenue, at 60 percent, than players in any other league in the country.

    More recently, retired players ferociously criticized Upshaw, claiming that he had not done enough for them, even though under government regulations he could not represent them. In the last few months, a group of active players attempted to unseat him, and when that initiative failed, they looked to find a successor, another effort he beat back.

    “While he was fighting for his life, he was fighting for a union that he had led so effectively,” said Marc Ganis, an NFL consultant.

    Upshaw was born into poverty in 1945 in Texas, and he played football collegiately at what is now Texas A&M University-Kingsville. He was drafted in 1967 in the first round by the Oakland Raiders, for whom he would play 15 years as an offensive lineman, then make the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. A player representative during the 1970s, he took over the union in 1983 and led it through a strike and the free agency era.

    His bold move to decertify the union in 1989 so the players could sue the league for free agency finally moved the labor issue forward and led to the current NFL system of salary cap and player movement that has underpinned the growth of the league.

    “He was the rare individual who earned his place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame both for his accomplishments on the field and for his leadership of the players off the field,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in a statement.

    His death came as a shock even to those closest to him.

    Friends of Upshaw said last week that they did not know he was seriously ill, though several sources said that he had lost a great deal of weight, especially in recent weeks. Upshaw entered a hospital on Aug. 17, and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died Wednesday night at his home in Lake Tahoe, Calif.

    He is survived by his wife, Terri; their sons, Justin and Daniel; and a son from a previous marriage, Eugene Jr.

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  • A’s negotiating with Comcast for exit from CSN Bay Area

    Unhappy with being on a regional sports network partially owned by its local MLB rival, the Oakland A’s have begun negotiations with Comcast to move the club’s local cable TV rights off CSN Bay Area.

    The most likely destination for the A’s telecasts is Sacramento-based CSN West, another Comcast regional sports network that has rights to the Sacramento Kings.

    The A’s currently are tied to CSN Bay Area until 2010, but that relationship has been strained since early this year, when the San Francisco Giants gained an estimated 30 percent ownership stake in the RSN in exchange for a 25-year rights deal.

    The A’s are tied to CSN Bay Area until 2010,
    but could make a switch to CSN West.

    Under the nascent negotiations, the A’s similarly would gain equity in CSN West, which then could bulk up its programming by gaining additional games from the MLS San Jose Earthquakes, also controlled by Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff, and the Class AAA Sacramento River Cats, an A’s affiliate.

    “We’ve been talking to Comcast, but [there’s] nothing to report at this time,” said Wolff, adding he would “prefer to reach a relationship with Comcast.”

    If consummated, the move would make sense on several levels. Not only would a shift of Oakland’s rights end a situation in which the A’s are building asset value for the Giants, but it would balance the programming between the two regional networks. CSN Bay Area carries the Giants, A’s, San Jose Sharks and Golden State Warriors, while CSN West is anchored by only the Kings — and those Kings games are blacked out in the immediate San Francisco-Oakland area to protect the Warriors.

    The Earthquakes’ broadcast schedule is shared by the two networks.

    Insider accounts have varied as to the tenor of the Comcast-A’s talks, but the sides share an extended history. Jeff Shell, president of Comcast programming, went to business school with Keith Wolff, Lew’s son and A’s vice president of venue development.

    Comcast is developing an RSN strategy that sees it sharing equity in its RSNs with MLB clubs. Beyond the partnership with the Giants, the New York Mets hold part of SportsNet New York, and the Chicago White Sox and Cubs are part-owners of CSN Chicago.

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  • ATP searching for new leader following de Villiers’ resignation

    For the second time in four years, the ATP World Tour is looking for a new leader. Embattled Executive Chairman Etienne de Villiers, fresh off a resounding court victory for the men’s circuit, announced last week he would step down at the end of the year.

    “We will be working very, very quickly to bring somebody on board,” said David Egdes, a Tennis Channel executive who is on the ATP board of directors.

    The development emerges just as the ATP hopes to announce this week or next a new lead tour sponsor to replace outgoing Mercedes-Benz. The leading contender is insurance carrier Aviva, but talks with at least two other companies were occurring last week.

    De Villiers

    De Villiers’ plan to remake the 2009 tour calendar — including demoting the Hamburg, Germany, event and having the top players compete in all of the elite tournaments — drew fire upon its disclosure. The Hamburg stop sued under U.S. antitrust law, and the case could have ripped the ATP apart, a prospect that led to criticisms of de Villiers for taking the situation so far.

    But a jury earlier this month ruled in the ATP’s favor, leaving the tour calendar for 2009 intact and de Villiers vindicated. Nonetheless, players have voiced opposition to his reign, and earlier this year, they voted off their three representatives on the board for, in part, going along with the new calendar.

    Writing before the de Villiers announcement, Carlos Costa, the agent for Rafael Nadal, perhaps de Villiers’ most outspoken player critic, said presciently in an e-mail, “Hopefully with a new management soon things will be better and easier.”

    In a statement, de Villiers, a former Walt Disney executive, explained his decision to leave the tennis scene in December. “I was tasked by the ATP Board, three years ago, to create a vision that would involve bold changes for our sport,” he said. “I believe that has now been achieved. I believe we have delivered the biggest modernization of the ATP Tour since its inception, have attracted unprecedented levels of investment into men’s tennis and have begun to feed the growing appetite for men’s tennis globally, both in established and emerging markets.”

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  • Class AAA teams prep for affiliation changes

    Another wave of major change awaits Minor League Baseball with the onset of the biennial reaffiliation period and perhaps a half-dozen Class AAA teams poised to change major league partners.

    The last reaffiliation cycle, in 2006, involved five Class AAA teams and 26 clubs overall. The new cycle likely will bring a similar amount of switching. At the minors’ upper-most level, the most-talked-about scenario involves the Cleveland Indians parting ways with longtime partner Buffalo to align with Columbus, with a new downtown ballpark set for completion in 2009 for the Clippers.

    If Columbus aligns with Cleveland,
    it could set off a chain reaction.

    That move, should it happen, would set off a chain reaction that could see Buffalo link with Toronto, and the Blue Jays’ current Class AAA partner in Syracuse, N.Y., sign with the New York Mets. That scenario could prompt the Washington Nationals, currently affiliated with Columbus, to go back to New Orleans, where they were in 2005 and 2006. Class AAA markets in Memphis (currently a St. Louis Cardinals affiliate) and Omaha, Neb., (Kansas City Royals) could also become part of the affiliation dance, according to multiple major and minor league baseball sources.

    No club is yet allowed to speak publicly about their intentions. The process is a tightly regulated one that begins after minor league seasons conclude in early September, and ends no later than Oct. 7. Behind the scenes, though, planning in many markets has been under way for months, and some clubs, such as Columbus, have more generally announced their plans to seek a different situation.

    “For years and years, the [Class AAA] ranks didn’t change. There was a lot of stability there,” said Pat O’Conner, Minor League Baseball president. “In the last couple of cycles, we’ve seen a lot more upheaval, and I think it’s going to take one more cycle to sort itself out.”

    The Buffalo Bisons could link
    with the Toronto Blue Jays.
    RELOCATION PATH?
    A look at four minor league markets and how their MLB affiliations could change for 2009.
    Market
    Current MLB club
    Possible 2009 parent
    Buffalo
    Cleveland
    Toronto
    Columbus
    Washington
    Cleveland
    Syracuse
    Toronto
    N.Y. Mets
    New Orleans
    N.Y. Mets
    Washington

    In recent years, many major league clubs have placed greater importance on their minor league affiliates for both business and baseball-oriented reasons. As a result, teams have aggressively sought out tighter geographic clusters for their farm clubs to promote regional marketing, lessen travel costs and promote easier monitoring of minor league operations.

    Such a mind-set is in full flight in Gwinnett County, Ga., where the Atlanta Braves are building a new ballpark for their club-owned Class AAA affiliate that will open next season just 37 miles from Turner Field. In January, the Braves announced plans to move the minor league club from Richmond, Va., after 43 years to the suburban Atlanta locale.

    O’Conner said he is currently talking with a handful of Class AA, Class A and Rookie-level clubs about relocating to Richmond.

    “This is an incredibly complex process,” he said. “In any of those situations, you’re talking about new alignments, new travel schedules and the like. It’s like putting together a puzzle.”

    The reaffiliation process will also expose once more the relatively difficult situation facing the New Orleans Zephyrs. The club has ably rebounded from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but it sits geographically at the edge of the Western-oriented Pacific Coast League, making it a less popular target among MLB clubs. A sometimes-discussed switch to the Eastern-leaning International League would likely do little to remedy the situation. As a result, the Zephyrs have been partnered with four different major league teams since their arrival in 1993 from Denver.

    “Any label that New Orleans is not a good market is just not accurate,” O’Conner said. “But it’s a victim of its geography. It’s really on the fringes of both leagues, and on the map, not a good fit on either side.”

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  • Despite unrest, Upshaw was still in charge

    For months before he died, NFL Players Association Executive Director Gene Upshaw faced an uprising by some players within the union leadership who demanded that, after 25 years of running the group, he find a successor. The move came as the union prepared for its most contentious labor negotiation in decades.

    Upshaw hated what was happening, he told SportsBusiness Journal and others close to him, because he believed it could undercut the union’s unity as it negotiated with NFL owners. But recently something turned Upshaw’s way, although he did not go public with it, several sources said.

    In July, six members of the NFLPA’s 11-member executive committee voted to table any talk of a potential successor until the NFLPA’s annual meeting in March 2009. The five other members did not vote. “There were no ‘no’ votes,” said a highly placed source.

    Now with Upshaw’s shocking death, questions that might have been put to rest with that July vote could resurface, just as the NFLPA enters a difficult period of negotiation with the league. The NFL in May opted out of the collective-bargaining agreement, making next season the last with a salary cap under the current deal.

    Upshaw rejected naming former player president
    Troy Vincent (left) second in command.

    “The union will move forward,” said Jeffrey Kessler, the NFLPA’s outside counsel, “and Gene’s legacy will continue.”

    The NFLPA executive committee on Thursday voted to name Richard Berthelsen, the union’s longtime general counsel, acting executive director.

    But how Berthelsen will approach the job and when a permanent successor will be picked are big questions, even as such uncertainty is sure to affect chances of the league and union cutting a deal before the 2009 free agency period begins in early March. If there is no extension of the CBA by March 2010, the next season will be played without a salary cap. Upshaw always said that if that happened, the players would never again agree to a cap.

    If no deal is reached past 2010, the owners would likely lock the players out in 2011.

    One outside expert said the sudden departure of a strong-willed leader with no clear successor spelled trouble, as different factions could emerge trying to take over.

    “You see it in all different types of organizations, more often than not it leads to a period of tenuous leadership,” said Irwin Kishner, head of Herrick, Feinstein’s sports and entertainment practice. “Frankly, not having a No. 2 in place is not good.”

    Upshaw strongly rejected the idea of installing a No. 2 executive earlier this spring, after the NFLPA held its annual meeting in March and after Yahoo! Sports reported that former player president Troy Vincent was expected to be named the No. 2 man at the union. That didn’t happen.

    Upshaw wrote in the spring:
    “There is only a No. 1 and
    there will not be a No. 2.”

    “There is only a No. 1 and there will not be a No. 2,” Upshaw wrote in an e-mail to SportsBusiness Journal in April. “Number 2 is always trying to become No. 1 and never wants to wait.”

    Shortly after making that public comment, ESPN reported that there was an effort to oust Upshaw after the news outlet was leaked a memo about a succession plan.

    SportsBusiness Journal reported that several player representatives were approached at the NFLPA annual meeting with a proposal to vote Upshaw out and Vincent in as executive director. Vincent, whom several media outlets have dubbed a natural successor for Upshaw, has denied that he was part of such a plan.

    “This is about nothing more than personal agendas,” Upshaw told SportsBusiness Journal in April. He declined to elaborate, other than to say, “People can draw their own conclusions on what that means.”

    Dissent leaked out of the union again in July when The Washington Times reported that some members of the union’s executive committee had voted to hire a search firm to start a succession process. SportsBusiness Journal later reported that members of the executive committee had been holding meetings without the presence of Upshaw and player president Kevin Mawae, in apparent violation of the union’s constitution.

    It is believed that Mawae and Upshaw had the support of the majority of the 64-member board of player representatives, but that the group of dissidents, at least at one point in time, had the majority of the support of the executive committee.

    That is why, sources said, it was a win for Upshaw when six members of the executive committee voted in July to table any discussion of a successor until March. When he so suddenly died, Upshaw had the support of the majority of the executive committee and the player representatives.

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  • ESPN pays $2.25B for SEC rights

    ESPN will pay the Southeastern Conference a staggering $2.25 billion over the next 15 years — about $150 million a year — for the conference’s TV rights, giving the network all of the SEC’s content that was not taken by CBS, industry sources confirm.

    The deal effectively ends any conversation of a conference network, and it knocks Raycom Sports (formerly Lincoln Financial and Jefferson Pilot) out of the SEC’s distribution business for the first time since 1986, when JP Sports began distributing SEC basketball.

    Combined with the 15-year, $55 million a year that the SEC will receive from CBS for the over-the-air package of games (SportsBusiness Journal, Aug. 18-24), the conference will bring in an average of $205 million annually in media rights beginning in 2009-10 and running through fiscal 2025.

    That’s nearly three times what the SEC had been receiving in TV revenue as part of its current deal, which runs out next spring. That amounted to around $70 million per year.

    SEC athletic directors met in Orlando last week to finalize the deal, which is expected to be announced later this week.

    What won’t be announced next week, though, is a forthcoming agreement between ESPN and Comcast that will initially put ESPNU in about 7 million Comcast homes. That deal could be finalized in the coming weeks and could potentially give ESPNU full digital basic distribution of around 14 million homes on the country’s biggest cable operator. ESPNU, which is in 25 million homes, previously had failed to gain carriage on Comcast, but this deal eventually could push it to reach about 40 million homes, a critical threshold for advertising, industry sources say.

    ESPN’s syndication arm, ESPN Regional Television, will handle syndication to local broadcasters throughout the Southeast. It also will make regional cable packages available to cable channels, such as Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast and Fox RSNs.

    ESPN’s strategy is to secure high-quality
    programming for its networks
    and broadband platforms.

    “These extraordinary numbers reflect the continuing increase in value for major college sports,” said Neal Pilson, a TV consultant and former CBS Sports president. “We’re seeing significant increases in value at the conference level and we’re also going to see it for the BCS in the near future. As we’re seeing with the Olympics, sports have a built-in, not recession-proof, but recession-resistant quality. There’s a resiliency in terms of audience and ratings.”

    ESPN’s aggressive bid is part of a strategy to secure high-quality programming for its networks and broadband platforms, while keeping the SEC from launching its own cable channel that eventually could compete with ESPN.

    And Raycom, which had been in talks with the SEC to the end, likely lost out because it was not able to match the size of ESPN’s bid or the number of platforms it can use.

    The SEC’s total payout to its schools in 2007-08 was $63.6 million after the conference’s cut. TV revenue is distributed among the 12 universities and the league; each school received about $5.3 million this past fiscal year. Under the new deal, that annual number could leap to as much as $15 million per school, which is just shy of the projected average revenue Big Ten schools get from their TV deals each year.

    It is difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison between the two conferences because of the incongruity of the length of the deals and their escalating values. But the Big Ten Network could annually pay its schools an average up to $10.2 million each over the 25-year term of its deal with the Big Ten. The deal started this past year with a payment of $6 million to each school and the number could escalate each year, depending on the network’s revenue.

    The Big Ten Conference’s 10-year deals with CBS and ESPN will produce an average of $9.3 million for each school.

    “By not going with a channel, the SEC gave more value to its broadcast and cable partners,” Pilson said. “You don’t have the dilution of audience. And 15 years out, it’s hard to know what the marketplace will look like, but the SEC will be taking another bite of the apple” at that time.

    ESPN’s package of games will include the SEC basketball tournament finals, which previously were televised by CBS. ESPN also is expected to offer an expanded package of regular-season basketball games across its networks.

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  • Favre’s move stirs interest among ad buyers

    CBS and ESPN are crediting Brett Favre’s move to the New York Jets for helping NFL advertising sales remain flat with last year’s record number, despite the sluggish economy. CBS executives said Favre’s move to the biggest media market — and the AFC, which the network covers — has generated interest among ad buyers.

    “We have Dolphins-Jets to lead off the season, a game that wasn’t generating huge interest until Favre moved to New York,” said John Bogusz, CBS Sports executive vice president of sales and marketing.

    Similarly, ESPN/ABC Sports saw some money shift to its Week 3 Jets-Chargers game after Favre was traded, said Ed Erhardt, customer marketing and sales president for the network. He also highlighted ESPN’s first “Monday Night Football” game, which will be the Packers’ first game without their longtime quarterback.

    CBS’s Dolphins-Jets
    matchup gained interest
    after Brett Favre was
    traded to New York.

    Sales execs from CBS, ESPN and NBC said their NFL ad sales for the coming season are tracking similar with last year, with cost per thousand increases in the high single digits. A Fox spokesperson said the network also is “on par, perhaps a bit ahead of last year’s sales pace.”

    “We still have to write business in the fourth quarter scatter market,” CBS’s Bogusz said. “Overall, it’s a more challenging ad marketplace.”

    ESPN has limited availability left in its September games. Much of ESPN’s sales effort has been to sell what it is calling the “Game Around the Game,” meaning shoulder programming that accompanies its “Monday Night Football” game. “We want to elevate the whole concept so advertisers can own part of it,” Erhardt said.

    NBC also said the NFL brand has been showing its strength in the current economic climate. “We’re delighted with what we see so far,” said Seth Winter, NBC senior vice president for sports and Olympics sales and marketing. “The NFL brand is impervious to most shifts you see. It remains the gold standard of sports programming.”

    Meanwhile, ESPN said its “Monday Night Football” telecasts this season will focus on all-football-all-the-time, a marked shift from the last two years, when the network’s announcers frequently delved into pop culture. The changes this year mean the official end to in-booth guests — such as Christian Slater and Carmen Electra, among others — which were widely criticized by fans and media critics. And they mean heavily scaled back use of sideline reporters. ESPN made its decision following a series of focus groups in San Diego, Chicago and Boston, which nearly unanimously reacted negatively to nonfootball types of intrusions on the game, said “Monday Night Football” director Chip Dean. “We’re getting back to what we’re really good at,” he said. “There’s an expectation and demand from sports fans that you talk about the NFL. And the majority of our audience is avid football fans.”

    ESPN still will use sideline reporters, with Suzy Kolber and Michele Tafoya attending every game, said Norby Williamson, the network’s executive vice president of production. ESPN, however, plans to use them more judiciously.

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  • FedEx Cup tweaks start times

    Scheduling conflicts will force the final two FedEx Cup playoff events to move up their time windows to accommodate NBC’s commitment to air Notre Dame home football games, which could further affect television ratings for events that will already suffer from the absence of Tiger Woods.

    Golf ratings for tournaments generally increase as the television window stretches into early evening in the Eastern time zone. Weekend Nielsen ratings for nonmajors that Woods played in 2007, and missed this year due to injury, have dropped about 33 percent.

    “It will be interesting to see the ratings,” said tournament director John Kaczkowski, whose BMW Championship is affected by the conflict. “I always thought most people run errands on Saturday afternoons, and when they come home they check the golf tournament.”

    NBC needs earlier start times
    to accommodate its coverage
    of Notre Dame football.

    Saturday coverage of most PGA Tour events runs from 3 to 6 p.m. ET, but the BMW Championship and Tour Championship will move tee times up nearly three hours so the conclusion of Saturday’s rounds fit NBC’s 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. window.

    The Sept. 4-7 BMW Championship is the third event in the playoffs and conflicts with the Notre Dame-San Diego State game. The season-ending Tour Championship, Sept. 25-28, runs up against Notre Dame-Purdue.

    Tour and NBC officials were aware of the potential Notre Dame time conflicts when they signed a six-year television rights deal that began with the introduction of the FedEx Cup playoffs in 2007.

    The Notre Dame contract states that NBC must air September games at 3:30 p.m. ET, according to NBC officials, a stipulation that is also included in the new five-year NBC/Notre Dame extension starting in 2011.

    There were no scheduling conflicts in the first year of the FedEx Cup, when average ratings data showed that playoff golf featuring Woods held its own against the Golden Dome.

    Only one Notre Dame game last year went head-to-head with network coverage of a FedEx Cup event. On that Saturday, NBC pulled a 2.6 rating for third-round coverage of the Tour Championship, beating ABC’s 2.5 for a Notre Dame game at Michigan.

    Notre Dame games last year averaged a 1.9 Nielsen rating on NBC, down 40 percent from the year before. Third- and fourth-round coverage of NBC’s three FedEx Cup playoff events averaged a 2.9 rating.

    Tour and NBC officials said there will be other scheduling conflicts between playoff events and Notre Dame games in the remaining four years of the tour’s television contract.

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  • FedEx Cup tweaks start times

    Scheduling conflicts will force the final two FedEx Cup playoff events to move up their time windows to accommodate NBC’s commitment to air Notre Dame home football games, which could further affect television ratings for events that will already suffer from the absence of Tiger Woods.

    Golf ratings for tournaments generally increase as the television window stretches into early evening in the Eastern time zone. Weekend Nielsen ratings for nonmajors that Woods played in 2007, and missed this year due to injury, have dropped about 33 percent.

    “It will be interesting to see the ratings,” said tournament director John Kaczkowski, whose BMW Championship is affected by the conflict. “I always thought most people run errands on Saturday afternoons, and when they come home they check the golf tournament.”

    NBC needs earlier start times
    to accommodate its coverage
    of Notre Dame football.

    Saturday coverage of most PGA Tour events runs from 3 to 6 p.m. ET, but the BMW Championship and Tour Championship will move tee times up nearly three hours so the conclusion of Saturday’s rounds fit NBC’s 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. window.

    The Sept. 4-7 BMW Championship is the third event in the playoffs and conflicts with the Notre Dame-San Diego State game. The season-ending Tour Championship, Sept. 25-28, runs up against Notre Dame-Purdue.

    Tour and NBC officials were aware of the potential Notre Dame time conflicts when they signed a six-year television rights deal that began with the introduction of the FedEx Cup playoffs in 2007.

    The Notre Dame contract states that NBC must air September games at 3:30 p.m. ET, according to NBC officials, a stipulation that is also included in the new five-year NBC/Notre Dame extension starting in 2011.

    There were no scheduling conflicts in the first year of the FedEx Cup, when average ratings data showed that playoff golf featuring Woods held its own against the Golden Dome.

    Only one Notre Dame game last year went head-to-head with network coverage of a FedEx Cup event. On that Saturday, NBC pulled a 2.6 rating for third-round coverage of the Tour Championship, beating ABC’s 2.5 for a Notre Dame game at Michigan.

    Notre Dame games last year averaged a 1.9 Nielsen rating on NBC, down 40 percent from the year before. Third- and fourth-round coverage of NBC’s three FedEx Cup playoff events averaged a 2.9 rating.

    Tour and NBC officials said there will be other scheduling conflicts between playoff events and Notre Dame games in the remaining four years of the tour’s television contract.

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  • Gene Upshaw: Through the years

    Upshaw devoted a life to the NFL, on and off the field.  1 On the sidelines as a Hall of Fame guard in 1976; 2 Talking with the Green Bay Packers’ Reggie White at the Pro Bowl in 1994; 3 Talking with reporters before Super Bowl XL in Detroit in 2006; 4 With President George W. Bush and former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to kick off the 2003-04 season;  5  Taking in a game at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum in 1988; 6 Testifying with colleagues about performance-enhancing drugs on Capitol Hill in 2008;  7 Arriving at Super Bowl XLII last February in Glendale, Ariz. 8 Chatting with former AFL Commissioner David Baker at the ArenaBowl in New Orleans in 2007.
     
    “As tough a negotiator as he was, he forged a tremendous relationship with two straight commissioners. … His word meant something.”
    Ernie Accorsi
    Former GM, New york Giants
     
    “Few people in the history of the [NFL] have played the game as well as Gene and then had another career in football with so much positive impact on the structure and competitiveness of the entire league as Gene.”
    Paul Tagliabue
    Former NFL commissioner
     
    “He is as prominent a sportsman as the world has known. He was and will remain a part of the fabric of our lives and of the Raider mystique and legacy.”
    Al Davis
    Owner, Oakland Raiders

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  • IMG venture to offer private financing for college facilities

    Expensive facility upgrades often require university athletic departments to go into debt or seek public funding, but IMG College is partnering with affiliated company International Stadia Group to offer schools private financing for such projects.

    ISG, a London-based joint venture between IMG and Bastion Stadiums LLP, has used the private-financing model to pay for construction of Wembley Stadium, as well as projects in Brazil and India. Now it wants to take this idea to the U.S. and it’s starting with the university partners of IMG College, formerly Host Communications.

    IMG/ISG last week launched a feasibility study on replacing 32-year-old Rupp Arena, the iconic home of University of Kentucky basketball. The project will also include significant upgrades to Kentucky’s football facility, Commonwealth Stadium, and a new baseball stadium, all of which are projected to cost $300 million or more, school officials said.

    The idea is to build enough revenue-generating opportunities into the facilities — premium seating, sponsorships, naming rights, signage — to secure a return for the private investor.

    ISG is in the process of selecting the investor, likely a firm like a Goldman Sachs, and will announce the name in the next 30 days, said Steve Moore, president of North and South America for ISG. Moore wouldn’t comment specifically on Goldman Sachs.

    HKS, designer of new football stadiums for the Indianapolis Colts and Dallas Cowboys, will work with Kentucky and the city of Lexington on the feasibility study.

    The concept is one that IMG College hopes to use as a model for its other university partners, as well as a selling tool to attract new clients.

    “So often, arenas are public/private partnerships, maybe it’s a municipal stadium of some kind,” said Tom Osborne, athletic director at Nebraska, an IMG College partner. “But not a lot of universities are building stadiums on their own. You get financing wherever you can.”

    In addition to eliminating the need for debt, the concept mitigates risk for the universities. If the facility doesn’t deliver the revenue and IMG College can’t sell it, IMG/ISG, and not the school, are on the hook to the investor.

    There could be a trade-off, warns Chris Fuller, associate athletic director at Tennessee. He said college stadiums are already looking and feeling more like pro stadiums, and that trend will gather even more momentum as schools try to increase the revenue that flows from their facilities.

    “With the marketing and branding components, are we talking about selling gates?” Fuller asked. “There is a threshold and we’ll just have to see how much the market will bear.”

    Moore understood the concern, but replied, “All schools are different and facilities will be tailored to that. … This approach will not threaten the traditions of the school.”

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  • ‘Kickoff’ aims for college football spotlight

    Gary Stokan, the Chick-fil-A Bowl chief, wasn’t looking for just another game to promote when he paired Alabama and Clemson for a season-opening Aug. 30 showdown.

    He hoped to create a “kickoff” property capable of directing the nation’s attention to one site for the start of the college football season.

    Stokan, who has presided over the Chick-fil-A (formerly Peach) Bowl since 1998, watched as the NFL’s opening weekend evolved into a celebration, complete with concerts and all the corporate trimmings, and wondered why the same couldn’t be done for the college game.

    Chick-fil-A, the bowl’s longtime title sponsor and one of the bigger spenders in the college space, was quick to jump on board as title sponsor of the College Kickoff, which is a separate buy in the six figures from the bowl game entitlement.

    “We saw an opportunity to create something and brand it,” Stokan said. “With the ACC and the SEC in this area, we think Atlanta is the heartbeat of college football.”

    Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A’s chief marketing officer, added, “This is not a one-off. We plan on doing this every year.”

    Pulling off a college game that has national appeal is difficult, said Ken Haines, president and CEO of Raycom Sports, which managed the Kickoff Classic at the Meadowlands and the Disneyland Pigskin Classic in the 1990s.

    “The concept of a kickoff to the college season is a good idea, but what makes it tough is that the college game is so regional compared to the NFL,” Haines said. “While we did generate some national interest, it wasn’t as easy as we thought it was going to be.

    The College Kickoff hopes to evolve into a
    celebration for college football similar to what
    the NFL has built around its opening weekend.

    “With these games starting in August, we found it difficult to switch the viewer out of the summer/vacation mind-set and immediately into college football. The college game tends to build up to a climax with the bowls, so generating that much interest in the first week, that’s one of the biggest challenges.”

    The Alabama-Clemson game will have a “bowl” feel, with tickets evenly distributed — it’s a sellout — and all of the FanZone activities at nearby Centennial Olympic Park. The Chick-fil-A College Kickoff logo will cover the center of the Georgia Dome field.

    Chick-fil-A will have plenty of corporate company activating in Atlanta, including Coca-Cola Zero, Kodak, GM/Pontiac, and through its ESPN association, Home Depot, AT&T and Proctor & Gamble, which will promote five of its brands in Atlanta: Gillette, Tide, Braun, Old Spice and Head & Shoulders. Gillette is the presenting sponsor on ESPN’s Kickoff Week.

    Coca-Cola Zero is the presenting sponsor of the FanZone, while GM/Pontiac is bringing its interactive mobile unit. Larry Daniel, marketing manager for Pontiac/Buick, said he anticipates running 30,000 consumers through his display, about 5,000 more than they did for the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. These sponsorships, along with Kodak, were sold by the bowl, while the other activating sponsors, Home Depot, AT&T and P&G, were brought in by ESPN.

    The “College GameDay” crew will make Atlanta the centerpiece of its daylong coverage.

    “We didn’t realize how big this thing would be,” Daniel said. “It fits everything we do with college football.”

    This is just the start. Stokan and Chick-fil-A, stoked by the early success of its inaugural effort, envision a longer weekend of activity in future years with a college game at the Georgia Dome on the opening Thursday of the season, followed by a high-profile high school game on Friday night and a concert on Saturday along with FanZone and an A-list game that night.

    “We’ll see how all of this goes, but Gary is going after this in an aggressive way,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN’s senior vice president of college sports. “If this thing is the home run we think it’ll be, then maybe it becomes an annual destination.”

    Chick-fil-A jumped at the
    opportunity to build on its
    many college sponsorships.

    The original concept was hatched about three years ago, Stokan said, and had more to do with the end of the season than the beginning. Stokan wanted to create a second bowl game for Atlanta, one that would be played before Christmas and match a Big Ten school against an ACC school. Exams and other conflicts arose — Chick-fil-A was not thrilled with the idea of another bowl game in the same market so close to its traditional New Year’s Eve slot.

    So Stokan turned his attention to the start of the season. He joined efforts with Dave Brown, ESPN’s vice president of programming and acquisitions, and they went after a neutral-site, bowl-like game to kick off the season. Clemson and Alabama, two teams with close proximity, rabid fan bases and high expectations for the season, added a “must-see” flavor to the College Kickoff.

    Virginia Tech has already been confirmed for the 2009 Kickoff, but Stokan is not married to the idea of an ACC-SEC matchup every year, like they have in the bowl. Teams with a national identity, a Michigan, Ohio State or Texas, will be likely targets for future years.

    Scheduling is the biggest obstacle to making the Kickoff an annual hit. Many teams, resistant to the idea of starting 0-1, like to begin with a warm-up game. Football teams also schedule well into the future, which makes the chore of pairing two top-flight teams difficult. Stokan said he’s had conversations with schools about games as far out as 2013. A lot can happen between now and then, from coaching changes to scandal to a reversal of winning fortunes, any of which could zap the luster from a game.

    While ESPN has been integral to the formation of the Kickoff game this week, its “GameDay” crew is committed to the best game of the week. If “GameDay” and its marketing support finds a bigger game somewhere else on opening weekend, the Kickoff concept might not be as attractive.

    Schools also must consider the financial implications. Top teams can generate as much as $3 million to $4 million in revenue from a home game, and most of Stokan’s targets would be sacrificing a home game to play in the Kickoff. He’s targeted teams that already have seven home games confirmed on the 12-game schedule.

    Whatever the Kickoff game makes above its $5.5 million budget goes to the teams. Clemson and Alabama are expected to receive about $2 million each, Stokan said, and if the Kickoff concept grows, that figure could eventually match what top teams make for their home games.

    Clemson and Alabama each received 31,000 tickets and both quickly sold out their allotment, Stokan said. Tickets went so fast that there was never a need for a public sale. Georgia Dome suites are reserved for the holders of those suite licenses.

    The kickoff concept isn’t totally new. The Kickoff Classic at the Meadowlands enjoyed a run from 1983 to 2002 and became a rare staple in an era when several kickoff games came and went. Those were the days when teams played 11 regular-season games, but teams that participated in the kickoff games were allowed by the NCAA to play 12. The NCAA outlawed those games after the 2002 season, and college football has subsequently kicked off without much of a headline event.

    The same year that the NCAA nixed the kickoff games, the NFL created its own version to help New York boost its economy post-9/11. Now it’s played at the home of the defending Super Bowl champs, which takes it back to New York next month.

    The College Kickoff appears to have the legs for that kind of a run as long as Stokan can deliver the teams.

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  • Next on the agenda: BCS/Fox negotiations

    The BCS’ negotiations with Fox are next on the explosive TV agenda in college sports.

    Those talks are expected to begin next month. The BCS and Fox have a 30-day window to negotiate, and after that they could continue or the BCS could take its property to the marketplace.

    The BCS’ current deal is worth $82.5 million a year over four years, or a little more than $20 million per game for its four games. Sports media consultant Neal Pilson projects that the per-game number will move north of $30 million, making the total annual payout to the BCS about $120 million or more.

    — John Ourand and Michael Smith

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  • Nortel signs sponsor/vendor deal with Mets at Citi Field

    The New York Mets have signed a multiyear agreement with global technology outfit Nortel to create a high-end unified communications system for new Citi Field.

    The deal is divided into two parts: a sponsorship agreement that designates Nortel as the club’s official network systems and services company, and a vendor-oriented pact that calls for Nortel to develop a secure data network that will run a wide variety of ticketing, video, security and concessions operations at the ballpark. Fan-facing elements to the system will include ticketing kiosks and video replay stations.

    Nortel’s communications network will run
    a variety of operations at Citi Field.

    Financial terms were not disclosed. Installation of the system will be largely complete by mid-September, as the club plans to begin moving its offices from Shea Stadium to Citi Field on Sept. 19.

    “Having all of these operations tied into one system is going to be a huge plus for us,” said Dave Howard, Mets executive vice president of business operations.

    The communications system also will link in the Mets’ spring training and minor league facility in Port St. Lucie, Fla., its Class A club in Brooklyn, N.Y., and its academy in the Dominican Republic. The technology at those sites will provide similar support for security and stadium operations, as well as direct connections to the Mets’ executive offices.

    For Nortel, the Mets deal extends a list of sports partnerships that includes deals with the Louisiana Superdome, Phoenix’s Jobing.com Arena, Bell Centre in Montreal, and the 2010 Winter Olympics and General Motors Place in Vancouver.

    “There’s definitely a growing need for higher-end communications solutions among sports facilities,” said Wes Durow, Nortel vice president of enterprise business development and marketing. “Not only are the new facilities coming in with a higher set of expectations, but the older facilities are quickly finding their data and asset-tracking needs beyond their existing capabilities.”

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  • Outspoken until the end

    In what may have been the last formal interview he gave before his death, Gene Upshaw picked up a telephone in late July and immediately began setting ground rules.

    He was on vacation at his home in Lake Tahoe, Calif., and he had consented to talk only because it was for a story in which SportsBusiness Journal was about to name player agent Tom Condon as the most influential agent in sports.

    Besides being his personal agent, Condon was one of Upshaw’s oldest and best friends. They had been offensive linemen together in the NFL. They were both NFL Players Association player presidents. And they had fought together for NFL free agency in the late 1980s and early ’90s.

    “I will only talk about Condon,” Upshaw said at the start of the call, setting tight boundaries, as he often did when he began an interview. But, as also often happened with Upshaw, he ended up talking on many other topics, ranging from the immediate, such as his anger at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s public criticism of two rookie contracts, to the historical, such as what it was like when the NFLPA almost went broke during the 1980s during the fight for free agency.

    He talked, too, about the controversy over his own employment contract, including criticism that he was paid too much and that he had a conflict of interest in allowing Condon to be his personal agent when it was Upshaw’s job to regulate agents.

    “I think what everyone is upset about is they think Tom is my agent and he gets some sort of special treatment and he gets access to me,” Upshaw said.

    The reality, he said, was that he had had plenty of arguments with Condon, and the marketing agents who worked for Condon, when he felt they were doing deals that infringed on the territory of the NFLPA’s marketing arm. “I am probably tougher and make more calls to him than any other agent,” Upshaw said.

    Condon started representing Upshaw in 1983, when Upshaw first took the union’s executive director job. “I needed a contract and I needed someone to write one up,” Upshaw said, “and Tom had just gotten out of law school.”

    The union was deeply in debt, Upshaw said, and so broke that it didn’t always make payroll. “I think I was making, like, $85,000, and they couldn’t even pay it,” he said.

    But since the union had no money and Upshaw wasn’t making much anyway, nobody cared that Condon was his agent.

    As the NFLPA worked its way out of debt and then prospered to the point that it accumulated hundreds of millions of dollars in assets, Upshaw, who was as stubborn as he was loyal, stayed with Condon. And Condon, who has negotiated record-breaking contracts for players, did the same for Upshaw.

    Upshaw’s last contract has been valued at $6 million a year, and Upshaw said Condon was trying to get him even more money than that. Upshaw typically didn’t talk to Condon much while the agent negotiated with the union’s executive committee, but when he did, Upshaw said, “(Condon) would come back to me with some crazy number, and I would say, ‘No, it’s too much. I don’t want that.’”

    This interview came just a few weeks after Goodell publicly criticized the five-year, $57.5 million deal signed by No. 1 NFL draft pick Jake Long and the six-year, $72 million deal for No. 3 pick Matt Ryan that Condon negotiated. Upshaw was still steamed. “I think it was really unfair for Goodell to say that about Jake Long and Matt Ryan,” Upshaw said. “As the commissioner of the National Football League, you cannot single out a player individually about his contract.

    “Who he should be singling out is the owner who agreed to the contract and not the player who accepted it. What is really bad about it is: What can Matt Ryan or Jake Long say? ‘I don’t want the money?’

    “Just looking at what he gets paid as the rookie commissioner, he is doing pretty well,” added Upshaw, of Goodell.

    Upshaw, as he admitted publicly, often was too honest for his own good and would say things that got him into trouble. During the interview, Upshaw did not indicate in any way that he was ill, although he did not crack any jokes, as he usually did.

    Also, in this interview, he was uncharacteristically at a loss for words when asked to describe Condon.

    “I don’t know how you describe a friend,” Upshaw said. “It’s easy to describe someone you don’t like. But it’s hard to describe someone you really care about.”

    In describing Condon, Upshaw ended up describing himself, because he said that to really know Condon, you had to know what it was like to be an offensive lineman.

    “There is a certain mind-set about offensive linemen,” Upshaw said. “If you look at the positions of the players, the best leaders have been offensive linemen. We understand the people around us. We understand the jobs they have to do.

    “You have to go into the huddle and do what the quarterback says. You have to run the plays, whether you like it or not, and depend on your teammates to do their jobs.

    “That is what we do.”

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  • Survey puts CAA tops in player salaries

    CAA Sports, in two short years of existence, has become the dominant sports agency in the United States for representing athletes in the four major team sports, according to SportsBusiness Journal’s analysis of player salaries and their representation.

    Wasserman Media Group, which is not much older than CAA, has emerged as the clear No. 2 agency for representing athletes in team sports.

    CAA’s athlete clients in Major League Baseball, the NBA, NFL and NHL were paid salaries and/or bonuses valued at $670 million, based on numbers from the most recently completed seasons in the NFL, NBA and NHL, and the current MLB season.

    WMG represented athletes in the NBA and MLB who were paid $451 million, collectively. WMG does not represent players in the NFL or NHL.

    The examination is focused only on the four major team sports and is not meant to be an overall ranking of agencies. But the fact that two companies that have been in the business only a few years have become the biggest players is an indication of how volatile the sports agency business can be, said Kenneth Shropshire, a professor at the Wharton School of Business who specializes in sports. Both CAA Sports and WMG built their team sports practices by acquiring successful agents.

    “What this shows is the agent business is one that can constantly be in flux by the movement of single agents,” Shropshire said, “because neither company existed within the (team sport) athlete representation business and they acquired the right guys and ended up on the top of the list.”

    The Power Brokers

    Octagon, which has been around for decades (its predecessor company was Advantage International) is No. 3 with $333 million in salaries.

    Scott Boras Corp., owned by and named for the powerful baseball agent, is the fourth largest with $326 million in salaries. Boras Corp. also is the largest agency that is both independently owned and was grown through the signing of new clients, rather than the acquisition of other agents. That number was achieved solely through the representation of MLB players.

    Priority Sports & Entertainment, which represents 84 NFL players and 43 NBA players, is in fifth place and is the second largest independently owned athlete representation firm at $279 million.

    The ranking is not meant to be an overall ranking of sports agencies, since it does not include categories other than the value of team sport contracts. It is also not necessarily an indication of how much money an agency is making on clients, as fees vary from sport to sport and sometimes from athlete to athlete within a sport.

    Some agents said it was unfair to compare agencies based on the value of playing contracts alone, as that does not include other major parts of the agency business, such as marketing and endorsement deals, or the representation of non-team-sport athletes. For example, IMG did not make the list even though it has the strongest golf player representation in the world and a strong practice for tennis players, sports announcers and coaches. IMG no longer represents players in the major American team sports for playing contract work.

    WMG has focused more on global sports, and its soccer, action sports and golf clients were not included in the data. Octagon also has strong business in golf, tennis and action sports, and has the strongest global Olympic business, representing swimmer Michael Phelps.

    But the problem with trying to compare agencies based on individual sport athletes is that the athletes generate much of their income through endorsements, and the value of those deals often are either not reported or difficult to determine. The value of players’ contracts with big league teams are, for the most part, public.

    Even so, there are difficulties in trying to get accurate figures for salaries and bonuses earned by NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB players represented by every major sports agency, at least partly because players often change agents (see sidebar on research methodology).

    Although SportsBusiness Journal has reported extensively about CAA Sports and WMG becoming powerful sports agencies almost overnight, until now there was no data to quantify that growth, other than number of clients.

    The Top Five
    Agency Big Four player salaries
    (No. of athletes)
    CAA $670 million (277)
    Wasserman Media Group $451 million (96)
    Octagon $333 million (152)
    Boras Corp. $326 million (63)
    Priority Sports $279 million (127)
    Note: Salaries based on numbers from the most recently completed seasons in the NFL, NBA and NHL, and the current MLB season.

    WMG is a sports marketing, media and management company that was launched by sports entrepreneur Casey Wasserman in June 2002. It got into the athlete representation business in April 2003 by acquiring The Familie, the business of action sports agent Steve Astephen. In January 2006, WMG entered the U.S. team sports representation business by acquiring the business of Arn Tellem, a powerful NBA and MLB player agent, and it boosted its baseball practice later in 2006 by acquiring the business of veteran baseball agents Tom Reich and Adam Katz.

    Hollywood talent firm Creative Artists Agency launched its sports business a few months later by acquiring the business of former IMG football agent Tom Condon and former IMG baseball agent Casey Close, and then added the businesses of successful sports agents Ben Dogra (football), Leon Rose (basketball) and Pat Brisson and J.P. Barry (hockey).

    “Acquisitions have become a trend, but the key is acquiring the best and the brightest, and that is what CAA and Wasserman appear to be doing,” said Andrew Brandt, former vice president of the Green Bay Packers who is now an adjunct professor at Wharton and Georgetown University Law School.

    But there can be risks in growing a business too big, too fast through acquisitions. SFX Sports grew into a mega agency in the late 1990s through a rapid-fire series of acquisitions, but dissolved after a few years.

    Methodology for agency research

    Multiple sources were used for the data.

    The NFLPA provided SportsBusiness Journal with a list matching each player that had a signed contract as of July 31 with his agent. Individual agencies, agents, teams and other industry insiders helped us match MLB, NBA and NHL players with their respective agents.

    USA Today’s salary database, based on opening day rosters, was used for each of the leagues.

    SportsBusiness Journal has ranked individual agents and agencies several times during its 10-year existence, and each of those instances revealed that there is no perfect methodology for this type of discussion. Players sign deals, then switch agents; agencies are acquired or spun off; agents switch agencies. And then both shops claim the athlete as a client.

    At the end of our research, each of the agencies listed here was contacted and provided an opportunity to look at the numbers. Some confirmed the data. Others offered small tweaks, but were required to provide proof of their claims. The result is a list that we believe offers an accurate snapshot of the industry.

    — David Broughton

    “We had 15 companies bought in 2 1/2 years,” said Donald Dell, a sports industry pioneer who founded ProServ and sold it to SFX Sports. “We had 15 egomaniacs, all strutting around telling everyone what to do, and nothing happened.”

    Dell now runs tennis, media and television for Blue Entertainment Sports Television, a company that also is growing through the acquisition of successful sports agents. “Whether (growing an agency through agent acquisitions) is a good or bad thing depends on how the people work together internally,” he said.

    But “CAA and WMG are not SFX,” wrote AEG president and CEO Tim Leiweke in an e-mail sent from China , where he was attending the Olympic Games. “SFX was in live entertainment, motor sports, management, sponsorship and other areas and seemed to be all over the place. CAA is an agency, period. WMG is very focused on this business and will be for a very long time.”

    CAA Sports and WMG’s athlete management practices have both been built largely on the acquisition of agents who worked at larger companies. (Even Dell admits that Tellem and Dogra are agents who hail from the former SFX Sports, but who came out more powerful than they were when they went into SFX.)

    Shropshire said he wasn’t particularly surprised that CAA Sports and WMG top the list of agencies ranked by team sport athlete salaries because of the high-quality client lists that agents Tellem and Condon brought with them to the new companies. But Shropshire said Priority’s rank surprised him a bit, because that firm does not garner a lot of press and publicity.

    Priority CEO Mark Bartelstein, who is an NBA and NFL player agent, said the firm does not seek out publicity but is proud to be one of the top agencies in the U.S. that is independently owned and built from the ground up. Bartelstein said, “We are a little different from what has become the norm in the business, because you are seeing so much consolidation and mergers and acquisitions and you don’t see as much of the independent guy who is successful.”

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  • The big question: Who will NFL players pick to lead them through next labor talks?

    With the tragic death of Gene Upshaw, who ran the NFLPA for 25 years, the top question is, Who will assume control of the union? It is not known when a decision will be made, but the next scheduled meeting for the board of player representatives, which elects the executive director, is set for March in Maui, Hawaii.

    Here are some potential candidates for the job.


    Richard Berthelsen
    The new acting executive director and longtime general counsel, Berthelsen would be a natural for the job and, more than anyone else, would assure a seamless transition. But Berthelsen, who has been the general counsel for 37 years, is nearing retirement age, and there is a belief that the players may want to choose a former NFL player.
    Troy Vincent
    Past player president, now retired from the NFL, Vincent had long been seen as Upshaw’s successor until the duo had an apparent falling out earlier this year. Sources said there was a failed coup attempt to unseat Upshaw and put Vincent in his place at the union’s annual meeting in Maui. Vincent denied being a part of any such attempt, but the incident may have hurt his chances of taking the top job.
    Trace Armstrong
    Player president before Vincent, Armstrong was an ardent Upshaw loyalist who played defensive end in the league for more than 15 years. Upshaw brought Armstrong back as an informal union adviser after news of player unrest within the union ranks broke in April.
    Robert Smith
    Upshaw also reached out to Robert Smith, the former Minnesota Vikings running back, to act in an advisory capacity to the union. Smith, who retired from his playing career at the age of 28, was not a former NFL player president, but served on the executive committee as well as on the NFLPA’s Committee on Agent Regulation and Discipline.
    Jeffrey Kessler
    Outside counsel to the NFLPA and, along with Upshaw, a ferocious public defender of the union’s positions with the owners. However, Kessler, co-chair of litigation at law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf, has a full-time law practice with a mix of clients, not just the NFLPA.
    Kevin Mawae
    The veteran NFL center did not go to the annual NFLPA meeting in March with a plan to become the union’s player president, but agreed to stand for election because of concerns over what was going on at the meeting. It is not clear whether Mawae, who is an active player, wants the job, but he was able to get the majority of player representatives to back him in the most recent election.

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