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  • Admiral gets piece of Centerplate

    Admiral Capital Group, a private equity firm formed by former NBA star David Robinson and former Goldman Sachs banker Dan Bassichis, has acquired a financial stake in sports concessionaire Centerplate.

    Bassichis and Des Hague, Centerplate’s president and CEO, would not disclose the investment, but it is a large enough sum that Robinson has a seat on the company’s board of directors.

    It is Admiral Capital Group’s first deal since Robinson and Bassichis announced their partnership in June 2007, and it comes five months after Kohlberg & Co., Centerplate’s parent firm, closed on buying the food and retail provider for about $200 million. 

    Former NBA star David Robinson co-founded
    Admiral Capital Group two years ago.

    Centerplate, which had been publicly held since December 2003, struggled to maintain its footing after losing the New York Yankees’ concessions business, the company’s largest account. The Yankees and Dallas Cowboys formed their own food and merchandise firm for their new facilities.

    Kohlberg specializes in buying troubled firms, rebuilding them and selling them later at a profit, and officials have been talking to Admiral about buying a share of Centerplate since early March, soon after Hague took over as CEO.

    Robinson was on a family vacation and unavailable for comment, but Bassichis said they had targeted the concessions industry since forming Admiral Capital Group two years ago.

    “We were well aware of what happened to [Centerplate] over the past couple of years,” Bassichis said. “That’s why Kohlberg stepped in at an opportune time, to recapitalize the company and position it well for growth. We are just coming alongside them to add more value.”

    Hague acknowledged Centerplate will make smart use of Robinson’s star power to pursue new business and leverage his reputation as one of sports’ most active philanthropists to assist nonprofits in the markets where the company operates.

    Officials would not say whether Robinson would make sales calls, but moving forward he will be principally involved in company decisions, Bassichis said.

    “It’s an evolution of a relationship between an athlete and a corporate partner,” he said.

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  • Among charity efforts, plenty of room to activate

    MLB officials say that as long ago as last October they were considering positioning the 2009 All-Star Game as more of a cause-related affair. The 2008 New York All-Star Game was the most profitable ever. Since then, a recession and layoffs made a more charitable approach fitting, if not mandatory.

    “We knew baseball would be the first sport to feel a real economic impact,” said John Brody, MLB senior vice president of sales and marketing. “So we didn’t say, ‘Put our tag line in your campaign,’ to our sponsors. We told them all, ‘This is a different time and we need to treat it differently.’”

    Anheuser-Busch’s hometown activation
    will be apparent around town on
    cans and aluminum bottles.

    Consequently, the All-Star Game concert is a fundraiser for Stand Up to Cancer. The new All-Star Charity 5K & Fun Run sponsored by The Sports Authority and Nike benefits three cancer-related charities. MasterCard’s usual “hit a sign and win money” promo will generate a large donation, if a batter connects. Bank of America’s “Hits for Hunger” program donates $5,000 for every hit in the All-Star Game to Feeding America, and will match fans’ contributions during the game.

    Pepsi is presenting sponsor of the Sheryl Crow concert. Green efforts abound, too, with more than 100 Pepsi-branded recycling bins throughout the concert at the Gateway Arch. Anheuser-Busch continues the recycling cause within Busch Stadium with 200 recycling bins.

    “This is a message that’s right for the times, the concert was a great addition, and it all came when we’re looking to do more with baseball,” said Jeff Dubiel, Pepsi vice president of sports marketing.

    Pepsi is the exclusive sponsor of about 600 street banners throughout St. Louis. At retail, Shop ’n Save markets has trade and consumer promos, tying in to a special private night at MLB FanFest. Pepsi is also presenting sponsor of the Turner/TBS All-Star Game Selection Show on Sunday.

    Pepsi is sponsoring street banners and the Sheryl
    Crow concert to raise money to fight cancer.

    A-B’s hometown activation begins at the airport and continues throughout town. Budweiser and Bud Light will be sold in commemorative ASG cans and aluminum bottles. A-B is presenting sponsor of MLB Network’s All-Star Week coverage, and also had units in ESPN’s Home Run Derby and Fox’s game telecast. A Clydesdales display sits outside Busch Stadium; the draught team will make deliveries to key accounts and make an on-field appearance.

    Auto industry slump notwithstanding, Chevy will again stage its pregame parade, with the all-stars riding in Chevy vehicles. Disney’s “G-Force” film, an All-Star Game balloting sponsor, will give away a million tickets if a grand slam is hit, but there’s been only one All-Star Game grand slam in history. The State Farm-titled Home Run Derby expands its presence through a relationship with Albert Pujols, linchpin to the “Call Your Shot” promotion.

    To underscore the Gold Ball portion of the Derby, giant gold baseballs will be displayed around town. In a monthlong promo, MasterCard and BofA are offering four tickets to a preview night at MLB FanFest for customers opening new accounts.

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  • Ask’s next question

    Ask.com made the call last December to throw nearly all of its marketing resources into NASCAR in the first half of 2009, making it one of the rare brands to invest during the heart of the recession. Up against search-engine titans Google, Yahoo! and MSN, the company’s leaders decided they had to be aggressive, harsh economic times or not.

    Six months later, a new head of the company is facing a new decision: Whether to stay in the sport.

    Examining the early returns, and despite the late start and a short 65-day window to conceive an activation program that launched at Daytona in February, the decision to leap into NASCAR seems to have paid off for Ask.

    Nielsen Online data shows that Ask’s market share has grown from 1.9 percent to 2.2 percent from January to June, although Ask remains fifth in the category behind ever-dominant Google, Yahoo!, MSN and AOL. Another Internet measurement company, comScore, has Ask fourth in the category.

    “We’ve seen very strong results,” said Ask President Scott Garell. “It shows the activation is working.”

    Ask also has seen double-digit growth among NASCAR fans in usage, according to a Brand Image Monitor study from January to March that was commissioned by the search engine. Ask’s only marketing change this year has been its entry to NASCAR as a team, league and track sponsor, and a major ad buyer on Fox and NASCAR.com.

    Now halfway into the year, Oakland-based Ask is evaluating the rest of 2009 and 2010. Its deal to sponsor Bobby Labonte’s No. 96 Ford at Hall of Fame Racing and its official status deal with NASCAR are for 2009 only. Most of Ask’s sponsorship and activation spending of about $10 million, according to industry analysts, was against the first half of the year.

    The deal with Hall of Fame Racing cost a little under $4 million for the primary position in 18 races, sources said. While that’s far cheaper than the $20 million or more many sponsors spend on the top-tier teams, Hall of Fame Racing offered a bargain as a bottom-rung team that has struggled to compete.

    Even without the performance, Ask’s broad activation across team, league, tracks, TV and the Web has made an impact. “We have every intention of being back next year,” Garell said.

    Garell took over leadership of Ask Networks in May after former CEO Jim Safka left the company for personal reasons. Despite the leadership change in the midst of its first major sports marketing effort, Garell said the program hasn’t skipped a beat.

    Garell was integral in the decision to leap into NASCAR, and because he was with Safka on most of the calls in December, Garell expects renewal talks to go smoothly with Ask’s partners, even though he brings a different style. While associates describe Safka as a shoot-from-the-hip gunslinger whose energy drove Ask to develop a NASCAR plan, Garell is considered more analytical in his approach.

    The good news for NASCAR is that the metrics are in its favor.

    Ask.com’s investment put racing on its page
    and its logo all over televised races.

    The Brand Image study shows among NASCAR fans that Ask.com usage is up 12 percent, awareness is up 43 percent and positive impressions are up 14 percent. NASCAR fans also visit Ask.com more frequently.

    “They’ve had blanket coverage,” said Brett Jewkes, managing partner at Taylor, which partnered with Ask in December to help form the marketing and public relations plan.

    In addition to its team and league deals, Ask developed a special NASCAR.com toolbar, spent big with Fox on the first 13 Sprint Cup races and activated at the track with its team of Ask Ambassadors. On the cause front, Ask partnered with Web Wise Kids to create an Internet safety program.

    Ask, which had no previous exposure to NASCAR, wanted the national platform the sport offered for its first deep venture into a sports marketing campaign.

    “We selected NASCAR because of its famously loyal fans and because we thought we could create the best search experience for the fans on the Web,” Garell said. “We were looking to appeal to audiences, not so much on a product level, but on a fan experience level.”

    Search engine market share
      June 2009 January 2009
    1. Google 63.20% 62.80%
    2. Yahoo! 17.20% 16.20%
    3. MSN 9.40% 11.20%
    4. AOL 3.90% 4.00%
    5. Ask 2.20% 1.90%
    Note: ComScore’s numbers from May ranked Ask fourth at 3.9 percent, behind No. 3 MSN (8.0%) and ahead of No. 5 AOL (3.1%).
    Source: Nielsen Online

    Safka was new to the CEO job in 2008 and it was late in the year by the time his feet were solidly on the ground and the company had decided to pursue a sports property. Safka attended NASCAR’s season finale in Homestead, Fla., on Nov. 16 with Tom Garfinkel, a co-owner of Hall of Fame Racing, which was struggling to stay in business at the time.

    Ask had 65 days from the time it decided to jump into NASCAR on Dec. 12 until the Daytona 500 in February to orchestrate a program that normally takes six months to plan.

    “Even much bigger brands hesitate to bite off that much at first,” Jewkes said. “But Ask came in very aggressively and took advantage of the opportunities that were there because of the economy.”

    The impact has been even richer in NASCAR because so many other brands have pulled back during the recession. Ask’s league deal, team deal, track deals and media buys amount to $10 million or so, industry sources say.

    In addition to the team deal at a little under $4 million, Ask has spent about $1 million on track deals, another $2 million or so on its NASCAR official status deal and NASCAR.com buy, and close to $3 million on its ad buy with Fox for the season’s first 13 races.

    “The market was hungry,” said Mike Boykin, executive vice president at GMR Marketing, which has worked with Ask on strategy and activation. “Ask came in when nobody else was buying. There were opportunities to be had.”

    The fully integrated program has made an impact, said one industry expert, Dave Grant, a principal and co-founder at Velocity Sports & Entertainment. He gave Ask credit for its timing, but wondered about its future.

    “It’s a nice first-year program, but we’ve seen a lot of nice first-year programs,” Grant said. “Can they win over the fan base and maintain that fan base over an extended period of time? That’s the question.

    “They definitely win Rookie of the Year, but MVP, I’m not so sure.”

    Ask’s marketing strategy has
    overcome Bobby Labonte’s
    mediocre year on the track.

    What impresses Grant is that Ask seems to have built a program that is “performance-proof.” Labonte went into last weekend’s Sprint Cup event ranked 28th in points with just one top-10 finish, but Ask’s thorough media and at-track activation has made the performance on the track virtually meaningless.

    Ask knew that performance expectations would be low when it signed with Hall of Fame. In fact, the team deal was one of the last pieces to come together when it was signed on Dec. 30 at 11 p.m. Pacific.

    “The performance isn’t there, but they probably didn’t spend a lot of money to be with that team, anyway,” Grant said. “Winning a race is irrelevant, which is refreshing. You can’t control the competition side. But what they’re doing is winning the hearts and minds of the fans because they see Ask out there competing.”

    That Ask even had a program to launch in February at the Daytona 500 was something of a planning miracle. Ask’s employees and partners (Taylor, GMR) worked through the Christmas break and often deep into December and January nights to develop the company’s activation, Garell said.

    The running joke in the Oakland office has become: “What’s for dinner tonight? Pretzels?” because of the occasions when they snacked on pretzels while working late into the night on the NASCAR program.

    But, then again, little about Ask’s first venture into sports marketing followed standard form. Unlike many sponsors that begin with a team deal and build out — or don’t build out at all — Ask approached NASCAR nearly 180 degrees differently.

    Many of the other complementary pieces — NASCAR official deal, NASCAR.com buy, track deals, Fox ad buy — were either in place or already planned by the time the team agreement was struck. Labonte still had to shoot many of the 36 15-second ad spots in January that eventually ran on Fox.

    “When you talk about a fully integrated program, I think the fear is that you don’t have enough money to spend with everyone,” said Jim O’Connell, NASCAR’s vice president of corporate marketing. “You see some sponsors come in with just the team or just an official, they don’t get the results, and they leave. Ask came in and didn’t overspend with any one stakeholder.”

    Knowing how small the planning window was, Ask went to Taylor first and then GMR for help navigating the space. Taylor and GMR have worked together on NASCAR programs like Gillette and Alltel, so they were already familiar.

    “I got a call on a Tuesday (Dec. 16) and by Sunday we were in Oakland,” said GMR’s Boykin. “I thought, ‘Is this real?’

    “From mid-December, to turn around a fully integrated program with commercials, a huge digital presence, an extensive PR plan, employee engagement, at-track — and we didn’t even know which team, for sure — I haven’t been involved in anything close to that. Not even remotely.”

    “I was enamored with their confidence, but my brain is programmed to think these things take five or six months, maybe longer,” said Taylor’s Jewkes. “It was incredible the way Ask mobilized their entire organization.”

    By the time Taylor coordinated the release of the news on Jan. 14, all the pieces were in place and Ask announced the full breadth of its program, not just the team deal.

    “Announcing it all in one swoop was by design,” Jewkes said. “It’s so comprehensive, we wanted everyone to know that Ask wasn’t just sponsoring a race car. It underscores the whole strategy.”

    Part of what made such a brisk turnaround conceivable was Ask’s structure, Taylor and GMR said. Safka and Garell were on most of the conference calls, so there weren’t layers of executives to navigate. Key decisions were made on the spot.

    There’s also something about the fast-paced culture of a tech company that contributed to the rapid planning. In Ask’s office, results are measured daily. It’s in the company’s DNA to read and react quickly.

    “It worked because their team is nimble, it worked because of Jim’s courage, it worked because there was no competition in this space from Ask’s category,” said Hall of Fame’s Garfinkel, who’s also COO of the San Diego Padres. “The timing was perfect.

    “We told them that if they came in, they’d be the story. And they have been the story.”

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  • Bank looking for another Lightning owner

    The embattled owners of the Tampa Bay Lightning have hired an investment bank to potentially find a third general partner, sources said, as the team struggles with management division and financial losses.

    Los Angeles-based Park Lane is exploring several options, including bringing in limited partners, securing a third general partner, or even finding a replacement for one of the current partners.

    Last week, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman mediated between Len Barrie and Oren Koules, who are divided over the direction of the franchise they jointly bought for $206 million in June 2008.

    Koules and Barrie had to cover a cash-flow squeeze in mid-April, a source said. On the ice, the Lightning posted the NHL’s second-worst record in the just-concluded season, and attendance fell a league-worst 11.7 percent from the prior year. But the two differ on how to respond: Koules wants to restrain payroll, but Barrie wishes to increase it.

    Oren Koules (top) and Len Barrie
    are split over the team’s direction.

    The team got an advance payment of $2 million from broadcaster Sun Sports in April around the time the club was making its last payroll of the season, sources said. It was in this period that rumors swept financial circles that the team was about to miss payroll, but the NHL said that did not occur.

    While some sources described such accelerated payments as commonplace, had the team missed payroll, the previous owner, Palace Sports & Entertainment, would have regained control of the franchise. Koules and Barrie borrowed $100 million from Palace Sports and its adviser, Galatioto Sports Partners, to purchase the club, and under terms of the financing, if the team misses payroll, the ownership reverts.

    It’s unclear whether the accelerated media payment was used to meet payroll.

    The Lightning declined to comment, and a spokesman declined to make either Koules or Barrie available.

    The tension is the latest example of the difficulties that can exist in joint control of pro sports teams. The owners of the Atlanta Hawks and Thrashers have brought their disputes into court, while the ownership of Liverpool FC by George Gillett and Tom Hicks has been fraught with in-fighting.

    Park Lane founder and managing director Andrew Kline has sent out a financial prospectus to potential investors outlining the team and the investment opportunity. Kline also declined to comment.

    Limited partnerships are challenging to sell in normal circumstances, as individuals who can afford them tend to want control of the franchise. In a down economy, and for a franchise expected to lose more than $10 million this season, Kline’s task would seem even tougher, creating a more likely scenario of someone buying in with more control.

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  • CBA offers AVPers revenue and profit sharing

    The AVP is completing a four-year collective-bargaining agreement that will guarantee labor peace through 2012 and offer players revenue and profit sharing for the first time.

    The new CBA comes after recent leadership and ownership changes in which Leonard Armato departed as commissioner and RJSM Partners took controlling interest in the league. RJSM is expected to make an additional investment as a result of the new CBA.

    “To take the sport to where it should be, players have to be incented to grow with us and take care of our sponsors — that’s where we are heading,” said AVP Chief Executive Jason Hodell.

    He said players now earn about 20 percent of revenue, while under the new CBA it can grow to as high as 40 percent of incremental revenue. A profit-sharing provision also offers a bonus pool for players, on a sliding scale. “Players need to feel they have a stake,” Hodell said. “One of the things that’s hurt the AVP was that some players didn’t feel like they were winning, even when the tour was.”

    Ryan Morgan, who represents AVP athletes including Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh, said that in concept the deal has been under consideration for years. While the CBA is still pending full player ratification, Morgan said, he expects that to happen within a week. AVP players have been operating under a series of CBA extensions this year.

    “This should make the athletes and the AVP more unified than ever,” Morgan said. “The players have some skin in the game, and we have been aiming for revenue and profit sharing for a long time.”

    Use of player images also will be more clearly delineated. Under the new CBA, the AVP can use player images to market the tour. Sponsors henceforth can use only “game action” player photos for marketing purposes; otherwise, the players must be compensated for use of their images.

    The agreement also allows players greater freedom in seeking endorsements, while still protecting the largest AVP sponsors from potential player ambushes. Every player continues to support the title sponsor by wearing a patch or tattoo. Required player appearances are now limited to five annually, after which they must be compensated

    The new agreement also includes a provision for development of the sport. For every $20 million in revenue, the league committed to spending $100,000 on “strategic development and expansion,” which could include everything from marketing to a grassroots youth tour.

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  • Clark leaving MillerCoors

    Dockery Clark, MillerCoors director of sports and entertainment marketing, is leaving after nearly four years with the company, effective July 15.

    A MillerCoors internal e-mail sent last Tuesday “on behalf of” CMO Andy England said Clark was leaving to relocate to her hometown of Charlotte.

    “From the numerous local and national alliances she has negotiated in the past four years to landmark deals like our partnership with the Dallas Cowboys, Dockery has created significant and lasting value for our business,” the e-mail read.

    In an interview, Clark said she was leaving to find a job that would offer more hands-on sports marketing activity.

    “I’ve learned a lot and loved working in consumer package goods,” she said. “We’ve been more about planning and administration. Ideally, I want to be more involved in sports marketing and less about how things should be organized.”

    Jackie Woodward, vice president of marketing services, will assume Clark’s responsibilities while MillerCoors looks for a replacement.

    Clark started at Miller Brewing in 2005. She spent 11 years with Bank of America before leaving in 2004.

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  • Memo details streaming plan

    Major League Baseball believes it has broken through its self-described “logjam” for in-market live streaming of games by developing an economic model that pays MLB Advanced Media half of all related revenue.

    The terms for local streaming deals, outlined in a June 19 memo that Commissioner Bud Selig sent to all 30 teams and was obtained by SportsBusiness Journal, will send the other half of the related revenue to local interests, such as the participating team, its regional sports network and the local cable provider. The 50-50 split between MLBAM and the local interests is “net of operating costs to participating broadband and wireless service providers,” according to the memo.

    While each streaming deal will be different, in large part because of how the local half of the revenue is divided, Selig noted “the same relative terms” will be used in all future in-market streaming agreements.

    Selig, however, hinted the revenue splits are not cast in stone and could change in two years. In 2011, he intends to review the structure to “determine the fairness of the allocation and the impact upon industry economics.”

    The league and MLBAM, MLB’s interactive arm, last week announced a landmark agreement with the New York Yankees, the YES Network and Cablevision to begin in-market streaming of the club’s games beginning July 8. The effort, first reported by SportsBusiness Journal earlier this month, marks the first agreement of its kind by a major professional sports league in conjunction with local TV rights and represents a significant breakthrough after years of fruitless negotiations on the matter.

    The package is priced at $49.95 for the rest of the season and $19.95 for a 30-day period.

    A second in-market streaming deal set to be announced this week involves the San Diego Padres and Cox Communications, according to industry sources.

    Selig’s memo was created and distributed with the intent of announcing two clubs had entered into in-market streaming agreements and to outline the economic framework for these and subsequent pacts.

    Selig

    In a similar memo nearly two years ago, Selig described the financial debate over in-market streaming as being in a “logjam” and pressed the MLBAM board of directors to pursue a solution. The latest memo references that prior note, as Selig calls the new framework “a fair and practical outcome to break what I have called the in-market streaming ‘logjam.’”

    Other teams do not appear to be close to deals for in-market streaming on the heels of the Yankees and Padres, but MLB President Bob DuPuy last week said while announcing the Yankees’ deal that he expects “a majority” of teams will have such deals in place sometime next season.

    Selig’s memo, however, shows the uncertainty that MLB has in determining how big the local streaming market will be. Similarly, MLB Advanced Media President and Chief Executive Bob Bowman last week acknowledged that part of the effort involves creating a new market.

    In the Selig memo, the commissioner describes three years of “agonizing” over the issue, and how the league hired Allen & Co. to determine the value of local streaming rights. That research effort “provided guidance, but not certainty,” he wrote.

    “Only one thing is in fact certain — there is some set of revenues that we are not currently generating,” Selig writes. “At the outset, I am convinced the revenues are likely to be quite modest and I am convinced it is in the interest of the game to begin an assessment of how our fans will react to this offering.”

    Currently, the Yankees’ in-market streaming is available only to Cablevision subscribers who receive both the company’s TV and Internet service. YES President and Chief Executive Tracy Dolgin last week said the RSN is talking with other distributors to expand the footprint of the Yankees’ in-market streaming, as Cablevision’s penetration does not reach several key parts of the New York market.

    But those deals, as well as any other MLB in-market streaming pacts, according to the Selig memo, will require that a user receiving the service must also “be a cable television subscriber to the club’s regional sports network” in order to protect the existing local TV rights.

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  • NFL adding IHOP to 2009 sponsor menu

    The first new NFL sponsorship signed during the offseason is with … the International House of Pancakes.

    The NFL has been casting its net at a variety of casual-dining chains, and the franchised restaurant chain has signed a three-month promotional partnership, from August through October. IHOP will use its NFL rights to push two forthcoming football-themed menu items: NFL Stuffed French Toast and the QB Scramble.

    Financial terms of the partnership were not available.

    The NFL is IHOP’s biggest sports sponsorship. The 1,400-location chain has been a sponsor of the Harlem Globetrotters since early this year and also has sponsored the WNBA since last season. IHOP is the presenting partner of this season’s WNBA halftime broadcasts on ABC and ESPN2.

    Sources said that because the NFL deal is for only three months, it is not exclusive, nor does the deal include a designation beyond official sponsor. IHOP’s parent company, DineEquity, also owns the nearly 2,000-location Applebee’s casual dining chain. While the IHOP rights do not extend to Applebee’s, sources said that IHOP’s newfound NFL rights were making the sister chain explore its own sports sponsorship scenarios.

    The deal makes IHOP the first NFL sponsor in the restaurant category since KFC’s brief run during the playoffs early this year. Before KFC, Burger King was a full-fledged NFL sponsor from 2005 to 2007. Now that the NFL is dissecting the category, KFC is expected to make a small return under the umbrella of a “Madden NFL” promo at the start of the season.

    IHOP creative agency VitroRobertson shot two separate ads last week in Los Angeles using one of the NFL’s premier receivers, Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals, and one of the league’s top quarterbacks, the Philadelphia Eagles’ Donovan McNabb.

    Both ads are set in IHOPs with the athlete in uniform. Fitzgerald’s ad shows off his All-Pro receiving skills with a variety of restaurant items, while McNabb is “sacked” by an overzealous IHOP waitress. The ads are scheduled to start in August. The media schedule could not be determined.

    The Drana Group, Milwaukee, reps Fitzgerald for marketing deals. President John Drana said that after Fitzgerald’s strong playoff showing last season, the receiver has also agreed to a large Nike renewal, renewed an EAS contract, shot an ESPN “SportsCenter” spot, will appear on the cover of EA’s “Madden NFL 10” game (with Troy Polamalu ) and is close to a regional banking deal in Arizona.

    McNabb, solidifying his endorsement roster after securing a two-year contract extension with the Eagles, also has signed recent renewals with Nike and Verizon Wireless.

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  • Shift change in NHL biz operations

    NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins overhauled the league’s business operations last week, restructuring NHL Enterprises, broadcasting and communications into an 11-division operation.

    The new divisions are sales; integrated marketing; digital media; events; NHL Network U.S.; broadcasting business relations and scheduling; production, operations and engineering; creative studios; communications and editorial; international development; and strategic planning.

    The New NHL
    A breakdown of the league’s reorganized business operations
    Division: Sales
    Head: Keith Wachtel, senior vice president
    Areas of responsibility: Corporate and advertising sales across all league platforms
    Division: Integrated marketing
    Head: Brian Jennings, executive vice president
    Areas of responsibility: Integrating the brand and product across all business partners
    Division: Digital media
    Head: Perry Cooper, senior vice president
    Areas of responsibility: Business of NHL.com, GameCenter Live, NHL Shop and Auction, NHL Mobile and Center Ice
    Division: Events
    Head: Don Renzulli, senior vice president
    Areas of responsibility: Winter Classic, NHL awards, international games, All-Star Game, draft and other events
    Division: NHL Network U.S.
    Head: Jody Shapiro, senior vice president
    Areas of responsibility: Business and distribution of the U.S. network, and footage and images licensing businesses
    Division: Broadcasting business relations and scheduling
    Head: Steve Hatze Petros, senior vice president
    Areas of responsibility: All league scheduling and working with broadcast rights holders
    Division: Production, operations and engineering
    Head: Scott Davis, executive vice president
    Areas of responsibility: Operational issues with respect to broadcasting and digital platforms
    Division: Creative and fan experiential strategies
    Head: André Mika, senior vice president
    Areas of responsibility: The creative strategy of NHL Network, In-Arena, NHL.com, Mobile, Live TV And Entertainment
    Division: Communications and editorial
    Head: Mike Berland, interim consultant
    Areas of responsibility: Public relations and editorial content across all media assets
    Division: International
    Head: Ken Yaffe, senior vice president
    Areas of responsibility: Continue the league’s international push with overseas exhibition games
    Division: Strategic planning
    Head: Steve McArdle, vice president
    Areas of responsibility: Provide analysis and strategic planning for all business groups

    The structure recreates the league’s operations, which previously consisted of three divisions: business and media; communications, branding, club consulting and service; and league operations. Those divisions were created in a 2007 restructuring.

    In communicating the changes to staff by memo last week, Collins said the restructuring would allow the NHL to further his goal of “delivering scale” across the league’s platforms, so that the NHL can develop a “robust advertising marketplace” and “ensure long-term rightsholder and marketer interest” in the sport of hockey.

    The restructuring memo was delivered to staff the day after the league let go more than 20 employees. A spokesperson said the league plans to hire 20 new employees who have the skills necessary to support the NHL’s expansion as a media company. An additional 23 staffers will be transferred to new positions.

    The league’s relatively new club consulting division, which worked with teams to improve ticket and sponsorship sales, was one of the hardest hit by the restructuring. The group will shrink from 14 to 10 employees and be spread across the integrated marketing and strategic planning divisions. The integrated marketing division will support clubs’ marketing efforts while strategic planning will support ticket sales. Collins said the shift will allow the NHL “to more directly connect our national businesses with the local needs of the clubs.”

    “Everyone at the League needs to understand the clubs business,” Collins added in the memo, “and each department must operate their business as to grow the combined League and Clubs’ revenues.”

    League operations also will transform under the new structure. Formerly a stand-alone division that included information technology, scheduling, hockey operations, legal, finance and administration, portions of the division will be integrated into other groups. In an effort to have schedules designed favorably for local and national rights holders, scheduling will become part of the broadcasting business relations division. Information technology will be integrated into digital media, which includes NHL.com, GameCenter Live, NHL Shop and Auction, NHL Mobile and Center Ice.

    The restructuring extends Collins’ emphasis on not only the digital business but also the events and the NHL Network U.S. businesses.

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  • Shift change in NHL biz operations

    NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins overhauled the league’s business operations last week, restructuring NHL Enterprises, broadcasting and communications into an 11-division operation.

    The new divisions are sales; integrated marketing; digital media; events; NHL Network U.S.; broadcasting business relations and scheduling; production, operations and engineering; creative studios; communications and editorial; international development; and strategic planning.

    The New NHL
    A breakdown of the league’s reorganized business operations
    Division: Sales
    Head: Keith Wachtel, senior vice president
    Areas of responsibility: Corporate and advertising sales across all league platforms
    Division: Integrated marketing
    Head: Brian Jennings, executive vice president
    Areas of responsibility: Integrating the brand and product across all business partners
    Division: Digital media
    Head: Perry Cooper, senior vice president
    Areas of responsibility: Business of NHL.com, GameCenter Live, NHL Shop and Auction, NHL Mobile and Center Ice
    Division: Events
    Head: Don Renzulli, senior vice president
    Areas of responsibility: Winter Classic, NHL awards, international games, All-Star Game, draft and other events
    Division: NHL Network U.S.
    Head: Jody Shapiro, senior vice president
    Areas of responsibility: Business and distribution of the U.S. network, and footage and images licensing businesses
    Division: Broadcasting business relations and scheduling
    Head: Steve Hatze Petros, senior vice president
    Areas of responsibility: All league scheduling and working with broadcast rights holders
    Division: Production, operations and engineering
    Head: Scott Davis, executive vice president
    Areas of responsibility: Operational issues with respect to broadcasting and digital platforms
    Division: Creative and fan experiential strategies
    Head: André Mika, senior vice president
    Areas of responsibility: The creative strategy of NHL Network, In-Arena, NHL.com, Mobile, Live TV And Entertainment
    Division: Communications and editorial
    Head: Mike Berland, interim consultant
    Areas of responsibility: Public relations and editorial content across all media assets
    Division: International
    Head: Ken Yaffe, senior vice president
    Areas of responsibility: Continue the league’s international push with overseas exhibition games
    Division: Strategic planning
    Head: Steve McArdle, vice president
    Areas of responsibility: Provide analysis and strategic planning for all business groups

    The structure recreates the league’s operations, which previously consisted of three divisions: business and media; communications, branding, club consulting and service; and league operations. Those divisions were created in a 2007 restructuring.

    In communicating the changes to staff by memo last week, Collins said the restructuring would allow the NHL to further his goal of “delivering scale” across the league’s platforms, so that the NHL can develop a “robust advertising marketplace” and “ensure long-term rightsholder and marketer interest” in the sport of hockey.

    The restructuring memo was delivered to staff the day after the league let go more than 20 employees. A spokesperson said the league plans to hire 20 new employees who have the skills necessary to support the NHL’s expansion as a media company. An additional 23 staffers will be transferred to new positions.

    The league’s relatively new club consulting division, which worked with teams to improve ticket and sponsorship sales, was one of the hardest hit by the restructuring. The group will shrink from 14 to 10 employees and be spread across the integrated marketing and strategic planning divisions. The integrated marketing division will support clubs’ marketing efforts while strategic planning will support ticket sales. Collins said the shift will allow the NHL “to more directly connect our national businesses with the local needs of the clubs.”

    “Everyone at the League needs to understand the clubs business,” Collins added in the memo, “and each department must operate their business as to grow the combined League and Clubs’ revenues.”

    League operations also will transform under the new structure. Formerly a stand-alone division that included information technology, scheduling, hockey operations, legal, finance and administration, portions of the division will be integrated into other groups. In an effort to have schedules designed favorably for local and national rights holders, scheduling will become part of the broadcasting business relations division. Information technology will be integrated into digital media, which includes NHL.com, GameCenter Live, NHL Shop and Auction, NHL Mobile and Center Ice.

    The restructuring extends Collins’ emphasis on not only the digital business but also the events and the NHL Network U.S. businesses.

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  • Slimmer schedule for LPGA in ’10?

    At the midpoint in the LPGA season, the positive signs the tour saw earlier this year with new domestic and international television deals have given way to concern about the 2010 schedule, which could contain just over 20 events depending upon the outcome of continuing extension talks.

    There are 29 official money events on the LPGA’s 2009 schedule, down from between 31 and 36 events in each of the last 10 years. The last time the LPGA dipped into the low 20s in a season was 1971, when it staged 21 tournaments.

    To date, the 2010 schedule contains 14 events that have contracts or oral agreements with sponsors, the LPGA or both (see box). Eleven of those events hold sponsorship deals and sanctioning contracts with the LPGA, and three are expected to join that list: the Safeway Classic in Oregon and the CVS/Pharmacy LPGA Challenge in Oakland have title sponsorship contracts for 2010 but do not yet have sanctioning contracts with the LPGA. State Farm has agreed to the framework of an extension in Illinois but is still haggling over dates.

    Extension talks with sponsor Michelob Ultra
    for the LPGA’s Virginia stop have stalled.

     The LPGA classifies nine sponsors as having “shown an intent” to extend. Of the remaining seven events on the 2009 calendar, talks with Michelob Ultra in Virginia and HSBC in Singapore have stalled. Extensions were questionable with Navistar in Alabama and Owens Corning/Kroger in Ohio, said industry sources. SBS and Corning already announced they would not return in 2010 to Hawaii and New York, respectively. Phoenix is without a sponsor after the LPGA arranged a one-year deal with J Golf and Mirassou Winery for the 2009 event.

    There is also speculation about the future of the unsponsored LPGA event in China. The IMG-owned tournament is scheduled for late October but does not have a course or a sponsor. If IMG cancels the event, another management group is prepared to stage the tournament, said a source close to the event.

    LPGA EVENTS: Looking ahead
    Agreements for 2010
    Bell Micro LPGA (Ala.)
    CN Canadian Women’s Open (Ont.)
    CVS/Pharmacy LPGA Challenge (Calif.)*
    Honda LPGA Thailand
    J Golf (Calif.)
    Kapalua LPGA Classic (Hawaii)
    Kraft Nabisco Championship (Calif.)
    Lorena Ochoa Invitational (Mexico)
    LPGA Championship (TBD)
    Safeway Classic (Ore.)*
    State Farm Classic (Ill.)*
    Tour Championship (Texas)
    U.S. Women’s Open (Pa.)
    Women’s British Open (England)
    In active talks
    Corona (Mexico)
    Evian (France)
    Hana Bank (South Korea)
    MasterCard (Mexico)
    Mizuno (Japan)
    Procter & Gamble (Ark.)
    Samsung (Calif.)
    Sybase (N.J.)
    Wegmans (N.Y.)
    * Contracts remaining to be signed
    Sources: LPGA, events, sponsors

    “We are talking 24/7 with our tournaments and partners on renewals and extensions,” said David Higdon, chief communications officer for the LPGA. “We’re extremely confident that we’ll have a strong 2010 schedule.”

    Decreased marketing budgets are putting more pressure on sponsors’ ability to meet the LPGA’s run-up on fees in the last few years, said sources familiar with the renegotiations. Increased sanctioning and scoring fees, and now higher television costs under Golf Channel, resulted in an estimated $500,000 annually in additional costs from previous contracts. The LPGA announced it will delay an additional $50,000 charge for scoring systems, and sources said the LPGA is showing flexibility on purse amounts.

    LPGA sponsorships generally cost $2 million to $5 million a year, which primarily consists of the purse, television and $150,000 to the LPGA for scoring and sanction fees.

    During a meeting with players earlier this month, LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens said there were a dozen prospects for new events in 2010, but industry sources weren’t optimistic about a sizable portion of them coming to fruition. “Most of them are not what I would call close to happening,” said a source with knowledge of the plans.

    The LPGA declined to identify potential cities, but industry sources said groups are holding talks in Atlanta, Grand Rapids, Mich., southwestern Florida, and Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut. Sources said international expansion could include Taiwan, India, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates.

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  • Sobieski vodka expands MSG deal to Knicks games

    The New York Knicks are the latest NBA team to land a spirits brand advertising deal as Sobieski vodka expands its sponsorship deal with Madison Square Garden Sports.

    Imported by Palm Beach, Fla.-based Imperial Brands company, Sobieski is a Polish-made vodka that not only will have courtside signs in Madison Square Garden during Knicks games, it will open a bar in the Garden’s concourse as part of a deal that was initially signed with MSG Sports in 2007.

    The company already had dasherboard signage with its deal with the NHL’s Rangers and now will expand its presence in the Garden with the Knicks after the NBA earlier this year eased its ban on courtside signs for spirits brands.

    The new deal with the Knicks nearly doubles the value of the company’s sponsorship agreement with Madison Square Garden Sports from a mid-six-figure deal to a seven-figure agreement.

    “This is a very fertile category,” said Greg Elliott, senior vice president of marketing partnerships for MSG Sports. “There are also digital assets and hospitality included, as well as branded space in the building.”

    Sobieski uses the “Truth In Vodka” tag line in its marketing and will open its “Truth Bar” in the Garden later this summer.

    But the deal does not have full category exclusivity and the Knicks expect to sign other spirits marketing deals. So far, Sobieski’s deal with the Knicks is the only NBA deal for the brand.

    “The deal gives [Sobieski] ownership for the line-of-sight for the vodka category within the lower bowl,” Elliott said. “We are also focusing on other brands and there are discussions. We will have a few more before the start of the season.”

    The Knicks deal with Sobieski follows the Miami Heat deal with Bacardi as teams look to sign hard-liquor courtside deals.

    Like all spirits brand deals in the NBA, the Sobieski deal with the Knicks must include social-awareness messaging.

    “The social responsibility is per the league’s guidelines,” Elliott said. “It is brand and logo centric.”

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  • Social media key in Open Series site

    The U.S. Tennis Association is relaunching its official Web page for the Olympus U.S. Open Series, with the new site featuring an extensive battery of social-networking components.

    Developed with the aid of IMG Media, the new OlympusUSOpenSeries.com will include an enhanced video player; links to U.S. Open Series-branded areas within Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Sling Media; and a dedicated U.S. Open Series-Twitter feed aggregated through Octagon-owned Twackle.

    Beyond the video and social-media components, the new site will contain traditional Web site elements such as news, TV schedules and ticketing. The branded circuit of summer events begins its annual run next month, leading up to the start of the U.S. Open in late August.

    “We’re continuing to work to establish the Olympus U.S. Open Series brand, and this is all designed to help take that next step toward that,” said Phil Green, USTA director of advanced media. “We know having this destination itself is not going to be enough, so we’ve sought to develop a coordinated, cogent digital strategy to get into all these other major places where people are congregating and talking about the series.”

    As part of the digital ramp-up, the USTA has assumed operations and management of several tournament-specific sites for events that are part of the series: the L.A. Tennis Open; the Western and Southern Financial Group Women’s Open and its matching Masters men’s event in Cincinnati; and the Pilot Pen Tennis men’s and women’s events from New Haven, Conn. 

    The USTA additionally will operate a “tweet-stakes” in which its series-branded Twitter channel will be used to conduct two separate sweepstakes for U.S. Open tickets.

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  • St. Louis sets new tone for All-Star Game

    If one still needs an indicator of how much the world has changed over the past year, look no further than the MLB All-Star Game.

    This year’s annual midsummer classic, set for July 14 in St. Louis, will feature dramatically lower ticket prices on both the primary and secondary markets than last year’s extravaganza in New York. A projected host-market economic impact of $60 million from the game reverts from last year’s unprecedented sum of nearly $150 million to a much more historically normal figure. And virtually none of the high-dollar glitz and hype of last year’s record-setting affair at old Yankee Stadium is present in this year’s planning.

    With the economic recession still in full force and conspicuous consumption now passé, MLB and the host club Cardinals have deftly transformed the All-Star Game into a high-profile vehicle for community service and charity. The type of charitable actions and elements of service that in prior years have been secondary parts of the midseason showcase this year will comprise the game’s primary theme.

    MLB expects to generate about $5 million in donations for a variety of national and local causes, including Stand Up To Cancer, the Cardinals Care organization and the St. Louis Sports Commission’s charitable foundation. Additional elements include a nationwide collaborative effort with People magazine for All-Stars Among Us, which will showcase ordinary citizens doing great things in their local communities, and a coordination with United We Serve, the service initiative launched by President Obama, who will throw out the first pitch at the game.

    This year’s All-Star Game at Busch Stadium will
    have lower ticket prices and new charity offerings.

    MLB sponsors will also participate in a series of cause-related marketing efforts, such as recycling campaigns from Pepsi and Anheuser-Busch (see related story). In addition, youth participation in baseball and softball will be spotlighted around town, including at a temporary softball field being constructed on the still-developing Ballpark Village project across from Busch Stadium.

    “This tone we have is simply the right thing to do given this economy and the climate in which we live,” said Ron Watermon, Cardinals director of government affairs and special projects and the club’s point man on the All-Star Game efforts. “We expect this to be a very special and unique event and one with an extensive legacy of leave-behinds.”

    The Cardinals had made those legacy elements a core part of their bid to host the All-Star Game, submitted more than two years ago. MLB also already knew there was no hope of repeating many of the fiscal records set a year ago with the game being played in the nation’s largest city, New York. But after last fall’s collapse of the world financial markets and the subsequent economic spiral into recession, the development of plans that would more prominently showcase the charitable efforts connected to the game assumed a much higher priority and point of emphasis.

    Banners and MLB-themed arches
    dot downtown, which will host
    the festivities.

    Still, many involved in the St. Louis All-Star effort have found that doing good has also represented good business. People magazine, for example, has found new audiences through the extension of its existing Heroes Among Us recognitions.

    “This campaign has expanded our reach beyond women to men and their families, and broadened the exposure of our Heroes platform,” said Susan Parkes, vice president of marketing for the style and entertainment group at People parent Time Inc. Online voting for the All-Stars Among Us finalists has extended well into six figures, and exposure for the People brand in St. Louis will culminate in an on-field, pregame ceremony.

    The charitable focus puts the game in line with similar efforts at showcase events by other major leagues, such as the NBA Cares platform that runs a Day of Service at the NBA All-Star Game.

    On a logistical scale, the events of this year’s MLB All-Star Game — heavily concentrated in St. Louis’ downtown core — will make for the kind of tight footprint seen in Pittsburgh for the 2006 game and in San Francisco in 2007, compared with last year’s far-flung affair that stretched between several parts of Manhattan and the Bronx. Nearly all events will be within walking distance this year. Because of that, MLB was able to shift its large-scale gala party back to its traditional Monday night slot (hosting it at the Ballpark Village site) after having to stage the event on Sunday night (away from Yankee Stadium) last year.

    The Cardinals and MLB, meanwhile, intend to challenge New York’s numbers on at least one key score: FanFest attendance. Last year’s five-day turnout of 135,000 set a record.

    MLB did not reduce peak ticket prices for the interactive fan event from $30 for adults and $25 for children and seniors. Comparatively, the peak price for tickets to the All-Star Game itself was cut by more than half, from $725 in 2008 to $360 this year. But St. Louis ranks high among baseball markets for both its multigenerational fan base and for having legions of fans willing to travel from hundreds of miles away. Additionally, the Cardinals included FanFest tickets in full-season-ticket plans and several of the club’s mini-plans, a new wrinkle MLB intends to repeat in future years.

    The salesmanship extended to game-ticket locations. All-Star hosts with tighter seating capacities and large season-ticket bases — of which the Cardinals are one, with 29,000 full-season equivalents — typically encounter friction between MLB sponsor needs for tickets and the desires of the hometown fan base. The Cardinals, however, offered two upper-level All-Star Game tickets for every lower-level one held by a season-ticket holder who opted to move for the game.

    “We could go for the carrot or stick on this,” Watermon said. “We opted for the carrot, and it’s been well-received.”

    Staff writers Terry Lefton and John Ourand contributed to this report.

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  • UFC expands TV reach to China and Mexico

    The UFC has signed its first television distribution deals in China and Mexico, pushing its international distribution to 295 million households, an increase of roughly 40 percent over the last year.

    In China, programming will be available to 80 million homes on Inner Mongolia Television, a conglomeration of terrestrial networks. UFC programming in Mexico will run on Televisa’s cable and satellite channel named Televisa Deportes Network, a new national sports network that launches next month in 6 million homes.

    Each outlet will air a mix of live and taped UFC fights and programming under licensing deals similar to those signed in markets without mature pay-per-view outlets. The UFC hopes to launch in Mexico by offering its UFC 100 pay-per-view event on one of Televisa’s free-to-air networks.

    “The pay-per-view in a lot of these markets is not developed enough to justify being on pay-per-view,” said Lorenzo Fertitta, UFC chairman and CEO. “The strategy now is more brand building. We’d rather go out and get a license fee and expose the product to as many people as we can and, over time as big fights come up, move to a pay-per-view platform.”

    UFC officials said international television income has increased at a compounded annual rate of 58 percent from 2006 to 2008. Since January, the circuit also has added or expanded international TV deals in markets like Brazil, Germany, Portugal, Switzerland and Denmark to reach an additional 130 million households.

    All international television negotiations are handled out of the UFC’s offices in London, spearheaded by Fertitta, who is based in Las Vegas. Fertitta moved from a leadership role at his family-owned Station Casinos in June 2008 to focus on the UFC’s international growth.

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  • UFC expands TV reach to China and Mexico

    The UFC has signed its first television distribution deals in China and Mexico, pushing its international distribution to 295 million households, an increase of roughly 40 percent over the last year.

    In China, programming will be available to 80 million homes on Inner Mongolia Television, a conglomeration of terrestrial networks. UFC programming in Mexico will run on Televisa’s cable and satellite channel named Televisa Deportes Network, a new national sports network that launches next month in 6 million homes.

    Each outlet will air a mix of live and taped UFC fights and programming under licensing deals similar to those signed in markets without mature pay-per-view outlets. The UFC hopes to launch in Mexico by offering its UFC 100 pay-per-view event on one of Televisa’s free-to-air networks.

    “The pay-per-view in a lot of these markets is not developed enough to justify being on pay-per-view,” said Lorenzo Fertitta, UFC chairman and CEO. “The strategy now is more brand building. We’d rather go out and get a license fee and expose the product to as many people as we can and, over time as big fights come up, move to a pay-per-view platform.”

    UFC officials said international television income has increased at a compounded annual rate of 58 percent from 2006 to 2008. Since January, the circuit also has added or expanded international TV deals in markets like Brazil, Germany, Portugal, Switzerland and Denmark to reach an additional 130 million households.

    All international television negotiations are handled out of the UFC’s offices in London, spearheaded by Fertitta, who is based in Las Vegas. Fertitta moved from a leadership role at his family-owned Station Casinos in June 2008 to focus on the UFC’s international growth.

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  • Weiner, like Fehr, product of experience

    Baseball’s extended run of labor peace, routinely cited as a key factor in the sport’s historic growth over the past decade, likely gained another important boost with the nomination of MLB Players Association general counsel Michael Weiner to replace the outgoing Donald Fehr.

    Fehr led baseball players through
    a work stoppage in 1994-95 that
    lasted 232 days.

    Fehr, 60, last week announced plans to retire no later than March after a quarter century on the job. He leaves behind a massive and deeply complex legacy that defied the corrosion of the labor movement in most other industries and helped bring MLB players unprecedented wealth, but also included some of the sport’s darkest chapters.

    Weiner, meanwhile, played key negotiating roles in the labor deals of 2002 and 2006 that were reached without a work stoppage. More critically, he is widely viewed as more solutions-oriented and less dogmatic than Fehr, attributes that will be tested again in 2011, which marks the final season for the sport’s current five-year labor deal. Those negotiations would be Weiner’s first as the union’s lead figure while they would probably be the last for MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. The commissioner’s contract expires in December 2012, but Selig has twice this decade deferred retirement plans with new deals.

    Weiner’s bid to replace Fehr will be voted on and is expected to be approved by the union’s executive board and membership this summer.

    “We know Mike very well and have had a lot of very positive dealings with him,” said Rob Manfred, MLB executive vice president for labor relations and human resources. “He’s very smart, capable and committed to his players, but we’ve found him to be fair and creative, and we think there’s a relationship of respect and trust.”

    Fehr
    DONALD FEHR
    Born: July 18, 1948, in Marion, Ind.
    Grew up: Prairie Village, Kan.
    Education: Indiana University (B.A., 1970); University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law (J.D., 1973)
    CAREER NOTABLES:
    1976: While with Kansas City law firm Jolley, Moran, Walsh, Hager & Gordon, he works on behalf of the MLBPA on the landmark free agency case involving pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally that overturned the reserve clause and helped usher in free agency.
    1977: Is named MLBPA general counsel.
    1983: Becomes MLBPA acting executive director, succeeding Marvin Miller. (Note: Average player salary: $289,000.)
    1985: Leads players through a two-day strike that results in a new CBA; is officially named executive director and general counsel in December.
    1986-88: Files, and wins, three collusion cases with the National Labor Relations Board, resulting in the owners paying $280 million in damages.
    1990: Rebuffs the owners’ proposal for revenue sharing and a salary cap, resulting in a 32-day work stoppage that delays the start of the season.
    1994-95: When the owners try to break the union by imposing a new economic system and proposing the use of replacement players, Fehr leads the players through a 232-day work stoppage that includes the cancellation of the 1994 World Series and that delays the start of the 1995 season.
    2002: Union agrees to a new CBA on the eve of a proposed players strike, marking the first new labor deal the league and players have reached without a work stoppage since 1970. Provisions for drug testing of players are included in the deal, and for revisions to these points the CBA is subsequently re-opened three times in the coming years, an action virtually unheard of for prior labor deals.
    2006: Union extends the CBA by five years, the first time in more than 35 years that a new agreement was reached before the previous one expired.
    2009: Announces plans to resign by March 2010. (Note: Average player salary: $3.3 million.)
    Compiled by David Broughton
    Source: MLBPA, SBJ/SBD archives

    The key differences between Fehr and Weiner, many industry observers believe, stem from their early professional experiences. Fehr’s first collective-bargaining agreement leading the union, struck in 1985 after a brief players strike, was quickly followed by a period of owner collusion. Fehr and the players eventually exposed the collusion and gained a $280 million settlement from the owners.

    Weiner, 47, joined the players association in 1988, and while he was present for the dark days of 1994-95 and other skirmishes, Weiner did not have a prominent role in the collusion proceedings.

    “These guys, definitely Don, have been [products] of their experiences,” said one club official. “I’m not sure Don ever fully got over the collusion after his first deal. He seemed to see that as a real betrayal of the deal they made. Mike, while still a strong advocate for the players, never went through that. … By 2006, we had a much more collaborative relationship with the union, and I would expect 2011 to be similar.”

    The issues dominating the 2011 talks, while not yet fully defined, are expected to center on refinements to the existing pact as opposed to the introduction of major new concepts. There is some dissatisfaction on both sides with elements of the annual first-year player draft and signing-bonus slot recommendations for draft picks. Luxury tax and revenue-sharing provisions will no doubt be revisited, as will the drug testing policy.

    And it has not gone unnoticed in the players’ camp how their percentage of overall industry revenue, standing at 52 percent in 2008, has slipped slightly in recent years as baseball has grown to unprecedented heights. MLB players in the early part of the decade saw their salaries represent a percentage of league revenue that was in the high 50s to low 60s.

    Weiner
    MICHAEL WEINER
    Born: Dec. 21, 1961, in Paterson, N.J.
    Grew up: Pompton Lakes, N.J.
    Education: Wiliams College (1983), Harvard Law School (1986)
    CAREER NOTABLES:
    1986: Served as law clerk to U.S. District Judge H. Lee Sarokin
    1988: Joined the MLBPA as a union lawyer
    2004: Promoted to general counsel
    2009: Tabbed as successor to MLBPA Executive Director Donald Fehr
    Compiled by Brandon McClung
    Sources: MLBPA, SBJ/SBD archives

    While comparisons with other leagues can be difficult — MLB is the only major league without a salary cap, and MLB clubs spend millions of dollars on player development for players in the minor leagues — the percentage for MLB players now trails comparable player marks in the other major U.S. professional sports.

    Still, the players’ average salary of more than $3 million and the lack of a salary cap have made a revolution in two years unlikely.

    “There’s a professional relationship now between the two sides that Mike has played a big role in and now, ongoing in his new role, will probably further promote,” said Andrew Zimbalist, Smith College economics professor, a former consultant to the union and frequent author on industry issues, including Selig’s tenure as commissioner. “But I think the overall growth in the game is the strongest factor that’s going to keep this on the tracks. It’s reasonable to assume Mike is going to grease the wheels, but nobody really wants to disrupt the gravy train. I think everybody is still really chastened by what happened in ’94 and saw the damage that caused.”

    Weiner himself said he is prepared, after more than two decades as a behind-the-scenes operator, to assume the high-profile demands of the executive director role.

    “If the players select me, I understand I’ll be the public face of the organization in a way that I haven’t been before,” he said. “I don’t run from that and understand that comes with the territory.”

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  • Wizards say they don’t need Chinese player to score China sponsors

    The Washington Wizards don’t have a Chinese player on their roster, but that won’t stop team executives from traveling to China this summer in hopes of attracting Chinese sponsors.

    It’s a unique marketing approach for an NBA team that has no direct connection to China. The Houston Rockets and New Jersey Nets, who have Chinese players Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian, respectively, on their rosters, have landed deals with Chinese sponsors.

    But the Wizards are confident that they can land Chinese sponsors even though the team has no ties to China.

    “Having a Chinese player on a team is important because it gets those games broadcast back to China, but what we are trying to do is to get Chinese companies who want to sell products in the U.S.,” said Peter Biche, president of business operations for the Wizards. “Our pitch is that we are delivering eyeballs in the most powerful city in the world, so we think there is opportunity with Chinese sponsors.”

    The Wizards are still working out the final details, but plans call for 10 to 15 members of the team’s front office to spend 10 days beginning in late August in at least three cities in China. The team’s traveling party will include a few players who will hold clinics, but Biche made it clear that the trip is more about bringing in new sponsors than spreading NBA good will throughout China.

    The team will use the 30th anniversary of the then-Washington Bullets making the first-ever NBA team appearance in China as part of its marketing platform when it travels overseas later this summer. In 1979, the Bullets played two exhibition games against the Chinese national team.

    Biche would not disclose any financial information related to the team’s current sponsorship business.

    “We feel pretty good about it,” he said. “We have some major renewals coming up that will renew. We are looking at being flat to up slightly.”

    The NBA is expected to return to China in October for preseason games as the league continues to build its NBA China entity. It has not announced which teams will participate. The Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets will play a preseason game Oct. 8 in Taipei, Taiwan.

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